By Robert I Holmes
"At the first, revival was true and pure, but after a few weeks we had to watch for counterfeits." John Wesley
"The dawn of revival is a major opportunity... for deception to find a foothold through counterfeits and copies which - though seemingly harmless will destroy the soul." Jesse Penn-Lewis
"A religion of mere emotion and sensationalism is the most terrible of curses that can come upon a people. The absence of reality is sad enough, but is aggravated by pretence of godliness, this is a deadly sin". Samuel Chadwick
Have you ever stood at the back of a meeting and stayed out of the flow - kept your head clear and watching carefully all that transpired? I don't mean being judgmental, but seeking the heart of God on all that you see and do? I have tried this recently and it had raised in me the question of what on earth a counterfeit is. Obviously a counterfeit is a copy something real, but have you ever wondered whether the phenomenon you were observing was real or false?
This journey has lead me back to the Bible in search of some benchmarks, because to be honest I do not like a lot of what I am seeing, being passed of as Christianity today. Some of it is lukewarm, insipid or just plain stupid. Some of it is shallow, hollow or full of showmanship. My reason for writing this article is to share with you a little of my journey - in search of signposts to lying signs and wonders. On the road that lies ahead, we really do need road signs to tell us the "wrong way go back".
"The work of Satan is displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie" (2 Thess 2:9-11)
Lying signs and wonders are presented by Satan to deceive those who are perishing. Why are they perishing? They refuse to love the truth. There is plenty of that going around today so this verse is not completely helpful, bit at least we are not just looking for 'good fruit' or 'good works' as we are looking for those who do or do not love the truth. God himself sends these truth haters a powerful delusion. Watch out when God himself is out to deceive a person, whose going to stop Him?
"For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect--if that were possible." (Matt 24:24). The false revelatory individual will perform great signs and wonders with the aim of deceiving the elect. Once again folks, we are the targets! How then are we to tell if we are attending a meeting in which such false signs are present? As great and marvellous as the wonders are, as awe inspiring and as slick as the presentation, how can we tell if God is behind them or not?
John gives us the classic test for false prophets and doomsayers of our time, "test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognise the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God" (1 John 4:1). Simply put a false prophet will lead you to worship another Jesus - a Jesus other than the one of the Bible. They will not acknowledge that Jesus has come in the flesh and is from God. This is not the only test, as we have already seen, but if they fail on this one, it will be a fairly easy catch to recognise it...
Jesus warned us of our day saying, "many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold" (Matt 24:10-12). Again we are warned that many will be deceived! The environment is one of people turning away from the true gospel and going after a copy, a counterfeit. The false prophets take advantage of such times and come to deceive, take advantage of wickedness and promote selfishness. As love grows cold they exhort the backslider to pursue wickedness - or put another way to pursue anything but holiness!
"Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognise them." (Matt 7:15). Ahhh the much quoted verse about fruit. No not fruitiness, nor being fruit-loops! It is wise to look at the swath the minister leaves behind them. Is it one of destruction and confusion, woundedness and despair or one of blessing and healing, wholeness and repair? A great litmus test for the itinerant prophet or visiting minister is one of testing the fruit left behind after their visit
A tell tale sign of a false prophet, one thing that will give them away is if men speak highly of them - if people speak well of them all the time. "Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets." (Luke 6:26). In contrast Israel and the leaders of the day persecuted God's true prophets, they were not well accepted. Paul says they were "stoned, sawn in two, put to death, destitute, persecuted and mistreated" (Heb 11:37). That is the treatment true ministers get from the 'crowd'. John the Baptist got it - he lost his head. That is the treatment they gave Jesus and it should be not different for a real prophet or apostle either. Just how popular does your 'new miracle' make the performing minister? Just how popular is their message?
"False apostles are deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness."
(2 Cor 11:13-15). False apostles masquerade as true ones. They look for all the world like servants of righteousness. It is easy to say test the fruit but how does one do this to a person who looks righteous? Freemasons are good men; they do good works, and serve the community. Many of them are selfless and hard workers, but they are servers of Satan nonetheless.
The Spirit in Revelation chapter 2 commended the church in Ephesus for they had "tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false" (Rev 2:2). How do we do this?
Paul gave us some clear guidelines about testing such ministers: "If someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted," (2 Cor 11:4-6)
So they preach a distorted gospel, or preach a distorted Christ, or impart a different spirit. In the heat of the moment though, as your spirit is being inundated with sight, sound, experience, emotion and power will you be able to hear the Voice of God? Where does the real gospel end and the false one begin? Where does the road to deception start? What counts as a distortion? Being money hungry? Being greedy? Perhaps imparting some spirit that is alien from the gospel; being overly focussed on manifestations perhaps? What is another gospel - hyper faith, hyper legalism?
"There will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord=85 Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up" (2 Pet 2:1-3). A little disturbing there Peter, you say there WILL be false teachers, oh dear I should be more careful about the sermons I am listening too!
Here we have some definitive benchmarks to test a false teacher. They deny that God is sovereign, OK. But how many preachers have you heard say that recently? Not many right? Paul goes on though... they secretly introduce heresy - a little here and a little there, bending the truth, perverting leadership one by one. They are greedy persons, full of the love of money and material possessions. They exploit the congregation or they fleece the flock. They may also be given to exaggeration and lies.
How about those who deliver titillating sermons? Those who pander to the needs and desires of the audience? "For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths" (2 Tim 4:3,4). False teachers are those who teach according to what the people want to hear. Oh what a temptation there must be for the paid pastor, who, knowing he must preach harshly, also knows that the tithe offerings will diminish as a result.
My aim in writing this is not to focus on the false, not even to focus on the devil. Nevertheless, if we are not aware that the enemy is actively seeking to divert us, we will join the rapidly increasing queue at the off-ramps. Let us focus on Christ, and of course take heart that He is much bigger than the devil. At the same time let us be sober in weighing and
testing all we see and hear in the gathering of the elect. Who knows, you may save yourself a wide deviation and a lot of time.