The charlatans of the gospel

March 31, 2008 at 11:26 am | Posted in Christianity | 2 Comments
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In the late 1800s and early 1900s there was a group of people who made their living running cons and scams in many places in the US. These are not the only people that have ever done this, but they are of interest to me. Many of these men and women worked the Mississippi River. They played games like three-card monte and the shell game. There whole purpose was to find people willing to play the games and then take them for as much money as they could. They would make the games look extremely simple and easy to win, but when the person put their money down, they always lost. Not all of the con artists of the time ran these games though. Others worked through fraud or scams to make their money. I bet that you’re wondering what this has to do with Christianity right? Well, while it’s nothing new, there seem to be a lot of charlatans in the church as well.

I’m not talking about those that are (or should be) obvious. I would hope that you would be able to see them for what they are. I’m talking about in the “mainstream” denominations. If we were to look at some of the main denominations, we would find plenty of charlatans. Before I go on, let me define a charlatan. Simply put, a charlatan is a fraud or “quack”. What they are doing or saying is not true. Interestingly, the Webster’s New World dictionary that I got the definition from also said that a charlatan was a seller of papal indulgences…

Many charlatans have used religion as a way for them to make their money. As I said before, this is nothing new. In recent times, people like Father Divine (George Baker), Aimee Semple McPherson, and Peter Popoff have used “faith” to fleece people of untold amounts of money. While their methods differ, each of them used cunning and glib words to deceive people. They told the people what they wanted to hear and used whatever means necessary to prove it.

As charlatans go, nothing seems to have changed. There are numerous preachers around the world and on TV that are using the same methods to draw otherwise faithful people away from God. The messages are a little different depending on whom you’re listening to, but they are all similar in some respects. The greatest similarity in all of those who use “faith” to mislead others, is the twisting of scripture. They will take verses out of context and make them say what they want in order to show that they have “God’s” support. Another similarity is that many of them seem to imply that those who follow them have to believe everything they say. If someone were ever to doubt them, they would be guilty of “not understanding” or being a “black sheep”. Their questioning of the charlatan would show that they “don’t have the faith” to see the “truth”.

Most of these men and women spend time on how God wants people blessed. They talk about the blessing of God in every sermon they preach. Some of them focus on the financial blessing of God while others focus on the power of God. Some have made their focus the “fact” that God wants us to be positive about life. It is a message filled with a lot of New Age ideas about thinking positive and seeing things in a “positive light”. They give light, airy messages about how great life will be if they just follow the right steps. Others have taken things that God clearly says are wrong and made them ok. They spend much of their time focusing on the love of God and His grace toward sinners and lull their congregations into a false sense of security. Still others make out a laundry list of things that their people can or cannot do without risking hell. They tell them what to believe and how to believe it. They make rules for who is forgiven of their sins and who is not.

The sad part about all of this is the fact that there are many people who believe them. There are many people that are so eager to be blessed by God that they completely forgo logic and reasoning. They spend all of their time and what little money they have giving to these ministries and devouring their teachings. They are so captivated with how to “stay positive” that they completely lose sight of who God is and what is really going on in their lives. They deny certain situations because it would cause them to be “negative”. Others are so caught up in their sin that they seek out someone to tell them that what they doing is ok. They don’t want to hear that their lifestyle or actions are wrong and many Christians are afraid to tell them. Instead, they just look for someone who will tickle their ears and tell them what they want to hear. Then there are those who would rather follow man and his ideas. They are allowed to live their lives the way that they want because they’ve learned how to manipulate the rules in their favor. All of these things (and more) are happening in the body of Christ as you read this and it’s an utter tragedy.

It’s a tragedy because people are being hurt and broken due to the false teachings. They are being misled into thinking that what they’re hearing is the truth and they have been conditioned not to see for themselves. Many of them got “saved” because of these ministries and have no inkling of how to check what they’re learning against scripture. They are being taken and the saddest part of all is that it’s not just their money that’s at stake; it’s their eternal future. These charlatans are playing fast and loose with people’s souls and it seems to be growing more common all the time.

So, how do we change this? We have to start by stopping. We have to stop teaching things that are not scripturally correct. Contrary to popular belief, God made a number of things very clear when He had scripture written. There are some things that take a lot of studying, but not things that need to be understood for salvation. Once we stop teaching the things that are false, we have to start teaching the truth. We have to help people to not only read the Bible, but to understand it! If I hand you the gospel of John in Chinese and you can’t read Chinese, then it’s not going to do you a bit of good. It has to be understood because it has to be applied. To know the truth, you have to know what it says the way God said it. That means that the scriptural and historical context has to be understood as well. Not only that, but we also have to drop any presuppositions we have about what the scriptures say. We cannot bring our interpretation into the Bible and make it line up with scripture. We have to let scripture tear down whatever false ideas we may have about what scripture says.

“Gee, that sounds like a lot of work!” Of course it is, but isn’t it worth it? Shouldn’t we have the desire to actually know the truth of the Word of God and how to apply it? Shouldn’t we be hungry to know what God has to say to us? We can’t allow ourselves to get caught up in the “emotion” of it all. I have seen many people that go to church because it’s just so emotional. The music and the message whip them into an emotional frenzy and they end up on a spiritual high for about two days. It’s not about an “emotional high”! It’s about living the truth!

See, while the charlatans will tell you that God wants you “blessed” the Bible says that there is more to it. Does God want to bless us? YES! But, that blessing comes from obedience. And, that blessing is more than just money. While the charlatans will tell you to be positive, scripture gives many examples of people who were in the midst of trials and tribulations and cried out in anger or frustration. They understood who God was and knew that He was there with them, but it didn’t mean that they denied what they were facing. While the charlatans will tell you that you can live how you want because “God loves you”, the Bible says that God’s wrath is on the sons of disobedience. If you’re living in a way that is in opposition to God’s Word, then you’re living in sin and it will send you straight to hell if something isn’t done about it. While the charlatans will tell you that you can go to heaven if you jump through a number of hoops and walk on a razor’s edge, the Bible says that if you repent of your sins (turn from the things that you know are wrong and stop doing them) and put your faith in Jesus Christ as the only One who can save you from eternal damnation, then you will be saved and you can know that you’re going to heaven.

The body of Christ has to stop listening to the world and has to start listening to what God has told us through His Word. We have to stop following the worldly fads and spend our time and money on doing what God said needs to be done so that the lost will come to repentance and be saved from hell. I believe that that means that we have to start calling out the charlatans. Unless we point out the false teaching, it will go on unhindered. I understand that the Bible says that false teachers are going to arise and lead many away, but if we have the truth, then we might be able to see some of those people saved.

Your thoughts?


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  1. I think that your totally right according to what i read…it def. lines up with scripture!

  2. great contention for the true faith, which was delivered once for all to the saints

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