False Prophets

Part 1 of the series:

Questioning Church Authority

by Don Enevoldsen

Recent revelations of misconduct and hypocritical preaching of church leadership has suggested to me the need for understanding the role of leaders in our spiritual lives. From my earliest days in church, at the age of five, the message was pounded into us that we must obey our leaders, without regard to their teaching or discernment of their motives.

Yet experience has demonstrated repeatedly that the greatest damage to the faith of believers frequently comes through self-centered, narcissistic leaders who are blindly followed without question or challenge. It is easy to think of this in terms of cult figures like Jim Jones or David Koresh, but I am here concerned with the far more common manipulation, coercion and abuse entrenched in basic, traditional churches in our own neighborhoods.

The reason for this willingness to relinquish responsibility to a pastor or priest is the belief that God expects us to “obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account.” (Hebrews 13:17-18)

When considered beyond the most superficial level, however, this belief creates a conundrum. Jesus warned us to beware of false prophets. “They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ferocious wolves.” (Matthew 7:15) Fortunately he gave the means to identify them: “By their fruit you will recognize them.” (verse 16)

The problem is simple. Prophets are part of the five fold ministry (Ephesians 4:11), a part of the leadership of the church that includes pastors, teachers, evangelists and apostles. If I am required to obey and submit, believing that they must give an account to God, not to me, then how can I examine the fruit to determine whether or not they are false? Discernment necessitates questioning.

When allegations and inculpation are leveled at leaders, how should we respond? Accusations should not be automatically embraced, but when they come at the mouths of more than one witness, we cannot afford to ignore them. Yet a staggering number of believers do.

In the next few weeks, I propose to examine some of the common teachings regarding the respect due to leaders, in part to know when accusations should be ignored, but also with the intention of bringing a higher level of accountability to the various offices of leadership among us.

Next, Part 2: What Is a Leader?

Do you have an additional thought on this subject that will assist our search for truth? Please join the discussion and share your insights.

False Prophets

16 thoughts on “False Prophets

  • March 18, 2012 at 2:58 pm
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    This should be a very interesting discussion. If the church had followed this a lot more over the years, the body of Christ would have received many fewer black eyes. I have heard from many unbelievers that they wouldn’t be able to be part of something that encouraged mindless obedience to charlatans. Personally, I don’t follow a man (or woman, for that matter), and I think many others are the same. But we still likely have a responsibility to both the church and the world to police ourselves a bit better.

    So I am looking forward to this study!

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    • March 18, 2012 at 3:43 pm
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      So true, Michael. The sad part is that there actually aren’t that many charlatans out there. Most church leaders mean well. Even those who do a bad job at least started out with the right intentions. Our ignorance has been the biggest obstacle. I hope this discussion causes all of us to think a little more about what goes on around us, and about our personal responsibility with regard to ministry.

      Reply
  • March 18, 2012 at 10:13 pm
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    May we all look carefully at those whom we choose to follow. There is no coercion in Christ. Our choice of leadership has many repercussions. We carry responsibility for our choice of leaders, just as our leaders carry the responsibility to lead us responsibly.

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    • March 19, 2012 at 1:25 am
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      Well said, Bob. I think that too often, in the belief that we should simply obey our leaders, we forget that we have that responsibility of choosing them wisely. It’s a two-way street.

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  • March 20, 2012 at 12:18 am
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    It is very sad at times what people will tolerate in leadership. God has given man a brain to reason what is good. Many Christians ignore the red flags of warning and deduce in their mind, it’s a large ministry, it can’t be wrong, or I enjoy the fellowship among those attending, “I don’t care what the leaders say or do, it’s not that touching to me.

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    • March 20, 2012 at 1:13 am
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      John, it is sad. A lot of the answer is not so much exposing corruption in leadership as it is getting people to simply examine why they believe what they do. The exercise of analytical thinking should be a regular part of how we listen to a sermon or read a blog. Even the ones I write. You have identified two of the reasons people often don’t think about teaching, they don’t want to disrupt fellowship and they don’t see it as having any effect on them personally. Everything should be questioned. The best preachers in the world occasionally don’t get it right. And even more than that, there is the problem of how we hear things. Many times I’ve taught something and learned later that what people thought I said was different than what I meant to say. That kind of misunderstanding can cause problems, so it isn’t even just a matter of being wrong. The best solution for that kind of thing is dialogue that goes back and forth, not just from the pulpit to the congregation.

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      • September 2, 2012 at 12:38 pm
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        Even, GOD, Himself said:
        “Come now, let us reason together.”
        Another scripture states that:
        “To be overly spiritual is unwise.”

        Coming out of an abusive church these were the beginning scriptures the Lord gave me.

        The Bereans were commended by Paul because they did not just take his Word in blindly but searched the scriptures, for themselves!
        Many christians don’t take the time for personal study especially if they are taught by a charismatic teacher/pastor.
        Once I started really getting into the Word, the Holy Spirit began to show me truth. Boy, did the poop hit the fan when I began to walk in it! God was faithful & eventually I was led to a body of Believers that cherished all things in Christ.
        “When the Holy Spirit is come, He will teach you all things” Halelujah!!

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        • September 2, 2012 at 12:48 pm
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          Theresa, one thing that seems to be pretty consistent is that it is very difficult to just walk away from abusive churches. They don’t like it when people really find freedom, and they go to great lengths to make sure others don’t follow your example. I’m glad you escaped. And you are right about diving into the Word. That’s where the truth is.

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  • March 20, 2012 at 1:33 am
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    The Bible tells us the Holy Spirit is our Teacher. So why then does man run after man? Does
    fear create a need for someone to follow in the physical realm, or is it ignorance? Paul uses the word ignorance (Hebrews 5:2) in describing those who lack the Truth.

    This brings us to Leadership. There must be a Campaign, someone has to lead. So how do you know if you are racing over the cliff? Pretty simple; it’s called the conscience. If it doesn’t sound
    right, or if it feels bad, that’s the Holy Spirit to speaking to you. “Listen” and go to the Word.

    Reply
  • March 20, 2012 at 1:42 am
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    Good question. If I might venture a partial answer, I’m reminded of the moment at Mt. Sinai, when the people said to Moses, “You go talk to him and tell us what he says.” They were afraid of God, which might translate to a statement like, they didn’t want to make the changes in their lives, attitudes and behavior that would bring them into the presence of God themselves. They wanted the “man of God” to get their blessing for them without having to commit too much to anything.

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    • November 4, 2012 at 3:52 pm
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      I see so many “mega” personality centered “churches”. They are dealing “crack” religion and people become addicted to it.
      But who are these people drawn to this? Many are like me raised in churches that already programed our beliefs yet failed us …We wanted something different , something new and improved, and thats what we got a new and improved form of Goodliness…

      Reply
  • December 3, 2012 at 4:18 am
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    From the fall. Man begin the desire to dominate other men. The Israelite’s wanted and king. People wanted some to be responsible for their actions. So, when integrity is lacking in leadership or just plan ignorance, it sets up a atmosphere of conversion without conviction. With the conviction, a person doesn’t grow spiritually and lacks true spiritual discernment. I recipe for being easily manipulated. The Word say “Use must test the spirit by the spirit”. Blind follows are not taught how to be truly spirit filled believes. Just how to use faith to gets things and they or basically blinded to the truth of the manipulation that takes place. Scriptural manipulation becomes easier to gain an edge while un pure motives are behind most actions of self centered egotistical Spiritual Leaders ( Most of whom could never be anything other than a Pastor).
    The sheep will eat anything and follow a Shepard anywhere. I agree with the comments above. This my addition to the discussion .

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    • December 3, 2012 at 11:28 am
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      An excellent addition to the topic, Eric. It really is an issue of integrity more than anything else. Those without integrity still say all the right words, but their motives are selfish and destructive to others. It often takes a lot of discernment to tell the difference.

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  • January 17, 2015 at 11:54 pm
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    I can relate much into it. We used to be part of an abusive church. There come a moment in our lives during our stay that you we can’t just swallow the teachings. seemed like we really want to vomit. So called leaders were always teaching about submission to them. Questioning/challenging their teachings equals rebellion to GOD. It is true. It is very very difficult to leave an abusive church. they have “excommunicated” us (unbiblical church discipline) they always used bible verses against anyone who will question them. We was used as an example to the congregation to not to follow to… They have watched our lives closely.. If they have heard that we’ve been facing some tough times. They will always associated it with “GOD is avenging them” “that is what happens to people who disobey their leaders” …. so we lose all our friends on that group. they have distanced themselves from us for fear of having their “blessings blocked”.

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    • January 18, 2015 at 8:18 am
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      Sounds like a familiar experience. It took a long time to really get free of the effects of our years in that church system, but we are thriving now. I pray you are having the same freedom.

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      • January 18, 2015 at 11:41 pm
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        Thanks donenevoldsen! God is so gracious to us. We are now enjoying the freedom we have in Christ. We found a gospel preaching, Christ exalting church. It is indeed true that the existence of hypocrites does not prove the non-existence of true believers.

        Reply

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