When Jesus was asked to speak about the end times, one of the signs He gave was the deception of God’s people (Mt. 24:24). Other passages warn us of false prophets (2 Thess. 2:3; 2 Tim. 4:1, 3-42 Pet. 2:2, 12-13), Satan (2 Thess. 2:9-12), and personal deception (1 Cor. 6:9-10; Gal. 6:6-8). How does this deception take hold of believers? My observation is that Biblical illiteracy, a culture of syncretism/pluralism, and a lack of accountability contribute to those who are easily deceived.
Barna Research recently released a stat loving pastor’s dream, Barna Trends 2017. There are 236 pages of research material. Part of it is the recent trends in faith, which includes Biblical literacy. Currently, 57% of the world’s population still do not have a completed translation (Barna, p. 126). When it comes to Americans approaching the Bible, even though it is more accessible than at any other time (p. 143), almost 30% read it once a month, and another 30% read it one a year (p. 140).
There is plenty of passages that refers to our need to honor and know the Holy Scriptures. However, we do not seem to care about reading the Bible. It is easy to be tricked into believing false truths about the Scripture when we do not actually know what is in the Bible. We listen to a two-minute video and post it to Facebook without thinking about the actual teachings and character of the person we just promoted. Believers are being deceived by a fancy religious talk by so-called ministers, but yet they do not have the ability or take the time to be like the Bereans when they heard Paul preach.
And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. Therefore many of them believed; also of honourable women which were Greeks, and of men, not a few.
Culture of Syncretism/Pluralism
Pluralism means a diversity of perspectives, values, beliefs, and practices. Syncretism is the attempt to combine a plurality of these items into a single system. The Old Testament contains several examples of Israel’s history where they tried to absorb pagan idols into their practices, only to be absorbed by paganism. According to the research, 57% of Americans now believe that morality is self-defined (pp. 50-53). People can adopt whatever beliefs they want from any system available and make their reality. In research, we call this confirmation bias. When personal interests get in the way of reason, we become biased to the truths we accept while refusing the facts that are inconvenient.
Our society teaches us from an early age to “be ourselves” and “do what makes us happy,” but this can be against God. The modern morality in the culture we live says that all religions are valid, choose what you like, and just be a good person. Christian Scripture does not allow for followers of Christ to agree on with this approach. Jesus is not another way to God, but the only way.
Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.
Lack of Accountability
The mantra of our age sometimes feels like, “Don’t judge me.” The stats are staggering that we lack a desire to be held accountable. Barna reported that 89% of all U.S. adults and 76% of practicing Christians believe that “people should not criticize someone else’s life choices” (p. 53). Also, 37% of Christians believe spiritual growth comes is only on your own (p. 135). Proceeding from a culture of pluralism/syncretism, we have developed into a therapeutic culture. We tend to gravitate towards those things that make us feel better about ourselves, even if there is no truth in them.
When someone offers teaching or rebuke that is contrary to our feelings, we take it as extremely negative criticism. This is why the Word of Faith movement has such a large following (think of most televangelist). They highlight the power of positive thinking, be positive and your situation will go away is a part of their approach. The thought process becomes “anyone negative to you is against you.” Again, Scripture is keen on believers holding each other accountable for what they believe and their actions.
Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself. But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For every man shall bear his own burden.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us not be deceived anymore.
Barna Group (2017) Barna Trends 2017. Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI.