Prof. Johan Malan, South Africa (May 2010)
Spiritual deception and apostatising keep on proliferating as we are moving deeper into the end-time. We know that the Spirit of truth wants to guide us into all the truth of God’s Word – including the correct understanding of end-time prophecies (John 16:13). On the opposite side there is the spirit of error who is intent on deceiving people spiritually with a view to preparing them on the coming of the Antichrist (1 John 4:1-6). More than ever before we need discernment to be able to observe the full counsel of God and to allow the Holy Spirit to teach us and keep us from all forms of deception.
It is not always easy to keep our ways pure in all respects by correct discernment of these two spiritual influences since there is, by the devil’s doing, a grey area between them. Satan has the ability to present himself as an angel of light, thereby also deceiving Christians with noble intentions (2 Cor. 11:13-15; Matt. 24:4-5,24). It is one of his main objectives to confuse believers by inciting them to entertain erroneous views on Christ and the Bible. There are many examples of such satanic influence in the Bible.
Peter was conscious of the fact that Jesus is the Messiah and Son of God and honestly thought that he made a very positive statement when he expressed himself against the idea of Christ’s crucifixion. However, it was clearly evident that he was deceived by Satan to take this stand (Matt. 16:14-23). Maybe Peter can be excused for this action since he did not yet have the full enlightening of the Holy Spirit.
But later, as a Spirit-filled apostle, Peter erred again when he failed to discern between the grace of Christ for justification and Jewish law-observance. He even compelled Gentile believers to behave like Jews. Paul reprimanded him in public for doing this (Gal. 2:11-21). Wrong teachings of this nature were also proclaimed by the Galatian congregation, thereby seriously jeopardising their trust in Christ’s work of grace (Gal. 5:4). Similar false teachings are rapidly increasing in our time since many Christians are subjecting themselves once again under the law.
Many of the early Christian churches seriously defected from the truth and all of their behaviour may be attributed to Satan and his accomplices (cf. Acts 20:29-30). Ephesus lapsed into a form of godliness which soon estranged them from their love for the Lord Jesus (Rev. 2:4-5). Pergamum listened to false prophets and compromised with the evil world, thereby allowing the devil to gain a foothold in their church (Rev. 2:13-15). The single person who expressed himself against the stream of deception had to pay with his life for doing so (Rev. 2:13). Thyatira was under the influence of a false prophetess, which caused extreme apostatising and put them on course to the great tribulation (Rev. 2:20-23). Only a small number of church members remained true to the Lord Jesus and walked in worthiness of his kingdom (Rev. 2:24-29). Sardis had a name that they were alive but they were spiritually dead and did not engage in evangelistic outreaches (Rev. 3:1-3). In this church there were also a few believers who persevered on the right way and did not stagnate together with the majority (Rev. 3:4-5). Laodicea completely fell victim to materialism, self-justification and a form of godliness, and were not even aware that the Lord Jesus had withdrawn from them and stood knocking outside the door (Rev. 3:15-17).
All people can be deceived, including the best Christians, and for that reason the Lord Jesus admonished us: “Take heed that no one deceives you” (Matt. 24:4). But if we know the Word of the Lord, accept it by faith and strictly walk in accordance with it, we will not err: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). If we do not strictly abide by the Bible we will stray and also restrict the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. “Jesus answered and said to them, You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God” (Matt. 22:29). The Holy Spirit is willing to fulfil biblical promises which we accept by faith.
In the end-time spiritual deception takes on much larger proportions than in the past – still under the direct influence of the devil and his spirit of error. Postmodern man liberates himself from Biblical mandates by questioning their validity or merely ignoring them as if they do not exist. In their place he observes humanistic philosophies inspired by the devil and propagated by false teachers. These new views are contrary to the guidance and conviction of the Holy Spirit. They are aimed at attacking people’s faith, and for this reason the Holy Spirit warns against them: “Now the Spirit expressly says that in the latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron” (1 Tim. 4:1-2). The Living Bible paraphrases these two verses as follows: “But the Holy Spirit tells us clearly that in the last times some in the church will turn away from Christ and become eager followers of teachers with devil-inspired ideas. These teachers will tell lies with straight faces and do it so often that their consciences will not even bother them.” The end result of this deception is that many people’s faith is completely destroyed. They depart from the truth and follow a way that may seem to be right in terms of human rationalising but its end is the way of death (Prov. 16:25).
There are different kinds of false teachings which we have to avoid. Some of them are even propagated by true believers who are ignorant or deceived in certain areas of their spiritual lives. Other teachings represent a more advanced degree of deception and are only proclaimed by false prophets. The following are the ten most common categories of deception which are encountered in a large number of Christian churches and interdenominational movements:
A multireligious orientation: This false dogma propagates the lie that Christianity is not unique but only one group in a large family of co-equal world religions. According to this view, salvation may be obtained by members of any faith. The interfaith dogma also rejects the idea of the Triune God. God the Father is depicted as the universal God of all faiths, and different paths may be followed to approach him. Jesus is only regarded as an ordinary prophet who functions on an equal level with Mohammed, Krishna, Buddha and other mediators to God. The Holy Spirit is associated with all supernatural experiences, including witchcraft, divination and other strange phenomena. A multireligious orientation is promoted by the universal god of this age, Satan, and also preached in Christian churches by his false prophets (2 Cor. 4:4; 11:13-15; 2 Pet. 2:1-12).
Mysticism: Strange techniques from the Eastern religions are often used to establish contact with the supernatural world and also to experience spiritual enlightening. One of the most common mystical practices is transcendental meditation. This is a form of turning to one’s “deeper self” during extended times of silence and exclusion from the world, when people descend to so-called creative levels of their subconscious mind to attune to the supernatural, cosmic world. Mantras (a word or short sentence) are repeated over and over until the person experiences an alternative state of consciousness – which is a type of hypnotic trance. The Bible denounces the use of mantras as a heathen practice which should not form any part of Christian prayers (Matt. 6:7). A mystical orientation leads to the view that there is not a personal God but only an impersonal, pantheistic god within all people and also in nature. Such people do not believe in heaven or hell as specific places, neither in a personal devil. According to them there is only an element of evil in the cosmos (also in people) which should be resisted. They strive towards creating a condition of heaven on earth.
The proclaiming of another Jesus: These people do not deny the biblical Jesus in name but they do question and change His personal attributes and works. Among them are a great number of apostate theologians and preachers who openly allege that Jesus was not born from a virgin, He was not Christ or the Son of God, neither was He resurrected from the dead nor did He ascend to heaven. In the postmodern deconstruction of the Scriptural image of Jesus, the name “Jesus” is retained but is assigned to “another Jesus” who is an impostor of Satan (2 Cor. 11:2-4). A person who turns his back upon the true Jesus inevitably becomes a follower of the Antichrist: “Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is Antichrist who denies the Father and the Son” (1 John 2:22). Those who proclaim another Jesus do not consider the statements of the true Jesus and create their own future scenario. The Lord Jesus said that the world is heading for a great tribulation, but that true believers can escape it by way of the rapture (Matt. 24:21; Luke 21:36). Followers of the “other Jesus” deny the coming judgements and exert themselves for the establishment of a peaceful human kingdom on earth.
The promotion of another spirit and another gospel: According to 2 Cor. 11:4, the inception of a counterfeit Jesus coincides with the adulteration of the Holy Spirit and the gospel of salvation. When people render the Lord Jesus an ordinary, human prophet and fail to worship Him as the only Mediator to God, they subject themselves to the influence of a foreign spirit that comes from the devil. This spirit will not convict them of sin but establish a false sense of peace in their hearts. He may also work strange manifestations in his victims such as falling on the floor while laughing uncontrollably. Within the context of this spirit’s false gospel they regard rebirth as a form of supernatural power that falls on them in a tangible way. Their lives are then built upon the foundation of a false conversion, and many of them will only discover that they have been deceived when it is too late to change the situation (Matt. 7:22-23).
Discrediting of the Bible and its message: It has become a modern fad to reject the Bible as the inspired Word of God by relegating it to the level of human literature which is allegedly full of contradictions and mythological accounts. No biblical prophecies on the end-time are literally interpreted – including prophetic books such as Daniel, Zechariah and Revelation. Theologians who approach the Bible in such an indifferent, subjective way by spiritualising and allegorising everything, or interpreting it historically, are called amillennialists or preterists. Most of them hold the view that end-time prophecies on divine judgements, the Antichrist and the great tribulation, were fulfilled in the first century AD during the reign of Nero and the destruction of Jerusalem. To them, the literal message of the Bible has largely fallen away – also the many prophecies on the end-time restoration of Israel. No wonder that many of them proceed with their systematic dismantling of the Bible by also questioning or rejecting many other doctrines such as the deity of the Lord Jesus, His resurrection and the significance of His death on the cross. Neither is biblical morality seriously regarded but reduced to contemporary guidelines to historical societies. In this way postmodern man “liberates” himself and gives free reign to his fleshly lusts. He even justifies abominable sins such as drunkenness, adultery and homosexuality.
Legalism: Since the religion of many people is not based upon a sound relationship of faith in the Lord Jesus, large numbers of them are reverting to the Old Testament law to give substance to their religious activities. They regard themselves as “spiritual Israelites” and commit themselves to observing Sabbaths and Jewish feasts. Some even have themselves circumcised so as not to be part of the “uncircumcised heathen world”. It is obvious that they understand very little of the covenant of grace with God through His Son, Jesus Christ. Through the value that they attach to law observation they put their relationship with the Lord Jesus in jeopardy as they do not completely rely on His grace (Gal. 5:4). At the extreme side of the movement back to the Old Testament is British Israelism, which is also strongly represented in South Africa. They see the white nations as the continuation of the Old Testament’s covenant people of Israel, and strongly emphasise the position of confrontation which they occupy towards the Gentile world of coloured nations. They have their own prophets, such as “Siener” (Visionary) Van Rensburg, and expect that the modern heathendom will wage a racial war in which they will endeavour to destroy white Israelites in a cruel and merciless way. Virtually all supporters of British Israelism have a hard and uncompromising spirit because of their boundless hatred towards the coloured nations as well as the Jews, whom they regard as a mongrel race that has mixed with Edomites and other enemies of God. They expect that the heathen nations will be utterly destroyed, after which the “white Israelites” will inherit the kingdom of God. It is characteristic of this group that they are dominated by a foreign spirit of extreme racism, hatred and vindictiveness. They do not have any peace in their hearts, and that is the reason why they incite one another and easily lapse into panic and despondency when they lose hope for their immediate survival.
Ritualising and moral justification: Most people wish to be justified in an easy way without complying with the biblical demand of being born again. The Lord warns us that in the end-time there will be large numbers of preachers who will be prepared to proclaim fables of false conversions for the sake of money and popularity (2 Tim. 4:3-4). One of the popular fables which is proclaimed within the framework of Calvinism is that people do not have a free will and that all Christians have been predestined by God to salvation. Their election and salvation are confirmed by the ritual of infant baptism, after which they enjoy eternal security as no one can snatch them form the Lord’s hand. They are baptised into heaven without rebirth and then given the assurance that no sin or apostasy can change their status as Christians. The Bible, however, does not teach this false doctrine and demand that all people (also “covenant children”) must be born again (John 3:3). It is a clear command of the Lord that all of us should repent (Acts 17:30; 2 Pet. 3:9; Rev. 22:17). In most religions – also in degenerate, nominal Christianity – the view is entertained that we should live morally and socially acceptable lives in order to be fit for heaven. But that is also a myth as the cross of Christ plays no role in this doctrine of self-justification.
Ignoring of the biblical message of sanctification: A serious injustice is done to Christians when the message of sanctification as a second work of grace is withheld from them. The consequence of this shortcoming is that they are confined to the category of carnal believers who are described as babes in Christ (1 Cor. 3:1-3; Eph. 4:13-14). They lead a life of stumbling and rising, and have no understanding of the deeper things of God’s Word (Gal. 5:17; Heb. 5:12-14). Such people are not filled with the Holy Spirit and can, therefore, not claim that the Holy Spirit guides them into all truth (John 16:13). They are easy targets for spiritual deception. Since they are not endued with the power of the Holy Spirit, they easily fall into fleshly sins such as drinking and immorality (Eph. 5:18; 1 Thess. 4:3,7-8). We are admonished to be strong in the Lord so that we may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil (Eph. 6:10-11). This power not only enables us to live victoriously over sin and temptation but also gives us boldness to be successful witnesses for Christ. The Lord Jesus said: “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be witnesses to Me” (Acts 1:8). Empty yourself of the world and all forms of sin and fleshliness, wait on the Lord, and He will fill you with His Holy Spirit. That will make a very big difference in your life. It will, amongst others, enable you to identify and resist deception. Without this experience and spiritual enlightenment you will be tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine (Eph. 4:14).
Signs and wonders as part of a faith based upon physical experiences: In the end-time there is a major resurgence in supernatural manifestations as preparation toward the coming of the Antichrist (Matt. 24:24). Large numbers of people run after preachers and prophets who were allegedly empowered by God to heal the sick and even resurrect the dead. Great credibility is enjoyed by such preachers, e.g. Benny Hinn and TB Joshua, and everything they say and do is blindly accepted. The Antichrist and false prophet will act in a like manner (2 Thess. 2:8-10; Rev. 13:13-14). They will do great signs through the power of Satan, and the whole world will be in amazement. Hurry-scurry decisions will globally be taken to accept and worship these two magicians and deceivers as special representatives of God (Rev. 13:3-4). We should guard against the tendency to seek after miracles, thereby elevating material and sensual experience above our relationship of faith with the Lord Jesus. The devil will increasingly use miracles to get people in his power and into his sphere of influence.
Dominionism, transformations and false revivals: The promotion of a manmade kingdom on earth (dominionism) is a very common characteristic of our time. All churches that do not believe in the future revelation of the kingdom of Christ on earth after His second coming, transfer kingdom promises in the Bible to the church dispensation and exert themselves for the establishment of a Christian kingdom here and now. According to them, a united (ecumenical) church will rule over this kingdom and subject the whole world to Christian control. Various techniques are used to manifest this kingdom, which is dispensationally completely out of place:
1. Transformation meetings are held to assemble churches in the same town or city and to present a kingdom vision to them. In this way they are challenged to work together for the good of the entire community. The leaders of the movement express themselves against all forms of crime and human suffering, they join hands with political leaders and take calculated steps to create a world in which righteousness and prosperity will prevail.
2. Divine intervention in the interest of peace and prosperity in the entire land is promised in terms of 2 Chronicles 7:14 to every host country where transformation meetings are held. According to this promise which was made to Israel in the Old Testament, the Lord will forgive the nation all their sins during a national repentance and also heal their land.
3. A promise of big revivals is made to the entire community. It is stated that the Lord’s Spirit will work so mightily that virtually all people in a country will repent and join the ecumenical city churches. All key positions in society and government will ultimately be filled by Christians, and they will ensure that righteousness will prevail and everybody is justly treated.
Biblical evaluation of the transformation movement: The Bible nowhere promises a position of dominion to believers during the church dispensation between the first and second coming of Christ. The church is in a position of conflict against a depraved world and should rather expect rejection and persecution from the unsaved majority. In the Bible it is often stated that those who are truly saved will always be a small minority. They must shine as lights in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation. How can they win a democratic election and take over positions of authority in the world? The kingdom of Christ will only be revealed when He comes as King of the kings, and then His saints will rule with Him. The saved Israel will play a very prominent role in this kingdom and be a blessing to the entire world. During the church dispensation, however, Israel was dispersed among the nations, Jerusalem was trampled and the majority of Jews still reject Jesus as Messiah. Israel is only now, at the end of the church dispensation, restored in their land in preparation for their national conversion.
The promise in 2 Chronicles 7:14 was given to Israel in the Old Testament. However, with the exception of short periods of special dedication they never complied with the Lord’s condition of a national repentance. Ultimately, Israel was scattered abroad because of their unbelief. The spiritual condition of the Gentiles is the same, where only a small minority (a remnant) truly serves the Lord. Because of this, the nations should be warned against the judgements of the Lord during the coming tribulation period. Nowhere on earth is there even the slightest indication of a national repentance as a result of the transformation movement. It is one of the major weaknesses and errors of the transformation movement that they fail to warn the nations against the wrath to come as a consequence of their spiritual stubbornness. Neither do they warn the nations against the Antichrist and false prophet who will rule over them during the seven-year tribulation period, should they persevere on their present course. Multireligious constitutions are the order of the day, and in these policy documents no recognition is given to the position and authority of the Triune God.
There is no Christian empire which can be promised to any nation during the church dispensation since they all form part of the present evil world and its humanistic institutions. Even true Christians should not prepare themselves to take over the kingdoms of the world during the end-time, but rather to escape the coming judgements of the tribulation by means of the rapture. After that, they will appear before the judgement seat of Christ to receive rewards of grace (2 Cor. 5:10). However, preaching on the second coming is completely absent from transformation meetings because the outpouring of divine wrath is contrary to their kingdom vision for the last days.
The expectation of big revivals is completely out of place for the end of the church dispensation. The Bible in fact only refers to a time of great falling away directly preceding the second coming of Christ. It will again be as in the days of Noah and Lot (Luke 17:26). Most people will grow cold in their love for the Lord (Matt. 24:12) while a large-scale spiritual and moral falling away will occur in the church (2 Thess. 2:3; 2 Tim. 3:1-5). Revival will only be experienced by small groups of true Christians who will further separate themselves from the world and from sin to serve the Lord with their whole heart (Rev. 22:11).
The only worldwide spiritual awakening which the Bible refers to in the end-time will, according to Revelation 7, occur during the seven-year tribulation. During this time, 144 000 Jews will first be saved and spiritually equipped to act as evangelists during this very trying time. A big harvest of souls will be gathered in Israel and also among the other nations (Rev. 7:9-14).
After the tribulation, Christ will return to judge His enemies and take the kingdoms of the world upon His shoulders (Rev. 11:15; 19:11-21). His saints will rule with Him then – not now (Rev. 2:25-27).
How should we judge the large number of prophets, preachers and their messages? As indicated above, there are false prophets who are guilty of outright heresies due to the denial of basic Christian doctrines. They should be resisted and rejected. To be able to do that, we must have a sound knowledge of the truth lest we may also be deceived: “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. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed” (2 Pet. 2:1-2).
These false prophets will give evangelical believers a bad name and completely reject their narrow, biblical views. Peter seriously warns us not to be influenced by them: “You therefore, beloved, since you know these things beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and for ever” (2 Pet. 3:17-18).
Then there are those preachers who do have a saving faith in the Lord Jesus, although there may be various aspects of God’s counsel which they do not correctly understand. Because of their ignorance on matters such as the end of the church dispensation, the rapture, the judgements of God during the tribulation, the Antichrist and false prophet, the second coming of Christ and His subsequent millennial reign, they often become involved with a completely distorted eschatology and kingdom vision, as well as the transformation movement and its associated ecumenical movement. We should be cautious not to reject such brothers as Christians if they have a testimony of being born again and truly honour and serve the Lord Jesus. But it is nevertheless our duty to take a strong stand for the truth against their wrong views on certain issues. We cannot be onlookers while thousands of people are lured away after wrong teachings on eschatology as well as the purpose and calling of the church.
It is obvious that the South African revival preacher, Angus Buchan, does have a relationship with Jesus Christ as his Saviour and experiences Him as a living reality in his life. He also exhorts thousands of people to repent, and helps families to reconcile with each other, which is praiseworthy. On the other hand, worried voices are being heard that he reveals great ignorance on various aspects of biblical doctrines – to such an extent that he has embarked on the way of kingdom theology, the ecumenical movement, and even the promotion of dubious signs and wonders. On certain occasions he has made positive comments on false prophets such as Benny Hinn and Kathryn Kuhlman. His perceived ignorance on these matters is disturbing and even bewildering.
Great concern is also mentioned about Angus’ method of mass evangelisation where he usually brings one or two messages before leaving again. It is inevitable that this is like sowing the seed of the gospel on shallow ground, and many questions arise from this strategy: How can sustainable work be done in this way? What about the further message of sanctification which should be preached to all converts? What happens to young believers who are returned to their homes and mostly dead churches without the equipment of a Spirit-filled life, and consequently also without a sound grounding in their life of faith? These are the major questions on the shortcomings of his ministry.
The other questions relate to the kingdom deception which Angus proclaims to the crowds. How can he, according to his own insight, promise people that South Africa and Zimbabwe will be completely restored? In this regard he acts contrary to Jesus Christ Himself, who said that in the end-time there will be great tribulation such as has never been on earth (Matt. 24:21). Someone who correctly understands the biblical message on the end-time would warn his followers against a time of great spiritual and moral falling away, while also mentioning the possibility of the persecution and rejection of evangelical Christians. These matters are not part of Angus’s message. Neither does he proclaim the blessed hope of the rapture to Christians to encourage them to remain steadfast until the Lord Jesus takes us away to our heavenly home (1 Thess. 4:16-18).
The fact that so many people stream to the meetings of Angus is proof of the lack of leadership which the whites in South Africa experience in both the political and religious fields. They are looking for somebody to come and lead the Boers. Even some of the Israel groups (British Israelism, or White Theology supporters) allege that Prophet Van Rensburg has referred to a leader who would lead the Boers to a Boer state where they can be free from domination by the blacks. Could this perhaps be the reason for the popularity that Angus enjoys?
Many disappointed Christians perceive that Angus, unlike Paul, does not proclaim the full counsel of God to his thousands of followers. This is a relevant observation because, if he would have done so, he would in concrete terms have achieved much more than is the case at present. He cannot even remotely be mentioned in the same vein as a revival preacher such as Andrew Murray. It is in fact highly questionable whether the movement which he describes as a revival indeed qualifies to be defined as such.