5. Beware false prophets
What can we learn from the example of Joyner et al? Can you seriously take note of a man who, in one breath, says prophesying falsely does not make you a 'false prophet,' and in the next infers that when 'false prophets' are revealed (at a later date) they will be struck dead like 'Ananias and Sapphira'! Looking at this logically, according to Joyner, God will allow countless 'immature' false prophecies to mislead His church until the time when many mature prophets are working world-wide and, then, He will start striking dead the 'false prophets!' Think what an incredible amount of damage would have been caused by then and how many more erroneous doctrines introduced by the Kansas City Prophets/Manifest Sons/Joel's Army/Toronto/Vineyard etc.
In our first church in Cardiff we were led to pray at length for a situation regarding a member of our church, Ken. It transpired that he had a strange, often 'heretical,' view of many Scriptures and was increasingly shunned by many Christians in his 'home' church. Because he claimed he could not find himself 'able' to talk with the pastor, a fine South African preacher, Stuart Brockett, he would spend many hours in our house explaining his view of Scripture. His strange views can be illustrated in the following account. I had not long been a Christian and, having escaped the Mormons, had been avidly reading the Bible and doctrinal books so that the differences between the true orthodox Christian faith and other religions and the cults were now very clear to me.
One Sunday, as we prepared to sit down to Sunday lunch with a young believer, Peter Lewis, I mentioned that I knew there was a Seventh-Day Adventist church in the City Centre and that I would be very interested in speaking to them, as they seemed closer to the truth than any of the other cults (later experience proved to me that they still exhibit all the marks of a cult and, particularly, 'elitism' which E.G. White clearly installed in them heavily). We sat down to dinner and, about fifteen minutes later, there was a knock at the door. The young Australian who introduced himself at our door as being from a 'local church,' was apparently collecting for hospitals and orphanages in Africa. I probed deeper and, although he was reluctant to reveal his origins, he eventually let me know that he was a 'Seventh-Day Adventist. I was intrigued at his secrecy (Christ and the Apostles did not creep around houses being secretive - John 18:20; Acts 26:26) and, on hearing his confirmation that he believed in annihilation and not Hell, asked him to come back later in the week to discuss this doctrine with me. He duly turned up with a friend and I invited our friend Ken to participate in the evening (I did not yet know the depth of his doctrinal problems!). Sure enough, the Seventh-Day Adventists could not get round the Scriptures I shared with them, although they still insisted they were true Christians. Exasperated, they turned to Ken, who had been quiet up to now, and asked how he viewed Hell, to which he replied: 'Oh, I think it will be rather as if you love your morning bowl of cornflakes - and you'll be deprived of them for eternity.' If I'd been eating cornflakes I'd have sprayed them across the room as I reeled in disbelief at this statement. As a young Christian I quickly learned to check out who I met cultists with in the future, as so many in the church really don't know what they believe or how to share the Scriptures with others, although few are quite as bad as this example.
I also learned that these Seventh-Day Adventists put great store on the fact that the Billy Graham Evangelistic Crusades allowed one of their men to sing at his crusades. In their eyes this meant that the orthodox church as a whole accepted them as brothers in Christ! Why can't people see the immense danger ecumenism causes. Roman Catholics and other heretical groups now see themselves as being in the same boat, or usually in a better vessel, as orthodox Christianity? I went along to the Crusade in St David's Hall shortly afterwards to check this out and, sure enough, there was the Seventh-Day Adventist singer, a Johnny Matthis sound-alike singing to backing tapes! This was my early introduction to the errors of Billy Graham and his organisation. And the church still hasn't woken up!
Meanwhile, our friend Ken continued to plague the church and we continued to pray for the situation between him and the pastor. It seemed obvious that he should be either ministered to or removed from the church. The Lord gave my wife, Zoë, a vision which showed us that there was demonic influence in Ken's life which certainly included encounters he had in the Far-East during the Second World War when he arrogantly pried into the snake-charming and levitation 'tricks' of the gurus who flattered him by addressing him as a 'man of God.' Pride can be very dangerous! As we prayed to be certain of the way forward the Lord gave us this instruction in tongues and with the interpretation: 'Yet one, two, five, ten and forty days must pass and then My will is done.' We enquired: 'Should we share this with the pastor' and the Lord replied, 'The pastor must be protected.' I made a note in my diary of this word and we just kept praying and ministering to Ken (mainly to keep him away from other Christians) at every opportunity.
The days passed by and our pastor finished his morning sermon with the surprise announcement that he had informed the deacons that he was leaving the church to take up a new pastorate - this was exactly forty days after God had told us that His will would be done in this number of days! The 'one, two, five, ten' part of the instruction was to signify His outworking over the period of forty days. I was still rather surprised by the turn of events and even more surprised when Ken shouted out from his position in the balcony: 'Praise the Lord.' I could not believe that the pastor would leave without dealing with the situation so I asked to see him. He told me that he was calling a special church meeting to deal with the situation with Ken, and I then shared the 'word' we had concerning Ken. He asked some probing questions, including querying whether anyone in Zoë's family had any record of clairvoyancy or fortune-telling! I had already checked into this and there was no record of any occult activity in Zoë's family. Sure enough, Stuart held the painful church meeting, which was obviously long overdue. Despite the protestations of Ken's wife, who claimed that the pastor had never given time to talk to her husband (Pastor Brockett insisted he had - and our experience was that Ken did not listen to other views, anyway), he was removed from membership.
This is a simple record of a word from God that proved to be accurate to the very day! I was surprised, as a young Christian, to find that dangerous people like Ken are allowed to remain in the church, neither ministered to because of a problem which is clearly demonic in nature, nor removed from the fellowship to prevent them upsetting the faith of others. As the continuing record shows this is not unusual in many churches in South Wales, and is probably a fairly regular pattern in Britain and much of the world. Which is the most important, or dangerous, of prophetic ministries: the simple but 100% accurate record - or the waffling, spurious, inaccurate 'Joyner' type outbursts which simply confuse and lead astray. We already know from Scripture which is the Biblical prophetic word from God. If you study the records of fortune telling, clairvoyancy, or the occult 'Christian' Spiritualist churches, you find the same kind of accuracy as enjoyed by Joyner and company. What obvious conclusion does this lead you to?
6. Beware the wolf in sheep's clothing
Christians are exposed to a wide variety of teachings which often have quite different emphases and therefore leave many believers confused. Some loyally follow their pastor or a favourite author and blindly believe that their leader could not be deceived himself. Homeopathy was popularized by the occultist and mystic Paracelsus (1493-1541) and then progressed by Samuel Hahnemann (ca. 1750-1820), but many Christians have taken it up because they read that Dr R.T. Kendall and Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones approved of it. Most believers are impressed by academic qualifications, an 'anointing', or 'the miraculous,' and may fear to question any ministry that comes with a demonstration of wisdom or power. But does intelligence, miracles or an 'anointing' necessarily authenticate a ministry? Are powerful men with big reputations and fine words, or acts of power by themselves, sufficient evidence that God is among us, or could another power be at work other than the power of God? Scripture makes it clear where the truth lies:
11 For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe's people, that there are quarrels among you. 12 Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, "I am of Paul," and "I of Apollos," and "I of Cephas," and "I of Christ." 13 Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (1 Corinthians 1:11-13)
1 And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. 2 For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. 4 And my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 that your faith should not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God. (1 Corinthians 2:1-5)
6 I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; 7 which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you, and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:6-9)
Looking to a man or woman, or to superior speech or intelligence, is warned against, and preaching 'another gospel' brings the severest of warnings. If the apostle Paul tells us not to believe 'another gospel' (even if he and the other apostles were to preach it!) why do some disobey this instruction?
While many Christians try and uphold the truth, often zealously arguing and disputing matters of doctrine, there are also many others who, through reluctance to judge or criticise, are actually failing to exercise discernment. Added to this, while it is vital that we distinguish between truth and false doctrine, it is also inevitable that some disputes over doctrinal issues will result in division among believers. When Jesus said, 'Watch out for false prophets' (Matthew 7:15), He was showing us that we must be able to discern the nature of the minister or prophet himself, and not just his doctrines.
But how does one discern a false prophet? He does not arrive with obvious external features and is quite likely to resemble a mature Christian believer who demonstrates the fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). The counterfeit is designed by the counterfeiter to be hard to detect, which is why forged paintings have passed the scrutiny of art experts and have been sold to the innocent or gullible for huge sums of money before they were found to be fakes! If this is so on a natural level then, in the less tangible area of spiritual things, it is unlikely that a false prophet will be easily recognized. The Lord specifically warned against the many false teachers who would arise to lead people through the wrong gate and down the path of destruction (Matthew 7:15-20) :
15 "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? 17 In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will know them by their fruits.
In this context, please note the fruit by which these false prophets are known - it is their teaching and not necessarily their behaviour that reveals their true nature. For how do these wolves appear? They appear in sheep's clothing. In other words, they look like sheep and talk like sheep. They are often kind and even moral. They use religious terminology and act as if concerned for people and society but, in reality, they are wolves preaching a false way either in relation to salvation, or sanctification, or both. Those who enter through the narrow way must beware of these false prophets, who claim to guide believers but really practice deception. 'Sheep's clothing' is not to be regarded as prophets' garb, but is an evident contrast to vicious 'wolves.' God's people in all ages have needed to beware of deceptive leaders (Deuteronomy 13:1; Acts 20:29; 1 John 4:1; Revelation 13:11-14). 'By their fruits' means the doctrines produced by these false prophets, rather than the works they perform, since outward appearances may not cause suspicion. The test of the prophet is his 100% conformity to Scripture (1 Corinthians 14:37; Deuteronomy 13:1-5) and 100% accuracy of his prophecies. The comparison between the good tree and the bad, or corrupt, tree is clearly that the one that is decayed, worthless, and unusable calls for its swift removal from the orchard (or the flock) lest it infect the others.
But, too often, believers are judging on feelings rather than on fact (where fact is based on the Word of God and the evidence of two or more eye-witnesses). There is a simple and reliable test to determine if a prophet is speaking for God - He will give simple examples that come true in a reasonably short space of time, so that we can be certain that these are from God and not Satan. Only when we have evidence of their accuracy in this Scriptural way will God trust the prophet and us with more complex words which are for longer time periods. Agabus (Acts 21:10-11) is a good example of a short term, verifiable, prophecy. But I would warn that we have the Word of God with clear instructions of what to look out for in these end-times (which have been expected for 2,000 years!) and therefore we have another reason, other than the fact that they prophesy falsely, to know that the Gnostic ramblings of the 'Joyner's' of this world will come to nothing!
If we accept that the warnings of Jesus regarding false prophets apply to our day, and that even the 'elect' of true and mature believers can be deceived or misled, then it is important that we also realise that only those who have correctly understood the Scriptures and who are able to discern spiritually will recognise and discern a false prophet in their midst. Remember, the Lord Jesus Christ said clearly:
'Take heed that no-one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, "I am the Christ", and they will lead many astray'. . . . 'And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray' (Matthew 24:4-5, 11 RSV).
7. Beware the pastor who is a wolf
We should know what to expect of a Christian pastor (also called elder, overseer or bishop in Scripture): the ability to know the Word of God, expound the Scriptures and bring the word of the Lord, to testify, preach and expound on spiritual matters, to lead a congregation in worship, praying both for general needs and for individuals requiring help, and generally show some evidence of spiritual power in his ministry. But is it possible for these obvious outward signs and abilities to be counterfeited?
Today there is a revival of interest in the miraculous, a 'restoration' of the gifts of the Holy Spirit with apparent renewal among Christians all over the world. Demonstrations of some form of spiritual power are seen in healings, speaking in tongues, the word of prophecy, falling 'under the power' ('slain in the spirit' - an un-Scriptural 'counterfeit' supposedly originating in the Bible) and other manifestations. Christians today are often attracted to charismatic leaders who advertise 'signs and wonders' meetings where flamboyant performances enchant even those Christians who believe they are capable of recognising an 'anointing' when they see it. Of course, most Christians believe they are mature enough not to be deceived but, unfortunately, many have gone off chasing 'Holy knees-up' experiences and finished up in broken marriages and relationships with accompanying spiritual depression. This will happen when you take your eyes off the Giver, the Lord Jesus Christ, and fasten them onto some man or woman who you think has a 'great 'gift' which they can even impart to others - perhaps by 'whirling' their jacket above their head in a hypnotic impartation as Jacob Prasch reported:
'David Shearman has stated that the original languages of scripture are irrelevant but that only the English vernacular is important. In 1994, Shearman, claiming to have a prophetic anointing of some kind, removed a bright canary yellow coloured jacket (which he wore as part of a bet) during his address to the Assemblies of God conference in England. He then invited those who wished for a prophetic anointing to come and touch his jacket in order to receive it. While many of the older generation of Pentecostal ministers, who had a traditional grounding in sound doctrine, the authority of scripture, and traditional pre-millennialism, expressed shock, younger ministers from the experience-oriented axis of British Pentecostalism came to get the 'anointing from the jacket! This is the kind of hocus-pocus that has left the churches which experienced the Charismatic Renewal today far worse off than before the renewal happened. It is with the same kind of madness that David Shearman and others of his persuasion are torpedoing what little is left of western Pentecostalism today.' (James Jacob Prasch, The Final Words of Jesus and Satan's lies today, St Matthew Pub. Ltd., 1999, p.51)
There is no doubt that the signs and miracles which Jesus performed were a definite validation of His Messiahship (John 10:25-38; 14:10-11), but He also gave a clear warning to believers through the ages (Matthew 7:15-23; 24:24) :
24 "For false Christ's and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect.
Paul also spoke of the signs of a true apostle being present in his ministry, referring to attested miracles (2 Corinthians 12:12). We also need to experience the power of God in our fellowships today and we praise God for every true manifestation of His grace and power that we have witnessed. But are 'blessings' and 'miracles' sufficient on their own to authenticate a ministry as being 'anointed by God? Many Christians accept 'anointings' on the slightest evidence but, even if you witness irrefutable miracles, are these necessarily the genuine moving of the Holy Spirit, or could these visible demonstrations of spiritual power be counterfeited? It would be wise to consider the evidence gathered by Dr Peter May who has attended meetings by such supposed luminaries of the Charismanic world as Morris Cerullo, and has yet to discover one genuine, medically authenticated, miracle wrought by such ministries. Remember that Jesus and the apostles wrought some healings that could not be feigned - when a visibly withered arm which has been exposed to public scrutiny for many years suddenly grows into a normal and usable limb it is difficult to explain away. I've no doubt that sceptics and atheists such as James Randi and the stage magician, Paul Daniels (a former lay preacher!), would claim to be able to counterfeit such miracles. If there is any danger of them accepting such a challenge, I willingly offer to supply the nails, hammer and cross, and my personal presence as overseer, to make sure their attempt to recreate the incredible miracle of the Resurrection is not subject to fraud! I have no doubt that such men would claim that the soldiers at the crucifixion were in on a 'con trick' to cause the disciples to think that Jesus had really died, and that the resurrection is explained in the same way.
Suppose we observe all the signs listed earlier in the life and ministry of some man - could a false prophet do all of these things too? Is it possible that the outward appearance of both the true and the false prophet are the same, that Satan can so closely mimic God's work at times that people can be deceived? Consider the magicians at the court of pharaoh (Exodus 7-11) - they were able to copy the miracles God worked through Moses through their occultic powers - but only up to a point. This is a picture of the anti-Christ's deception in the End-Times. We must also remember that it is not just the miracles that are counterfeited, but the appearance of godliness is also copied as far as possible, as the Apostle Paul warned:
14 And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15 Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their deeds. (2 Corinthians 11:14-15; cf. Matthew 7:15-23).
What are the qualifications for spiritual ministry? What does God require of a man or woman to whom He commits the awesome task of speaking in His name? The Apostle Paul wrote clearly under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to give clear and detailed instructions as to the nature and character of a true shepherd of God's flock. In 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1:5-9 he declares, in the clearest terms possible, the standards that God requires in the life of an aspiring minister:
He must be the husband of only one wife; managing his own family well; having obedient, believing children; hospitable; above reproach; disciplined, self-controlled, upright, sincere; just, devout, one who loves what is good; gentle, sensible; having a good reputation with outsiders.
The true shepherd must not be:
a recent convert; addicted to wine; a lover of money; quarrelsome, quick-tempered or violent.
In these two lists the high-lighted attributes rapidly reveal deceivers who cannot keep up an unnatural front for long. The Spirit led leader may slip occasionally, but his 'crucified with Christ' (Galatians 2:20; 5:24) life makes his spiritual walk first nature to him.
Paul lists these attributes as essential, not optional, requirements for those aspiring to positions of spiritual authority or leadership. Similar qualities were required in the deacons as well as the elders (pastors, bishops or overseers) of the early church and the standards have not been changed in God's Word. In order to qualify for the ministry of a deacon, the candidate had to 'keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience', and be 'tested and nothing found against him'.
Women are also mentioned, as either wives of leaders or as 'deaconesses' themselves. These were women with spiritual responsibility in the churches and others would learn from them through their example and the word they shared with others while their work spoke entirely adequately of their beliefs. Such women must be worthy of respect, temperate, and trustworthy in everything and not malicious gossipers (a serious fault in anyone, not just Christian women, and a trait that I have found is always present in men who are deceivers in positions of authority (see Case History I - Section 10 - and Case History II - Section 36).
Scripture makes it clear that it is not a matter of education, nor how gifted a person might appear naturally and spiritually, but rather the kind of life he is living that is the important qualifying element for Christian ministry. Does he exercise proper authority in his home (this does not mean through such authoritarianism that his family are 'walking on egg-shells' resulting on a quiet home-life that appears correct and orderly, but which is really the result of fear and little love)? Biblical leading results in the correct exercise of his authority over God's flock with loving leading and discipline. If he is honest in his business dealings and keeps his word it may well reflect correct and accurate handling of the Scriptures! If he is unfaithful to his wife, a lover of alcohol, cannot control his temper, or is a malicious gossip, what kind of standards will he set for others to follow? Can a minister successfully challenge the powers of darkness in another persons life, when he is yielding to the temptations of Satan in his own? There are leaders who 'talk the talk' but don't 'walk the walk.' Paul admonished: 'Let these also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach.' (1 Timothy 3:10).
A second century Christian author in 'The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles' (the Didache) wrote: 'Not every one who speaks in the Spirit is a prophet unless he has the ways of the Lord. By their ways, then, the false prophet and the true are to be distinguished. . . . And even if a prophet teaches the truth, he is a false prophet if he does not practise what he preaches'. We would call such a man a 'hypocrite' today - but very few Christians would go so far as to label him a 'false prophet.'
The one who 'walks the walk and practices what he preaches', and whose life bears the fruit that only a 'good tree' can produce, is seen to be the one whose message is authenticated. We should beware of placing too much emphasis on the apparent 'godly walk' of a Christian because deceivers such as cult leaders have a surface sheen of godliness which their followers will point to - only close inspection of their behavior 'behind the scenes' shows the real spirit leading them. I have heard many liberal speakers in Cardiff recommend the 'saintly life' of 'Mother' Theresa - but the truth is that she refused to give the true gospel of Jesus Christ to dying Hindus, and those of other religions, preferring to make them comfortable, as they suffered 'for their sins,' and ready for their journey into Hell while she collected 'saintly points' that would enable her to work her way into heaven (a false gospel!) and 'Saint-hood.' Theresa also refused to let her nuns read the Bible (where they may have discovered they were being deceived by the false gospel of the Roman Catholic Church), heretically claiming that she would read - and be - the Word of God to them (anti-Christ doctrine!). Those who stepped out of line were subject to the usual brand of Roman Catholic beatings! The Apostle Paul warned clearly (1 Timothy 6:3-4):
3 If anyone advocates a different doctrine, and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, 4 he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, 5 and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain.
Jude also speaks of the false teachers in their midst as 'loud mouthed boasters' (Jude 16), and Peter describes them as speaking 'arrogant words of vanity' (2 Peter 2:18). These men will appear everywhere and we will recognize their 'international' and local ministries easily - because when you see them they cannot help but brag, in different ways, about their great worth to their church or the Christian community! This may come through the claim of a 'prophetic ministry' - or that 'Satan is afraid of them.' In contrast, Jesus came into this world as a servant who humbled Himself, laid aside His own glory, and even accepted as His Father's will the humiliation of death on the despised cross (Philippians 2:5-11). He never promoted Himself, although He eternally had equality with the Father (John 5:18-24), whereas the proud man follows the path of his father, the 'father of all lies' (John 8:44) - Satan!
The proud man speaks a lot about himself and his accomplishments, about his own experiences and victories. If God has graciously worked through his ministry, he must let everyone know because he loves to be in the limelight where others can see his expertise. He promotes his own cause and will happily point out the faults in other men's ministries, or in other churches or other brothers and sisters. Since he is now 'top dog', the 'captain of the ship,' at the head of 'the pecking order,' others must bow to his demands because their time and energy are much less valuable than his and their abilities are at his 'beck and call' regardless of the impracticalities of his requests. Even God Himself has apparently become his slave in answering his prayers (demands!), obeying his commands, and supplying his every wish!
The proud man may not always be right - but he is never wrong! He will seek to dominate others, dictating how they should run their lives, where they can work and minister and, sometimes, even how they should dress. He will happily give his opinion on such delicate issues as when and who you marry, or what to do with your money (1 Timothy 4:1-3):
1 But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, 2 by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, 3 men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods, which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth.