W e have read so much about priests abusing young children that many of us have lost confidence in and respect for church leaders generally. This is so sad for we have many fine, upstanding, dedicated men and women in church leadership but alas imposters are hiding among them. The truth is that these imposters are predators; cunning, devious and often appear harmless but if you look carefully you can spot them for however hard they try they cannot conceal fully their true selves. If you can detect any of the following characteristics in the leadership of your church then you should be resolutely on your guard.
THEY PROMOTE SELF
All true adherents to the faith promote Christ and all those who teach and preach and work in any way in God's vineyard promote Jesus Christ. Listen to imposters preach and teach and see how few times they mention Jesus Christ or Almighty God and how many times they mention themselves and their programmes and their achievements and their ideas and philosophy. Listen well and you will be in no doubt that it is all about them with a little bit of God thrown in here and there, and a verse of scripture now and again to remind you that you are in a congregation of believers. If they happen to be the author of a pamphlet or book then that publication becomes the centre of their attention and the Bible is set aside, not only because they want to maximize sales, but in promoting their work; they are doing what pleases them most and that is promoting themselves.
Now compare that with a true servant of Jesus Christ, a genuine man of God who understands his mission and is thoroughly committed to serving and promoting Jesus Christ, "And John was clothed with camel's hair, and with a girdle of a skin about his loins; and he did eat locusts and wild honey; And preached, saying, There cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose." (Mark 1:6-7) Remember that this same John the Baptist was one of the greatest men ever lived. Jesus affirmed, "Verily I say unto you, among them that are born of women there have not risen a greater than John the Baptist." (Matthew 11:11a) and yet here John was humble and self-effacing, joyous and eager to promote Jesus Christ.
THIS EAGERNESS TO PROMOTE JESUS CHRIST AND TO DEMOTE SELF is one of the strongest indicators of true servant-hood and is absent from those imposters who are bloated with pride and their own self importance. This is so because these pretenders are so in love with their status and see themselves as being above the people to the extent that they regard the people as their servants and exercise lordship over them. All this is in defiance of the clear teaching of the Bible, "And he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. BUT YE SHALL NOT BE SO: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve." (Luke 22:25-26) We have a good example of the genuine servant of Jesus Christ when the Apostle Paul reprimanded the church at Corinth for promoting man rather than focus on God. Here is what Paul wrote: "Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then NEITHER IS HE THAT PLANTETH ANY THING, NEITHER HE THAT WATERETH; but God that giveth the increase." (1 Corinthians 3:5-7) This is the right and commendable attitude of the true servant of Jesus Christ and is incompatible with self promotion. The Bible warns that these imposters will be brought low, "For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted." (Luke 14:11)
THEY PROMOTE AN EMPTY SALVATION
They promote a salvation without substance principally because they are about pleasing people rather than pleasing God and they will do anything to avoid holding people to account for their folly and making them take responsibility. They really want people to feel good in their sins, to be comfortable in wrongdoing and to love them for being so nice and understanding. They have no interest in people turning from their wickedness to God, their interest is not that people be converted and walk in the ways of God, they have no interest in pleasing God and so their members are more attached to their sins than ever.
The prophet Jeremiah observed a similar situation in Israel and brought it to that nation's attention, "I have seen also in the prophets of Jerusalem an horrible thing: they commit adultery, and walk in lies: they strengthen also the hands of evildoers, that none doth return from his wickedness: they are all of them unto me as Sodom, and the inhabitants thereof as Gomorrah. Therefore thus saith the Lord of hosts concerning the prophets; Behold, I will feed them with wormwood, and make them drink the water of gall: for from the prophets of Jerusalem is profaneness gone forth into all the land. Thus saith the Lord of hosts, Hearken not unto the words of the prophets that prophesy unto you: they make you vain: they speak a vision of their own heart, and not out of the mouth of the Lord." (Jeremiah 23:14-16) These prophets who Jeremiah was castigating were false prophets who were not speaking on behalf of God and so were leading the people to their doom. God made it clear that these prophets were not sent by him and Jeremiah stated it like this, "I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran: I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied." (Jeremiah 23:21)
True biblical teaching and preaching stir the conscience and motivate people to live a better life, to abandon the old ways, to reach for what God offers in Jesus Christ. This kind of teaching and preaching declares and underpins the glorious message of salvation as proclaimed by the angels, "And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins." (Matthew 1:21) Jesus saves nobody IN THEIR SINS but always and only FROM THEIR SINS and all those who teach and preach contrary always miss this vital point and so lead people to continue living abominable lives. They claim that salvation is about faith and nothing else, as long as you have faith then that is all that matters and so their people are reduced to the level of demons, "who also believe and tremble" (James 2:19) but produce no fruit demonstrative of saving faith. They promote a dead-faith religion because they are imposters and the working of the Holy Spirit in the lives of their people are neither taught nor expected. The Bible states, "Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone." (James 2:17) and every dead-faith religion is portentous and vacuous and will, like a placebo medicine, do nothing to assist spiritual development but the very opposite; lead people to vulnerability and perdition.
THEIR SERVICE IS MERCENARY
They preach for gain, for money, to enrich themselves and would say and do anything in that regard. These imposters have no conviction, no true fear of God, no reverence for things divine and will speak out of both sides of their mouth at the same time for such is their nature. They will gladly say one thing now and the very opposite tomorrow because integrity, consistency and soundness are anathema to them whose only goal is personal gain and self-aggrandizement. Like all peddlers of falsehoods they have adopted the ways of Balaam, "Which have forsaken the right way, and are gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; But was rebuked for his iniquity: the dumb ass speaking with man's voice forbad the madness of the prophet." (2 Peter 2:15-16) In the end Balaam was slain in the pursuit of his greediness and God will deal with these modern day deceivers in a time and manner of his own choosing.
When preachers and teachers are mercenary they will assist and promote you today and decry and tear you down tomorrow and create havoc amongst those who are immature and unstable. Because they can appear so genuine and committed, so enlightened and progressive, whole families can be duped and ensnared. Paul was the apostle who founded most churches and being conscious of the damage these pretenders could inflict warned believers in this manner, "For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision: Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre's sake." (Titus 1:10-11) It is imperative that you are able to identify them regardless of their appearance for they might come dressed in clothing only the richest can afford, and living a lifestyle of superfluous affluence, or they may appear as the exact opposite. Remember what the Bible says, "Not every one that saith unto me Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father in heaven." (Matthew 7:21)
THEY SUBJUGATE GOD'S WORD TO THEIR OPINIONS
One of the clearest signs that people are counterfeit, thoroughly false and frightfully deceptive is when they have a higher regard for their opinions than they do the inspired word of God. In essence what they are saying is that they know better than God, they have a superior intellect and therefore a better understanding. They fly in the face of God and instead of learning humbly at his feet and thereby acquire the rudiments of wisdom and proper understanding they show the paucity of their accursed state by engaging in reckless blasphemy. To set aside and diminish God's word and replace it with your own opinions is to call God a liar and a cheat and in the process you are subscribing to the central agenda of the Devil and his followers.
For centuries the Devil and his agents, both demons and human, have tried relentlessly to destroy the Bible or to stop people from getting access to it. When all such efforts have failed they then resorted to using their agents to dilute it and explain it away and to make its teachings so amorphous and wishy-washy that it stands for nothing or stands for everything. They are some religious groups who now take the Bible, delete the passages which do not fit their jaundiced eye and replace them with their own narrow, puerile fiction and call it the Bible. By this one act they have clearly shown that they have made common cause with the Devil for it was he who opposed God's word from the beginning. Remember what God commanded, "And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die." (Genesis 2:16-17) But the Devil questioned and challenged the veracity of that command and in the process persuaded Eve to rebel, "And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat." (Genesis 3:6)
When people give the highest priority to God's word in their teaching and preaching it is always "God saith" and when an explanation is needed it is not based on man's opinion but in, and compatible with, the Scripture because the Bible best explains the Bible. There is another important truth here. For those who give the highest priority to God's word, in their teaching and preaching, invariably also give it priority in their living and its influence can be seen in yielding the fruit of the Spirit as mentioned previously in Galatians 5:22-23. God's word is truth and the truth is three dimensional for you can believe it (or doubt it), teach and preach it, live it or all three. The imposters do not practice the latter, they do not apply the Scripture to their lives, the efficaciousness and the transformational power of the gospel does not benefit them, they are not guided and directed by the Holy Spirit and as a consequence they are not enlightened as regards biblical interpretation and proper exegesis, "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God or whether I speak of myself." (John 7:17)
THEY TEACH AND PREACH TO SUBVERT
Imposters in the early days of Christianity were subversives who wanted to destroy this new religion or make it a subset to their beloved Judaism. Judaism had failed the spirituality test and resorted to oppressive legalism to keep it going. The Jews who subscribed to Judaism regarded it as without substance, merit or appeal primarily because the leaders, the Scribes and Pharisees, were people who were regarded as austere, self righteous and vain. When Jesus came on the scene and offered Christianity so full of love, mercy and compassion some of the believing Jews saw it as a way to revive Judaism by adding Christianity to it and hence their subversion.
Today the subversives are not Jews but people with a satanic agenda who will come into the assembly and try to systematically subvert whilst pretending they are promoting the welfare of the assembly. These are the ones who will bring lesbianism and homosexuality into the assembly and teach that they are acceptable lifestyles; these are the ones who pour scorn on the many miracles that Jesus performed and seek at every opportunity to explain them away on the basis of pseudo-scientific theory and meaningless suppositions; these are the ones because they have no faith in God, have no desire to grow in grace and in the knowledge and love of God, have no commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ nor to the edification of the church; these are the ones Paul said are ever learning and come not to the knowledge of the truth; these are the ones who work their way into the hearts and minds of believers and then from positions of influence subvert whole assemblies and by distorting and twisting the truth turn them into idolaters, "Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen." (Romans 1:25)
When these imposters teach and preach scriptures they always add a "but", making God's word null and void in the process. No one has authority to add a "but" to God's word but God himself. A "but" suggest correction, improvement, augmentation and Jesus did that in keeping with his divine status for he was uniquely able to bring such enlightenment, "Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire." (Matthew 5:21-22) Again when dealing with the vex topic of adultery Jesus could say, "Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart." (Matthew 5:27-28) Throughout the Bible Jesus could do this which was part of his mission in bringing salvation to the world but no one else has such authority.
The imposters' fate is doubly sealed for God does not take lightly those who trifle with his word as John tells us, "For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophesy of this book, if any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophesy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book." (Revelation 22:18-19)
THEY CONCEAL THEIR TRUE INTENTIONS
The world seems very adept at concealment for everywhere you look you can see the signs of concealment. In the army most soldiers dress in camouflage uniform so that when required they can blend in with the background and not be seen. In the world of espionage the spy always appear as someone other than a spy and in the animal kingdom some animals can conceal themselves with such cleverness that you could walk within touching distance and not know that they are there. We all know about the astonishing ability of the chameleon that has the ability to change its colour to blend in with the background. Imposters are very much part of this world of pretension and disguise for they are adept at camouflaging their true intentions. Were these imposters to come forth boldly and declare their true intentions then they would have few takers for people do not leave the fallen world, seek the path to redemption in Christ and then choose death over life, sorrow over joy or hell over heaven. Everywhere the imposters gain entry they do so under heavy disguise and the Bible warns believers of their menacing presence, "Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves." (Matthew 7:15) Jesus likened them here to ravenous wolves because the only interest wolves have in sheep is to destroy them, consume them and inflict pain and suffering.
Imposters do not become part of the flock because they are seeking the warm and godly fellowship of believers or because they relish the spiritual atmosphere surrounding true worship and praise of Almighty God but rather to pull down the righteous, discourage emerging spirituality, confuse the faithful, ensnare the naive and deceive believers into making bad choices. Paul alluded to them when he wrote, "For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple." (Romans 16:18)
The question now arises which needs to be answered if we are to identify the imposters. If they conceal their true intentions then how are we to know them? The answer lies in what we have covered before. You will recall that we dealt with the battle that is spiritual and we quoted, "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places." (Ephesians 6:12) When we are engaging the spiritual forces of darkness then it is God's spirit within us who identifies our enemy and directs us how to handle the situation but we must be thoughtful and diligent. You will rarely see a young child one to two years old run to an evil person for there is something, his guardian angel perhaps, restraining him from doing so.
Adults on the other hand are not so restrained and have to make choices and so the Bible says this, "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world." (1 John 4:1) You as a believer need to test the spirit, or try the spirit, to see whether it is friend or foe for how can you fight against evil if you can't identify it? The Bible calls this ability discernment and puts it like this, "But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." (1 Corinthians 2:14) As a believer you receive the things of the Spirit and are able to discern between the spirits because God has given you that ability so, no matter how well concealed are the intentions of the imposter, he can't hide from your spirit for it will say to you "Watch him, be on your guard, be careful here now, you shouldn't trust him" and often that is accompanied by a certain feeling, a sixth sense, a discomfort, a reluctance and all of these are warnings you should not ignore.
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Dr. Henderson Ward received his Doctor of Divinity in theology, with distinction, from Masters International School of Divinity, USA, where he is currently a post-doctoral fellow. Dr. Ward's career involved pastoring, evangelism, and teaching. Copyright 2013
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