False Teaching

The Untouchables

Touch not the Lord’s anointed.

This is a very popular battle cry whenever the teachings and actions of a particularly popular Christian leader is questioned or criticized. If I am not mistaken this is what is meant when people use this statement:

  • A man of God is called by God and not by man
  • He is therefore not answerable to anyone but the one who called him
  • Since we do not know whether what he is teaching and/or doing is by divine instruction and therefore according to God’s will to question his actions or teaching can unknowingly be questioning God Himself and therefore incur the wrath the Lord.

I wonder if this view of Christian leaders as being untouchable stems from the way we as an African society view spiritual leaders. Traditionally religious leaders are untouchable. Their word is law and to speak against them or question their methods or instructions is to go against the gods. Terrible things could happen to someone who challenged their authority. I suspect an aspect of this has influenced the way our society also views Christian leaders especially the ones who display the ability to perform the miraculous.

There is need to examine the origins of the phrase Touch not the Lord’s anointed in the Bible.  Conrad Mbewe does a brilliant job of explaining the meaning of the phrase in this article http://www.conradmbewe.com/2012/12/touch-not-lords-anointed.html. The key point is that, the phrase  “…is about harm, especially physical harm, and not legitimate criticism“.  Using this as a defense against criticism just doesn’t work.  The Bible calls on us to actively check that what we hear is in accordance with the gospel. Conrad Mbewe makes this point brilliantly:

“Public teachers must be above reproach. That is one of their qualifications. If they meddle in heretical teaching or immoral living, they disqualify themselves. Thus, those of us who are aware of their devious dealings or dangerous teachings must sound the public alarm. We must warn the unwary lest they fall prey to them. Public sins must be rebuked publicly.

Paul named heretical teachers and wanted the church to keep a safe distance away from them. He wrote to Timothy saying, “But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some” (2 Timothy 2:16-18). Was he “touching” the Lord’s anointed? No, but he was certainly publicly naming those who were teaching heresy…..

Paul rebuked Peter publicly when he acted in a disorderly manner and his behaviour was going to undermine the gospel. This was not even heresy—yet it had dangerous long-term effects….Evidently, Paul did not think that rebuking Peter publicly was touching the Lord’s anointed!”

We as Christians must really begin to know the gospel that we believe.  I suspect we are in a generation that assumes what the gospel is.  We were brought up in Christian homes and have lived with Christian jargon our entire lives.  We know how to talk the talk and walk the walk.  We can answer Sunday School questions without thought.  But do we really know the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.  The gospel of which Paul says:

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. ” – Gal 1:6-8

Do we know the gospel enough to be able to discern when an “angel from heaven” preaches a different gospel? Here is why I think we may have difficulty to discerning between the authentic gospel and a fake gospel.

  1. A lot of us are second-hand readers of the Bible.  Our knowledge of the scriptures is sometimes based on what someone has told us.  There is no direct engagement with the scriptures.  In this case you can’t really check whether what is being said is in error because you don’t even know what the original source says.
  2. We have learnt a lot of unhelpful ways of reading the Bible.  I keep hearing the popular refrain “read your Bible…read your Bible” but I think there is an assumption that we all know how to read the Bible.  That would have been a fair assumption if not for the fact that the ways we hear the Bible being taught also teaches us how we read the Bible.  If we only see people pick one verse and come up with stunning conclusions seemingly out of the air,we will assume that is how verses should be read.  It has become incredibly normal to see Biblical verses used to justify all kinds of things and incredibly rare to see an actual exposition of a Biblical text.  The current approach to Bible reading is liking going to a marketplace.  You walk around examining the goods and picking what you like and leaving the rest.  At the end of the day the gospel becomes whatever creature you want it to be.  If we read the Bible in this way we are only reinforcing positions and ideas we already have instead of being challenged by scripture and being transformed by the word. A text without a context is a pretext for a proof text. 
  3. False teaching often tells us what we want hear to instead of instructing us in sound doctrine. In instructing a young preacher, Paul has this to say: For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths 2 Tim 4:3.

When we are tempted to say Touch not the Lord’s anointed, let’s first try and out what exactly is being criticized.  Is just it just an unwarranted attack at a faithful servant of the Lord? or are legitimate questions being asked about the content of what is being preached as gospel?  Also before we launch into any “attack” on any Christian leader, are we doing so in a helpful, respectful constructive way that seeks to build up the church?

Why the rise in false teaching in Ghana?

I don’t normally hear about Ghanaian movies on BBC, so imagine my surprise when I hear a BBC report on a Ghanaian movie(http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-24087312).  “Praising The Lord Plus One” is a Ghanaian movie that just had its premier few weeks ago.  It movie is about how fake prophets and pastors use the name of the Lord to pursue their own desires.  This is the synopsis that the director gives on his website
“Why is Heaven so expensive for the poor on earth? Are we using God’s name in vain? Must Satan be blamed for all our challenges, or the man of God sometimes creates Satan to satisfy his own needs? And must the poor, for fear of Satan’s hell, give away the little he/she earns and wait for the after-life reward in Heaven? Has the earth become hell for the needy because the man of God says so? Has man lost hope on earth?”
I must say I applaud the filmmakers for doing something that will provoke people to ask questions.   I think we need to think critically and ask some questions about these areas.

The role of the Christian leader

In an article that has been mentioned here before, Conrad Mbewe, a pastor in Zambia, argues that the role of the Pastor/Prophet in Africa looks suspiciously like the role of the traditional priest/jujuman/witchdoctor (http://www.conradmbewe.com/2013/07/why-is-charismatic-movement-thriving-in.html). He goes on to say that:

So, a person who is beset with perennial illnesses, failing to get a job, failing to find a spouse or to have children, whose business is failing to thrive, etc., simply goes to the witchdoctor who alone has the key to look into the spirit world. He is told that it is either a deceased person or an evil spirit who is frustrating him.

Sometimes the enemy is a person who is alive. However, the reason why this living individual seems to have a mysterious hold over your life is because he has plugged into those two layers (of either dead ancestors or evil spirits) and you have not. With the help of a powerful witchdoctor you can outsmart him in those two layers, and the blessings of God can once again begin to flow into your life.

Whichever way, the power of the witchdoctor is not in explaining truth but in mindless frenzy. His grip upon the popular mind is his eerie mysteriousness and his capacity to knock you out of your senses and then pronounce you delivered. Of course, this is never done by benevolence. You pay for his services.

If he is right in his analysis, it means that a wrong view of the role of the Christian spiritual leader, specifically the pastor or prophet, breeds an environment where con men can masquerade as legitimate men of God. In the article he is talking particularly about a view where the man of God is seen as link between the people and God. The people need him because without him that link is cut off and access to God is blocked from them. This places the pastor or prophet in a vital position in the lives of the people and can explain why some people are willing to do a lot of things which are seemingly unwise just so that the relationship is maintained.
The question is that is the role of our church leaders viewed in that light when we look at the scriptures? We are told a lot of things about what a pastors in the scriptures. From the character they should have (1 Timothy 3:1-7), to what they should teach and how they should live(1 Timothy 4), and the fact that they should refute false teachings(2 Timothy 2:14-26). Even with prophecy we are told what they effect of prophecy should be. But in all of this, the one who has restored our relationship with God, the one who has enabled us to be called children of God, the one who has sent his Spirit to live in us if we are Christian, the one who the shepherds in the church are supposed to guide us towards is the one true Shepherd, Jesus Christ our Lord. So the person who is sick can pray to his Father in heaven knowing full well that he will be heard.  We are sometimes in danger of seeing the man behind the pulpit as the one through which we have access to our Father.  An unscrupulous person can use that to his advantage.

The place of special prayers/items
There also seems to be a rising popularity in special objects, annointing oil (in various colours and types depending on your need), handkerchiefs etc. And if the item is coming from Israel then it is always more powerful. The question to be asked is what place do these items play in Christianity. Coupled with this is special prayers which sometimes go hand in hand with these items. I admit that I have more to study and learn about the doctrine of prayer in the Bible but I am quite sure of a few thing. The person we go to when we pray is our Father in heaven and the Bible teaches us how to pray for to our Father. I know we can boldly go to him because of our sins have been dealt with on the cross. I know that God intervening and answering my prayers is not dependant on anyone or any item but dependant on God. It becomes very easy to fixate on the items and people instead of on the all-powerful God.

Celebrity Pastors
This is not a new phenomenon. It was happening in the Corinthian church where the church was divided between the big church leaders of their day; Paul, Peter and Apollos. Having great influential leaders in the christian church is a blessing especially when they use their great gifts of teaching and wisdom to edify and build up the church. It becomes a danger when we forgot that it is the gospel that authenticates their ministry and not any supernatural manifestation. We know from scripture that many will come who will perform signs and miracles to deceive the masses. If the substance of their message is not the authentic gospel then we must avoid them. By the way it is quite possible to use all the christian phrases and verses and deliver a message that is devoid of the gospel. A message that makes us more reliant on the individual or ourselves rather than on Jesus Christ.
The celebrity status we sometimes give them makes it seem sometimes that their words cannot be questioned even when in some cases it clearly goes against scripture. It is difficult to be discerning when we have such a high view a person. All I am saying is that our view of scripture should be higher than our view of anyone and that will allow us to validate what they say with what scripture says.

The prevalent view of guidance seems to be around “hearing a word from God” which usually points to someone saying “God told me to tell you…”. I will share two qoutes that I think highlight the dangers of that view. This was during a discussion on a blog when this issue came up(http://thefrontporch.org/2013/09/the-bishop-and-the-filmmaker-what-t-d-jakes-and-tyler-perry-teach-us-about-the-black-church-black-elites-and-authentic-spirituality/).

Let me try to illustrate with a couple of questions why I think “God told me to” is a bad way of speaking about subjective guidance (having already admitted that I believe God can and does prompt us in various subjective ways). You mentioned that “God told you to marry your wife.” Let me ask: If you had not married your wife, would that be sin? If she had refused, would she have been in sin? Since you had that sense from God, does that also mean God had only one correct wife for you?

Do you see the problems these questions point to? Many Christians get paralyzed–especially in matters of Christian freedom–because they’re waiting for God to “tell them.” But, in the case of marriage, for example, God has spoken. In 1 Cor. 7 he says we’re free to marry or not marry. We don’t sin if we marry; nor do we sin if we do. To say “God told me to” in a way that feels like “Thus saith the Lord” is to adopt a view of guidance that inevitably brings us into tension and sometimes contradiction with what God says in His word. I know you would never advise using “God told me” as an excuse for contradicting the word. But you can probably also admit/experienced that there are tons of people who do exactly that. That’s why I think that’s a problematic way of speaking about God’s will.

The issue of “God told me” is problematic. It presents a non-negotiable engagement, that benefits the one uttering such. It may also give a false ideal that one has this ethereal communion with Christ that the other does not. … What is problematic in the pulpit is, scripture in many cases says what is worlds apart from the pulpit. Scripture says “He that findeth a wife findeth a good thing.” Biblical wisdom from within ones-self and the counsel of the “Godly” around you will help one choose a virtuous, prudent help-mate. As to giving away a possession, the Bible says it is, “better to give than receive,” or “Give and it shall be given thee.” The book of Acts displays sharing and “one-anothering” to meet needs, etc. We have multiple parables of how persons of “The Way,” ought to seek to meet needs by being good to all men and especially those in the household of faith. With these things in mind one does not have to live “listening” for a mystical voice from within or without. I believe the pulpit needs to stand firm on the five Sola’s and let that be the “guiding light” for the “pew.”

Whether you agree or disagree with the people speaking, I think their points have merit and many people have used the weaknesses of speaking like this to their advantage and keep telling people to do things that are clearly not from God.

In conclusion, there are probably more areas that need to be thought through but I think that in all this the faithful men and women who preach God’s word are a key to solving this problem.  They need to teach, rebuke, correct and train us from the scriptures and also refute the false teachings that is going on by the authority of the Scriptures.  “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” – 2 Timothy 4:2-4