One significant factor among Christians today is that they do not believe they could be deceived. Other people may be, but not them. Millions who profess Christianity today pay little heed to Jesus’ warning in Matthew 24:4-5. Jesus said: ” . . . Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, I am the Christ, and will deceive many.” (All Scriptures in this article are from the New King James Version). Jesus did not say a few would be deceived. He said many. How do you know you are not deceived? And what are the ways and means by which you could be?
Notice these warnings to Christians in the New Testament:
“Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many” (Matt. 24:11).
“For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect” (Matt. 24:24).
“But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction” (2 Pet. 2:1).
“You therefore, beloved, since you know this beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked” (2 Pet. 3:17).
“So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him” (Rev. 12:9).
These Scriptures warn us that if Christians are not on guard for religious deception, they can be deceived. If Christians can be deceived, what are the most likely ways by which deception could come could come?
Follow the Crowd
Perhaps the most common way to be deceived is by what is called the herd instinct. People feel safe in numbers, that is, agreeing with the majority. Yet, in world history, how many times has the majority been right? If the Bible says the devil has deceived the whole world, what does this mean? It means that the vast majority of professing Christians are deceived! The most common way is by following the crowd! How often do relatives and friends influence us to go along with them? How many times do we acquiesce in order to keep peace? While there may be times when it is necessary to do so, when it comes to the Truth of God there can be no compromise. What did Jesus warn? “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate [to love less by comparison] his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26). “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matt. 10:37). These are plain words, yet how many Christians take them seriously? We read in the Old Testament: “You shall not follow a crowd to do evil; nor shall you testify in a dispute so as to turn aside after many to pervert justice” (Ex. 23:2).
Christians who have the tendency to follow the majority are certainly headed for trouble. Unless we take these warnings of Jesus seriously, we can very easily take a wrong path and be one of those who are deceived!
Take Too Much for Granted
Following the crowd is one danger, but the tendency to take things for granted is another. Does the Bible say anything about this? Yes, indeed. Notice the Apostle Paul’s instruction: “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (1 Thess. 5:21 AV). Those who take things for granted assume that their minister is impervious to error, and that he cannot make any mistakes in what he teaches. Yet, we are admonished: “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). This text instructs us to be knowledgeable about the Word of God. We cannot be knowledgeable if we take things for granted and do not study the Scriptures. The Bereans were commended for their approach to what Paul preached. “These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so. Therefore many of them believed . . . ” (Acts 17:11-12). The approach to Bible understanding by these Berans was positive. They were not intent upon “disproving” what Paul said, but to see if it corresponded with the Scriptures. This is what every conscientious Christian should do.
The Bible warns: “For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted — you may well put up with it!” (2 Cor. 11:4). Why? Because these people are the kind that take things for granted. They were like those Paul mentions in Hebrews 5:12: “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food.”
Here is an example of the kind of apathy and indifference to God’s Word that took place in the Worldwide Church of God when the Pentecost count was erroneously determined to start from the Sabbath outside the Days of Unleavened Bread on the years the Passover fell on the Sabbath. Lester Grabbe wrote:
On the question of Pentecost, the Bible is somewhat vague about whether the emphasis should be on ‘the morrow’ or on ‘the Sabbath.’ We have evidence that this was interpreted in more than one way. Some said the Sabbath had to fall within the Days of Unleavened Bread while others said the Wave Sheaf day had to fall within them. The Church had to make a decision. I could see arguments on both sides. But the decision was finally based on Joshua 5:11 because the wording seemed to have Leviticus 23:9-11 in mind. If so, then the Wave Sheaf day-but not necessarily the Sabbath which the Wave Sheaf day follows-would have to fall during the Week of Unleavened Bread.
In my opinion this question was much less clear cut than the general question of Pentecost. However, this affects only one Pentecost in 10. Even if we should be in error, we are still keeping the time 90 percent correctly instead of 100 percent in error! In any case God understands the difficulty and will consider the sincerity of the heart if we should have made a mistake (Letter from Lester Grabbe, September 1975, emphasis mine).
If a Doctrinal Committee could not be sure, how could the members? The Doctrinal Committee changed not only the day on which Pentecost should be observed, but even the week every tenth year or so. This Doctrinal Committee member reveals the doubts of some, yet thousands of people blindly went along with the changes because they took things for granted. It did not dawn on them to ask these simple questions: (1) Did it take God 40 years to lead His Church into the truth regarding Pentecost? If so, God must have been derelict. Why? Because hundreds who already died “in the faith” were not in the faith after all. They died breaking God’s commandment on the observance of Pentecost. If God “understands” this, and they will be saved anyway, why even be concerned about the day? It obviously must not be that important. (2) If this “new truth” is contrary to the original truth, how could God’s Spirit be leading the Church now when the two teachings are opposed to one another? Either the Church was not led in the past, or it is not led now!
Taking things for granted is a dangerous syndrome. Christians should never allow themselves to be complacent about this!
Go with the Flow
The reason most of the members of the Worldwide Church of God, and its present-day offshoots, accepted the Pentecost changes was because it was easy to go with the flow. (For a full explanation regarding the doctrinal changes, write for the articles entitled: “The Facts About Pentecost,” “Divorce and Remarriage-What the Bible Really Says,” and “The Doctrine of Divorce and Remarriage-How and Why It Was Changed!” These articles are also available on our Web site.) Following the crowd was much easier if one simply decided to accept whatever the Church said. The common expression at the time was, “If the Church is wrong, God will take care of it.” Many compromised their consciences when they accepted the doctrinal changes. Those who did not compromise had no convictions to begin with. They had been going with the flow all along. Those whose consciences would not allow them to compromise either left, or were forced out of the organization.
At first the doctrinal changes were gradual, seemingly not of much importance. People were told to accept change, that change was good, a sign of “spiritual growth,” of progression. Buzzwords such as “alteration,” “modification,” and “progress” were touted. With the majority of Church members accepting the changes, those who refused to do so were labeled as dissidents and rebels. No real proof was given to back up the doctrinal changes, and those who opposed them were not given a forum. Also, members were told that proof for these changes would be published. To this day, this proof has never been published. A Ministerial Bulletin was given to the ministry, but never to the lay members. As a result, most of the opposition gradually accepted the changes, and since the ministry did not seem to oppose what had taken place, the membership assumed the changes were Scriptural. It was much easier to go with the flow.
Do Not Question
Church government and authority had a lot to do with not questioning what was occurring. People had been convinced that it was their duty to obey what the Church commanded them, and that it was the responsibility of the leadership if the Church went into error. If it made a mistake, God would correct it. Emphasis was placed on obedience to the Church, not obedience to God and His Word. Members were not told they have an individual responsibility to exercise faith before God. Their faith was immersed within a hierarchic structure that robbed them of that requirement. Paul wrote: “Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves” (Rom. 14:22). The easiest way to avoid the conscience problem was to make someone else responsible-in this case the Church hierarchy. The hierarchy was perfectly willing to accept this responsibility. After all, this was God’s Church, and God was duty-bound to back whatever was done.
Members were not told what the Bible says about those who do the deceiving, or are deceived. Jesus said: “Let them alone. They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch” (Matt. 15:14). The Old Testament reveals what happens to people who turn from God’s Way: “For the LORD will strike Israel, as a reed is shaken in the water. He will uproot Israel from this good land which He gave to their fathers, and will scatter them beyond the River, because they have made their wooden images, provoking the LORD to anger. And He will give Israel up because of the sins of Jeroboam, who sinned and who made Israel sin” (1 Kings 14:15-16).
After the doctrinal changes occurred in 1975, confidence in the Church leadership was continually emphasized so that people no longer questioned anything that was done. Those who may have had reservations were told not to worry because God would clean up His Church. But the long slippery slide had started, and it was only a matter of time before all the fundamental doctrines of the Church of God would be repudiated. Today the Worldwide Church of God is little different from the mainstream churches it seeks to emulate. The questions we need to ask are: How many of these aberrations did we accept along the way? And where do we stand today in the sight of God with respect to character?
The Danger of a Personality Cult
What is called mainstream Christianity lists a series of requirements for a cult. One of these is idolizing a leader. Cults are not considered a part of mainstream Christianity. What has not been realized is that from the beginning, the true Christians have been regarded as merely a sect-outside mainstream (Acts 28:22). There is indeed, however, the tendency for many Christians to idolize a charismatic leader. People who belong to what is considered a cult, and do this, are generally not aware of it. The leader or leaders are placed on a pedestal, above the problems and weaknesses of the flesh. They are regarded as almost sacred. We have seen many examples of this. The problem is that followers in a personality cult can be convinced to do almost anything, simply because their leader tells them. Paul wrote: “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). Paul did not tell Christians to follow him for who he was, but for what he represented-Christ! Leaders of a personality cult, as well as members, seem to forget this. They do not examine the Scriptures to see what Christ said about human adulation. Anyone who would dare question the personal life of a charismatic leader would be kept in the dark, or told, “It’s none of your business.” How contrary to what Paul said: “But you have carefully followed my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance” (2 Tim. 3:10).
Unless a charismatic leader lives what he preaches, he does not believe it, and neither should those who listen to him. It is a serious mistake to believe that any man should be made sacrosanct and be blindly followed. All men are human beings, subject to mistakes and error. This includes leaders of church organizations, regardless what that organization may be.
Lots of Literature
One sure way to keep people from learning what the Bible says about a matter would be to keep them so busy with church literature that they would have little time to read anything else. Emphasis would be placed on the need to read this literature for Bible understanding. This literature would come regularly and in large amounts. It would be emphasized that any extra time members had should be spent on this literature. Good writers would be employed to keep the literature coming, and it would be interesting and eye- appealing. But there is a danger for people who are caught up in this syndrome. It keeps them from studying what God’s Word really says. They even forget what it says, and if error begins to be introduced into the literature, it will not be noticed. In this way people can be easily deceived. People who allow this become dependent upon a church organization to supply them with the Truth, rather than on the Word of God. They have set themselves up for deception, especially if they believe their church could not be wrong on any teaching.
Can one actually read the Bible and understand the Truth? Of course! Notice what Jesus did. When the disciples needed to understand, we read: ” . . . These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me. And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures” (Luke 24:44-45). Can we be taught by God? Yes, indeed! “It is written in the prophets, And they shall all be taught by God. Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me” (John 6:45). The Holy Spirit is instrumental in this (John 14:16-17, 26). Anyone who says that you must rely on a man to teach you the Truth should be recognized for what he is-a man seeking followers who will question absolutely nothing he says or does. While church literature can be beneficial, one should not rely on it to the detriment of Bible study. To ignore the Bible in study is a sure way to be deceived.
Do the Work
“Doing the Work” can be a major means of deception. Why? Because the Work can become more important than the Truth upon which it is based. As a result, it is easy to lose sight of the purpose of the Work. Those heavily involved in doing the Work are often so busy they have little time to study and reflect on God’s Word. Because they are so busy preparing the next publication, or the next sermon, or getting ready for the next public appearance, they often pay little attention to what is being preached or published. They may not be aware that the Work can begin to deviate from its intended purpose, or it can become an end in itself. It could become almost completely secular in its approach without being noticed. Yet, most would still believe they are “doing the Work.” Success would be based on money and numbers, not on whether or not people are receiving the knowledge they need in order to overcome and to be saved. False doctrine can be introduced with hardly a ripple. The leadership would take little consideration of the desires of the members as long as they were giving their financial support. They would be told their duty is to pray and pay, and that it was the duty of the leaders to steer the ship. Under these circumstances deception can be introduced and a whole church taken in a wrong direction with little questioning or opposition by the members.
Handle the Opposition
A gigantic public relations and propaganda campaign would be the easiest way to silence opposition from any who may object to what is occurring. This could be done by a “news publication” sent to the members that would bypass any influence a local pastor could manifest. Rosy pictures of success and acceptance by the entire church membership would be constantly painted. Any minister who voiced opposition to doctrinal changes would be demoted, transferred, or fired. He would be demonized by those in power, and made to look incompetent, emotionally unstable, or unsure of what he believed. In some cases, members would be told that the minister was given a leave of absence for “health reasons,” or that he was on a sabbatical.
Handpicked members and some key ministers would be selected to report on dissenters. Any members who questioned what was taking place would be quickly labeled disloyal. The conviction and dedication any dissenter had for the Truth would be minimized while the questions he may have had will be made to appear irrelevant, shallow, and lacking in understanding. Any credibility he might have had with the members would be destroyed. In this way any positive influence would be neutralized. In this manner, deception would be accepted with little reservation. After all, the vast majority of members would have already agreed with it.
Does the Above Sound Familiar?
What appears above rings a bell for many. It should. This is exactly what happened in the Church of God. For over 40 years the Worldwide Church of God (originally the Radio Church of God) taught that Pentecost fell on a Monday, and that divorce and remarriage was wrong, barring the exception rule. If the Church was in error for over 40 years on these two important issues, then it indeed was deceived. The doctrinal changes that occurred in 1974-75 prove one of two things: Either the Church was deceived, or it is now deceived.
Because Christ gave a promise. He said: “And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever — the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:16-17). “But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me” (John 15:26). “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come” (John 16:13).
Was Christ so derelict that He left His Church in doctrinal error for many years when it was the largest Judaic-Christian movement to arise since early New Testament times? If you can believe that, then what assurance can you have that what you now believe is the Truth, inspired by the Holy Spirit? The fact is: You cannot! It will do little good to evade the issue and hope for the best. Those who accepted the changes that occurred in 1974-75, for whatever reasons, need to think it through. You believe you have not been deceived? Maybe you have been and do not realize it. After all, millions of Christians all over the world are deceived on the fundamental truths of the Bible. Could you also be deceived?