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Pastoral 2013

Charlatans of Christianity

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Beware! Modern-day Christianity is infested with spiritual charlatans. They are men who put on a godly appearance to mask their unbelief and decadence. They are so prevalent today that the general perception of our time is that they are the real deal. They dominate the pews and pulpits of the churches everywhere. Such men have always existed in Christianity, but never like now.

So many on the rise

In the Scriptures, Jesus forewarned us that there would be a proliferation of religious impostors in the end times. So it is gullible to presume that they are just a few. Jesus has cautioned, “And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many” (Matthew 24:11). He also said, “For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many” (Matthew 24:5). Just as Christ had cautioned, they have wooed too many people in churches to subscribe to their unbiblical beliefs and practices. The number of deceivers and the deceived is ever on the rise.

The apostle John also foretold that these dangerous spiritual phonies would be a worldwide phenomenon in the church. Even in his time, i.e. about two thousand years ago, it was already a reality. He wrote in 1 John 2:18, “Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time.” Again in the same epistle he wrote, “many false prophets are gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).

Their adherents are also many, as they will succeed in deceiving many to follow their pernicious ways. Christianity is fast becoming a house largely occupied by spiritual phonies. Such seek a bogus religion that has only a form of godliness, but rejects its power in their life and ministry.

So many kinds of them

The New Testament mentions several groups of spiritual charlatans who have been infiltrating the church.

  1. False brethren (2 Corinthians 11:26; Galatians 2:4): Twice the apostle Paul warned against this group of men; once in Second Corinthians and another time in Galatians. Though he did not identify the names of persons whom he classified as false brethren, he had given a certain description of their faith and conduct. The false brethren whom Paul mentioned in Galatians 2:4 were Jewish men who infiltrated the church and influenced it with their brand of a false gospel that required the practice of ceremonial law such as circumcision for salvation. Today the Bible teachers refer to them as Judaizers. These men crept into the early churches, teaching that “Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1). Paul says that they sneaked into the church with twofold intention. First, “to spy out” the “liberty” that the apostles had “in Christ Jesus” (v. 4). This liberty had freed the apostles from the Mosaic Law with its external ceremonies and ritualism. The basis for their freedom was “in Christ Jesus”, whose sacrificial death redeemed mankind from the curse of the law (3:3; 4:5). Second, to make slaves of the Christians, or “bring [them] into bondage” (v. 4). The word “bondage” has the idea of abject slavery. The Judaizers wanted to bring Paul and his followers into bondage – first to themselves and then to the Mosaic Law, which would eventually have caused Gentile believers to live a legalistic life that was enslaved to the ceremonial laws, from which believers had been liberated (3:23–4:11). Paul wrote that “To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you” (Galatians 2:5). According to Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 11:26, they had brought “perils” to him. False brethren are not only a threat to the doctrinal integrity of the church, but they also plot to undermine the faithful ministers of the Gospel.
  2. False Christs (Matthew 24:4-5, 24; Mark 13:22): are men who falsely claim to be the Lord Jesus Christ. It will be claimed that Christ is in a certain place, performing signs and wonders to try and deceive many. However, Jesus has foretold that He would come from heaven with great power to rule the world, and certainly not as these false christs appearing in some places to tout their bogus religious powers.
  3. False apostles (2 Corinthians 11:13): Paul wrote about them, “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ.” Here he uncovered their fraudulence in no uncertain terms when he labelled them as “deceitful workers”. According to Paul, they were also impostors. They masqueraded as apostles and were accepted as such by some. They were deceivers. They pretended to be apostles; but they had no divine commission from the Lord Jesus Christ. The apostles were appointed by Christ, recognized by the church and committed to the truth. False apostles are never so appointed, recognized and committed. Neither Jesus nor the church has sent false apostles; therefore, such people lack authority to serve. They were never apostles of Christ, but people who pretended to be apostles of Christ. Such false apostles are still around and once again increasing in number.
  4. False prophets (Matthew 7:15; 24:11, 24; Mark 13:22; Luke 6:26; 2 Peter 2:1; 1 John 4:1): Repeated warnings against pseudo-prophets were issued by the Lord Jesus Christ and also by the apostles, Peter and John. Jesus tells us that they “shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect” (Matthew 24:24). These men even perform miracles, not with the help of the Spirit of Christ, but with the evil spirits. They will try to persuade even Christ at His return with the accounts of their counterfeit miracles, to which Jesus will say, “I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matthew 7:23).
  5. False teachers (2 Peter 2:1): This group of men, together with the false prophets, is distinctly mentioned by the apostle Peter. “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction” (2 Peter 2:1). They teach erroneous doctrines, and in so doing lead others astray. In 1 Timothy 1:7, Paul described such teachers as “desiring to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm”. They are truly ignorant of the truth of God’s Word – “ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7). So they meddle with the words of the Scriptures to propagate their errors. The Scriptures classify their teachings as “damnable heresies” (2 Peter 2:1), “perverse things” (Acts 20:30), “vain jangling” (1 Timothy 1:6), “perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds”, “destitute of the truth” (1 Timothy 6:5), “great swelling words of vanity” (2 Peter 2:18), etc. The Scriptural depictions of their conduct are also utterly grim – “proud, knowing nothing” (1 Timothy 6:4), having “pernicious ways” (2 Peter 2:2), “having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin” (2 Peter 2:14; cf. 2:18; 2 Timothy 3:6; Jude 1:4, 16, 18), and “through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you” (2 Peter 2:3; cf. vv. 14-15; Jude 1:11). Their modus operandi is covert – they have “crept in unawares” into the congregation (Jude 1:4), they “creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins” (2 Timothy 3:6), they “lie in wait to deceive” (Ephesians 4:14), and they “privily shall bring in damnable heresies” (2 Peter 2:1). The ultimate motive of their teachings is scandalous – “beguiling unstable souls” (2 Peter 2:14), to “deceive” (Ephesians 4:14) and to “seduce” (1 John 2:26-27), and “to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:30).

Dear Christian, please be vigilant and do not be fooled into believing the doctrines or accepting the way of life of such spiritual charlatans. These men will try to convince you that you can be spiritual, even though you differ from the biblical truths and flirt with worldliness. They mock those who insist on abstinence from carnal pursuits that dishonour God. Be sure to avoid those who promote sensual and materialistic outlook of life. They will come to seduce you into leaving Christ, His truth and holiness. Have no fellowship with such men and women. “Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears. And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified” (Acts 20:31-32).