HERE ARE WARNING signs everywhere. A slippery floor, a construction zone, and a school zone are all situations that require us to pay attention in order to prevent the possibility of injury or even death.
In our homes, there are warning labels telling us not to drink certain chemicals, and to keep certain items out of the reach of children. Warning signs are a normal part of our daily routine.
In a similar way, the Bible presents us with warnings concerning particular threats to the well-being of the Church and us as individual Christians. While our Lord is on a mission “to seek and to save” (Luke 19:10*), Satan is on a mission “to steal, and to kill, and to destroy” (John 10:10). While the Lord anoints His Spirit-filled sons and daughters for His mission, Satan sends charlatans, false prophets, abusers, and dividers as a counterfeit version of true ministers of the Lord.
A counterfeit exists to replace something authentic and valuable with something that is fake and worthless. As we consider the devil’s counterfeit schemes, let us also renew our participation in the authentic work of the Lord which the counterfeiters seek to replace.
A charlatan falsely claims to have certain knowledge or skill. This is different from an individual who has a true gift of creating something beautiful and/or useful to the one who buys it. The charlatan will often claim to have a “special revelation” or a “unique anointing,” and offer you access to it for the right price. Just give a certain amount of money or purchase an especially anointed product and your prayers will be answered.
Those are empty promises. The anointing of God doesn’t come in the mail. It is the Holy Spirit who is at work in our lives in response to God’s faithful people who are praying according to His will.
Often, the ultimate goal of the charlatan is power, influence, and financial gain, which all come at the expense of unsuspecting people with real needs. Paul warned Titus of this threat: “There are many insubordinate, both idle talkers and deceivers . . . whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole households, teaching things which they ought not, for the sake of dishonest gain” (Titus 1:10–11).
As Christians we give our tithes and offerings as an act of worship to the Lord, expressing our gratitude for His blessings and our reliance on Him for all of our daily needs. But when someone says we have to give money or purchase something in order to access the grace of God, it is a sign of dangerous deception.
False prophets misrepresent the source, content, and goal of their message. Our Lord warned, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7:15). The aim of such people is to “deceive many” (24:5), and they may even try to prove themselves with “great signs and wonders” v. 24). But these things are meant to keep us from looking at what betrays who they really are. Jesus said we would know these false prophets “by their fruits” (7:15-20). Are their lives and ministry evidenced by spiritual fruit (Galatians 5:22-23)? Unless the answer is yes, they are not prophets of God.
Just as there are false prophets, the Bible tells us there are real prophets (Ephesians 4:11; 1 Corinthians 12:10). First John 4:1 says to not believe every spirit but to “test the spirits, whether they are of God.” How do we do this? John says the spirit that does not confess Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God (vv. 2-3).
So we test the spirits by examining a person’s doctrine. But we don’t do this alone. We must be connected closely with a local church led by a pastor and leaders who stand on the authority of Scripture. Together with our church family, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we are to “test the spirits,” making sure the message coming forth is Biblically faithful. The Holy Spirit who inspired the Scriptures will never contradict them! And if it is not the Holy Spirit speaking, it is a “Danger!” sign.
Another counterfeit sent by the devil is the abuser. An abuser uses their authority in destructive ways. The prophet Ezekiel was anointed by God to make this accusation to the shepherds (leaders/authority figures) in Israel:
“Woe to the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flocks? You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool; you slaughter the fatlings, but you do not feed the flock. The weak you have not strengthened, nor have you healed those who were sick, nor bound up the broken, nor brought back what was driven away, nor sought what was lost; but with force and cruelty you have ruled them. So they were scattered because there was no shepherd; and they became food for all the beasts of the field when they were scattered” (Ezekiel 34:2–5).
Abuse comes in many forms—physical, sexual, verbal, and emotional—to name a few. Victims of abuse are often silent because they are made to believe the abuse was a result of their own wrongdoing, especially when the abuser is a trusted authority figure. This type of behavior cannot be tolerated in any form in the church. It is the counterfeit of the type of leader called by God and anointed by the Holy Spirit to lead in love (John 13:34). “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:4–7).
A divider is someone who seeks to sow discord among the people of God. Paul cautioned against such people in Romans 16:17, where he tells us to “note those who cause divisions and offenses . . . and avoid them.” Dividers work to find ways to stir up conflict in the church. They are easily offended and often are able to gather at least a few people sympathetic to their cause. The substance of the issue itself doesn’t have to be all that important. It is the conflict the divider enjoys.
The Lord knew conflict would arise in His church and, if not properly handled, it could lead to division that would hinder the church’s witness. He gave us instructions to lovingly confront when necessary (Matthew 18:15-17) and to quickly forgive one another (Luke 17:3-4). If we know we have caused our brother to have an issue with us, Christ tells us to leave our gift at the altar and go be reconciled with him (Matthew 5:23-24). When there is a division, the sons and daughters of God must work to bring it to peaceful resolution whenever possible (v. 9).
As the Church of God moves forward in Pentecostal power, we must heed Biblical warnings concerning charlatans, false prophets, abusers, and dividers. We must stand together in unity on the authority of Scripture and in the power of the Holy Spirit to protect the Lord’s sheep from ravenous wolves out to destroy, “endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).
* All Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version.
J. Ben Wiles is executive director at Shalom Recovery Centers and teaching pastor at River of Life Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas.