There is so much content regarding false teachers, televangelists seeking fortune, prosperity “gospel” megachurch pastors, and spiritual gurus that anyone who’s unaware of them should start doing some research, pronto. I’m not going to get into exposing this pastor or that celebrity.
Instead, I want to focus on their flocks. There are millions of people who are following false teachers. We tend to blame the teachers themselves for misleading their flocks into believing false doctrine or a watered-down Gospel. Perhaps it’s time to stop. Perhaps we should be looking at the people who fall into the clutches of these false teachers and figuring out how to get them heading down the right path.
There are certain truths that hold people to these teachings. The biggest one is fear. As humans, we are naturally given over to fear of suffering. We don’t want to suffer ourselves. We hate seeing our loved ones suffer. This is part of the reality of our existence. We naturally fear pain, whether physical or psychological. Especially in America, it is frowned upon to struggle through financial hardships, which is one of the reasons people often turn to false teachings that promise to enlarge our bank accounts if we’re willing to believe enough (and send checks to the megachurch pastor of our choosing).
The only truths we need to know in order to recognize whether or not the teachings we’re hearing are real or false are these:
- No, the Bible doesn’t promise prosperity for those who spread the Gospel or live a Bible-driven life.
- Yes, Bible-believing Christians can suffer. They can be persecuted, humiliated, and even killed. If anyone doubts this, a quick look at the lives of literally every Apostle should be a clear indicator that embracing the next life is not a way to live carefree in this life.
- If you or your loved one gets sick, it wasn’t because of a lack of faith. If you or a loved one isn’t healed despite prayers, it wasn’t because you didn’t pray hard enough. God’s plan is perfect, and sometimes that includes the most faithful suffering horribly. Blessed are the meek.
- Before anyone should ask how a loving God can allow so much suffering, one should first answer the question of how a just God doesn’t strike us down where we stand based upon the evil thoughts in our heads.
Where does that leave us? If the truth is hard to swallow and the false teachers take advantage of this by offering a kinder, gentler interpretation that supposedly promises better lives now rather than later, what should we be doing to combat this? The voice of the few has not been able to make a dent in the megachurch pastors’ growing flocks. For every false teacher who is exposed to the point that they no longer impact the lives of others, ten more false teachers rise in popularity to spread lies.
This is where the story gets controversial. It’s time to stop putting all of our efforts into attacking the false teachers and start addressing some or even most of our efforts towards educating their flocks. To believe that the misguided have no fault of their own gives way too much credit to the salesmanship of the false teachers. What’s more likely the case is that the people in these flocks heard something that appealed to them in this life and decided that was preferable to the reality of hardships and selflessness that the Bible actually teachers.
All too many people, particularly in prosperous America, are willing to symbolically do anything, but the fear of poverty or even diminished prosperity prevents them from embracing the whole truth. As Jesus said in Matthew 19:21 in response to the rich man wanting to know what he needed to do to be righteous:
Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.
Does that mean we should sell all of our possessions and live on the streets? No. Jesus has paid the price for our sins and no longer walks the Earth for us to follow physically. When He returns, we may need to do so if that is His command, but no such commands exist today. With that said, doing so wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, either. It seems part of human nature that the more we have, the more we want. It’s important in this life that we meet our obligations to our family and community, but we shouldn’t let the pursuit of fulfilling our obligations lead us into the falling away from the Biblical worldview that we’re seeing happening around us today.
There’s a difference between being responsible and being greedy.
But many who fall for false teachers aren’t driving to church in a Mercedes. They come to these churches because they feel destitute. Sometimes they truly are, but my experience with followers of these false teachers is that their flocks are mostly comprised of people who aren’t truly destitute but who do not feel like they’re getting their fair share in this life. Truly being destitute means having literally nothing. It means starvation, homelessness, and a true loneliness that comes only when there’s nobody around who can help. These people aren’t following megachurch pastors, generally, nor are they the target audience of these pastors. The people who are going out and helping the truly destitute are rarely teaching a prosperity gospel.
What should we tell those who are following false teachers? We must start with the truth of the Gospel. That means understanding all four Gospels inside and out. It means reading and understanding the entirety of the Bible, New and Old Testament. Only then can we know how to fight the twisting of words that false teachers use to convince their flocks they’re teaching the Bible properly. Outside of context, there are plenty of passages in the Bible that can be made to make people believe they deserve better lives today instead of the riches of eternal life we’re actually promised. We need to know these verses in context so we can combat the false teachings.
Moreover, we must be willing to call people out for their false teachings or false beliefs. We’re living in a society that commands us to be nice, especially when talking about faith. This is a poor approach. There’s nothing nice about telling someone they or their teachers are actually as anti-Biblical as the average atheist, but that’s exactly the message we should be delivering. There’s a difference between being nice and being kind. We should have kindness in us as we fight the false teaching, but that doesn’t mean we have to be nice about it.
It is, after all, a false doctrine we’re fighting. Let’s not treat it as a difference in opinions over exegetical teachings. False is false and should be exposed boldly.
It may not be easy to tell someone their Bible teachers are leading them astray, but it’s much more cruel to let them continue to believe falsehoods. There are souls at stake. Let’s not get weak at the knees just because it’s uncomfortable to confront the truth.