Group Three are the blatant Seducers, not only promising their followers ‘freedom’, as Peter notes, but also perfect health, worldly success, and abundant prosperity. Especially prosperity. Such shysters have been around forever, but have gained dizzying levels of credibility – and fandom – in recent years. These guys (and women) pack mega-churches and mega-sell their boastful books and audios, raking in millions a year. Most of them seem to embody the “blessed life” they’re selling: they have great hair, blinding white teeth, flashy homes and cars, countless admirers, and piles of money. They’re living the American dream, with God’s full enabling and approval – or so they claim. And all we have to do to join them, they say, is name, claim, and BELIEVE we’re entitled to the same good fortune, across the board, based on our faith in the name of Jesus . Oh, and give generously to their ministries so that God can complete his end of the bargain and fill our bank accounts.
These corrupters represent everything that turns many seekers away from Jesus – yet they continue to amass millions of cash-contributing followers, who seem blind to the glaring contradictions between Jesus’ version of the gospel and what they’ve been taught.
Among their number are some of the President’s men, which should tell you everything you need to know. Their “gospel” – a thirst for material blessings that sets one far above the hoi polloi – nicely matches his. And it’s everything Jesus didn’t teach.
Jesus was poor. He had no homes or property, no salary, no coin to pay the temple tax when put on the spot. (But a wealthier fish helped out.) His disciples were poor. Paul describes going about in rags, hungry and hated by the world, nearly overcome by the physical and mental hardships of discipleship. If he appealed to the early Christians for money, it was only to help the legitimately poor. (See 2 Cor. 8-9). He worked with his own hands – manual labor, making tents – to supply his own needs while he preached the gospel, even though he was ‘entitled’ to have his needs met through the flock. He warned rich believers to be generous with their wealth, as did James, whose strongest words were against the wealthy among them.
The uncountable blessings God promises his children are spiritual. He has blessed us with “every spiritual blessing in Christ” (Eph. 1:3). True believers can anticipate an eternity with God in heaven, free from all the sorrow and struggles of this world, equipped with a new, glorified spiritual body, sharing in his eternal glory as the Bride of Christ, enjoying what no eye has seen or mind conceived: eons above the “abundant life” promised by these charlatans.
God has withheld nothing from us (Rom. 8:32), but the promise of an earthly life free of struggle, hardships, and sacrifice is not on his gift list. Struggles are part of the package and are meant to transform us, to make us more like Jesus and less like our sinful selves. And we are to be as detached from the pursuit of wealth and a trouble-free life as Jesus demonstrated in his own perfect life: a life of pain, humility, and trials, culminating in a bloody, agonizing death on a cross.
I never hear the Seducers talk much about the Cross.
But I see a lot of mainstream Christians reading the Seducers’ books, swallowing their lies, falling for their worldly depiction of ‘spiritual success’, even as they try to distance themselves from the whole name-it-and-claim-it, prosperity-gospel community. I ask you, just ….don’t.
Don’t support these false teachers by buying their books and listening to their sermons. Don’t give them an inch of credibility by quoting their words or admiring their mega-church auditoriums and programs. The gospel they’re selling is a lie, bringing their followers to a destruction as certain as their own — Peter’s words, not mine.
He nails them here: For they mouth boastful, empty words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of sinful human nature, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity – for a man is slave to whatever has mastered him. (2 Peter 2:18-19)
I don’t know all the dark secrets these liars are hiding, but it’s clear they’re being mastered by a hollow love of money, power, and popularity. And hordes of gullible followers are choosing these men over Jesus.
Lots of Seducers love to say the name of Jesus over and over, as if his name is a magic formula or a genie’s lantern. It’s another tragic misappropriation of our Savior’s name and message.
Regard them as Peter would. Don’t minimize the destructive power of their lies.
The fourth kettle of fish are the slippery ones: those who seem to uphold the divinity of Jesus, who honor the path of spiritual seeking and free will, and aren’t blatantly promoting financial prosperity and perfect health. They talk openly about their struggles – especially their struggles to believe. These teachers seem wise and cool, successfully straddling the line between worldly academe and biblical community. They write trendy, best-selling books, show up on TED talks, attract huge blog followings, and ruffle a few feathers with their irreverent turns of phrase. But they’ve staked their flag in the Believers camp, and that’s where the lies begin.
Mostly, they question the veracity and integrity of the Scriptures. How can we really know which parts of the Bible are true, they ask, and which have been tampered with? How can anyone really believe in a six-day creation, a talking serpent, a parting of the Red Sea, an animal-filled ark? (Jesus did!) Isn’t it much wiser to regard the Bible as a work of metaphor, ancient storytelling, and subjective history, sprinkled with bits of divine inspiration and prophecies? From this we can cobble our own faith, our own nectar of truth from what feels right. After all, the Bible is old, steeped in primitive cultures and thinking. And we of the 21st century – so enlightened, so wise beyond the ancients — are far more discerning!
As Peter notes in chapter 2, false teachers spectacularly appeal to our sinful human nature – in this case, our pride. We are so blind to our own pride! And there are so many troubling issues with this line of thinking.
First of all, believing the Bible is errant and only ‘partly inspired’ goes against everything Jesus taught about the Scriptures. He won arguments with the Pharisees on single WORDS of scripture. He absolutely upheld their divine inspiration and immutability. One of my favorite verses from the Proverbs says everything he believed about the Scriptures:
Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. (Prov. 30:5)
If God’s word isn’t flawless, if every word can’t be trusted, how can we know anything for sure?
Everything is up for debate. It’s left to us to scrounge the truth from a defective document which might or might not be reliable. Who’s up for that?
The horror behind this way of thinking is it sets us above the Scriptures: we become judges of what’s true and what isn’t. And it’s far too easy to be led astray by what we want to believe or reject – as modeled by these sophisticated ‘questioners’.
Back in the 80s, we used to chuckle at a group of scholars who called themselves the Jesus Seminar. They’d read through Jesus’ teachings in the Gospels and vote with colored beads on what THEY thought was authentic, questionable, or false. Then, based on their ever-so-wise discernment, they produced their own color-coded New Testament — so we could swallow their hallowed folly and know what to believe.
This ‘new’ way of approaching the Bible is no less prideful or foolish. When we set ourselves up as experts, regarding the Scriptures as a hodgepodge of truth, half-truth, myth, and outdated thinking, we put our own arrogance on display. And we minimize, again, the power of God to deliver and protect His truth.
You are in error, Jesus said, because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. (Matthew 22:29)
This topic merits a complete book or two. But let me just lay it out like this:
1. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. (John 17:17) You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. (John 8: 32) Knowing the truth – and living by it – is essential for salvation.
2. God has revealed his truth through his Word: all of it, from Genesis to Revelation.
3. If God “wants all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4), making the Scriptures/revealed truth key to salvation, how important is the preservation of his Word?
5. If God is powerful enough to create the whole universe, to sustain gazillions of stars and galaxies, to give life to every breathing thing, and to send his own Son into the world to rescue us from judgement… is he not powerful enough to protect his Word?
6. Of course he is. And he has. And he will continue to do so.
7. Therefore we can trust it. Even if we don’t understand some of it. Even if its teachings make us uncomfortable, or politically incorrect, or very Uncool, or set us apart in the smallest minority of believers. Even if it keeps us awake at night. We are not God. We are not prophets – who knew better than to question God’s Word. We aren’t wiser than Moses, David, or Solomon, who trembled at his Word. Hopefully we’re wiser than the Jesus Seminar dudes. And by God’s amazing mercy and grace, we’ve been given the very words of life. They’re probably sitting on your bookshelf right now!
8. Let’s trust them, obey them, and hold firm, just as Jesus did, and as he calls us to do.
9. Oh, and let’s not forget: in the end, God’s Word is what will judge us. “That very word I spoke will condemn him on the last day.” (John 12:48). These are Jesus’ words – even if the Jesus Seminar dudes might disagree. Would you want to take the most important exam of your life based on a textbook full of errors and misinformation? Me neither.
These Bible-detractors infuriate me, perhaps more than other false teachers, because they seem so reasonable, so informed, so in step with today’s thinking. They graciously credit God with forward thinking. By their estimate, God has finally moved beyond his archaic points of view and now endorses LGBTQ thinking and other much- loosened boundaries on immorality and Christian living. He’s ashamed of his barbaric, Old Testament reputation and wants a second shot at respectability. I guess he must be winking at plain old adultery, too, and blasphemy, and rolling his eyes at the audacity/folly of anyone protecting a tangible, exclusive truth and setting themselves apart from the religious (and neo-religious) horde. Now he’s as cool and politically correct as any Millennial. Thank goodness, so we can call ourselves Christians and make it to heaven (if heaven exists), yet be as cool and PC as the next guy.
Offending no one.
Except God, and those who tremble at his Word.
So. These are the Big Four in my books. There are many other false teachers, of course, all of them deadly, and endless variations on the ones I’ve described.
My advice? Run like hell from these rampant deceptions. The stakes are too high.
What do you think?
Categories: Spiritual Deception
What clear distinctions between the wolves in sheeps clothing! Your writing is well researched and thoughtful. Have you ever considere writing a non-fiction book? Those modern thinkers/believers who pick and choose what is true in Bible Scriptures are recreating the original sin: Deciding for themselves what’s right and what’s wrong. Humanity continually does this over eons of time instead of aligning ourselves with God. So thanks for your inspiring words on the inspired word of God!!
Thanks for your comments, Jane. Actually, this series didn’t require any research — just writing down what I was thinking as I pondered 2 Peter 2. I wrote most of it on a Sunday afternoon, decided to chop it into 4 installments, and tweaked each section before posting. The only challenge was to restrain myself from ranting!
Thanks again for another great article! I agree wholeheartedly but as someone who is presently caught between what seemed like a judgmental arrogance based on modernism and an undiscerning acceptance of post-modern ideas I’m trying to understand how we mesh an infallible Word with our fallible interpretations. So far all I’ve come up with is, like the Israelites sometimes the church brings its “A game” and at other times something much less, both in life and doctrine.