Monday, May 14, 2018


Spiritual deception is the most lethal because it attacks what is most valuable. It is also the most deceptive. It clothes itself in sacred robes and parades as piety, even deceiving the deceivers.

How does this happen? Christians are vulnerable to the same temptations as others. We want to be loved, respected, admired, and appreciated. Success is the means to obtain these things, and pastors are particularly vulnerable. If they fail to show the signs of success, they also fail to obtain these valuable commodities. However, success in building one’s church, as measured by numbers (people, baptisms, offerings, broadcasts), serve as “proof” of God’s endorsement and approval of our ministries, that He is blessing us.

However, these indications might not reflect God’s approval. The false prophets and pastors also were able to show these signs of “success.” Meanwhile, the faithful have often shown none of these signs:

·       Others [the saints] suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. (Hebrews 11:36-38 ESV)

Understandably, pastors flock to church-growth seminars hosted by “successful” pastors and consume church-growth books. I am not claiming that there is nothing useful to be gained from these seminars. However, I fear that these “insights” come at great cost – our preoccupation with the Word of God, His Gospel.

Paul had warned about getting entangled with secondary concerns:

·       You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. (2 Timothy 2:1-5)

Our first concern has to be about pleasing our Master. He has to be our first priority:

·       “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33)

He becomes our first priority as we make His Words our marching-orders above all other concerns (John 14:15, 21-24; 15:7-14). This means that everything that we learn at a church-growth seminar has to be made subject to the approval of the Word of God (2 Corinthians 10:4-5).

Paul then claimed that an athlete must complete “according to the rules,” in our case, God’s rules – His Word. There is no reason why God’s Word shouldn’t occupy the preeminent position. Rather than church-growth seminars it must be the power of God:

·       For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (Romans 1:16)

When we allow any other claims to predominate over the Word of the Gospel, we fail to acknowledge that it alone is the “power of God for salvation”:

·       For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:17-18)

When we allow the principles of church-growth to predominate, the cross is emptied of its power.” We do this in many ways. I too am guilty. My love of debate sometimes can side-track me. Perhaps wrongly, I don’t want the Gospel to seem foolish but want to provide supportive rational underpinnings. Not that debate is wrong, but faithfulness should lead me back to the centrality of the Gospel message, and this message is validated by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:2-5).

Admittedly, the Word of God can be mis-used when we get side-tracked into “endless genealogies” (1 Timothy 1:4-5), “vain discussions” (1 Timothy 1:6-7), and “irreverent babble” (2 timothy 2:15-16). However, when properly used, it should produce “love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” (Timothy 1:5).

Spiritual deception is both powerful and destructive. It seeks to supplant the counsel of the Word of God. How do we guard against it? By crying out for God’s help, as David did:

·       Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psalm 139:23-24)

The good news is that God is faithful to reveal our unfaithfulness to us:

·       Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. (Philippians 3:15)

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