I am amazed by the lack of discernment in the body of Christ today. We hear half-truths and embrace them as if they are God incarnate. We listen without discernment. We lack the ability to hear what is being said and what is not being said. False teachers are masters at disguising their message and misleading their followers.
Satan is subtle. He doesn’t often hit us with a full-force frontal attack. He slips up on us and whispers in our ears. Sometimes he tells us what we want to hear. This is what the false prophets of the Old Testament did. At times he simply asks questions like, “Has God said?” or “God must not love you because you don’t have what so-and-so has.” He calls on us to question the love and grace of God. He gets us to evaluate by worldly standards of success, popularity, fortune, and fame.
The values of false teachers never lead to holiness. They encourage the flesh with a little spirit thrown in for good measure. In reality, there is little difference between the teachings of Oprah and those of many so-called Bible teachers on television. When I hear people talk about who they are reading, I want to vomit. I can’t believe people read the watered down books they read. Nor can I believe that any student of the Bible lacks such discernment.
Recently I did a sermon series on how to study the Bible. I did it because I am so weary of people taking Scripture out of context. Lifting a verse and forcing a square peg into a round hole may be popular, but it’s not sound hermeneutics or theology. It leads to a misrepresentation of who God is. God has spoken. He is a God of order, and He put words together for a reason.
While the theme of redemption flows through the Scriptures, no Bible scholar of the last 2,000 years would tell you the promises to Israel are promises to us. If we are going to claim the promises, we must also operate by the restrictions. If you are embracing the prosperity gospel and eating pork, you are as mixed up as a child in a tilt-a-whirl. This blending of covenants is confusing. It leaves people feeling like God has let them down.
The promise to Israel before the cross was prosperity; the promise to the church after the cross was persecution. American Christians are confusing the “pursuit of happiness” and the American dream with the Beatitudes, which speak of happiness but also persecution.
The snatch-and-grab, cafeteria Christianity being sold by most best-selling authors in Christianity grieves my heart. Some people confuse mercy with ignoring truth. Others misinterpret the prophet as a trouble maker. Paul was prophetic when he told the church that wolves would come. Jesus was prophetic when he said there would be those who would persecute His followers.
You can’t read the New Testament with any shred discernment and miss the point. It is filled with promises of who we are in Christ and warnings of what will happen when we live the Christian life in this fallen world. It warns us of those who will infiltrate the body of Christ and try to deceive, dilute, and destroy the purity of the gospel message.
The list is endless of teachers I see who are making millions off God’s people and teaching a distorted version of the gospel, if not a purely false gospel. Hank Hannegraff’s Christianity in Crisis is a must-read. He gives specific examples of errant theology that is filling our airwaves and clouding our minds.
Let me close with a few passages that warn us of this trend, which is more prominent now than at any time since the church sold indulgences. In fact, giving money to get blessings, healing, or answers to prayer is nothing more than selling evangelical indulgences. If Martin Luther were here, he would call it what it is.
“Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’” – Matthew 7:15-23
“I know that after My departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be on the alert,” – Acts 20:29-31
“Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household.” – Matthew 10:34-36
“For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things.” – Philippians 3:18, 19
Note that “many walk”—not a few here and there, many. Their god is their belly, fueled by a desire to feed their flesh. They justify that which is unjustifiable. For instance, a man commits adultery and yet continues to preach, although the instructions on godliness and holiness and the home are clear in Paul’s teachings regarding elders and teachers. We cover it up with “God forgives.” HE DOES. But there are consequences to our actions.
“They are enemies of the cross of Christ”—why? They preach a gospel without the cross. They refuse to talk about sin and the blood. They refuse to point out sin for what it is. They don’t preach on dying to self. Rather, they talk about your best life now, you can have it now, you deserve a break today, you want it, you deserve it theology, which is nothing but a false gospel with a few scriptures Sprinkled in.
Paul uses strong language here, identifying these people as enemies. They are opposed to the gospel of Christ. They are those described in Jude’s small epistle. They are, as one translation puts it, “shameless scoundrels, their design is to replace the sheer grace of God with sheer license.” The problem is so obvious that the illustrations are endless.
Wake up, brothers and sisters. Examine the Word. Study the Scriptures. Quit reading the Word of God with your favorite author’s book on top of your Bible. The Bible should never be interpreted through the grid of your favorite preacher. It should be interpreted historically in its context. What did it mean to the original audience? Then and only then can we ask, what does it mean to us? If you want to pick and choose, like some preachers do, instead of reading accurately the whole counsel of God, you will come up with God as you want Him to be, not as He is. That’s a dangerous place to be.
© Michael Catt
Michael served as the President of the Large Church Roundtable, the Southern Baptist Convention as an IMB Trustee, President of the Georgia Baptist Convention’s Preaching Conference, Vice President of the Georgia Baptist Convention, and President of the 2008 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference. He has spoken at conferences, colleges, seminaries, rallies, camps, NBA and college chapel services, well as The Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove. Michael is the recipient of The Martin Luther King Award, The MLK Unity Award, and a Georgia Senate Resolution in recognition of his work in the community and in racial reconciliation.
Michael and his wife, Terri, have two grown daughters, Erin and Hayley.