Question: Jesus warned us that there would be many false Christs and false prophets in the last days—and He told us not to follow them. My question is this, since we have so many churches and so many temples, how can you be sure that their leaders are not the ones our Lord had warned us about? It seems to me like there is a different Jesus in every church in America!
Answer: Your observations certainly reflect America’s “Christian” reality. Charlatans abound! And sorting them out could absorb all your God given time and energy…and wouldn’t Satan just love that! He'd love to have you chase around after counterfeit Christians instead of focusing on Christ himself. With this in mind, I'll share my two recommendations for navigating the minefield of pseudo-christianity, but I’ll need you to bear with me for a moment of testimony.
I enjoy Christian Apologetics, but I also struggle with obsessive tendencies. What this means is that I often find myself running full speed down rabbit holes. I worry that the world is getting away with its evil faster than I can identify it, and I often end up fighting unnecessary battles instead of fighting the primary fight: Preaching Christ—and testifying to his saving wonders and to his continual watch over me. I must qualify why I call those battles unnecessary, however, because in reality, they are indeed necessary, but I find that discipline to be somewhat specialized. Who could even begin to keep up with evaluating every new heresy? Who can follow the teachings of every new teacher/preacher and read all their literature? Who would listen to their broadcasts and compare their teachings with God's holy word? Well, someone does just that—and quite well.
I’ve learned to trust the Christian Research Institute (CRI) in these matters. You might know this organization from The Bible Answer Man broadcast with Hank Hanegraaff, CRI's president. Find CRI at http://www.equip.org/. They are scholarly (that is, they do their homework and document everything) yet accessible, a winning combination. They use biblical criteria to evaluate the many high-profile imitators of Christ. By consulting with CRI I will have performed my due diligence, trusting an expert who does exhaustive research and has decades of trusted service. Remember always, however, that God’s servants are not God; they sometimes err. But we’ve got to be wise about our limited resources. Why re-do a work that someone else does particularly well?
The second way to detect error is the primary way: We Christians enjoy the indwelling Holy Spirit. “Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’" (Gal 4:6). His main job is to teach concerning Christ. He’ll help you grow in knowledge of the true Christ! And in so doing he will squeeze out the false. With his guidance we can perform the reasonable service of growing in the knowledge of Christ, whom the Bible describes as entirely knowable. But as you can see, we have to apply our own energy to God’s revelation—the Bible. The Holy Spirit keeps us from ultimate error, sure…but he does not do our homework for us!
The Apostle Paul’s life’s work was getting to know Jesus Christ. “For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” (1Cor. 2:2). Paul gets into more detail with the Philippians by listing a few specific aspects of the Christ that can be known to us. “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death;” (Philippians 3:10).
By way of contrast, the Apostle John shows us the source of all those different ideas about Jesus. “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him.” (1John 3:1). Only true children of God—those who are born-again believers—can know the true Christ. Unbelievers and nominal Christians do a lot of talking about Jesus, but they cannot know him. Academic knowledge is a good beginning, but it is not enough when it comes to the Jesus Christ. A person must have a saving knowledge of him to know him as he desires to be known. Furthermore, knowledge of the true Christ is entirely attainable because he is not a moving target! “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8). So, what’s the end of the matter?
In his holy word God gave us exhaustive information about Jesus Christ. Any earnest seeker who reads the Bible will soon learn who Jesus Christ is…and who he is not. Such knowledge is not attained through esoteric insights, through the analysis of academics, through commentaries or through documentary television. It comes through the applied energies of anyone willing to read and understand. That is, even a non-believer can access the Bible, and such a one may come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ with no other help. Why then are there so many spins on Jesus? Here’s a few ideas.
Laziness! People do not bother to read for themselves. We’re tripping over Bibles in this country…too often tripping right into hell! God gave us brains and eyes and energy. We need to just read the primary source for ourselves. False Teachers abound, but especially where people will not read and think for themselves. No person on earth today has a corner on what God’s thinking or what he wants us to do. The information is available to everyone, and it is the solemn responsibility of all born-again laymen to watch over their pastor’s preaching and teaching to see that it remains biblical. No man who steps outside the Bible for authority should ever stand in a pulpit or have credible standing in the Christian community.
Finally, plenty of people who are not members of the family are talking family business. Only born-again believers in Jesus Christ may speak of him with familial correctness. Many people imitate the family’s language. They may even carry big black Bibles and go into church buildings that look just like ours. But only people who have had their sins covered at Calvary, who have looked only to Jesus Christ as Savior, are born into God’s family, and only family members are truly equipped to conduct family business. Within a family our communications are efficient, intimate and complete, as well as being comfortable and effective. If you feel the indwelling Holy Spirit straining against a teacher or teaching, then proceed with (polite) caution. There could be a stranger in your living room.