My brother Nathan just posted the results of his research into the origins of Christmas. Whatever your beliefs about celebrating Christmas, I highly recommend that you check out his article!
For years I have heard various arguments for and against celebrating Christmas. I finally decided to take an objective look at both sides, do my own research, and find out what is truth. I found that there are a number of myths about Christmas being perpetuated by, I presume, people with good intentions. Here are a number of the more popular ones and what I have learned about them in my studies.
When I was 16 years old, I wrote an article entitled, “Is the Headcovering for Today?” I laid out the case from 1 Corinthians 11 that a woman ought to cover her head. And I still believe that a woman should cover her head when she prays or prophesies, just as God has instructed.
However, one thing that I taught in this article was that a headcovering gave protection to a woman and her family—that demons had to leave her alone if her head was covered. After all, the Bible said that “a woman ought to have power on her head, because of the angels” (1 Cor. 11:10), and the best explanation I had heard was that this meant that the bad angels would leave her alone, and the good angels would protect her.
But recently, I was talking with God about headcovering, and He showed me that, for some people, the headcovering had become a lucky charm.
Worse yet, I myself had perpetuated the mentality that turns a headcovering into a lucky charm, and I had to repent. The article is no longer available.
But how does a head covering become a lucky charm?
Think a moment: what do we call an object that is supposed to protect the wearer from evil spirits and bad luck? It’s quite common in some cultures and religions. We have a name for it: a lucky charm.
I said in my article that the headcovering was not a lucky charm, but I actually, in the end, did believe and teach that it was a lucky charm that would protect the woman and her family. When we say that a head covering is supposed to bring protection to the wearer, we turn it into a lucky charm that supposedly:
Protects her from physical harm
Protects her from evil spirits
Helps her prayers be answered better
Signals to the world that she is a Christian
Folks, that is not Scriptural. I don’t care what testimonies you’ve heard. I don’t care what experiences you have had. It is wrong to adopt the mentality of the heathen and tell women (or imply) that the headcovering is a “scarf of hidden power” when God has not said so.
God never actually said that a headcovering would bring any type of protection. He just said that a woman should have power on her head because of the angels. It never says anything about protection. After all, God never said what a headcovering would look like. What if a woman didn’t wear the right type? Or what if an ungodly woman covered her head? Would the angels protect her just because she had something on her head?
The purpose of head covering (and uncovering, for the men) is to bring glory and honor to God, not to protect the wearer.
Ignore the testimonies
I am well aware that there are testimonies out there about how the headcovering brought protection to its wearer. However, of what I can remember, in many cases, there was not a clear correlation between the headcovering and the incident of protection.
In other words, if a headcovered woman is approached by a robber, but he suddenly doubles over with pain and runs off, we can’t give credit to the headcovering. In the end, it was God who protected her. We don’t know from this testimony whether God would have still protected her if she had been bareheaded.
I want to be clear: just because a woman covers her head at all times, she is not necessarily viewing the headcovering as a lucky charm. It is when the piece of fabric itself is supposed to bring protection and spiritual power to the wearer and her family that it becomes a good luck charm.
It’s time for repentance
If you have fallen prey to the “lucky headcovering” mentality, I urge you to repent of it. God does not want us to dabble in witchcraft by hanging lucky charms on ourselves. It’s not that you must repent of covering your head, or telling your wife that she should. What you need is a heart change from believing that a woman gains special spiritual power from a piece of cloth on her head.
I also urge you to ask God to show you His view on 1 Corinthians 11 and head covering. What is it really all about? What is the purpose? When must we observe it?
I read your article about modesty, entitled “What Should I Wear?” I want to commend you for your passion and desire to serve the Lord.
However, I want to share with you some things that God has been teaching me about modesty. I was once just like you (okay, okay, I was once you), and I was passionate about telling women to be more modest. I had made a commitment not to look at immodestly dressed women, and I wanted to reduce the number of women that I couldn’t look at. In the summertime, especially, there were many women who revealed too much skin for me to look at: tank tops, shorts, low-cut tops, sun dresses, swimsuits, etc.
Jesus says that a man who looks at a woman to lust after her has already committed adultery in his heart. I don’t want to be guilty of mental adultery. I believed that if I looked too long at a woman who was wearing something like what I mentioned above (immodest clothing), I would lust, and I needed to look quickly away if I saw a woman dressed that way. Sometimes I would have to talk to one of these women, so I would either focus in on the woman’s face or look somewhere else to avoid my eyes shifting to any forbidden areas, because that would be lust or the next thing to it.
In recent years, God has been teaching me about these things. I have realized that I was wrong. I took down that article that you wrote, because it was teaching things that God didn’t want me to teach. In His grace, God has been showing me that the things you wrote do not work, and are false.
So now I’d like to share with you some things that I wish someone would have told me when I was your age.
The Concept of Modesty is a Farce
Teaching about “Biblical modesty” centers around one word in the entire Bible: “modest”, in 1 Timothy 2:9: “In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array…” From that one word, I made all sorts of conclusions about what a woman should or shouldn’t wear.
But when I investigated it in Strong’s Dictionary, I discovered that the Greek word doesn’t mean “modest” as we think of it in relation to clothing, but “orderly” or “decorous”. It is not referring to how much of the body is exposed.
This is the only verse in the Bible where God commands women to dress in “modest” apparel. As I just mentioned, that word “modest” is a mistranslation, at least in modern-day English. (It could, after all, have meant exactly the right thing 400 years ago.)
This verse is the only basis for requiring women to dress modestly or to cover a certain amount of their body. But the farthest you can take it is that women should be modest-minded (“shamefaced and sober”), and wear orderly clothing that is appropriate to the situation they are in. There is no basis for saying “This is modest” and “This is not”, or for condemning women for wearing certain types of clothing.
In other words, there is only one verse in the entire Bible that commands “modesty”, but that command does not actually exist. There is actually no Biblical command to dress modestly.
God Has Not Said that We Must Cover Certain Parts of the Body
It took me a long time to come to grips with this fact: God has not commanded that any part of the body must be kept covered!
Of course this doesn’t mean that God wants us to walk around naked. What it means is that there is no Biblical basis for commanding women to cover certain parts of their body. I have not found any Scripture, for example, that says that women must never show their shoulders or upper arms. Biblically, then, we can’t tell women who wear sleeveless shirts that they are sinning.
I know that you will react in disgust to this, Joel, but God never even commanded women to cover their breasts. While I would not recommend that women go around topless, we cannot say that every woman who has a little cleavage showing is a sinner, because there is no specific command that she is breaking.
God Does Not Want Us to Judge Others by the Outside
When I was your age, I judged women by their clothing. Those who wore modest dresses and skirts were Godly women or at least better than the society around them. Those who wore tight, revealing clothing were wicked mental prostitutes. I knew that they were dressing that way because they wanted me to lust after them, which was disgusting.
In John 7:24, Jesus said, “Don’t judge according to appearance, but judge righteous judgment.” He does not want us to judge someone based on how they look, but what is in their heart. He was speaking to people who were rejecting Him because they didn’t like the looks of His ministry, but failed to grasp His divine heart.
Recently, God has been pounding into me that I must not use someone’s external appearance to judge their spirituality. Since He has not commanded that any specific part of the body must be covered, I cannot condemn anyone for revealing anything. I know that some women probably do dress to get men to lust after them, but I know that not every woman in tank top and shorts is a slut. Furthermore, God has not commanded me to stay away from immodest women. It’s my job to preach the Gospel to every creature, regardless of what they are or are not wearing.
God Has Not Said that Women Cause Men to Lust after Them
One misconception is that an immodest woman will cause men to lust after her. Joel, you perpetuated this kind of mindset when you wrote, “I would submit that since it is adultery for a man to lust after a woman, any woman who wears revealing or suggestive attire is a mental prostitute, whether she intends it or not.” This is so wrong. This is putting false blame and guilt upon the guiltless woman who just wanted to stay cool in 95 degree heat.
Women do not cause men to lust after them by revealing skin. They may tempt men to lust, but God has never said that women can cause men to lust after them by revealing their bodies. This is huge. If a woman can cause (force) a man to lust after her, it means two things:
The man is not responsible for lusting—he couldn’t possibly help himself.
It is possible for a woman, by the way she dresses, to force a man to commit adultery with her, even if she is a Godly woman who would never commit adultery.
I am disgusted, now, by the guilt trips that people place upon Godly, pure-hearted women, telling them that if they dress a certain way, they will cause men to lust after them. God never said that. He only told the men that if they look upon a woman to lust after her, they have already committed adultery in their hearts. He said nothing at all about what that woman might be wearing.
Many people (including myself) have stated confidently that certain styles of dress “tempt men to lust” or “stumble”. I have seen a couple modesty surveys, and the only thing you can say with confidence is that different men are different. Some men struggle more than others, and some men have no problem with styles of dress that you would find highly immodest. I do not find “immodest” women nearly as tempting to the eye as I did at your age.
You might say that a woman should dress to keep her weaker brothers from lusting after her. But how far should she go? Must she wear a sheet hanging down to the ground, ghost-style, so that no one can see her form and lust after her? You would never promote such a thing, yet some men will lust after women who are dressed very conservatively.
Oh, that God’s people would stop condemning guiltless women who have no evil intentions in their dress!
God’s Point is that Women Need to Adorn the Inside
In both 1 Timothy 2:9-10 and 1 Peter 3:1-6, God’s real point to the women is not to give them a list of do’s and don’ts about the way they dress. His real point is this: “Your true beauty comes from the inside and results in changed behavior. Adorn the inside instead of the outside.”
If a woman truly is dressing to tempt men to lust after her, she needs a heart change, not a clothing change. Then she will stop trying to seduce men. At that point, what she wears is between her and God. He is the One who will guide her in what to wear. If, as a daughter of God, she is led by the Holy Spirit, He will guide her in how to dress to glorify Him and advance His kingdom. It may not be the way that some people think she should dress, but if God is pleased with her, that is all that matters.
This really needs to be the bottom line for both men and women, in everything they do: “Is God pleased with me?” Nothing else matters.
Modesty Isn’t Working
Joel, your dad, who taught you modesty for years, is now working on a book that greatly expands on what I’m sharing with you here. It’s currently over 500 pages of evidence that shows that, if anything, modesty rules increase sexual sin, instead of decreasing it. He’s been working on it for five years, and he hopes to publish it soon. We still have some work to do on it, including recording a music CD to go with the book. It’s called The Failure of the Great Amish and Conservative Mennonite Dress Experiment.
I can’t summarize the book in this article, but rest assured, if you want more evidence that what I’m saying is true, it will be there.
Joel, I wish that someone had written this letter to me when I was your age. Unfortunately, I can’t rewind ten years and deliver this to my 17-year-old self. So I’m sharing it on my blog in hopes that I can help someone else like you who believes in modesty.
Last week, I wrote probably the most controversial thing I’ve ever written. I told the story of visiting a church, and realizing that the pastor was preaching a dead sermon. I said that he was a zombie—a walking dead man—and that his church was a zombie church. I also called Paul Emerson, a prominent preacher in the moderately-conservative Mennonite church, a zombie.
And now, I would like to tell all those who were offended by that post: I’m sorry.
I’m sorry that I couldn’t share God’s words without offending you.
However, not in the least am I sorry that I called anyone a zombie.
The Problem in the Church Today
We have a problem today. If someone gets up and shares something that God has given them—a function that the Bible calls prophecy—and it doesn’t fit with what people want to believe, they shoot it down and ignore it.
I had people tell me that I shouldn’t talk about church leadership that way.
I had people question my ability to hear God’s voice.
I had people who didn’t think I knew what I was talking about.
I have been a Christian for over 20 years. I have seen a lot of things go on within the church in those 20+ years. Folks, the American church is dead.
You ask me: is my church dead? Worse yet, am I dead? Am I one of those zombies that you’re talking about?
I will put it bluntly. If you don’t know whether you are alive or dead, or if you don’t know whether your church is alive or dead, the answer is probably yes, you or your church are a zombie, or at least on the way to being dead unless you or your church make some changes.
Few people question if they are physically alive. The answer is obvious. You know if you are alive. You are walking around, breathing, carrying on conversations.
However, we do have a problem. There are many churches and people who think they are alive, but are not. They are the walking dead. They are zombies. And that’s where prophecy comes in.
Follow after love, and earnestly desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. (1 Corinthians 14:1)
But if all prophesy, and someone unbelieving or unlearned comes in, he is reproved by all, and he is judged by all. And thus the secrets of his heart are revealed. So he will fall down on his face and worship God, declaring that God is among you indeed. (1 Corinthians 14:24-25)
But he who prophesies speaks to men for their edification, exhortation, and consolation. (1 Corinthians 14:3)
When God wants to talk to someone, He will generally do it one of two ways. Either He will speak directly to that person, or He will send a prophet. He gives His words to the prophet, and sends the prophet to whoever needs to hear from Him.
This is exactly what God did with the Apostle John in Revelation 3. The church in the city of Sardis was dead. They were a zombie church, appearing to be alive, but actually dead. So Jesus wrote them a letter by the hand of His servant John, and sent it to them:
And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write: These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars:
I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God.
Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee.
Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy. He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels.
He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches. (Revelation 3:1-6)
I don’t know what happened when the church of Sardis received their letter. Can you imagine getting a letter from Jesus, telling you that your church was dead? I hope that they took heed and repented.
Likewise, today, God is still speaking through His prophets. He is sending His prophets to the dead church, telling them to repent. The door of repentance is still open, folks! This isn’t the end! On the contrary, if people will take heed to the prophets and repent, it will be the beginning of new life!
But many people are telling the prophets to shut up.
Hearing from God
One problem we have is that there are many false prophets in the world, and many people who have not heard from God, yet claim that they have. Therefore, many people are skeptical of those who claim to have heard God’s voice and received a message from Him.
Just because there are some false prophets, should we throw out all prophecy? No way! How absurd! Instead, we each need to be hearing God’s voice so that we can recognize when someone is a false prophet. Wait. Everybody needs to hear God’s voice?
Yes. Jesus said:
“Most certainly I tell you, he who hears my word, and believes him who sent me, has eternal life, and doesn’t come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life. Most certainly, I tell you, the hour comes, and now is, when the dead will hear the Son of God’s voice; and those who hear will live.” (John 5:24-25)
This does not mean that we hear Jesus’ word one time and come to life. We have to believe on God, not just once, but our entire Christian life. Likewise, “hears”, in the Greek, is in the present, active tense, indicating that it should be ongoing.
The Jews therefore came around him and said to him, “How long will you hold us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”
Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you don’t believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name, these testify about me. But you don’t believe, because you are not of my sheep, as I told you. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:24-27)
When Jesus speaks, His sheep recognize His voice and follow Him. They believe Him because they recognize His voice.
From Genesis to Revelation, we have record of God speaking to people and leading them, over and over again. Why would we think that He has stopped, or that the Bible is the only guide we need in life? Make no mistake: the Bible is God’s Word, wholly inspired by Him. It is infallible and inerrant. We can totally trust whatever we find in it.
But the Bible doesn’t tell you who to marry. Yet, marriage is a decision that can affect the course of history—literally. Imagine if George Washington’s dad had married someone else. Or if Adolph Hitler’s mom had married someone else. If it’s such an important decision, why would we rely on our own feelings and desires? I would sure like some help from the One who knows the future!
Will we make mistakes sometimes? Sure. Will we think that God is speaking when He is not, or miss His leading when He does speak? Sure. I have experienced these things myself. But that is okay! That is part of the learning process! All it means is that we need to continue asking God to teach us to know His voice.
But we received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might know the things that were freely given to us by God. Which things also we speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches, but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual things. (1 Corinthians 2:12-13)
God wants us to teach by His Spirit, in the words that He teaches us to say. He does not want us to use human wisdom to teach others. That is fleshly and does not profit. As Jesus said:
It is the spirit who gives life. The flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and are life. (John 6:63)
An academic sermon is a fleshly, carnal sermon. It comes not from the spirit, but from the flesh. It is based on the fleshly wisdom of men instead of the spiritual wisdom of God. The words of the flesh do not profit us. The spiritual words of Jesus give life. Therefore, if we want to speak life-giving words to others, they must be the words of Jesus, not our own.
Now the natural man doesn’t receive the things of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to him, and he can’t know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he who is spiritual discerns all things, and he himself is judged by no one. (1 Corinthians 2:14-15)
Zombie preachers and teachers have told everyone that the only way to judge a message is academically. Don’t go by feelings or impressions. If you can’t find anything wrong with the message academically, then there’s nothing wrong with it.
However, God says that the things of His Spirit are spiritually discerned. We have to be guided by the Holy Spirit in our judgment of a message. A spiritual man discerns spiritually whether or not a message is coming from God.
Let no one deceive himself. If anyone thinks that he is wise among you in this world, let him become a fool, that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, “He has taken the wise in their craftiness.” And again, “The Lord knows the reasoning of the wise, that it is worthless.” Therefore let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come. All are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s. (1 Corinthians 3:18-23)
This passage further explains why a zombie sermon is not only problematic, but disobedience to God. God tells us that this world’s wisdom is foolishness with Him, and that a worldly-wise person needs to become a fool so that he may become wise before God. A person can be highly educated, but lack God’s wisdom.
In case you didn’t know, besides being a former pastor at Calvary Mennonite Fellowship near Harrisonburg, VA, Paul Emerson is also the former moderator of Biblical Mennonite Alliance (BMA), a group of Mennonite churches that I used to be part of. He currently is Principal at Elnora Bible Institute, the Bible school of BMA, as well as the editor of The Sword and Trumpet and The FCM Informer (the newsletter of the Fellowship of Concerned Mennonites, of which he is also the Executive Director).
And I believe that God led me to write these words in the previous article: “Folks, I’m not going to ‘pretty it up’: Paul Emerson is a zombie preacher.”
How dare I say that!?
Over the last 15+ years, I have listened to Paul Emerson speak. I have read his writings in the Biblical Mennonite Alliance Newsletter. I have read the publications that he has edited. And I have been disturbed. Just yesterday, I read yet another article that he wrote, and I’m even more disturbed. You will read part of it later.
I want to state that what Joel stated about Paul Emerson is true. I have known Mr. Emerson for many years.
George Brunk I handed his mantle and the editorship of the Sword and Trumpet to his son George Brunk II. George Brunk II handed his mantle to Paul Emerson – the pastorate at Calvary Mennonite, the editorship of the Sword and Trumpet, and leadership in the Fellowship of Concerned Mennonites.
The false teachings and false gospel of these men have negatively impacted the lives of tens of thousands of people. The failures and errors of their teachings are greater and broader in scope than what you have any idea is happening. Sin is running rampant in secret in pious “godly” Mennonite homes, even in the lives of men of renown in the church…
God has been revealing these things to me and I have been in shock that these things are true and that Mennonites are doing them. I will be sharing with you what God has been revealing to me in my book that hopefully will be coming out later this year titled – The Failure of the Great Amish and Conservative Mennonite Dress Experiment.
As an example of the sin that Dad is referring to, I bring up another piece of evidence: a survey from a Mennonite blog called Radi-Call.
In 2015, Radi-Call ran a survey about media usage, targeting young, conservative Anabaptist people. It was a voluntary online survey, taken by about 250 young people, pretty well evenly split between men and women. 56% were from BMA Mennonite churches.
Here are the results about porn usage:
Folks, this is the fruit of the teaching of Emerson and others like him. It isn’t working! To help you visualize these results, take a look at this picture from the Mennonite Shenandoah Christian Music Camp in Ohio, 2016.
It’s sobering to realize that of the 46 men you see in this picture, only 12 of them, statistically, have never been involved in habitual porn usage. It doesn’t mean that they don’t pick up porn once in a while or struggle with lust. It just means that they have not had a habitual problem. In fact, the true numbers are probably even worse, because this was a voluntary Web survey, not a random-sample phone survey. It’s amazing, in fact, that 74% percent of men were willing to admit that they had, or had had, a porn problem, including 4% who admitted to using porn that day!
Can we blame Paul Emerson for the porn usage of young men in a Mennonite conference that he helped to found, and headed up for 10 years? While he may not be directly responsible, it shows that his philosophies, doctrines, and principles have not helped give young men the victory over porn.
In order to properly practice Biblical nonconformity, it is probably best to imagine the putting on of a pair of eye glasses that filter everything through the Biblical Anabaptist perspective. This thought may aggravate some who are attempting to free themselves from what they call Anabaptist slavery. These are they who desire credibility within the larger evangelical community. The true disciple of Christ is exclusively desiring credibility with the Lord. Nothing else really matters. If, as we believe, Anabaptism is the correct perspective from which to see the world, said eye glasses are in order…
In direct proportion to the loss of practical nonconformity, the whole testimony of Anabaptism will be lost.
This is how error is perpetuated. Jesus has never called us to view the world through an Anabaptist lens! Instead, we are to be led by God in our interaction with the world.
Especially if you are an Anabaptist, this may seem like a small difference. But here’s the thing: even if the Anabaptist perspective is 100% correct, we must not seek to view the world from an Anabaptist perspective! Why? Because then, instead of following Jesus, we are following Anabaptism. In order to follow Jesus, we must listen to Him, not follow Anabaptism or any other denomination, group, or teacher:
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. (John 10:27)
Friends, the quote above from the Sword and Trumpet is the path to spiritual death and zombie-hood.
Jesus Speaks to the Zombie Churches Today
At the beginning, we read Jesus’ words to a zombie church. Let’s go back and review them for the answer of “So what do we do?”:
Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God. Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee…
He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches. (Revelation 3:2-3, 6)
In our study of God’s love so far, we’ve seen that God is love, and that He doesn’t want us to be afraid of Him. We’ve seen that we need to understand His nature, including His love, in order to not be afraid of Him. We also need to glorify Him and seek His help, so that He has the opportunity to demonstrate His love for us. And when we don’t understand His love, we need to ask Him to show us what His love is really like.
As we learn to know our Father better, and His love fills our hearts and lives, how do we respond to that love? And how can we find others who truly love Him?
Since God is love, part of the evidence of His love in our lives is when we have love for each other.
In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son as the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, if God loved us in this way, we also ought to love one another. No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God remains in us, and his love has been perfected in us. (1 John 4:10-12)
You would think, perhaps, that God would say, “Since I have loved you this much, you ought to love Me in return.” But instead He says, “Love one another.”
Jesus says, “Because you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” (Matt. 25:40) When God adopts us into His family, we become brothers of Jesus. In fact, Jesus dwells with each of God’s children, and so, when we show love to one of God’s children, we are showing love to God!
Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God. Whoever loves the Father also loves the child who is born of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep his commandments. For this is loving God, that we keep his commandments. His commandments are not grievous. For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world: your faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5:1-5)
I used to read these verses and believe that it was my job to keep God’s commands on my own, with His help. I thought that anyone who was saved got as much help from God to keep His commands as any other Christian. In other words, I believed that all Christians, including myself, were receiving God’s help to obey Him, and if I had trouble following Him, I needed to try harder.
Brothers and sisters, it doesn’t work that way, for two reasons. One is that some of us need more help than others, and some of us need help in different areas than others—for example, overcoming an addiction. The second reason is that God doesn’t help us unless we allow Him to do so.
God is not a control freak. He does not force us to do what He wants us to do. Nor does He force us to accept His help. He definitely gives us guidance, changes circumstances, and works all things together for good. But He knows that, if He were to control us into doing the right thing, it would not lead us to truly love Him. We would just be robots.
Forcing people to do the right thing can actually be detrimental. When a person has a personal drive to do something, they will work with a will and try to accomplish the task. However, if someone forces them to do it, or bribes them to do it with some sort of reward/punishment system, it kills the person’s inward drive. This, I believe, is one reason why some homeschool families have fallen apart, despite looking so good when the children were young. Because the well-meaning parents tried to control their teenagers into doing the right thing, it actually turned their children against the parents and against the “right thing”.
Spiritually abusive systems, which stress human effort to achieve a man-made standard, prevent us from receiving God’s love and help, while loading us down with guilt and shame over our inability to follow God (and the pile of human commands the system gives us). This is one reason why you may have to change your beliefs about God and His nature in order to receive His love. If you’re always trying to live the Christian life on your own, God never has a chance to demonstrate His love to you!
The truth is that, when we put our faith in God, realizing that on our own strength we will never measure up to His standards, He gives us the victory to overcome the world and keep His commandments.
Jesus said, “One who has my commandments, and keeps them, that person is one who loves me. One who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him, and will reveal myself to him.” (John 14:21) In other words, when we love God, we will naturally want to keep His commands. I used to think this was run in reverse: you keep God’s commands, and then He loves you.
The truth is that we love God because He first loved us. If we don’t know the love of God, we will not love Him in return. If we think He is just a hard taskmaster who is burdening us down with a grievous load, we will never love Him, and we will despise the very commands we are endeavoring to keep.
What Jesus is saying is that, when we know God, receive His love in our hearts, and love Him in return, we will also love His words and keep them. This is not a “if you really loved me, you would do…” guilt trip.
God is love. Therefore, without God, we will never have true love. Moreover, since we cannot manufacture God, we also cannot manufacture love. If you find yourself unable to love others properly, don’t just “try harder” to love them. That will never work. Ask God to fill you with His love and give you love for others!
So what does that look like? What are loving actions, anyway? We already saw part of the answer to that question earlier: God’s commands explain what loving actions are. They were written in love, and they are our guidelines for walking in love. Someone who claims to love Jesus, yet fails to obey Him, does not love both Jesus and his fellow men.
Not only that, though, God shows us from day to day how to love one another:
But concerning brotherly love, you have no need that one write to you. For you yourselves are taught by God to love one another… (1 Thessalonians 4:9)
With God’s love ruling in our hearts, He will teach us how to love one another. He will guide us how to help one another in the most beneficial way. He will show us areas where we lack love for one another or are treating one another unlovingly.
Remember, love for one another is the result of God’s love first dwelling within our hearts, and then overflowing in love for others. It is not something that you can create on your own!
If you would like to study God’s love some more, I recommend the free e-book He Loves Me! by Wayne Jacobsen. I do not endorse this book completely; I believe that Jacobsen downplays the fear of God too much. God does tell us to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12), and unless we recognize that He is also holy, just, righteous, and all-powerful, as well as loving, we will not serve Him or even love Him as we ought. However, I recommend this e-book for those who have heard much about the fear of God, yet do not understand the love of God. It will help to shift your thinking in the proper direction.
As we begin our study on how to identify false prophets, it’s important to revisit what Jesus said:
Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
Many times, our impression of a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” is something like the picture on the right. We expect to be able to identify the wolf by something that “just doesn’t quite line up” or “just doesn’t look right”. But it doesn’t work that way. Jesus said, “Inwardly they are ravening wolves”. In other words, the false prophet is a wolf on the inside, not the outside.
So what should we look for?
Jesus told us how to identify false teachers in the very next verses:
By their fruits you will know them. Do you gather grapes from thorns, or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree produces good fruit; but the corrupt tree produces evil fruit. A good tree can’t produce evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree produce good fruit. Every tree that doesn’t grow good fruit is cut down, and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.
Jesus tells us to look, not at the tree, but what it produces. In other words, look at the results of the teacher’s teaching, and look at their own life. Are they Godly people who are truly following Jesus, or are they ministers of Satan who are pretending to be ministers of righteousness?
Jesus is using two analogies in this passage: wolves in sheep’s clothing, and fruit trees. It’s important to remember that we need to find the point that He is making and not merely make extrapolations from the analogies. Those extrapolations may or may not be accurate.
So here’s Jesus’ points:
Beware of false prophets.
False prophets conceal their true nature. They appear to be true Christians, but on the inside, they are the Devil’s agents.
We need to look at their fruits. Are they acting in the way that God has said that His children will behave?
A false prophet cannot follow God and fully obey Him. He will not bring forth truly good fruit in his life.
A Godly person will not live in sin.
Therefore, when we find a teacher who appears to be Godly, yet is disobedient to God and/or exhibits signs of hypocrisy, we need to beware. They could simply be deceived and ignorant of the truth, but there is a good possibility that they are false prophets.
A false prophet is rotten to the core.
Here is an extremely important point to remember: a false prophet’s problems are internal, not external. As Jesus said:
“Either make the tree good, and its fruit good, or make the tree corrupt, and its fruit corrupt; for the tree is known by its fruit. You offspring of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. The good man out of his good treasure brings out good things, and the evil man out of his evil treasure brings out evil things.”
The bad fruit of a false prophet only reveals that he is a false prophet; it does not make him a false prophet. This may seem like splitting hairs, but it makes all the difference in the world when we go to correct the problem. It’s not a matter of getting the false prophet to “clean up his act” and do the right thing. He needs to be changed on the inside so that he brings forth good fruit.
If we try to help the false prophet “do better” and stop sinning without correcting the internal problem, we are actually helping him to be a better “wolf in sheep’s clothing”. The real problem is not his sin. The sin is only revealing that this person is not a Godly person. The real problem is that he is following Satan instead of God. The real problem is that he needs to be changed on the inside.
So what do we look for?
The following is not an exhaustive list. It contains some things that God has taught me about signs of a false teacher. If you have more to contribute, please share them with me!
1. Godly-sounding teachings that make the teacher look good.
For example, saying things like:
“If you think about something other than God, more than you think about God, that thing has become your idol.”
“Never miss an opportunity to witness.”
“When the world sees you, it should immediately know that you are a Christian.”
Many of these things sound very spiritual, but they’re not taught by God. They can simply be guilt trips. You may have no way of knowing whether the teacher actually implements them in his or her own life, but it sure makes the teacher look spiritual.
2. Emphasizing “spiritual disciplines” that are actually not spiritual.
This can go along with the previous point. Some examples:
Teaching that you need to spend a lot of time alone in prayer with God. This might include recommendations for spending an hour per day in prayer, for example. (Prayer is vital for the Christian, but anyone can pray a lot, regardless of their relationship with God.)
Fasting. (Again, there’s nothing wrong with fasting, but you can starve yourself without the power of the Holy Spirit–it’s called a hunger strike.)
The thing that all of these have in common is that they sound really spiritual and look like ways to get closer to God. And, in fact, they can draw you closer to God. However, because they do not require the Holy Spirit’s power to do them, anyone can do them. There are some atheists who know the Bible better than some Christians.
3. Telling you about their spiritual discipline.
Jesus tells us:
“Be careful that you don’t do your charitable giving before men, to be seen by them, or else you have no reward from your Father who is in heaven…
“When you pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites, for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men…
“In praying, don’t use vain repetitions, as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their much speaking…
“Moreover when you fast, don’t be like the hypocrites, with sad faces. For they disfigure their faces, that they may be seen by men to be fasting. Most certainly I tell you, they have received their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head, and wash your face; so that you are not seen by men to be fasting, but by your Father who is in secret, and your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.”
One of the early warning signs about Bill Gothard was that he behaved as a hypocrite. Every January, he would spend a month at his retreat at “Northwoods” in Minnesota, fasting and praying. We all knew about this because he told us. He also told us about how he got up at 4:00 AM and “spent time with God”. (We now know that he also was spending time with teenage girls in the very early morning, but that’s another matter.) Unfortunately, we took this as a sign of his spirituality, instead of a warning sign that he was a hypocrite.
Another example: in their November 2015 “Mom’s Corner”, Steve and Teri Maxwell shared the following:
November 9th we will have another ladies’ prayer and fasting day. Teri is committing that day to fast and pray with others who have burdens on their hearts…
When you join the fast, you will briefly share your prayer focus so that Teri can pray alongside you…
For men who are interested in prayer and fasting with Steve, they have the option of one or more days starting Saturday, November 7th, and ending Monday morning, November 16th. Choose a day(s) that works for you. Steve is fasting and praying that whole time.
Hmm, is it really necessary to advertise that “Steve is fasting and praying that whole time”?
And how many times have you heard somebody talk about how “we had so many people praying, and God acted” as though God had heard them for their much speaking?
4. Teaching rules and standards that sound “spiritual” but are really just self-improvement.
This can also go along with the last two points, but I want to bring out a specific aspect. False teachers will make up rules of men that sound very spiritual, but are not commanded by God. As God says:
If you died with Christ from the elements of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to ordinances, “Don’t handle, nor taste, nor touch” (all of which perish with use), according to the precepts and doctrines of men? Which things indeed appear like wisdom in self-imposed worship, and humility, and severity to the body; but aren’t of any value against the indulgence of the flesh.
Note that last verse. These rules and standards appear to be wise, humble, and denying oneself, but they don’t actually help us to be more Godly.
For example, having a “hands-off” courtship, supervised by the parents, sounds like a great way to prevent premarital sex. Unfortunately, it also prevents a couple from having the sort of conversations that they need to have in order to really get to know one another. I have read stories of women who ended up marrying abusive husbands because they felt pressure to do so and/or they didn’t know their boyfriend’s true nature until after they married.
And guess who came up with modern courtship? Bill Gothard–a false prophet.
5. Requiring obedience to the Law.
The Law of Moses is, on one hand, a spiritual law.
For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am fleshly, sold under sin. (Romans 7:14)
However, God tells us that when we try to keep it after we become Christians, we are attempting to gain perfection through the flesh.
I just want to learn this from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now completed in the flesh? (Galatians 3:2-3)
A false prophet is not walking in the Spirit. If he was, he wouldn’t be a false prophet, but a follower of Christ. Therefore, he will cherry-pick commands from the Old Testament and tell you that you should follow them. This is very wrong.
For more on the Law of Moses, watch the video below.
6. Living in sin.
When we see bad fruit, it means that the tree is bad. When we see a supposedly Godly person who is living in outright sin, it means that they are not Godly. Period. God tells us:
Little children, let no one lead you astray. He who does righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous. He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. To this end the Son of God was revealed: that he might destroy the works of the devil. Whoever is born of God doesn’t commit sin, because his seed remains in him; and he can’t sin, because he is born of God. In this the children of God are revealed, and the children of the devil. Whoever doesn’t do righteousness is not of God, neither is he who doesn’t love his brother. (1 John 3:7-10)
Both the Greek and the context would indicate that what God is saying here is that those who are born again do not live in sin (as opposed to believing that one small sin means that the person is not born again). Jesus came to set us free from sin. Those who are truly born again will have a hatred toward sin and no desire to live in it. Those who live in sin do not have the Holy Spirit living within them.
Unfortunately, many people want you to believe that you can lie, commit adultery, commit murder, be a drunkard, etc., and still go to Heaven. Sorry. Whether you want to say that the person became a Christian and backslid, or whether you want to say that they never truly became a Christian at all, the bottom line is this: when someone is living in sin, and knows they are living in sin, they are not children of God. They are children of the Devil.
This is a key to detecting wolves. Do not give people a pass because you can’t bear to call them unbelievers. It doesn’t matter if they’re doing “many wonderful works in Jesus’ name” (Matthew 7:22). If they are living in sin, they are not the children of God and will not go to Heaven unless they repent.
7. Bad results from their teachings.
When you see that the fruit of a teacher’s teaching is not good, you know that they are a false teacher. If they try to “disciple” people, and those “disciples” end up living for the Devil, they did not make true disciples of Christ. Something is wrong with their teaching.
It’s important to evaluate the overall picture. Don’t pick out one or two good results and use them to ignore a whole bunch of bad results. At the same time, don’t use one or two cases of bad results to disqualify a whole bunch of good results.
To use a specific example, if one teacher’s teaching on parenting results in a bunch of wayward young people, don’t pick out a few examples of Godly young people whose parents followed that teaching and say that everyone else is an exception. Conversely, if most of the young people are turning out to be Godly, zealous adults, but a few families end up with wayward children, it may be a problem with those specific parents or children, and not the teacher’s fault.
Also, not all that looks good is good. I speak from personal experience. I looked, to some people, like a very Godly, wise, committed Christian at age 20. I know because they told me so. Under the surface, though, I was not as good as they thought I was. I had a lot of problems, and I wasn’t nearly as wise as they thought. Had it not been for the grace of God, I don’t know where I might be today.
Don’t Be Afraid to Look for Wolves
Jesus has told us to beware of false prophets. Don’t listen to the people that tell you that you should give others the benefit of the doubt, when there are clear indications that things are not right.
Because the consequences of ignoring a wolf can be deadly.
I was once a student in Bill Gothard’s ATI (Advanced Training Institute) homeschool program. More specifically, I was raised in ATI from first grade until I finished school at age 16.
At the time, I thought ATI was great. The Wisdom Booklets (our curriculum) were interesting; I learned to know other ATI students who were good friends; the conferences and seminars were fun and interesting. Not only that, but we were part of an elite group of homeschoolers who were superior to all non-ATIers. We were receiving a superior education, and we were going to change the world.
But by 2005, our family had been seeing, for the past five or so years, that things were not turning out the way we wanted. Young people were rebelling. Dress standards were dropping. ATI wasn’t quite what it had been when we joined in 1994. Meanwhile, Gothard was cranking out program after program, with ever-glowing promises of what we would learn, and newsletter after newsletter about how God was doing marvelous things through ATI and its parent organization, Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP).
It was early 2005 when I finally went to my first Basic Seminar. Previously, all the Basic Seminars in our area had been too far away, but now one was held close enough for our whole family to attend. I diligently filled out the blank spaces in my workbook, trying to remember everything that Gothard was saying. (I was a little annoyed when I got my textbook toward the end of the week, and discovered that it contained everything that I had been busy writing down.)
Beside me, my dad, who had attended several Basic Seminars in the past, was growing suspicious about Gothard’s use of Scripture. Toward the end of the week, he brought his laptop and started looking up the Scriptures that Bill was referencing onscreen but not quoting. They turned out not to be as supportive as Gothard had wanted us to believe. He began having some questions about things that Gothard was teaching.
We left ATI that year. Slowly, we lost some respect for ATI and Gothard, but their teachings still permeated our beliefs and practice–especially me. ATI was all I had ever really known. I had grown up with its curriculum, and the teachings and mindset were all around us in the homeschool community: Courtship. Do things as a family. Youth-only interaction is dangerous. Guys don’t talk to girls. Girls stay at home until they marry. There were some ideas I didn’t even question. Why should I question them? I had no reason to think differently.
And then, in late 2013 and early 2014, the story broke. Bill Gothard wasn’t a Godly man; he was a liar, fraud, deceiver, and sexual predator. People weren’t getting the results he had glowingly promised. He had lied to us about how well the programs were working. He had been doing disgusting things that we would never have dreamed he would do.
The Emperor had no clothes.
That shook me to the core, because Gothard’s teachings were part of my core beliefs. As I examined the evidence, I found that there were many things I believed that were not true. So what WAS true? I wasn’t sure.
One thing stood as a solid rock through this turbulent time: God was true and faithful. I had seen Him work many times, and I realized that He was confirming what He had been teaching us previously through failures in the Mennonite church: rules and doctrines of men don’t produce righteous people. On the contrary, they drive people away from God. (You can read more of my story at Six Years Later.)
But as I saw all the negative ways that ATI had affected me, I felt like a victim. I became afraid that some other false teaching or wrong idea would hurt me and turn me away from God and cause consequences in my life. In addition, the wrong ideas and mindset had led me to make many mistakes in how I handled life. I thought I was permanently scarred. I would never have the life that I could have had if I had only been taught correctly from the beginning.
Secretly, I think I was a little upset with God. I knew better than to blame Him for the way He had led our family, because I knew that His ways are always best. So I blamed my parents instead. I was nothing but a product of a bad system, and now I needed them to make a good system to change me into what I needed to be.
And then, one day, God changed my perspective. “You’re not a victim,” He said. “You are a graduate. I put you in ATI to learn the things that you needed to learn there, and when you were finished, I took you out. I did not let anything happen that is going to harm you long-term.”
He showed me that my singleness was not a punishment for bad behavior, but that I had needed to remain single, living at home, so I could learn the lessons that He had me to learn. The things that had happened to me, the wrong ideas and mindsets, the relationships I hadn’t had and the places I hadn’t gone–they were all part of my training about the terrible consequences of following men instead of God.
You see, so many times, when people want to live for God and not like the world, they run straight for conservatism and commandments of men. ATI was a prime example. There were many first-generation Christian parents who wanted something better for their children than the sinful lifestyles they had experienced without Christ. Along came Bill Gothard, saying “Follow me, and your family is guaranteed to turn out as wonderful, Godly people!”
But it doesn’t work. Oh, sure, it “works” for some–at least for a while. But for those who you don’t hear about in the glowing reports, it causes all sorts of problems and sin.
My dad was in his fifties when he learned about these problems. I, on the other hand, got an early, forceful education about not following men and adding to God’s Word. I now have the opportunity to help people throughout the rest of my life with the things that I have learned.
God has promised: “All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) I have a choice: I call myself a victim, God a liar, and refuse to believe that God has a purpose in my training; or I can accept God’s words, trust in His purpose, and seek to use what He has taught me.
By saying that I am not a victim, I do not mean in any way to downplay or minimize the true victims of ATI–those whose abusive parents used the teachings of Gothard to abuse their children physically, emotionally, spiritually and/or sexually. I am so sorry that those people–including some of the ATI students I knew–had to go through what they did.
But for the rest of us–those whose parents were just trying to do what was best for us and give us a superior education–say it with me: