I don’t know about you, but I want my life work to succeed and to last. I want it to remain long after I’m gone, continuing to bear good fruit. I would hate to discover that, shortly after I get to Heaven, my life’s impact on the world fizzles and dies.
Worse yet, I would really hate to get to the end of life and find that I’ve had a negative impact on the world–that it would be better off if I had never been born.
My friend Jesus also has the same desire. Back a couple thousand years ago, He said, “You didn’t choose me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain; that whatever you will ask of the Father in my name, he may give it to you.” (John 15:16)
But how is that going to happen?
One thing is for certain: our fruit will only remain if it’s Jesus’ fruit.
Not Even Hell Can Prevail
When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of man, am?”
And they said, “Some say that you are John the Baptist: some, Elijah; and others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.”
He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
And Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
And Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood has not revealed it to you, but my Father who is in Heaven. And I also say to you, that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
Jesus is the One who builds the church that Hell cannot destroy. Not me. Not my ideas and plans.
In addition, He is the One who reveals the truth to others. I find it very interesting that He did not say that Peter believed that Jesus was the Christ because he had seen all the miracles Jesus had done. He says that Peter believed because God had revealed it to him.
In other words, all church-building and all truth-revealing must come from God in order to be effective.
Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit
Jesus started the Beatitudes by saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)
Jesus says that in order to gain the Kingdom of Heaven, we need to be poor in spirit. We need to realize that we are weak, helpless, and poor, and need Jesus’ riches and filling. We have to realize that, on our own strength, we can do nothing.
The Laodicean church was just the opposite:
“…you say, ‘I am rich, and have gotten riches, and have need of nothing;’ and don’t know that you are the wretched one, miserable, poor, blind, and naked…” (Revelation 3:17)
When we think that we don’t need God and can depend on ourselves, that is when we are the poorest. In order to be truly rich, we have to be poor in spirit and realize that, however smart, rich, wise, or accredited we may be, we will never accomplish God’s will on our own. It is when we allow God to fill us that we become rich–not in money and stuff, but in the things that truly matter: love, joy, peace, righteousness, and the power of the Holy Spirit.
And when God is working through us, then He is the One building His church, not us.
You Can’t Win Today On Yesterday’s Victories
Not that I have already obtained, or am already made perfect; but I press on, that I may take hold of that for which also I was taken hold of by Christ Jesus. Brothers, I don’t regard myself as yet having taken hold, but one thing I do. Forgetting the things which are behind, and stretching forward to the things which are before, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, think this way. If in anything you think otherwise, God will also reveal that to you.
Paul first says that it is not as though he was already perfect (verse 12). Then he says, “Let us therefore, as many as are perfect…”, classifying himself with the perfect. God is telling us that, however mature or complete we may think that we are, we must never rest on our laurels and feel like we’ve come far enough. Even more importantly, we must never stop relying on Him.
Part of not looking backwards is that we do not rely on our past accomplishments, but rather on God. We must not look to see how much we’ve already done, but how much God still calls us to do—“the high calling of God”. This keeps us humble.
Coming back to where we started at the beginning, God is the One who reveals the truth to people. God is the One who makes the changes. God is the One who brings conviction. God is the One who builds the church that the gates of Hell cannot overcome.
Because of these things, God needs people who are poor in spirit and rely on Him rather than themselves. People who, however much training and skill they have, realize that they can never accomplish God’s work without His power. That they will never achieve that prize that God offers them, unless they totally rely on His power instead of their own.
It is God Who equips us for the work that He gives us. All that we have, we have received from Him. Let’s totally rely on Him and seek His power to accomplish His will!
It was a meal together after a funeral. I was sitting at a table with a couple of my great-uncles, and the conversation turned to dealing with sexual abusers. As we talked, it became clear that their first priority was how to deal with the abuser and help him to be able to get back to a more-or-less normal life. For some reason, they didn’t have much to say about helping the victim(s) to find healing from their trauma.
Since then, I have observed this same phenomenon with others. They will talk about the dreadful effects that sexual abuse had in the life of the abuser, when they face the punishment for their acts, but fail to give equal thought to the effects on the victims. Why?
There are three reasons that I see:
In the case of child sexual abuse, there is a good chance that the abuser is a grown man–or woman, for that matter. (Actually, there is also an excellent chance that the abuser is a teenager, but we will leave that age group for right now.) If the abuser is a church member, all the adults in the church are peers. The abuser may even be a leader of some sort in the church and well-respected. Contrary to what you might think, an abuser is often not someone who you would suspect as an abuser. They might be friendly, outgoing, respectable people–who do terrible things.
So when the well-respected peer is convicted of sexual abuse, the people around them are naturally going to think of their friend first. They may feel that he/she was unjustly accused or given too harsh of a sentence. They want the abuser to be able to come clean and return to normal life.
The child victim, on the other hand, may be someone they don’t even know. At the very least, they probably don’t know the child as well as the abuser, even if it is the abuser’s son or daughter. If they’ve never met the victim, but know the abuser well (or at least respect him/her), they can easily forget about the needs of the faceless victim.
Especially if they have…
Many people are unaware of the effects of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. This includes many victims.
The trauma of abuse causes many effects on the victim, especially when it is repeated and comes from someone they trust, such as a family member. The victim may “shut down” emotionally or develop certain coping habits or thought patterns. They may blame themselves for the abuse. And they may “act out” in ways that appear rebellious, irresponsible, careless, or sinful. Those who don’t realize what is happening will react improperly and condemn the victim for their behavior, further traumatizing and alienating them.
The potential effects and results of sexual abuse include:
Loss of trust
Poor school performance
“Spacing out” and daydreaming to disassociate from the abuse
Withdrawal and isolation
“Acting out”–rebellion, crime, cruelty to animals, sexual promiscuity, drug use/abuse, physical aggression to others
It is important that we understand the true effects of abuse on its victims so that we are able to empathize with them, understand why they do what they do, and help them to find healing. They need safe people to talk to, people who will care about them, listen to them without condemnation, blaming, or shaming, and respect the privacy of the victim by not sharing the information with others. They need people who are filled with the Holy Spirit and can help them to find true healing through the power of Christ.
Some people, though, will still not care enough to help, because of a…
Lack of Christ-likeness
Jesus defined His ministry early on by reading in the synagogue of Nazareth:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to heal the broken hearted, to proclaim release to the captives, recovering of sight to the blind, to deliver those who are crushed, and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” (Luke 4:18-19)
The Scriptures foretold:
“[Jesus] will not strive, nor shout; neither will anyone hear his voice in the streets. He won’t break a bruised reed. He won’t quench a smoking flax, until he leads justice to victory. In his name, the nations will hope.” (Matthew 12:19-21)
Jesus has a great heart of compassion for those who are hurting. He came to earth and gave His life for us because He cared so much for us.
Jesus also expects us to have the same heart for those around us. He tells us that in the judgment, He will separate those who serve others from those who don’t.
“Then the King will tell those on his right hand, ‘Come, blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry, and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me drink. I was a stranger, and you took me in. I was naked, and you clothed me. I was sick, and you visited me. I was in prison, and you came to me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, and feed you; or thirsty, and give you a drink? When did we see you as a stranger, and take you in; or naked, and clothe you? When did we see you sick, or in prison, and come to you?’
“The King will answer them, ‘Most certainly I tell you, because you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” (Matthew 25:34-40)
Notice that this is not about preaching a gospel of good works. The righteous were not doing these things because they were trying to earn their salvation. They didn’t even realize that they were helping Jesus. It was just part of who they were as God’s children. They had compassion on their brothers in Christ (“the least of these My brothers“) and ministered to them.
Jesus wants us to reach out and help the hurting, especially those within the church. If we lack this desire and compassion within our hearts, could it be that we lack the love of God?
But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and closes his heart of compassion against him, how does God’s love remain in him? My little children, let’s not love in word only, or with the tongue only, but in deed and truth. (1 John 3:17-18)
But Don’t Throw the Abusers Under the Bus
From what I’ve read, 40-50% of sexual abusers have been abused themselves. Their actions can be part of their “acting out” and trying to cope with their abuse.
This does not excuse their abusive actions, but it does bring something to the forefront: the abusers need help too!
Christians have something to offer that no one else has: the power of the Holy Spirit to enable people to lead holy, righteous lives, free from abuse and other sins. While the world can only offer prison and therapy, Christ has the power to actually change people from the inside out. He has the power to heal the hurts, the wounds, the pain, and to take away an abuser’s desire to abuse others.
However, there is one catch: it only works if the person actually wants to be helped. It only works if they are willing to repent and accept the working of Christ. Jesus does not force anyone to accept His forgiveness and cleansing.
As long as an abuser is unwilling to fully repent, be cleansed by Christ, take full responsibility for his/her actions, and pay any necessary criminal penalties, he or she will never find true freedom from their sin. There are many people, unfortunately, who will never experience true freedom in Christ because they are unwilling to do one or more of these things I just mentioned.
Before I wrap this up, one more important point: sexual abuse is a crime. It doesn’t matter whether it was full-blown rape or “just” some inappropriate touching. Both are traumatic to the victim, and both are criminal. Some people, such as pastors and counselors, are required by law to report sexual abuse to the authorities. If they do not, they themselves will be held accountable by the state.
We want people to find repentance and cleansing through the power of Christ. But the law has been broken, and the penalty must be paid. The church is not capable of handling abuse “in-house”. It must be dealt with in a court of law.
And all Israel shall hear, and fear, and shall not do any more wickedness like this among you. (Deuteronomy 13:11)
Jesus is the God of justice, And He wants us all to be made free. Let us follow in His footsteps, Bring the world His liberty!
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)
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.
Growing up in ATI, I was taught to be very careful about “wolves”. Not that the word “wolves” came up that often, but the teaching was still there: Beware of anyone who doesn’t have our standards. Beware of the world. Don’t let your children get deceived and defiled. Hunker in the bunker.
Who should we be concerned about? What kind of wolves are most dangerous? Who is most likely to destroy us spiritually?
Jesus told us what kind of wolves to look out for:
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves.
When a wolf shows up with no disguise, the sheep immediately recognize it as a wolf and run. He can’t trick them into thinking that he’s there peaceably, or that he’s a friend.
But when the wolf is disguised and looks like a sheep, he can sneak into the midst of the flock, become a trusted friend, and slyly attack when it works best.
Unfortunately, today, many people tell us not to identify wolves. People who call out someone as a wolf are told not to judge the other person—they are born again, washed in the blood of Jesus, and a brother in Christ. We must overlook the signs that they are not true believers.
Granted, it’s not a good idea to call everybody who disagrees with you a wolf. In fact, I would be suspicious of someone who did so. But when you see someone who claims to be Christian (follower of Jesus) but doesn’t walk like a Christian, it’s time to beware.
When Jesus sent His apostles out to preach, He warned them:
Behold, I send you out as sheep among wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.
As sheep, we are not big, fearsome animals like bears or lions. In and of ourselves, we do not have the ability to overcome a wolf. Therefore, we must be wise, realize that there will be wolves among us, and look out for them.
It’s significant to look at who these wolves were:
Jesus sent these twelve out, and commanded them, saying, “Don’t go among the Gentiles, and don’t enter into any city of the Samaritans. Rather, go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
These wolves that Jesus was warning his apostles about were not Gentiles. They were Jews! They were people like the Pharisees who claimed to be following God but were, in reality, children of the devil.
God warns us that Satan’s workers may appear to be righteous, and teachers of righteousness:
For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.
(2 Corinthians 11:13-15)
The danger of being attacked by a wolf is serious. You could be killed spiritually. Your very eternal destiny could be changed.
However, do not think that somehow, a wolf will overcome you and kill you, and there will be nothing you or God can do about it. Jesus has promised us that no one can pluck us out of His Father’s hand (John 10:28-29). Jesus is the Good Shepherd Who gives His life for the sheep.
All I’m trying to say is that the Good Shepherd has warned us to beware of hidden wolves, and the consequences of being overcome by a wolf are severe. And it is something that we must take personal responsibility to look out for. Otherwise, if Jesus automatically kept all wolves from attacking us, there would be no need for Him to have warned us.
To ignore the signs of a wolf is a perilous choice.
But what are the signs of a wolf? That’s what we’ll look at in the next post.
Last week, I wrote about how I am not a victim of ATI, but a graduate, because it was part of the life training that God had for me. Since then, God has been continuing to teach me about life after ATI. I’d like to share with you what He has been teaching me.
It’s Up to You Now
So, you were raised in a less-than-ideal system. You look back at your childhood with regret and wish that your parents had done things differently. You realize, as I did, that God will use it all for good in your life, but you wonder how to proceed. What’s life supposed to look like?
Not only that, but maybe your parents don’t seem interested in helping you recover. Maybe they won’t even admit that they raised you in a corrupt system. Maybe they’re still singing the praises of Bill Gothard or someone else like him who had a negative influence on you.
And you wish that they would understand what’s really going on in your head. You wish they would understand how deeply you were affected. And yet, you begin to feel that they never really will understand.
The ball is now in your court. Assuming that you are now an adult, out of high school, maybe on your own—you are responsible for cleaning up the mess. You are responsible to find out what God wants you to do, and do it.
If you cannot change unless somebody else corrects their ways, you are doomed. You’ll never reach what God wants you to do. You’ll always have issues that you are unable to correct.
Make no mistake: your background will shape you and influence you. It will give you subconscious thought patterns that you struggle to overcome. Don’t underestimate the impacts.
But: don’t look to other people to take the responsibility to correct those problems. As an adult, you need to square your shoulders and say, “The buck stops here.”
Don’t Fall for the Fatal Flaw
To me, at least, growing up, the message was clear: raise your children properly, and they will turn out right. If the children don’t turn out right, the parents did something wrong.
I still believe that there is a lot of truth to that statement. After all, Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” At the same time, I realize that there can be other influences along the way, or the parents may think that they are doing the right thing when they aren’t.
But here’s where the fatal flaw comes in: when the children believe that their behavior is their parents’ responsibility. In other words, believing that, if you turned out wrong, then your parents did the wrong thing; therefore, the solution is for your parents to undo their mistakes and do the right thing so that you can turn out correctly.
If you’re ten years old, you probably have a point. After all, you’re still too young to make wise decisions on your own. But if you’re an adult, sorry. Your future behavior is your responsibility. Yes, you may struggle to overcome challenges. Yes, it might help if your parents would work through things with you. But ultimately, you, as a mature adult, must take ownership of your life and set the course you will take, not wait for your parents to do it for you.
After all, if you have to wait for your parents to correct their ways, you may be waiting for a looooooong time.
You’re Not Alone
Remember, God is waiting to help you. His grace is sufficient to correct every problem that His training system (your background) instilled in you. This isn’t about going it alone.
But unless you realize your need of His grace and take the responsibility to seek His help and guidance, don’t expect to receive it. That’s part of taking responsibility: recognizing that you need help, and asking for it.
When you do go to God, though, He can do what nobody else can do: He can work both internally and externally to transform you by the renewing of your mind, so that you can know what His will is for you.
In past articles on grace, I said that grace is God’s power working within you. In reality, it also works outside of you, creating circumstances to teach you and help you. God’s grace also works in the lives of those around you, changing problems and character issues.
So go to your loving Father and talk to Him about your needs.
A Word to the Parents
Now, maybe you’re not the child, but the parent. Maybe you are responsible for having trained your children in a faulty system. Are you willing to take your own responsibility?
I know, Bill Gothard/Jonathan Lindvall/Michael Pearl/Denny Kenaston/the Ezzos/Doug Phillips/(fill in the blank) told you, or at least implied, that their system would produce Godly children who were next to perfect. It’s difficult to accept that these formulas, which were supposed to have such great results, were flawed and unable to produce the results you were promised. In the face of failure, it’s easy to ignore, minimize, or deny your failure, your children’s problems, or the evidence against people like Bill Gothard.
But ignoring problems will never make them go away. Denying your part in the situation will only drive a deeper wedge between you and your children. They already know that you made mistakes. Refusing to admit your mistakes will only make you look like a dunce in your children’s eyes.
For your adult children, as I have been saying, it’s their responsibility to make necessary changes in their lives. At the same time, when we make mistakes, we should try to do what we can to correct them. And when we know that we have believed error, it’s very important to find out what is truth and help pass it along to those whom we have misled.
You need to take responsibility and acknowledge that you, not the church, school, Bill Gothard–whoever–were ultimately responsible for misleading your children. I assume that no one kidnapped your children and held them hostage so they could indoctrinate them. Therefore, you were the one who enrolled them, took them to conferences, seminars, meetings, school, whatever, and reinforced what they learned. Along the way, they may have learned things that you never would have taught them. No matter. As the parent, the buck stopped with you. You are responsible.
If you can come alongside and offer support, advice, a listening ear, and a heartfelt apology for what you did wrong, it can do wonders. Your children, regardless of what they say, probably care about what you think of them and what they believe. If they know that you, too, recognize the error that you were taught and passed along to them, it will make it easier for them to make changes in their own lives.
As your children sort through what they believe and try to figure out what is true, they may bring up ideas that you find troubling. Their ideas may be totally wrong and inconsistent with the Word of God. Be patient. A knee-jerk reaction will not help. Playing know-it-all and trust-me-I’m-always-right only makes you look foolish when your children know that you have not always been right and you don’t know it all. Make sure that you truly understand what they’re saying and aren’t reacting to an idea that your children would never believe. If you have understood correctly and you know that they are wrong, share with them why they are wrong. Your extra years of experience can be a helpful anchor and balancing viewpoint.
I want to admit that this article points straight back at me as much as it points at you. Quite frankly, I’m writing from my own personal experiences. I struggle to take full responsibility and work on what needs to be worked on.
But God is faithful, and I hope what He has shared with me will help you as it has helped me.
Today marks six years since the first post on this blog. It’s interesting to think back on all that the Lord has done in my life over those six years.
Six years ago, I was still steeped in Bill Gothard’s false teachings, trying to live the Christian life on my own strength, and failing. I claimed to be a radical for Jesus, and I indeed wanted to be one–tried to be one–but I lacked the power of His grace to actually be who He wanted me to be.
Then came an experience I described as “The Terror of the Lord“. I believed that God gave me a great working-over about Facebook and my activities there. In the following years, I followed the feelings that I had–do this, don’t do that–as best as I could. Sometimes, the feelings, which I believed came from the Lord, were contradictory, or told me to do completely illogical things. If I failed to follow the impressions I received, I would have terrible feelings of condemnation.
For four years, some of the darkest of my life, I was in bondage to those feelings. My relationship with God suffered. Instead of having the delightful devotional life I had had before, seeing interesting things in God’s Word and blogging about them, I would sit with my Bible in front of me, trying to figure out the insight that my feelings had told me was just waiting in a particular verse. Sometimes I saw something. Sometimes I didn’t. I took weeks to read through the book of Proverbs–I mean, like maybe several months. And it’s not that I was learning a lot from it. I would go to spend time with the Lord and, instead of sweet communion, feel despair, silence, condemnation and bondage.
I also had a poor relationship with my dad. I work full-time on our family farm, and have done so for the last 16 years. Dad’s goal was to teach us how to work, but I wasn’t a good worker. Dad couldn’t trust me to get a job done properly and in good time. If he went somewhere for the day, I usually didn’t get much done while he was gone. It was a constant source of conflict.
In addition, we had numerous arguments, because in addition to being unreliable, I was also too bullheaded to listen to reproof. Eventually, God showed me that, to gain wisdom, I needed to listen better and hear what Dad had to teach me, but we still had many conflicts.
The breakthrough started in November 2013, when we found out about Doug Phillips’s immorality. This was followed, in early 2014, by the exposure of Bill Gothard’s sinful conduct and deception. That really shook me up spiritually. Next to my dad, Bill had influenced me more than any other one person. I was shaken to the core, because Bill’s teachings and philosophies were part of my core. I began to realize that maybe the things that I believed weren’t true, and started seeking to find the truth.
On May 5, 2014, God delivered me from the bondage of following feelings, when He showed me that these feelings were not coming from Him. What a relief!
Throughout 2014, God was working on my life and heart, wooing me to Him, correcting problems in my life, teaching me of the need for His grace. On October 18, I rededicated my life to Him and gave Him complete Lordship over me. This was a major turning point in my life.
I want to confess publicly, right here and now, that I was a hypocrite. I claimed to be a “radical for Jesus”, but I wasn’t one. People thought that I was a great guy, wise and dedicated to serving God. In fact, I even thought that I wasn’t too bad. That, however, was false, as was the image I conveyed to people. If you were one of the people I deceived, I apologize, and I ask your forgiveness.
Since rededicating my life to God, He has been revealing Himself more abundantly to me. The sweet communion is back, and better than before. 2015 was a banner year, as God worked in our lives and taught our family many lessons. It culminated in us closing our farm store and stopping production of meat chickens, turkeys and pullets, while increasing egg production. Our family relationship is much better than it used to be, and I now enjoy working with my dad. When he goes somewhere, things still get done. We have much less conflict than we used to, and our differences usually get resolved better than they used to.
If there’s one thing I want you to learn from my life, it’s this: follow God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and look to Him for the grace to obey Him. There is no other way to live the Christian life. Rules, formulas, plans, self-help books–they are all worthless for making us into God’s image. Only by God’s grace can we ever do what He wants us to do.
P. S. Please stay tuned in to this blog. My dad, Myron Horst, is busy working on a book entitled The Failure of the Great Amish and Conservative Mennonite Dress Experiment, and you don’t want to miss it when it comes out! Prepare to be shocked, stunned, convicted, and challenged–and your life turned upside-down.