On the Deception of False Prophets in Africa and a Call to Discernment
By Pastor Gideon Mpeni, Florida Baptist Church, South Africa
When we look at the benefits of a Metropolitan lifestyle, we see that it exposes citizens to the unique privileges of buying all they need in shops that are close to their residence. Members of the society are awarded the pleasure of window-shopping, and buying items from the shops of their choosing.
But once they buy items in one shop, and as they move into another shop, sometimes people are met with a difficult situation. They meet the security personnel in the next shop who either seal the parcel they are carrying, so that they don’t put anything else in that bag, or they are asked to put their bag on the “parcel counter” before they enter. This will also apply to those who find themselves in a city with a major shopping center or a mall.
I see a similar scenario happening in many churches on our continent, which has been known in the past as “the dark continent”.
We have seen the rise of men and women with different academic qualifications whether they be lawyers, chartered accountants, medical doctors, doctors of philosophy, engineers, architects, excellent artists (who tell their stories on the canvas to the point that one will begin to think it was a Nikon Camera that took the picture) or as you watch those actors who make you feel and think the story is real. Not to mention the gifted musicians, with powerful voices, and with melodies almost equal to the heavenly beings, and many who have excellent IT (Information Technology) capabilities.
A few of these wonderfully gifted people were depicted in two recent movies, “The Black Panther” and a true story of one of my countrymen, Malawian William Kamkwamba, in a movie titled, “The Boy who Harnessed the Wind”. These two movies portray Africa as a hub for innovation.
One depicts Africa in a modern civilized picture as a metropolitan city full of wonderful shops that enable this city to flourish and make it the desired destination for all other people from other continents. The other displays Africa as she really is—a place which embodies the same genius which could be ranked in the Guinness Book of Records.
With that in mind, the reality is that men and women in the city can move to any other platform, such as in sports, where they can critically think and analyze how the different teams are performing, critically and constructively bringing out ideas and voicing their opinions on how the coaches and managers should lead their teams.
Or when it comes to politics, we see the citizens taking to the streets if those entrusted to lead the country do not fulfill their promises or violate their terms of office.
It does not manner which field we are talking about, there are generally accepted standards of operation—in accounting, law, architecture, music, art, sports, politics, etc.–there is a strict expectation that you must abide by those standards, and apply your mind actively, by a way of thinking and constructively looking at the concepts presented for that particular field.
Now we come to the topic of how all of this relates to the African churches. For the sake of this article, I will use the term, “fields shops”. I am using that term “shop” not because that is the right way to describe the church, but we have increasingly seen that the modern “man of God” has turned the church into a marketplace where he wants to fleece the flock and has made it “a den of robbers” (Mark 11:17), with himself as a chief robber.
Though we have such a contingent of great thinkers, movers and shakers in our land, there is still a sad reality that deception thrives in the land and people are caught up in that deception in some of our local churches. The “man of God,” who rules the church, demands the ultimate allegiance from these men and women of such high caliber.
This is where we see the idea of a “parcel counter” as I described previously. In many ways as these brilliant men and women enter the church, they sometimes leave their brains on the “parcel counter”. They dare not question or examine what is said. It is for this reason that the church must stand up and be vigilant in discerning the teachings and claims that are made by these self-acclaimed prophets.
I will therefore look at the meaning of this word and provide a biblical basis by using the letter of Paul to Titus and that of Peter’s second letter to the men and women who obtained a faith of equal standing with that of the apostles by the righteousness of Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:1).
What is Discernment?
The English dictionary simply defines this term to mean the ability to judge well. Pastor John MacArthur describes it as the ability to decide between truth and error, right and wrong. Unlike the passive syndrome that we see demonstrated by many believers, this term makes us realize that we must be active participants in the local church, whether it be in practical affairs but more importantly in what is taught from the pulpit. Discernment is the process of making careful distinctions in our thinking about truth.
The implication is that we must develop the skill of discriminating between truth and error, good and bad. To further clarify the point, we find another interesting eye-opening definition given by MacArthur in a book titled, “Fool’s Gold? Discerning Truth in an Age of Error”, he points out that the main Hebrew word in the Old Testament for discernment is “bin” and in all its usage this word is often translated as discernment, understanding, skill, or carefulness.
Interestingly enough, this word conveys the idea of the word discrimination. In the New Testament, the Greek verb translated “discern” is “diakrino”, which means to make a distinction as in Acts 15:9. Therefore, the man or woman in any context must be able to make a clear contrast between truth and error and be able to “test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every evil” (1 Thess. 5:21-22).
The word “test” is “dokimazo” used by Paul in this text as an imperative, implying that this is not a suggestion but rather a command for these believers to “test,” “analyze,” or “prove.” This is the process of testing something to reveal its genuineness. In other words, the ability to think with discernment is synonymous with an ability to think biblically.
Why do we need Discernment? The Rise of False Teachers.
In an age that glories in deception and which is governed by the arch deceiver himself, we have seen many churches with “brain counters” and the demand for discernment has not been as high as it is now for all believers.
Basically, deception refers to a deliberate misrepresentation of the truth, especially in moral and spiritual matters, in order to purposely mislead another person. And this is what most false teachers have set their hearts to.
In any given city, there is a church on every corner. Some are faithful to the Lord and their desire is to see believers edified and conformed to the image of Jesus. Then we have “many insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers” (Titus 1:10) as Paul would plead or warn Titus. These are men with a selfish agenda not that of Christ, “they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what ought not to be teach.” (Titus 1:11).
This sounds like the same description that Paul gives to the false teachers of the church in Philippi, who are described as “enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with mind set on earthly things.” (Phil.3:18-19).
These are men such as Joel Osteen in North America and many other preachers of the prosperity gospel, which is no gospel at all. Or on the soil of Africa, the false prophets such as Shephard Bushiri and other self-acclaimed prophets.
As you go into most of these churches, you will find that these men are an authority to themselves, in that they will barely open the Bible or teach from it. They devote themselves to their own dreams, visions or worldly philosophies, similar to what the Apostle Paul called “myths and commands of people who turn away from the truth,” (Titus 1:14).
The most evident trait is that these are people who “profess to know God, but they deny him by their works.” (Titus 1:16). The authority and sufficiency of Scripture is completely overlooked to the point that the members of these churches with “brain counters” do not take their Bibles to church because for them, they wait to hear what the “man of God” will tell them that day.
Contrary to the attitude of the Thessalonians, who are commended to receive the word of God not as a word from man but as the Word of God (1 Thess. 2:13), sadly these are the same believers who will fall prey to the hands of these men by buying items such as holy water, holy oil or bumper stickers. These are believed to be some kind of insurance or protection, to the extent that personal devotion in studying God’s word and devotion to prayer is neglected.
The false prophets and teachers have never been a blessing but rather a curse to God’s people. We are warned by Peter the Apostle of the Lord Jesus concerning this trend, which is in no way the latest trend but rather an ancient trick that has been employed by the serpent of old, the Father of Lies, the Devil of the Garden of Eden.
It was lack of discernment that led to the fall of our forefathers Adam and Eve but the Children of Israel were not exempt from false prophets, especially during the time of Jeremiah as recorded in Chapter 23.
We must remember that what we are seeing is a fulfilment of the prophecy spoken by the Apostle Peter (2 Peter 2), who reminded his readers that “false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you,” and that they come with an agenda, which is to “secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them.”
Why do we need Discernment? The Rise in Disobedience or Immorality.
Sadly, when the church is full of men and women who leave their brains on the counter and do not engage at all among themselves or with their teachers, it falls into a trap of immorality, which is an outright disobedience to the Word of God. Due to lack of discernment among us, we see “many following their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed” (2 Peter 2:2).
As stated earlier, these false teachers are exploiting many with their greed and false words. Their moral standards are so low that they go to length to commit immoral acts with their church members, “having eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. They entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption” (2 Peter 2:13b-14).
So how should the Church respond?
To combat these false teachers and the corruption that has come about as the result of their false teaching, any local church will honor and glorify Christ if they do the following–
1. Having a Plurality of Biblically Qualified Elders: Paul urges Titus to do the same in the churches of Crete. He requires that local churches should have more than one man running the show. These are men who will model Christlikeness (Titus 1:7-9) in the way that they will be able to protect the flock of God from wolves, by silencing them (Titus 1:11).
Secondly these men will also provide for the flock by teaching sound doctrine, hence it is required that they too “must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, and give instruction and rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9).
Unlike the common trend, where we have one man running the show, even in local churches that would have more qualified men who would serve in the capacity as elders. If we are to see change in the church in Africa and beyond, we need men who uphold sound doctrine and do submit to the Word of God and are accountable to others.
2. Faithful Preaching of the Gospel: There is no potent remedy to man’s sin or any kind of corruption other than the Gospel. Paul has urged Titus to exhort all men and women in the local church to live lives that are motivated by the Gospel as it is in Titus 2:11-13. He begins with the glorious grace of God that has appeared to all, to bring Salvation for all and consummated in the glorious return of Christ.
In reminding us of the Gospel Paul declares God as the Possessor of Grace, and sinful mankind as the Partaker of that Grace. He goes on to the third chapter and commands Titus to remind all Christians of their past misery and God’s perfect mercy (Titus 3:3-7).
Unlike the false teachers of our day, who sound as if they are already glorified and were born already filled with the Holy Spirit, Paul includes himself that apart from the mercy of God, he too was “foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another” (verse 3).
This is the message that is infinitely powerful to rescue sinners from the deadly traps of deception.
3. Living Lives that Display the Grace of God: This is imperative considering the moral decay and corruption in our day. Paul exhorts the believers to live their lives in a manner worthy of the gospel. He urges Titus to speak to instruct the believers to honor Christ in their households (Titus 2:1-10), this includes older men, older women, younger women, and young men. Then the attention moves to the workplace then finishing with their responsibility as citizens of a country (Titus 3:1-2).
To that end, we must be men and women who have been completely transformed by the Grace of God through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:3-6), realizing that when it comes to matters of Christianity, it requires more than a great IQ or EQ, persona, academic achievement or any of the most revered ingenuity in our society to allow anyone to understand the things of God. We need the transforming power of the Gospel.
Don’t be a victim of false teachers. It is high time we rise and discern what is taught and said by these men in shiny suits.