RELIGION COLUMN: False Prophet that appeals to the masses

Published 10:39 am Monday, April 7, 2014

By Jake McCall

Let’s imagine that two so-called coffee experts give me a presentation. Expert No. 1 tells me that while coffee has some appealing aspects to it, it is harmful in the long-term and the only solution is to give it up completely and start taking vitamins in its place, and maybe some decaffeinated tea from time to time. And then expert No. 2 gets up and tells me of all the positive aspects of coffee and says while some speak of its harm, it is proven that if you drink coffee while believing in its positivity, it will improve your life. Expert No. 2 has just won me over.

This is what false prophets do—they just lead you to where you are already going. They appeal to our human nature and tell us things that ring true with who we are, and then convince us to keep going down the path that we’ve been on. We’re encouraged to maybe change a few things here and there to make it more pleasurable and comforting, but nevertheless, they become tour guides down the road to destruction. In Matthew 7:16-17, Jesus says “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits.”

This is how and why the false teacher is so unbelievably prevalent and prosperous. Listen to what Paul tells Timothy in a final address to his disciple: “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Timothy 4:3). This means that the false teachers that Jesus and Paul are speaking of are the ones that have been summoned and welcomed by people like you and me. False teachers have been affirmed and followed by people that seek a message that is very suitable to what they already desire. Jesus also warns us that they come looking not like a false teacher, but like a sheep.

Jesus doesn’t warn the Church here about people who attract the fringe groups that get a few followers here and there, and people start drinking poison and fooling around with snakes. Those are easy to spot and identify. Jesus is describing those we identify with—those we connect with and that are appealing.

As a matter of fact, the false teachers that Jesus warns about appeal to the masses. This is how the Apostle Peter describes them: “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies” (2 Peter 2:1). So here is what is so dangerous: false teachers are the ones we want to listen to, that we want to follow, that appeal to the core of who we are, and yet on the inside they are ravenous wolves that are here to scatter and destroy the flock. It is a mass appeal and an attempt to sell religion.

Therefore, Jesus wants us to know that there is a subtlety about it whereby he or she very carefully makes their way into the flock. Even still, Jesus says that we can recognize them by “knowing them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16). I believe there are some good tests of whether a teacher is true or false. First, does the teacher emphasize the total depravity of man and the absolutely necessary need for the atoning work of Christ, or does the teacher have a tendency to teach you how to have a better day and feel better about yourself? The latter may appeal to the masses, and yet that teacher will leave the listeners in their sins. Also, is there an emphasis on faith and repentance, or is there an emphasis on finding the good inside of yourself so that things will turn out much better? The latter may appeal to the masses, but it gives the listener the idea that they can be their own savior.

Jesus urges us to know our Bible and know our doctrine so that we can know what is true and follow what is true, then teach it to our children so that they can stand against the false appeals of the day.

—Jake McCall is a religion columnist for The Clanton Advertiser. He is the pastor at Grace Fellowship Presbyterian Church. His column appears each Thursday.