Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Counterfeit Christ

As Christians, we are commissioned to share the good news about Jesus with others (Acts 1:8). But who is this Jesus that we follow? There are, in fact, many different perspectives on who Jesus is that exist throughout the world—we may even encounter differing ideas among our friends or in our own neighborhoods. Our Muslim neighbors may revere Him as a great prophet. Our Mormon friends may proclaim Him to be their Savior. Agnostics may admire His moral teachings, but deny any certainty of His divinity. Spiritualists and New Agers may believe Him to be divine, but reject the uniqueness of His divinity. And Jehovah’s Witnesses may tell you He is an archangel. We may even find varying opinions about Jesus within the Christian community. Living in the DC-metro area, and having worked in the areas of international development and missions & outreach, I've been exposed to a diversity of opinion on who Christ is. And these conflicting opinions cannot all be right, (even if your pluralist Religion professor might have you believe so!).

Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” He asked. “Who do you say I am?” (Matt 16:13-15). Our answer to this pivotal question will be the most important one we will ever give. The Bible tells us that knowing the true Christ is a matter of critical, life-and-death importance. This is because you cannot follow Him, without finding Him first.

The early church recognized that “an understanding of Jesus’ identity is essential to genuine Christianity and a prerequisite for experiencing salvation and enjoying a relationship with God.”[1] Indeed Jesus made this clear when he said to Thomas, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well.” (John 16:6-7, emphasis added). But the fact is, many who use His name do not actually know the true Christ. Jesus said:
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matt 7:21-23).
To know Him and to do His will involves understanding the truth about who He is, what He did for us on the cross, and what His Word teaches.

But Jesus warned against false teaching and urged His followers to watch out that they are not deceived, for “many will come in My name” to lead people astray. (Luke 21:8; Mark 13:6). False teaching about Jesus poses a very real danger that will lead many down a fatal path of deception. Jesus gave a sobering reminder of how vigilant we should be: “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” (Matt 7:15-16).

Indeed, some "woolly" forms of false teaching use deceptively Jesus-friendly language, as is now becoming common in today's pluralistic—and increasingly heretical—culture. Furthermore, false teaching about Jesus gives rise to Counterfeit Christs who come not only the in form of false messiahs (such as contemporary Korean false messiah Sun Myung Moon), but also in the form of misleading concepts that distort people’s view of who Jesus really is. Take, for example, the Convenient Christ of the powerful celebrity-pastors that preach Word of Faith theology. The New Age Jesus is another insidious counterfeit that masquerades as the authentically Divine, and he even worms his way into our Christian communities undetected through various bestselling self-help books[2] and the popular Life-Class teachings of Oprah Winfrey. You might think the Jesus of Jihad would be a more obvious offender, until you realize that this treacherous counterfeit is cozied up to by an alarming number of evangelical missionaries in Muslim ministry like those practicing "C5" or "high-spectrum" contextualization or the "Jesus in the Qur'an" method. And within our prevailing culture of religious pluralism it is becoming more common to hear outlandish statements from prominent evangelical leaders like that made by former Fuller Seminary President, Richard Mouw, when he pronounce on that the Counterfeit Christ of Mormonism is essentially one and the same as the biblical Jesus.[3]

The Counterfeit Christ is very real. And today, perhaps more than ever, he has alluring appeal...He may be more politically correct. He may fit comfortably within one’s preexisting worldview or religious background. He may provide a safeguard against fear and anxiety with the promise of health and prosperity. He may be a benignly loving, warm & fuzzy figure who let's us just "be who we are" without any need to pick up our cross and follow him. He may form the basis of a social structure that draws people together in a community that bears little resemblance to the true Body of Christ. Or He may even gracefully bow out when the mention of his name might be an inconvenient obstacle in interfaith relations as demonstrated by the Christian/Muslim Common Word movement (that, incidentally, has received widespread evangelical support [4] ).

Wherever the Counterfeit Christ can be found, there also exists a powerful, earthly motive drawing many to his feet.

This is, indeed, a warning to the elect, for in Jesus’ own words, “false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect—if that were possible.” (Matt. 24:24). While those who are reconciled to God and are abiding in Him cannot be deceived by false Christs, it is possible for those who may consider themselves to be Christians, but are not yet fully reconciled to Him and abiding in Him, to be led astray. We know this because Paul warns that, “the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons.” (1 Tim 4:1). Paul also talks about the dreadful consequences of apostasy (Heb 6). As believers, we must have the courage to speak out against false teaching when necessary—even if we are accused of being "unloving" by doing so, for this is an act of love toward those who are being deceived.

To this end, we be should on guard against any teaching about Jesus that strays from, adds to, or distorts, Scripture. There are varying degrees of this. For example, in Jesus Calling—an enormously popular book among Christian women—Sarah Young reports words she claims to have received directly from Jesus. While she states up front that, unlike Scripture, these words are not inerrant, she nevertheless presents them as first-person speech from Jesus Himself. This is problematic. How does one know if the words she claims to have received are really from Jesus? When her book is compared to Scripture, her claim appears unfounded. Young's book doesn't contain many words that reflect the thrust of what Jesus actually preached during His earthly ministry and it's devoid of the main themes of Scripture. Her focus is on how much God delights in us, which is certainly true, but Scripture consistently points us to Christ, and not back to ourselves like Young's book unfortunately does. In Jesus Calling, there is nothing of God's pure holiness, His wrath against sin, man's inability to save himself, and his desperate need for a Savior. There's nothing of the cross, and no call for gospel of salvation.[5] Isn't this the message Jesus consistently preached?

And why look elsewhere when every word of the Bible is the voice of Jesus? God's Word is sufficient (2 Tim 3:15-17). And we should not add to it (Rev 22:19). Why would Jesus speak additional words to one woman today and contradict Scripture? While we are guided by the Holy Spirit and can enjoy an interactive, communicative relationship with God through prayer, today, we do not hear additional words directly from God that mimic Scripture, as Young has claimed. God speaks to us through Scripture as revealed by the Holy Spirit. For the Bible tells us, “Every word of God is flawless; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him. Do not add to His words, or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar." (Prov 30:5-6). This is a stern warning. Be on guard against extra-biblical writing that claims to be directly from the voice of God. Avoid books like these and stick to Scripture as the sole source of God's Word.

Two of the more extreme examples of extra-biblical writings about Jesus can be seen in the Book of Mormon and the Qur'an, both of which go further than distracting from the gospel. Instead, they respectively distort and deny it. Therefore, the Jesus of Mormonism, who is the spirit brother of Satan, who was purportedly married[6], and who is not part of the Trinity, is not the authentic Son of God, even though certain evangelicals, along with a whole host of religious pluralists, would like to believe so. Similarly, the Jesus of the Qur'an who was not crucified, who is not God, and who will come back in the end times to break the Cross, kill the Jews, and destroy all religions other than Islam, is certainly not the same Jesus. Therefore, missionaries in Islamic contexts, should not use the Qur'an to witness to Muslims—even though the The International Mission Board, a missionary-sending agency affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, has promoted the use of the Camel Method, which uses verses about Jesus from the Qur'an, rather than the Bible, to present the plan of salvation by relating it to the Islamic feast of sacrifice. These Quranic verses describe a deadly Counterfeit Christ and are not an introduction to the true Jesus.

As disciples of Jesus, we are commanded to abide in, and uphold, God's Word—not the impaired beliefs of false religions (whether there is a perceived "common ground" somewhere in there or not).

Another red flag is any teaching that attempts to define God by human rules and logic. Interestingly, all false religions/spiritual movements that lay false claim to Jesus, such as Mormonism, Islam, and the New Age movement, deny the biblical view of the Trinity. I have speculated that this is because the Trinity prevents us from creating our own fictitious god and forces us to live by faith in an infinite God who is beyond anything we can comprehend in human terms. False religions and philosophies are of this world (being, therefore, either man-made and/or of demonic origin), and are not products of divine revelation. Therefore, the Trinity cannot fit into their limited theology and must either be rejected outright (as in Mormonism or Islam), blurred (as in the work of former evangelical Congressman Mark Silanger [7] or in early Gnostic texts) or completely perverted (as in Buddhism[8], New Age thought, and other syncretistic beliefs). If you come across anyone questioning the Trinity, like TD Jakes has been known to do, be on guard. The doctrine of the Trinity is non-negotiable and fundamental to who Jesus is. It cannot be discarded without distorting one's view of the very essence of Christ's true identity.

But while the Trinity is a mystery of faith, the good news is that Jesus is not an elusive figure; He is accessible to anyone who truly seeks Him. We are told that we will find Him if we seek Him with all our heart and with all our soul (Deut 4:29). And we must seek to know Him better through studying the Word; Jesus said: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32, emphasis added). In his second epistle to Timothy, Paul wrote: “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” (2 Tim 3:16). Scripture is the only dependable source of doctrine about Jesus; the doctrines and claims of other faiths, philosophies, or musings that might use His name, should not be trusted.

As Paul exhorts us, we must always be prepared to give an answer—with gentleness and respect—to anyone who asks us why our hope is in Christ (1 Peter 3:15). Our goal, then, is to grow in our knowledge of the one true God and to make Him known. In addition to upholding biblical truth, Faith Actually works to expose popular, and sometimes subtle, misconceptions about who Jesus really is, to identify Counterfeit Christs in common beliefs, and to help equip Christians to talk knowledgeably and truthfully with others about Jesus, our Savior and Lord.

Join with us to shatter the lies by proclaiming the perennial truth about Jesus Christ who is the SAME yesterday, today, and forever!


[1] Andreas Kostenberger, Scott Kellum, Charles Quarles, The Cradle, the Cross and the Crown, Part II, chapter 3

[2] For example: The Power of Now by Ekart Tolle; The Secret by Rhonda Byrne. Both authors tout the theory of Christ consciousness

[3] My Take: This evangelical says Mormonism isn’t a cult,” Richard Mouw, CNN. Oct 9, 2011.

[4] A slew of evangelical leaders (Wheaton College President Duane Litfin, National Association of Evangelicals President Leith Anderson, Saddleback Pastor Rick Warren[3], and former Fuller Theological Seminary President Richard Mouw, to name a few) signed what was to become a controversial document produced by the Yale Center for Faith and Culture titled, “Loving God and Neighbor Together: A Christian Response to a Common Word Between Us and You.” The document was in response to an open letter in which 138 Muslim scholars, clerics, and intellectuals came together to declare that there is common ground between Christianity and Islam. The “Christian Response,” in agreement with the Muslim open letter states, “What is common between us lies not in something marginal nor in something merely important to each. It lies, rather, in something absolutely central to both: love of God and love of neighbor.” Essentially, then, the “Christian Response” refers to the love of one shared God. It treats the God of the Qur’an and the God of the Bible as the same and makes no mention of the fact that the love of God, as represented in the Bible, is expressed most significantly through Christ’s death and resurrection. Christ Himself is the central component of Christianity, but is completely omitted in the Common Word documents, while “common ground” is declared “absolutely central” in His place. Patrick De Leon illustrates well the difficulties with the Common Word movement: “If we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, must we not be true to ourselves? Must we reject our own faith and deny the very persons we are in order to live in harmony? Such a peace is false from the beginning, and we would question if it is even possible to last. Can a peace founded upon falsehood be lasting?”

[5] For more on this see Christine Pack's review of Jesus Calling:

[6] Journal of Discourses 2:82

[7] Former US Congressman, and self-described evangelical, Mark Silanger, in his recent book, A Deadly Misunderstanding, writes about his experiences seeking common ground between Islam and Christianity. In dialoguing with Muslim clerics and leaders in the Middle East, he found that the biggest “stumbling block” he encountered was “always about Jesus." This is not surprising; the pivotal nature of Christ's work on the Cross will always present an obstacle to those seeking common ground with other religions. But Silanjer, in his quest for compatibility, passes off this stumbling block [the biblical view of Jesus Christ] as a “diversion.” In his effort to promote love, peace, and friendship between neighbors, Silanjer ends up glossing over the Trinity, saying he respects the idea, but “nowhere is it to be found in the Bible” (an increasingly common argument that is thrown about today). Silanjer finds the “attributes of Deity—God, Holy Spirit, and Messiah” to exist in the Torah, the New Testament, and the Qur’an alike. He explains how he has “asked distinguished clerics, both Muslim and Christian, if they could explain to me the interaction of these three deified attributes, and after much bantering back and forth, in the end they all have given me the exact same answer: ‘Mark, it’s a mystery.’ So what are we all arguing about?” Silanjer’s implication that the Trinity holds little significance because it is a mystery, and his description of three “attributes” in place of three Persons in one God, shows a radical departure from biblical teaching. He marginalizes the Trinity, passing it off as a “theological red herring,” and implies that it should be by-passed as an inconvenient barrier to true peace and reconciliation. Silanjer exemplifies for us how seeking common ground between faiths can quickly end in theological syncretism if the end goal is friendship and compatibility above all.

[8] Some Buddhist traditions hold that Buddha is the Holy Spirit.

1 comment:

Mark R Henninger said...

The revered counterfeit Christ is the one that practices language of centuries past, for example, "Go ye therefore ..."


Was born in a manger,
No room in the inn.
A jolly, fat man
Ho-ho-hos a grin.
The children are joyful
To have in their culture.
How could bringing toys
Be done by a vulture?

Unreal is Lord Jesus
Who talketh this way.
Not like those that live,
But died yesterday.
Good news is we’re saved
By faith in the Lamb.
Who is, was, will be,
Today’s word, I AM.