by John W. Ritenbaugh
Jesus strongly warns us in Matthew 7:15 when He says, "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves." We do well to pay attention to this at any time, but as we approach the end, this warning should become even more closely heeded. He also warns in the Olivet Prophecy in Matthew 24:24, "For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect." He then adds in verse 25, "See, I have told you beforehand."
We cannot afford to take this lightly because verse 24 informs us specifically that, if it is possible for us to be deceived, we will be deceived! It does not mean it is impossible for us to be deceived.
The apostle Paul added his own warning in II Thessalonians 2, when he prophesied of a falling away from truth in the time just before the appearing of "the lawless one." In verses 9-11 he states,
The coming of the lawless oneis according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie. (II Thessalonians 2:9-11)
As prophecy moves inexorably toward the return of Jesus Christ, false ministers and false teaching will not only proliferate, but also intensify to such a degree that hanging onto the truth will be very difficult. We will surely need to have a close relationship with God, a very clear perception of the truth and deep-seated convictions. These strengths will undergird our endurance in the face of subtle deception and dazzling "evidence" in the form of supernatural powers.
We have not yet reached the time of the prophesied displays of miraculous powers, but it is evident that the subtle deceptions are coming in ever-increasing intensity. To this point, these deceptions have seemingly blinded the minds of many in the church of God. Through the advancement of subtle arguments from within the church, members' understanding and faith have been so weakened that many of them have been led to agree to break laws found in the Ten Commandments! Worse, this deception has been engineered without the aid of signs and wonders! God help us so that we will not "cave in" when things really get confusing!
God and the Minister
At first glance, the title of this article must surely appear too ridiculous even to consider. Perhaps it seems even blasphemous to some. But read on, and when you finish it, you will agree that some in the ministry of deception are unwittingly implying that God is a false minister!
In the Old Testament the term "false minister" does not appear. Instead, the writers use "false prophet." The basic meaning of prophet is "one who speaks for another." The New Testament ministry functions much the same way. One of a minister's chief responsibilities is to speak for God before the people, so in this area a minister's and prophet's responsibilities overlap.
Minister appears 65 times in the Old Testament and shares the same usage as its New Testament counterpart; both mean "one who serves." However, it is applied to two distinct categories of service. One is of personal service rendered to an important personage, usually a ruler. Joshua is shown in Exodus 24:13 as serving the important personage, Moses. The second category is the ministry of worship conducted by those who stand in a special relationship to God, such as priests. Exodus 28:35 speaks of Aaron's ministry in the holy place, and verse 43 adds his sons in their ministry at the altar.
This second category is of special interest here because Jesus links those who serve God to the Father in a direct, unbroken line of progression. Giving instruction to the apostles before sending them out, He says, "He that receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me" (Matthew 10:40).
This principle is repeated several times for emphasis in other places. In fact, it is also shown in reverse in the context of rejecting Christ. "He who hears you hears Me, he who rejects you rejects Me, and he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me" (Luke 10:16).
The Bible connects people, events and God in ways that are similar to what we do today. However, it does it on a more extensive basis. For example, in Romans 5:12, 18-19, as Paul presses his argument, he says that when Adam sinned, all of mankind, all of Adam's progeny, sinned with him! We are not held accountable for Adam's sin. We are held accountable only for our own. Nevertheless, by God's reasoning, when the father of mankind sinned, it was as though all of us sinned.
In a similar manner, we today connect a single person to a whole nation when a representative, such as an ambassador, conveys a message from his nation to another. However, we do not normally make this connection across generations of time as Paul does. We always understand this concept in the present; a representative speaks for others presently living. This is the way Jesus uses it in the above examples.
In like manner, this same principle applies to others outside of the ministry. Paul writes in Romans 2:23-24, "You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonor God through breaking the law? For ‘the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,' as it is written." Paul was not writing of any specific individual, but of Jews in general.
He really hits close to home in I Timothy 6:1: "Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and His doctrine may not be blasphemed." This touches on every Christian employee working for another. It shows a direct correlation between what a Christian says and does in the performance of his job and what his employer thinks of God as a result. Paul is not saying that total responsibility lies on the worker. He means that the Christian's performance on the job can be a key factor in molding the employer's concept and understanding of God. Paul—and God—greatly desire that the understanding be positive.
Thus, in a number of ways the Bible clearly shows a direct link between one's actions and the reputation and the perception of the family, school, area, race, political party, employer or God Himself. Our way of life affects how others view us and the things with which we associate ourselves.
Which God Is False?
What is happening now in the church is an ancient story repeated over and over through the centuries. In Revelation 2:2, in His message to the Ephesian church, Christ says, "I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars."
Now consider an interesting circumstance that has been in progress over fifty years but has certainly intensified in this past decade. A body of beliefs was developed through and under Herbert W. Armstrong. These doctrines were supposedly revealed by God and were taught as such with great conviction and thoroughness. Mr. Armstrong repeatedly claimed he was God's apostle, and as such he was His direct representative to the end-time church.
Herbert Armstrong died in 1986. Over the past nine years, the church of God has been subjected to perhaps the most massive doctrinal shift in the briefest period of time that the church of God has experienced in its almost two-thousand-year history!
Further, the administration of the Worldwide Church of God also claims that these changes are being inspired by God. Yet these changes are taking that group right back to the very system of doctrines from which the bulk of us came out! Somebody is not telling the truth. They both cannot be right. Since both claim to have received the doctrines from God, both are implying that the other's god is false.
They never state this directly. They accuse the man responsible for putting the doctrines into the church of being deceived while he was claiming to be God's servant. Thus, their accusations against this "deceived servant" reflect negatively on God.
God Does Not Change
The true "God is not a man that He should lie" (Numbers 23:19). God is not a hypocrite who speaks out of both sides of His mouth. Yet, though they preach contrary doctrines, both of these men claim to be ministers of the true God. If this is true, how does this reflect upon God? Since what we say and do clearly affects people's perception and judgment of Him, one would have to conclude that God must be the author of confusion, a double-speaking hypocrite and a false minister!
Of course, the great God of heaven and earth is none of these. Romans 3:3-4 expounds upon Numbers 23:19: "For what if some did not believe? Will their unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect? Certainly not! Indeed, let God be true but every man a liar. As it is written: ‘That You may be justified in Your words, and may overcome when You are judged.'"
Men who have made the New Covenant with God are not true as God is true. We must stay constantly alert and strong in our faith to hold fast the truth that has been revealed to us. If we let our guard down and are not committed to God as fully as we should be, we become subject to the deceptions of the god of this world.
The Bible from beginning to end teaches us of God's faithfulness—that is, His trustworthiness, His reliability. Our faith is founded upon and continually strengthened by His faithfulness. Who could trust a God who changed His mind about the very elements of His plan to give us salvation?
He says, however, "For I am the LORD, I do not change; therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob" (Malachi 3:6). He makes this statement in the context of chastising the Jews for not tithing faithfully. They were lackadaisical about tithing because they did not believe God could be trusted to prosper them.
People are being taught today that tithing is "done away." Does God show anywhere in Scripture—beginning in Genesis—that He has used any other system than tithing to finance His Work? Jesus, the very Head of the church, had a golden opportunity to state emphatically that the tithing law had been changed, but He did no such thing. Instead, He said of carefully determining the amount of tithe, "These you ought to have done" (Matthew 23:23).
The Sudden Appearance of Grace?
Some would now like us to believe that justification and salvation by grace through faith just suddenly appeared when the Son of God lived and died in the first century. Again, they imply that God changed His approach to saving men—that He was either losing the battle to Satan or the way He had given man was just too hard. It also implies that men under the Old Covenant were saved by keeping the law.
But what does the Scripture say? "As it is written: ‘There is none righteous, no, not one'" (Romans 3:10). A kind of righteousness accrues to a person because he keeps the law, but that righteousness is in no way sufficient to justify him before God. This is the issue Paul explains in the doctrinal sections of Romans and Galatians.
Paul continues in Romans 3:19-21:
Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets.
Do you understand what these verses say? Once a person has sinned, they are under the law, and their righteousness is not sufficient to justify them before God. Since all have sinned, the whole world is guilty before God. It takes a righteousness apart from lawkeeping to do this.
Then Paul says that this righteousness is revealed in the Old Testament Law and Prophets! The teaching has been there all along, all through the centuries from Moses to Christ and down to our time! God never changed His course. In the first century, He only openly revealed the means, Christ, through whom would come the righteousness that will justify one before God.
Men have always been justified and saved by grace through faith. People who were saved during Old Testament times looked forward in faith to this being accomplished. We look backward at it as a promise and as fulfilled prophecy.
The Law Done Away?
Some will go so far as to intone seriously, "The law is done away." They say this despite the fact that in Revelation 12:17 and 14:12 those who are being saved at the end time are described as keeping God's commandments. Revelation 21:8 and 22:15 both clearly show that those who practice breaking the commandments will not be given eternal life. This is in the New Testament, folks!
In addition, Revelation 22:14 says, "Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city." Keeping the commandments plays a major role in giving one access to the tree of life. This is within seven verses of the end of the Bible!
From the very beginning, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God's law regarding the two trees, keeping the commandments has been the major issue that has kept mankind separated from God. Sin, which is the transgression of God's law, destroys the relationship we can have with Him. Christ came and died and lives again that we might be saved and have a close relationship with Him and the Father. Yet "ministers of God" claim we have been given grace that we might be freed from keeping the law!
Others are not quite so blatant. They say we have to keep nine of the Ten Commandments. They teach that we do not have to keep the Sabbath commandment because God made an abrupt change upon the death of Jesus Christ. The Sabbath commandment is merely ceremonial, they say.
If it was merely ceremonial, why is it included in the Ten Commandments that God, with His own voice, spoke from the mount in the presence of all Israel? Why is it included in the Ten Commandments that God, with His own finger, wrote upon tablets of stone? Did He do these things with any lesser laws? Does this mean we are free to declare that one or more of the other commandments is also ceremonial? How about the second?
The Bible gives strong indication that the Sabbath has existed since Genesis 2. Jesus and the apostles clearly kept the Sabbath. Scripture does not indicate that they kept any other day or commanded any other day to be kept. In addition, there are prophecies that mention Israel keeping, not only the weekly Sabbath, but also the holy day Sabbaths in the future.
Even with all of this exemplary evidence, especially our Savior's and the apostles', they tell us that God changed. This is very interesting since there is no scripture saying that the Sabbath is merely ceremonial or that we may keep it according to our own discretion.
Little Value in the Old Testament?
One of the more devastating effects of this whole approach is that many of the changes are suggesting that the Old Testament is of little value. What one reads there may no longer apply! But Jesus and the apostles referred to it frequently as Scripture. Two-thirds of the entire Bible consists of the Old Testament, and a large part of the New Testament is quoted from the Old Testament. Jesus, after quoting the Old Testament, calls it "the word of God," and says, "the Scripture cannot be broken" (John 10:34-35).
A minister of my acquaintance left the church and began his own organization, claiming he left because the church "was following Moses." What is wrong with Moses? Was he not one of the greatest of God's servants? Was there anybody who had greater revelations over as long a period of time? Has any other walked so closely with God that He actually spoke to him face-to-face and appeared before him at his request? Now, because God has supposedly changed, Moses is denigrated!
But what does Jesus say?
Do not think that I shall accuse you to the Father; there is one who accuses you—Moses, in whom you trust. For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words? (John 5:45-47)
The proponents of these false doctrines believe that, even while they were worshiping and fellowshipping under another administration of the church of God, they were "in" the true church. They believe they are worshiping the same God now as they did then! How can this be true when the teaching is so different? Surely, by that reasoning, God must be a confused and false minister who lacks the power to instruct His chosen leaders clearly enough to "get it right." But that is not the way the Bible portrays Him! He has had no difficulties in the past making His message clear to His servants.
If these things were happening out in the world, they would surely be understandable. But this is happening within the church of God! The approach they have taken and the changes they have made blaspheme God's great name! They reflect another god, that old, crafty serpent, whose aim is to confuse and lead us to destruction by turning us aside from the clearly stated teaching of the Word of God. Do not let him "take your crown" (Revelation 3:11)!
God has not changed! His purpose and His plan for carrying that purpose out continue as they always have. As we have seen, men have always been saved by grace through faith. God's law, primarily the Ten Commandments, has always been the standard by which He judges men's lives. Thus, Jesus' admonishment still applies to all, "But if you will enter into life, keep the commandments" (Matthew 19:17).
THE TRUE GOD IS NOT A FALSE MINISTER!