“But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them –bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. Their condemnation has long been over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.” – 2 Peter 2:1-3
In April 2023, news broke from Kenya about a “suspected Christian cult.” (The term ‘Christian cult’ is oxymoronic to say the least.) The bodies of more than 100 people were found in a Kenyan forest when police went searching for the remains of followers of this cult. Mass graves in the Shakahola forest, the so-called new Holy Land, contained 101 bodies – mostly children – and a further eight people found alive later died. There were fears the death toll could rise, with Kenya’s Interior Ministry saying more than 400 people were still missing. The forest area had been partitioned into villages, each given biblical names such as Judea, Bethlehem and Nazareth.
The authorities say the dead were members of the Good News International Church while others were believed to be linked to the New Life Prayer Centre and Church. It is alleged that the self-proclaimed pastor of the church had predicted that the world would end on April 15, and ordered his followers to kill themselves to be the first to go to heaven. Reports say there was a “fasting schedule” with a plan for children and single people to starve first before women and then men. The pastor and his family were to go last. Indeed, more than half of the corpses found so far belonged to children. While post-mortem’s still had to be carried out, police and investigators say as well as dying from starvation, some members may have been strangled, suffocated or beaten to death with blunt objects. Devotees sold their properties and factories and went to the forest where the church was located; they went to the wilderness to wait for Jesus! Part of the outlets for spreading the group’s radicalized messages was via ownership of a television channel. A former adherent said he was drawn to the church because he thought the pastor was charismatic and preached God’s word well and sold some part of the land to his followers.
The scenes described above are horrific and make for grim reading. It is also easy to feel smug about yourself and wonder why or how anyone would fall for what are very obvious heresies. The eccentric lifestyle would be mistaken by many as being ‘spiritual’, but what about the exactness in dating the day the world would end? Even Jesus, the only begotten of God, who sits at his right hand, said he didn’t know when the world would end, yet a mere mortal claimed to know and multitudes fell for it. These Kenyans aren’t alone. Inspired by predictions at the end of the last millennium, people sold their belongings in anticipation of Christ’s return in the year 2000. If going to heaven to meet Jesus is so glorious and required fasting, nay starving to death, to accomplish, why didn’t the so-called pastor and his family go first? Instead they sent children and unmarried people to early graves while they themselves remained here on earth. How wicked!
If you wonder what made these unfortunate people so gullible, consider this: one adherent said the pastor (I have no other name to call him) “was charismatic and preached God’s word well”. Aren’t charisma and fluent speech the reasons why you listen to some of the people you do?
Scripture is full of warnings against false prophets. On smooth-talkers, Paul said, “by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naïve people” (Romans 16:18). As it was then, so it is now. Jesus said “false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect (Matthew 24:24). Paul prophesied that, “the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths (2 Timothy 4:3-4). In Acts 20:30 he said, “even from among your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.” These are just a few examples of such warnings.
Why is scripture littered with them? To be forewarned is to be forearmed. That the word of God has predicted an increase in the activity of false prophets in the last days means they must come, for scripture cannot fail. The events in Kenya are a testimony to that. You may think that the devotees to this sect were simply naïve, but again the bible says it is “from your own number” that “men will arise and distort the truth”. To what end? “In order to draw away disciples after them”. It is in movies that Satan comes wearing dark gowns and having horns, the reality is much subtler. The people that are likely to lead you astray will most likely come from groups that bandy around the bible. The question is, when you encounter them, will you recognize them for the charlatans that they are? Will the word of prophecy that many will be deceived find fulfilment in your life or not? Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. Don’t be too self-confident like Peter, who failed to heed Christ’s warning of Satan’s impending sifting of his life and ended up denying Jesus. If it could happen to a first generation apostle, then you ought to take heed. Those who scripture says will be, and are, drawn away are “disciples”. If you pause for a moment, perhaps you may remember a few members of your own local church who appeared to be quite knowledgeable, who have been led astray and are now following various demonic doctrines. The events in Kenya are not the last, in fact there will be more daring ones to come and they will be closer home than you imagine. How will you keep yourself from being enticed and drawn away from your sincere devotion to Christ?
Watch and Pray
“Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation” (Matthew 26:41) was Jesus’ warning to his disciples and that warning is apt for us today too. In this context, what should you watch out for? Watch what you hear and who you hear it from; watch what you watch and who broadcasts it; watch what you read and who the author is; watch who you talk to. And pray. For your watching to be meaningful however, it must be undergirded by a knowledge of the truth. Like Pilate asked Jesus, “what is truth?” Truth is Jesus Christ. It is he who is the way, the truth, and the life. For anything to be true, it must be in full agreement with the teachings of Christ as recorded in the written word, the bible and not some spurious new revelation that has no scriptural backing. You must accept the bible as the final authority for all matters of faith and life; anything short of this predisposes you to deception.
A Lamp and a Light
The psalmist said, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path” (Psalm 119:105). If you will not fall prey to false teachings and fall from your secure position, then the word of God must also be the lamp that lights the path that your feet walk in. That preacher that you are listening to or that well-packaged conference that you plan to attend, is the word of God truthfully preached there?
Most of the reputation that the Pharisees have is negative, but perhaps we could learn a thing or two from them. When Jesus made the bold claim that “I and the Father are one”, the Jews picked up stones to stone him. They did that because to them, Jesus, being a mere man, claimed to be God (John 10:30-33). That reaction of theirs came from a deep reservoir of scriptural knowledge that there was only one God (Deuteronomy 6:4). Do you also have a rich mental reservoir of the word that sieves and compares what you hear? Be a Berean Christian (Acts 17:11). The Jews of course didn’t know who Jesus truly was – part of the triune God – but at least they wouldn’t just fall for anyone appearing and claiming to be God. You must find the balance between being secure in the word and being blind to its truth.
Recently, I spoke to a young man who belongs to the same church like I do. As we spoke, it became clear that his apathy toward the things of Christ resulted from being led astray. He hadn’t left the church physically but his beliefs had. His source was a friend of his who belongs to a sect and is well-grounded in their teachings. This well-read friend of his seemed to have an answer to every question this young man had and gradually, over time, his beliefs shifted. The root cause however is that my young friend was not personally grounded in the word of God, the bible. There are many of you reading these lines who if asked, will claim to believe the bible entirely, yet you have never read the bible entirely. You have been a Christian for donkey years but have never read from start to finish, the book on which your beliefs are founded. That kind of attitude predisposes you to being a casualty in this war of truth and lies. It is the word that is the sword of the Spirit and make no mistake about it – this is warfare. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Colossians 3:16) is the bible’s admonition to you. Can you say you are rich as far as the word is concerned? Isn’t all your wealth measured in monetary terms?
The letter to the Ephesians, chapter 4 verse 14 says if we are well brought up in the word, “we will no longer be like children, forever changing our minds about what we believe because someone has told us something different or has cleverly lied to us and made the lie sound like the truth.” Lies can be cleverly delivered and made to sound like the truth; it takes a scripturally sound mind to spot the difference. I used to wonder why anytime the central bank was about to introduce new currency notes into circulation, they would first release information about the hidden and obvious security features that could be used to authenticate any notes. In my naïve mind, why tell the fakers what security features were embedded in the notes? The publicity was made so that anyone would be able to discern a fake note from an original. To know whether a prophet or teacher is speaking or practicing the truth, you need to first know the truth; only then can you recognize what is false. Jesus said you will know the truth and it will make you free (John 8:32). He also said when the Spirit of truth comes, he will take from what is Christ’s and make it known to us (John 16:34). What is Christ’s is written in his word; whatever is not in the canon of scripture, don’t even consider it.
Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world (1 John 4:1-3).
Do you also have a rich mental reservoir of the word that sieves and compares what you hear?
This question for me is very pertinent in our Christian walk. Mr. Akaahan has done justice to this topic further challenging Christians on the need to study & be filled with the word of God. A highly, instructive and edifying piece. I pray fresh Grace on your life in the most precious name of Jesus Christ. Amen.