Spot the Wolf: Part 3
Part 3 in Pastor Anton Bosch's series about how to spot wolves in sheep's clothing.
[Pastor Bosch has just finished authoring a book which will be of great assistance to those precious saints who have been "abandoned" by the Peter Drucker methods of church transformation. As soon as this book becomes available, Discernment Ministries will pass that information along to the Herescope readers.]
Spot the Wolf (3)
Wolves go to great lengths to make people followers of themselves and not of the Lord. (Matthew 23:15). This trend is easiest to spot by observing the followers of such wolves. Are they awed by their gurus? Do they believe their leaders rather than the Word of God? Do they quote their leaders rather than the Bible? Do they adopt the leader’s mannerisms, idiosyncrasies and style of dress? These “proselytes” are often spiritual groupies who follow and admire every move and treasure every word of their idol. It is this kind of idol worship that leads to spiritual, emotional and financial abuse. We should never follow men but rather follow Christ. Yes, it is good for young Christians to be taught by proven men of God. But if the teacher is a true shepherd, he will always teach the disciples to focus on and relate to the Father and not to himself.
Jesus said when scribes, Pharisees and hypocrites make proselytes of themselves, these converts become twice as much sons of hell as the leaders. Jesus seemed to refer to a strange phenomena whereby each successive generation of a cult becomes more fanatical and more extreme than the previous generation. A small tell-tale sign that a group have cultic tendencies is to look at the second and subsequent generations. Are they more extreme than the previous generations? Do they take the errors of their teachers to new depths and excesses? If so, you may be looking at a cult and where their leaders were sons of hell, the followers are twice so.
In Matthew 23, Jesus calls the Pharisees “blind” five times. A sure sign of a wolf is that he is spiritually blind. They are blind to their own weaknesses, sins and unrighteousness. Neither do they see the blatant contradictions in what they teach and believe (Matthew 23:16,17). They are blind to the fact that they make major issues of unimportant things while neglecting the really serious issues (Matthew 23:24). They are blissfully unaware of how blatantly their hypocrisy is visible to others (Matthew 23:26).
The whole basis of the operation of a wolf is deception – they seek to deceive others, but in the process become deceived themselves and eventually become blind to the fact that everything about them is one big lie (2Timothy 3:13). This means that any kind of reasoning or debate with them is an exercise in futility as they simply cannot see the real issues nor can they see that they believe and practice one big lie. Look for example at the prosperity preacher who year after year promises his followers riches and health if they “sow into his ministry” and yet is blind to the fact that his followers remain as poor as ever.
False teachers are very good at finding legal loopholes around the Law of God. Thus the Pharisees had an elaborate system of swearing by the altar, the temple or heaven and as long as they did not actually swear “by God” they felt they were not bound to perform the oath (Matthew 23:16-22). Thus one needs to be very careful of anyone who finds subtle ways around the clear teaching of Scripture and especially of those who have clever ways of justifying their own sin. This ability to play lawyer with God’s Word and to find excuses for disobedience and sin is very dangerous. If a leader is prepared to take liberties with the Word for the sake of expediency, then he cannot be trusted in any area of life or of doctrine. It is required of men of God that they be brutally honest and show utmost integrity when handling the Scriptures, especially when applying the Scriptures to themselves. Anyone who finds excuses to not obey the clear teaching of the Bible is walking in disobedience which will ultimately lead to spiritual blindness.
Matthew 23:16-22 also addresses the matter of honesty. The Pharisees would swear by heaven and so create the impression that they were giving a solemn oath to perform something, yet in their hearts they felt that they were not obligated to perform the oath because they did not actually swear by God. It is much like a kid making a promise while crossing his fingers. (The New Testament forbids the taking of oaths (Matthew 5:33, James 5:12). Anyone who breaks his word and does not fulfill his promises should not be in church leadership and cannot be trusted. If he will break his word on any promise, then he has no honor and cannot be relied on not to abuse the trust of his followers. If he cannot be trusted to tell the truth in business matters how can he be trusted to tell the truth of God’s Word and God’s will? If he can lie to a government official, he can lie to you, if he lies for you, he will lie to you. A leader who has the ability to lie on the smallest issues cannot be trusted to speak the truth about the Word of God. If your leader lies to you even once, then confront him. If he repents, then that is good. If he justifies himself or lies again then you better get out of there as fast as you can run.
False shepherds major on minors and minor on majors (Matthew 23:23,24). They are often legalistic about things like dress, hair length, Bible versions and other less important issues. At the same time they overlook the major issues such as justice, mercy and faith. (Jesus called these the weightier matters of the Law). So while they will condemn someone for having too long or too short hair, they will pervert justice and excuse far more serious infringements of dishonesty or immorality amongst their inner-circle. One such group forbids the reading of newspapers while drunkenness is quite acceptable! I am sure you have seen other equally ludicrous anomalies. This does not mean that “small” sins are to be excused, but rather that the emphasis has to be on the weightier matters.
I remember once being rebuked because I drove too fast; but what made the experience more painful was that the man who rebuked me was exceedingly greedy for money and power. I remember another “brother” rebuking me because I did not smile enough yet, he was stealing huge amounts of money from his employer! When leaders are not able to see the difference between the things that are really serious and the minor issues like tithing on the herbs, it is a sure sign that they are blind leaders of the blind.
One of the characteristics of cults is that they overemphasize certain truths at the expense of others. Any truth can become a heresy when it is pushed to an extreme and when it is not balanced by the rest of the teaching of Scripture. Our God is multifaceted, and the true faith balances holiness with grace, truth with love and goodness with severity. This does not mean we should water the teaching of God’s Word down, but that we should rather believe and practice the full spectrum of the Word and that we must emphasize what the Scriptures do and not emphasize what the Scriptures don’t. Thus we need to be very careful of teachers who will major on a few pet doctrines or Scriptures, and who do not teach the whole counsel of God no matter how right that particular teaching may be.
(To be continued)