In my travels in Charismania, I often shrugged off older religious books (unless they carried certain names), opting instead for the new revelation of the prophet of the hour. If Bill Johnson wrote it, or Patricia King published it, I had to read it.
I was wrong.
Way back in the dark ages of 1984, Warren W. Wiersbe wrote Be Alert, a study of the New Testament books of 2 Peter, 2nd and 3rd John, and Jude. The book’s subtitle is “beware of the religious imposters.” I recommend that you read it or reread it, because his teaching is even more relevant in 2012.
Most will agree that false teachers will deny the deity of Jesus Christ. They will say he was a great teacher, a man of wisdom, but they will not agree that he was God in flesh as he lived among men and women on earth. They will have another explanation.
It seems to me that this is a black and white test easily administered, and I wonder if a more subtle distortion isn’t occurring. For example, most of my friends still in or just coming out of false teaching will talk a lot about God, and so did I. As in: God told me, God just wants me to xyz (mostly not work and just hang out with Him)–God this and God that.
But you will rarely hear the name of Jesus. It’s as if they don’t know Him. I know I didn’t.
When I attended Charismatic services in the early 2000s, I mostly heard of God’s power and how we could use it to do all that Jesus did: heal the sick, bring sight to the blind, cast out demons, etc. I heard the name of Jesus in this way. It was also a whispered one word prayer, heavy on the Sssss, or the backdrop for weeping, as when Heidi Baker took the stage and was just so in love with Jesus that she could not teach but only weep and say His name. I do not judge Heidi. A true revelation of Jesus does cause weeping, because it reveals our sin.
However, I judge myself. What I recall from Heidi’s weeping was how I and my friends began to focus on Heidi as chief saint—all of us wanted to be just like Her.
“A ‘soulish’ ministry magnifies man, but the Spirit glorifies Jesus Christ,” Wiersbe writes on page 159 of Be Alert. “When the Spirit is ministering through the Word, there is edification; but when the soul is merely ‘manufacturing’ a ministry, there is entertainment or, at best, only intellectual education. It takes the Spirit of God to minister to our spirits and to make us more like Jesus Christ.”
At that point in my life, I was an immature believer. I had turned from my old life of immorality but had not addressed core internal sins such as pride and selfishness. 2 Peter 2:22: A dog returns to its vomit,” and, “A sow that is washed returns to her wallowing in the mud.”
I was turning from my old sexual sins, but still had the same appetite for self satisfaction, which I now fed with false teaching. Touting their way as full of grace and finished with law, my new religious teachers repeatedly told me that God had forgiven me and loved me—all true. I was able to feel good about myself and my standing with God as accepted and loved.
Without further discipleship, it is possible and even necessary to keep Jesus as stranger. We can clean up the outside, while tolerating what is still on the inside, which is harder for others to spot. “In my ministry,” Wiersbe writes, page 73, “I have met people who have told me about their ‘spiritual experiences,’ but in their narratives I detected no evidence of a new nature. Like the sow, some of them were cleaned up on the outside. Like the dog, some of them were cleaned up temporarily on the inside and actually felt better. But in no case had they become ‘partakers of the divine nature’ (2nd Peter 1:4).”
Our teachers focused on the miracles, signs and wonders, particularly the gift of healing. This provided a nifty and godly distraction. You can busy yourself trying to heal the blind, sick, and lame and never have to worry about your gossip, your scorn for others, your pride, and self-righteousness. I can recall looking down my religious nose as the so-called Pharisees in other churches who weren’t hip on healing.
False teachers promise freedom, but they only offer new forms of bondage.
“The false teachers try to make God’s commandments appear harsh and difficult and then they offer their converts ‘true’ freedom (2 Peter 2:19). But the greatest freedom is in obedience to God’s perfect will,” Wiersbe, page 108. “No believer who loves God would ever consider His commandments to be harsh and unbearable.”
Jesus is the door, the way, the truth, the life, the only way to God. He taught the words of life. People didn’t like it then, and they don’t like it now. He said: Lose your life and find it, die to self and live, serve others and find your joy. Who are our saints? Those who lived this way.
Men have tried for ages to find ways to God that exclude Jesus. Jude reminds us of Cain, Balaam, and Korah, all rebels, Wiersbe writes, against God’s way of salvation, separation, and service. John wrote of Diotrephes, a church leader who “loves to be first.” Jude called the apostates “blemishes at your love feasts…clouds without rain…autumn trees without fruit, uprooted—twice dead.”
There is no life without Christ. Apostate teachers promise it, but what they want is power, prestige, and your money.