If Balaam lived among today’s evangelicals, he would be considered a great man. His public sayings would be widely known, and his “ministry” would have great impact (Numbers 22:6). In his day, Balaam was also known for his “prayer power.” That is, when he spoke to the Lord, Balaam usually got an answer (Numbers 22:8, 18, etc.). He certainly would have been at home among many of today’s televangelists. How can we be exposing error?
But Balaam had an appetite for monetary success and a desire for secular recognition (2 Peter 2:15; Jude 11). He willfully embraced error in spite of the Lord’s warnings and with clear knowledge beforehand that he was doing wrong (Numbers 22–24). In so doing, he foreshadowed the likes of the foolish teachings of Harold Camping, the damnable writings of Rob Bell, the oily compromise of Peter Enns, and the open betrayal of Scripture by “evangelical” academics like Bruce Waltke and the fellows of BioLogos.
How do “good” people become “enemies of the cross of Christ” (Philippians 3:18)?
Basic Biblical Guidelines for Exposing Error
Of the many passages in the Bible that contain information or warnings about false teaching, there are four key New Testament passages that will help answer that question. In 2 Peter 2:1-3, the apostle Peter lists five characteristics of the leaders of false teaching:
- They will come from “Christian” churches or backgrounds.
- They will deny the Lord Jesus in some way.
- They will become very popular.
- They will cause shame to the ideals of Scripture.
- They will use human greed and hidden meanings to deceive.
These character checks might be satisfactory in and of themselves, since they would quickly identify some of the more notorious “cult” leaders of the last 200 years.
- Jim Jones, famous for leading the Guyana mass suicide, was a Baptist preacher in California for many years.
- Joseph Smith, who has never been known for being “biblical,” founded what has become the largest “Christian” cult movement in the world, the Mormons.
- Charles T. Russell, founder of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, became disenchanted with orthodox Christianity and began issuing prophetic predictions in light of special signs and mysteries he found in the Great Pyramid of Egypt. Not only did he make highly publicized and false predictions of the second coming of Christ and the end of the age, but his successors continued to do so for several decades.
The so-called “health, wealth, and prosperity” gospel that has consumed much of the Pentecostal and charismatic movements since the 1970s primarily attracts those given to human greed, and has been led by such notorious characters as Reverend Ike, Benny Hinn, Terry Cole-Whittaker, Jim and Tammy Bakker, Robert Tilton, Oral Roberts, and many others whose behavior is so bizarre and unethical that even secular media has aired their hypocrisy for all to see.
Yet that “gospel” continues to garner followers and the movements continue unabated. Evidently, a more serious departure from the biblical ideal is necessary for some to take notice.
The All-Encompassing Error
By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world. (1 John 4:2-3 NKJV)
John amplifies this error to include anyone who “transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God” (2 John 9). Not only is it blasphemous to deny the deity of Jesus Christ, but also to deny that which He has taught.
Surely you are aware of the anti-Trinitarian teachings of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who view Jesus as a created individual, second in power, but never equal to Jehovah.
The public position of the Mormons is more subtle. Mormons pray in Jesus’ name, call Him the Son of God, and talk about His death on the cross, His resurrection, and His second coming. What they do not talk openly about is their own belief that Jesus is the son of Elohim and Mary, brother to Satan, and approved as Savior only after a vote of the Council of gods.
The Christian Scientists are today not often taken seriously except by the New Age intelligentsia, but this cult was a major force of division and schism in the early part of the 20th century. They did not deny the deity directly; they just changed the meaning of the word.
What should be our response to the plethora of false teaching? First, we put on truth. Second, we combat friendly fire and “earnestly contend for the faith”. Third, we wield the Sword of the Spirit. Fourth, we engage in the battle for the mind. This battle will be addressed in the next blog post.
Question: Have you experienced false teaching firsthand and, if so, how did you address it? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
(Post adapted with permission; Morris III, H. 2011. Balaam’s Error and Today’s Evangelicals. Acts & Facts. 40 (8): 4-6.)