Matthew 24:24 for there shall arise false Christ’s, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.

Jesus was very plain in speaking with His disciples. When they had a question He was quick to explain for their understanding, for clarity and application. Jesus was neither in opposition to Judaism nor temple worship, He and His disciples worshiped according to the commandments given to Moses. He was very outspoken in reference to the traditions that men had brought into the understanding and application of the Word of God. It had become so pervasive that Jesus upbraided the religious leaders when they challenged Him about doctrine:

Mark 7:5-9, 13 So the Pharisees and the scribes asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders? Instead, they eat with unclean hands.” He told them, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites. As it is written, ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is worthless, because they teach human rules as doctrines.’ You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.” Then he told them, “You have such a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your own tradition!…..You are destroying the word of God through your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many other things like that.”

We need to be ever mindful that Satan is the father of lies, he is the great deceiver, and he is the author of all religious deception. His ministers will come into the homes, Churches, and Fellowships disguised as ministers of righteousness.

THE RED FLAGS OF DECEPTION:

The following is a list of ‘Red Flags’ that are symptoms of deception in a person or group. In developing this list, I was concerned, not so much with addressing specific doctrines, but in identifying characteristics that are symptomatic of deception.

1. Spiritual elitism. This is the root of many delusions. Any kind of elitist belief is a certain indication of deception. Elitism is the belief that God has given a certain group special revelation/power/anointing that other Christian groups or previous generations have not entered into. They are on the spiritual cutting-edge, rising to spiritual levels not attained by other groups. It’s often dressed up as “Joel’s Army”, “Gideon’s Army”, and Elijah Companies of super anointed end-time warriors. Elitism is seen today in the ‘this-is-the-greatest-generation-ever’ kind of preaching we often hear. It can be found in the need to search out so-called ‘deeper’ truths and discover new, hidden mystical insights.

2. A tendency to marginalize the written Word. Watch out for any talk that plays down devotion to Scripture, such as “God is bigger than the Bible” or “God is doing a new thing, so put away your Bibles.” Marginalizing the written Word can take many forms:

a)  Ignoring the Word. Neglecting private Bible study in daily life is a strong symptom of deception.

b)  Disregarding the Word. A careless attitude towards obedience. I’ve seen examples of this in wild revival meetings in which people mockingly quote the verse, “Let all things be done decently and in order”, while they enjoy a good laugh over their disorderly and drunken behavior. Any teaching that plays down our requirement to be doers of the Word is a sure sign of delusion.

c)  Deceived groups that marginalize the Word are often those who have an emphasis on prophecy. Beware of any emphasis on the revelatory, prophetic word, especially where there is a sidelining of the written Word. We are not to despise prophecy, but the real meat of the Word that nourishes the saints and builds them up in the faith is the written Word of God, not the prophetic. Teaching that would make Christians dependant on prophets or apostles for ‘current’ truth effectively marginalizes the Word of God.

d)  “Fools despise knowledge.” Any kind of talk that does not give the Word the high regard it is due, effectively marginalizes the Word and is a sure sign that deception is at work in the group. As the Word says, “Choose my instruction instead of silver.” Love it more than anything else.

 3. Prayerlessness in private. Neglect of private prayer time, alone with God, is a strong indication of deception. If it is prevalent across a church or movement, it indicates deception is taking hold of that group. Please note that deceived people will often continue to attend and even enjoy public church functions, especially when there is good sound, light or music – but private quite time loses its appeal.

4. Disdain for Berean spirited searching of the scriptures. Any kind of anti-Berean, anti-discernment teaching that discourages people from questioning what is going on or being taught is a sure sign of deception. If you ever hear the leadership of your church group say anything along the lines of “put away your Bibles”, or “don’t worry about being deceived”, then head for the exit as fast as you can.

5. An inability to separate Godly criticism of their words from personal attack. Equating ‘Berean’ (Acts 17:11) activity with criticism. Such leaders may often talk about the ‘Jezebel spirit’ and the ‘accuser of the brethren’ and warn people about moving in a fault finding or critical spirit. What they are driving at is that if you question what is going on, or challenge what is being taught, you are being critical and run the risk of incurring the Lord’s disfavor.

6. Lack of accountability. One common trait among the new wave of apostles and prophets rising to prominence these days is that they do not like to be held accountable for their teachings and failed prophecies. Any criticism of their teachings and prophetic utterances is taken as an attack against their ministry.

7. Discernment primarily the prerogative of leadership. A tendency to see discernment as a special gift or anointing not available to everyone to the same degree, or that increases with higher spiritual office. The ‘higher’ you are on the prophetic ladder, the more discerning you are. Since leaders supposedly have better discernment as per their higher office, followers tend to trust the opinions of their leaders over their own, since the ‘apostle’ or prophet must have better understanding anyway due to their higher standing in the spiritual ranks. Believers are not encouraged to trust their own discernment, or are encouraged only so long as it agrees with the overall word as set forth by the leaders. Discernment among the ranks becomes little more than a faculty (an inner witness of the spirit) that confirms what the Apostle or Prophet is saying.

8. Any form of Mystery Religion. A mystery religion is a religion that has successive levels of knowledge and ‘deeper’ truths, which are not necessarily available to all, at least not at first. Those in higher levels will know things not revealed, nor available, to lower levels. A new ‘believer’ comes in on the ground floor, and then progresses up through successive levels of spiritual understanding and empowerment as he is introduced to the ‘deeper’ truths.

9. Heightened interest with spiritual levels and rankings. Higher ‘spiritual’ rank is equated with greater closeness to God. Gifts and callings are typically ranked, and those higher in rank are seen as closer to God in some practical way, such as hearing from God more frequently and being more privy to God’s inner secrets. Those on higher spiritual levels have a privileged access to God that is not available to those holding lesser callings. As a result of their higher standing or special calling, God visits them more often and they receive greater mystical experiences than the rest.

10. Heightened interest in dreams, visions, new revelations and novel insights. This may not necessarily be explicitly stated in their Creed, and they may claim to believe the Bible as the Word of God. But in actual practice dreams, visions and revelations are the preferred stock-in-trade over sound Bible teaching and exposition of the basics.

11. An increase in subjectivity looking for subjective impressions, personal ‘prophetic’ words and ‘revelation’ for guidance and direction, seeking the mystical ‘inner voice’ as guide over the written Word. You can be sure that if a person is seeking new personal ‘words’, it is because they are not in the Word, and serious deception cannot be long avoided.

12. Detractors dismissed as having inferior vision. They see themselves as being in tune with God, and anyone who is also in tune with the Divine will agree with them. Detractors are obviously not in tune with God and have inferior vision. This sets up a very neat circular reasoning that is almost impossible to get past. It is a defensiveness which is very difficult to penetrate, because they are convinced that detractors don’t have the same level of anointing or discernment as they have. As they see it, if detractors did have the same level of anointing, they’d be in agreement. They dismiss any criticism of their teaching or conduct as bitterness, jealousy or fault finding, while they themselves feel they have very sharp spiritual perception. People are truly discerning only as long as they support their movement.

13. Dismissive attitude towards detractors, they are given derogatory labels, such as ‘religious’, ‘old order’, ‘old wineskins’, or ‘Pharisees’. Detractors denounced as not being able to ‘handle it’, or they have a ‘Jezebel spirit’, or a ‘spirit of criticism’. They are ‘accusers of the brethren’, that sort of thing. Threats of God’s judgment on detractors and critics are a sure sign of a cultic mindset and delusion.

14. A ‘get-on-board-or-else’ mentality. A fear that you’ll miss God’s new move and be left behind if you don’t join up. God is doing a new thing and if you do not go along with it, regardless of how long you’ve been faithfully serving God over the years, God will pass you by and you’ll get left in the dust.

15. New thingism. God is doing a ‘new thing’ and you’d better get with it. There is now a further requirement if you want to remain a first class Christian and in God’s highest favor, which is to be a part of the new thing represented by the group. If you don’t come along, you run the risk of God passing you by.

16. A special anointing. A certain person or group has been anointed by God to introduce something to the rest of the Body. God has given it to them, and other believers can come to them to ‘get it.’

17. A priesthood. Placing a person or group in an exalted status with God, so that they become special intermediaries, is a sure sign of delusion. False movements and false religions invariable try to interject some kind of priesthood between the believer and God. This is seen whenever a person or group claims to have received something from God that can be received from their hands. They become an intermediary between you and Jesus Christ if you want more of God, and people are encouraged to go to the ‘anointed’ of the Lord to get it.  

We see this today in certain revival circles where it is necessary to get more from God at the hands of a specially chosen vessel. Worship leaders have ‘an anointing’ to lead us into the presence of God. Prophets and apostles have a privileged access to receive things from God that the rest of the church needs. False religion always reverts to some form of human priesthood.

18. “Don’t think about it, just jump in” type of teaching that encourages people to throw caution to the wind. Encouraging followers not to worry or think things through, that God won’t allow them to be deceived. Just jump in before it’s too late or you may miss the boat.

19. Glorification of the vessel, an excessive focus on the ‘anointed’ person of God.

20. Old Testament ‘typed’ anointing. (A double anointing, The mantle of Elijah, etc.)

21. An excited interest in peripheral subjects not central to the gospel, with a de-emphasis on the central themes of the gospel. They claim to agree with the gospel, but the bulk of their teaching, writing and prophetic messages show a greater interest in peripheral topics, novel insights and new revelation.

22. May talk unity, but bring division along lines of gender, age, race or nationality.

23. Watch out for leaders who love to surround themselves with minions who affirm their special anointing.

24. More interest in breaking through to new levels and remaking the church along new lines rather than reaching the lost with the good news of Jesus Christ.

25. False spirits love to show off and love center stage. They love to parade their subjective impressions and experiences up front for others to see. Publicly sharing highly subjective impressions and insights that cannot be proved or disproved one way or the other is a real “Red Flag”.

26. Conference chasing, running from place to place to meet God. Any emphasis on experiencing God corporately more than privately is a symptom of delusion. Whenever people need to go to a conference or certain location to receive a ‘fresh’ touch, something is very wrong.  There is a whole generation of believers now who are bored with ‘quiet time’ alone with God, who don’t know how to meet God in the prayer closet, and can only meet with God and experience Him in public settings that provide the right mood and atmosphere, usually involving the right music. The reason so many are chasing God at conferences is because they are not in the Word and prayer at home.

27. The ‘anointed’ leader has a privileged access, a hot relationship, with God that the rest have yet to attain. They get angelic visitations, dramatic visions and prophetic insights, and they publish ‘prophetic bulletins’ to keep others abreast with what God is doing. Because the apostles and prophets are in such a privileged position of receiving the latest hot word from God, the rest are reduced to second hand status, anxiously awaiting the latest prophetic bulletin. Watch for groups that tend to place emphasis on the leaders anointing or relationship with God. This results in Christians running to conferences for a ‘fresh touch’ from those who seem to have ‘it’.

28. The Holy Spirit is seen more as coming to bring an experience rather than a greater understanding of the Scripture.

29. A tendency to distinguish between people who accept their movement as a true move of God and those who don’t.

30. Beware of any dichotomy between the Spirit and the mind. Any anti-intellectual position, such as the belief held in many charismatic circles today that exercising the mind will hinder the Holy Spirit, is a real indication of deception. Deceivers like to parrot phrases like: “God will offend the mind to reveal the heart.” This cute little mantra often repeated in certain revival groups sounds very spiritual, but is very false. A careful reading of the Word tells us the truth: God will inform the mind to convince the heart. Jesus often did offend the Pharisee’s – by telling them the truth! The Holy Spirit leads people to Christ by shining the light of God’s Word into their minds and convicting them of its truth.

Characteristics of a Cult Mindset

The difference between a cult and a legitimate group is relationship, not doctrine. Although it will usually follow that a cultic group will also endorse heretical doctrine that is not what makes it a cult. Other, non-Christian religions will embrace doctrines contrary to Christian faith. That does not necessarily make them cults. A group is defined as cultic by the dependant/controlling relationship that forms between the leader of the group and his followers. The leader acquires an inappropriate level of control over the individuals of a group by fostering personal dependence upon him as the source and definer of truth. A cultic group has a strong, influential leader who knows how to encourage followers to remain personally dependent upon him for truth, purpose and guidance.

In developing this list, I was more interested in showing the characteristics of a cult as opposed to addressing specific heretical teachings; cultic symptoms rather than specific doctrinal aberrations.

My reason for this approach is twofold: First, specific heresies will change from one cult to another, but there are certain characteristics which remain fairly consistent between cults by which a cultic group can be identified. Secondly, and perhaps more ominously, large segments of the charismatic church are becoming very cultic in practice even though they may claim to believe the major tenets of Christian faith. Most of these traits were very characteristic of the Latter Rain Movement, The Walk, and are becoming very common in Vineyard and Charismatic circles.

1.  Loyalty to charismatic leadership over Scripture. The primary characteristic of a cultic mindset is devotion to leadership over an objective standard of truth. Cultic followers have an excessive devotion to popular teachers, and are unwilling or disinclined to question them. They place too much trust in leadership without exercising independent, critical thought that resorts to objective standards of information outside of the group. This mindset is very predominant in Vineyard and Charismatic circles, seen in the almost blind trust placed in prophetic leadership. This is evident in their willingness to believe what they are told, as long as the right person says it. They are disinclined to exercise independent, critical thought and search the scriptures to see if what is being taught is true.

2.  Believing what’s said based on WHO says it. Truth is determined by what the leaders say. The cultic-mindset determines the acceptability of what is said more by who says it rather than how well it conforms to the Word of God. Today, anyone can say almost anything in a Charismatic/ Vineyard crowd and get away with it, as long as they have the right type of ‘loving’, charismatic personality and appear to move in spiritual gifts. In other words, as long as the ministry package looks good, they tend to accept the contents of the teaching with little question.

3.  An unwillingness to question leaders. Idolizing leaders and placing them on a pedestal, being quick to excuse and overlook their faults. Leaders will often take doubts and questions as a personal attack. Questioning the leader is viewed as rebellion, stubbornness, or spiritualized as a demonic ploy to undermine ‘God’s anointed’.

4.  Fear of disapproval by the group. A fearfulness of saying something that the leaders and/or others in the group may not approve of.

5.  Elitist and exclusive. They think of themselves as the spiritual cutting-edge. An excessive need for acceptance and belonging to an ‘inner circle’. A fear of being left out of Gods new thing is one expression of this.

6.  Dismissive attitude towards those outside the group. A disregard for what others say and think who are not in the group.

7.  A polarized “In or Out”, “Us” versus “Them” attitude towards those outside the ‘movement’. Those outside the ‘move’ are given derogatory labels. It is considered that those outside don’t have what it takes to be apart of the superior goals of the group. This is often seen in the ‘get-on-board-with-this-move-or-you’ll-miss-it’ style of preaching often seen in charismatic circles.

8.  Those outside the group just don’t understand.

9.  Lack of tolerance for dissent. Dissenters threatened with divine punishment. Dissent, doubt and questioning are not tolerated and perceived as a personal attack on the leadership. They have difficulty separating the message from the messenger.

10. Rational thought is discouraged. Group experience over loyalty to truth, don’t think about it, just jump in. Don’t stop to analyze, just be open to what the ‘spirit’ is doing.

11. The superior ends of the group justify the means. Revival leaders are well known for their pragmatic approach to the ‘truth’. If it works, it’s OK.

12. Group leaders determine how followers should think and what is ‘true’. Truth and reality (paradigm) are determined within the context of the group. People with a cultic-mindset tend to submerge their own thoughts under the thoughts of the leader and group. They have greater confidence in the opinions of others than of their own.

13. A lack of discretion and independent thought. Pro.2:11 states that “discretion will protect you”. Discretion is the ability to think for yourself; to exercise independent thought or action according to one’s own judgment. Cultic followers are noticeably lacking in this ability, so they are easily persuaded by a dynamic and charismatic leader. They find it difficult to stand back with a measure of detachment and evaluate things with a cool head in the light of God’s Word.

14. Cultic persons gravitate towards dependence upon a ‘priesthood’ for their contact with God. This ‘priesthood’ can take the form of an ‘anointed’ person, a prophet, an apostle, or anyone who receives from God for the follower. Cultic persons place excessive trust in the leader and the leader’s so-called contact with God.

15. Accusative self-doubt in relation to leadership. It can take the form of self-doubting questions such as: Who do I think I am, anyway? Who am I to question what the leaders are saying? What makes me think I was right and so many big name ministries are wrong?

16. Lack of recourse and accountability outside the group. Little if any accountability outside the group, members of the group take little recourse outside the group for information or help as far as the defining ‘truths’ and purpose of the group are concerned.

So where does this leave the believer today? Today each believer is solely responsible for what they choose to accept and believe. They do not have a Priesthood that has been appointed as their religious “overseers”. Every person who has been born again has been born again of the incorruptible seed, the Word of God. They have also received the perfect teacher – the Holy Spirit who has come to reside within them – we are the Temple of the Holy Spirit.

1st Peter 1:23 For you have been born again, not by a seed that perishes but by one that cannot perish—by the living and everlasting word of God.

1st John 2:26-27 I am writing to warn you about those people who are misleading you.

But Christ has blessed you with the Holy Spirit. Now the Spirit stays in you, and you don’t need any teachers. The Spirit is truthful and teaches you everything. So stay one in your heart with Christ, just as the Spirit has taught you to do.

So, should we shun any reliance upon men to be our teachers or that can bring spiritual insight into what we are hearing, seeing, or may have received through impartation? It would be wrong to completely avoid all the people in the Church under the pretext of seeking pure spiritual maturity.

Act 17:10-11 that night the brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the Jewish synagogue. These people were more receptive than those in Thessalonica. They were very willing to receive the message, and every day they carefully examined the Scriptures to see if those things were so.

I would prayerfully ask that you seek the Holy Spirit and decide for yourself if what I have written is the truth. Today with the Christian’s access to the Internet and 24 hours a day television there needs to be great concern about the truth that we are reading, listening and seeing.  The eyes are the window of the soul.

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