By C. S. Lovett
“Pastor Lovett, I warned my husband not to go to that doctor in Texas, but he wouldn’t listen. He insisted this man had a machine that could analyze urine and prescribe a cure for cancer. So he went there and died within three months. That man was a quack, but I found out too late.”
I knew the victim in this case. He was a sweet, Christian brother. The family physician said surgery might add years to his life, but he couldn’t guarantee a cure. The man in Texas did. So my friend went to him, blindly trusting, desperately wanting to believe him. It all sounded so good.
Something Worse Than Cancer
Does it sadden you to hear of people dying because they’re deceived by a phony physician? There is a worse deception. These are cult teachers and false prophets who promise “cures” for sin-the greatest disease of all. Just as that quack doctor’s promise proved fatal to my friend, so do the teachings of false teachers prove deadly to those seeking salvation.
Have you noticed how much of the New Testament is devoted to warnings against false teachers? Entire books…Galatians…2nd Peter and 2nd Timothy…Jude…2nd and 3rd John. Jesus Himself predicted false teachers would rise in profusion:
“Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves.” (Matt. 7: 15)
Jesus’ prediction was on target. False teachers abound today. These are people who do not love the Lord, yet realize religion works powerfully in the lives of others. False teachers seek to exploit this factor, USING it to gain their own ends. They cannot preach a TRUE GOSPEL, for then men would receive Christ and be sealed by the Holy Spirit. So to deceive, they come as close to the real thing as possible.
Here’s a glass of 100% pure grape juice. Delightful, refreshing, good for you. But then you add 1 % strychnine. Such a tiny amount, but enough to kill you. It’s like that with many false teachers. Their presentations sound like PURE GOSPEL, but they add just enough error to make it fatal. It’s amazing how little error it takes to produce a deadly message. That’s why we have to be so careful when we listen to men.
Still, there’s an encouraging note. It is possible to recognize a false teacher even if you’re brand new in the Lord. A baby Christian can equip himself with a few insights that will help him recognize a phony. I’ll list a few of the telltale signs, starting with the most obvious and ending with the more subtle.
He’ll Claim His Is The Only True Church
If you’re talking with someone you suspect is a phony and he wants YOU to join his group, ask point blank if he feels his is the only TRUE church and you must belong to it to be saved. He may be reluctant to give a direct answer, but you should press him. A number of the major cults insist no church but theirs offers genuine salvation to anyone.
The cultist may hesitate to answer or he may become evasive. Let that be a warning. On the other hand, he might represent one of the MINDSCIENCE groups or an EASTERN MEDITATION cult (Gurus and Yogis), and would then reply… ‘Truth is universal. Anyone seeking truth is already a part of God or involved with the cosmic oneness of the universe.”
With either reply, you can be sure a worker is on your trail. Get rid of him or make yourself scarce. Don’t waste pity on him. Sure, some are deceived, but most are in the cults because they don’t want Christ.
He’ll Offer A Canned (preconceived) Bible Scheme
“We’d like to have a Bible study group in your home.”
Nothing wrong with that. Home Bible studies are terrific. The false teachers know that. So, whether it is in your home or someone else’s, watch for the “canned pitch.” That is, is the teacher really studying the Bible with you, or merely trying to get you to embrace his system of theology?
The cults you see, already know what they want you to believe. They have their system carefully worked out. Then they ask you to turn to certain Bible passages that seemingly prove their claims. This is what they mean by Bible study. Unfortunately ANY DOCTRINE can be confirmed by this method. You can start with almost any theory and find Bible verses to support what you’re saying. But you have to take them out of context to do so.
The only way to study the Bible is book-by-book. And you have to come to it with an open heart, ready to let God speak to you. That’s a far cry from coming to the book with preconceived ideas and then finding verses to back up your notions. So when a teacher works in this fashion, he is NOT conducting a Bible study. He’s giving you the “canned pitch” of a cult.
The Christ of the cults is very different from the Christ of the Bible. All of these teachers will insist that Jesus is NOT GOD. Their estimates of Him will range from a “good man” (prophet even) to the SON of God, who is inferior to the Father. Those who refer to Him as “the Son,” do so merely to accommodate the Bible. They argue that He is God’s Son in much the same sense that we are-flatly denying He is equal to God. And they seek to prove this with isolated Bible passages.
Do I need to build a case for the deity of Christ? You can do that yourself by reading John’s gospel. But I will give you a way to deal with a false teacher. Ask him.
“Do we find Christ worshipped in the Bible?”
If the worker knows the Bible at all, he’ll have to reply, “Yes.” He’ll know Jesus was Worshipped at birth by the visiting Magi (Matt. 2: 11), by a synagogue ruler (Matt. 9:18), by the blind man (John 9:38), by Mary at the tomb (Matt. 28:9), etc. It’s all over the New Testament.
Then you reply, “But doesn’t the Bible clearly forbid the worship of anyone but God?” The cult worker has to agree, for this is the first commandment (Ex. 20:3-5).
“Then how come,” you ask, “do we find God Himself saying … ‘Let all the angels of God worship Him (the Son)’ in Heb. 1:6?”
The fact is., Jesus did accept the worship of men. If He were not God, He would have been a phony Himself, obliged to tell people not to worship Him, as did Peter at the house of Cornelius (Acts 10:25, 26).
This is perhaps the greatest error of the cults. They never offer the real Jesus, but one who is less than God. And what should you do with people who depreciate Jesus in this manner? John tells us. See 2nd John 7-11.
He’ll Teach Salvation By Faith Plus Works
The false teacher insists a person cannot be saved by faith alone-that he must DO SOMETHING in connection with his faith in order to be saved. The fact is a man can no more save himself by works, than a brain surgeon can operate on his own brain. A sinner can no more make himself righteous by his own efforts, than a leopard can change his spots.
The New Testament insists that salvation is a FREE GIFT…”the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). All anyone can do with a gift is take it or leave it. But if any part of it is secured by human effort, then it is NOT a gift, but earned. The apostle Paul insists … “It is by grace are ye saved through faith…NOT of works, lest any man should boast.” (Eph. 2:8, 9)
THE SUBTLE TEACHERS ARE THE TRICKIEST
Once you know what to look for, it’s not hard to spot a false teacher. The one who insists his is the only true church, or the one who comes with a canned system of religion, or those who present a different Jesus, are easy to detect. Where it gets tricky is in dealing with those who present the Word with respect and accuracy … and still weave in error. Then you’re down to one test, one sure test.
The distinguishing mark of a cult is that it CANNOT help you to know Christ personally. It is unable to draw you close to Jesus, so that you develop an INTIMATE RELATIONSHIP with Him. Yet that is what Christianity is all about. It is a FELLOWSHIP with the Lord (1st John 1 :3). At best, the cult can only teach you things ABOUT HIM … and how to live the kind of life that might please (or appease) God. But to bring you to the place where you can ENJOY the Lord as your own personal friend is impossible for them. They don’t know Him that way.
To make the test, simply ask the worker to share with you his own personal relationship with Christ. Have him tell you how he enjoys the Lord. Unless a man knows Jesus personally and intimately, he cannot reveal something he doesn’t have.
After you spot the phonies, what do you do then? I mean, what will you believe? There’s only one answer-study God’s Word for yourself. God intends for every believer to study the Bible himself-and there is no shortcut. If we’ll take the trouble to open the Bible and read, He promises He will teach us by His Spirit (1 John 2:27). No man should come between you and God’s Word not even C. S. Lovett. Yes, I write to help God’s people lay hold of His Word, but nothing and no one can be substituted for the Bible. There are things in God’s Word that HE will reveal, which no man can teach you. If you don’t open the BOOK, you’ll never know what you missed.
When you study, don’t skip about from passage to passage, like a bee flitting from flower to flower. Study whole books. Start with the New Testament. Think of Jesus as you read. See if the Holy Spirit doesn’t create a real “love affair” between you and the Lord. Then-as you discover how faithfully He works in your life -You’ll find yourself chatting like two old friends.
No cult, no false teacher can put this into your life. This is why it is the SUPER TEST. Become INTIMATE with God in this fashion and YOU’LL be able to recognize a false teacher.
This article “Could False Teachers Deceive You?” by C. S. Lovett is excerpted from Maranatha Family Mini-Magazine, August 2000 edition.