Testing the Spirits (part 1)

By Cris Putnam
The Bible teaches us “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good…” (1 Th 5:19-22). This teaching from Paul implies that, in contrast to the Mosaic standards for Israelite covenant enforcers (Dt 18:21-22) which was absolute perfection, the New Testament paradigm allows that there are imperfect prophecies. The exhortation to “hold fast to what is good” implies that sometimes we can test them and discard only what is in error. Other times, it is more appropriate to rebuke and move along. Clearly, there is need for Christian discernment.

One should expect an infusion of false teachings as the return of Christ nears, “Now 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 Ti 4:1) While some Christians are too skeptical and deny the supernatural, others are too gullible and exhibit a naïve readiness to accept dubious messages from the spirit world. In John’s first epistle he writes, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”(1 Jn 4:1) Thus, sometimes unbelief (do not believe every spirit) can be as much a mark of spiritual maturity as belief. We should avoid both extremes, the superstition which believes that absolutely everything is supernatural and rationalist suspicion which defaults to naturalism.

Even so, the supernatural should be our default position. Whether we realize it or not, there is a spirit behind every teaching. One should be skeptical enough to discern between truth and error, whether it comes from the Spirit of God, or a demonic spirit. We are engaged in spiritual warfare “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Eph 6:12) The origins of false religions are demonic, “No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons.”(1 Co 10:20) Even secular philosophies have a spiritual component, “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” (Col 2:8) Paul’s use of the term “elemental spirits” (Gk. stoicheia) is likely speaking to the supernatural origins of ungodly philosophies.

In the ancient world, however, the term stoicheia was widely used for spirits in Persian religious texts, magical papyri, astrological documents, and some Jewish texts. Paul is likely using it here to refer to demonic spirits; it is the equivalent of “rulers and authorities” (vv. 10, 15).[1]

It follows that demonic spirits promote false ideas and spiritual warfare is largely a battle for your mind. John gives us a command to test the spirits. “Beloved, do not believer every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God.” He then describes three tests:

1) Test their Christology. (1 Jn 4:2-3)

2) Test their regeneration. (1 Jn 4:4-5)

3) Test their conformity to Apostolic teaching. (1 Jn 4:6)

For this post, we will look at test one as it applies to cults. In subsequent posts, tests two and three will be demonstrated with appropriate examples.

1) Test their Christology. What’s their doctrine of the incarnation and deity of Christ?

“By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.” (1 Jn 4:2-3)

This passage is teaching that whoever refuses to acknowledge that Jesus is God, “who has come in the flesh” (v. 2) is in the spirit of antichrist. Anyone can talk about Jesus and even believe that he lived on earth as a good teacher, as other religions (Islam, Baha’i ), cults (Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses), and even philosophies (Christ consciousness) often affirm. These groups cannot pass the “Lord, Liar, Lunatic trilemma.” This is the error of Arianism:

Arianism, Arius. An early heretical teaching about the identity of Jesus Christ. Arianism was founded primarily on the teachings of Arius (d. 335/336). The central characteristic of Arian thought was that because God is one, Jesus could not have also been truly God. In order to deal with the scriptural testimony to the exalted status of Christ, Arius and his followers proposed that Jesus was the highest created being of God. So although Christ was fully human, he was not fully God. Arius’s teaching was condemned as heretical at the First Ecumenical Council (Nicaea) in A.D. 325.[1a]

Even so, confessing His deity is not enough. Evil spirits and demons recognized the deity of Jesus during his ministry (e.g. Mark 1:24; 3:11; 5:7–8; cf. Acts 19:15). There is an equal yet opposite error.

Some , like the ancient gnostics, may affirm his deity but deny his humanity. Apparently, when John wrote his first epistle, many false teachers were saying that Jesus only appeared to be human. This was probably based on an early gnostic idea that the material creation was intrinsically evil and therefore physical bodies were evil. This error is called Docetism.

docetism. In the early church, the teaching that Jesus was fully God but only appeared to be human (taken from the Greek dokeō, “to seem or appear”). Docetist theologians emphasized the qualitative difference between God and humans and therefore downplayed the human elements of Jesus’ life in favor of those that pointed to his deity. The early church rejected docetism as an heretical interpretation of the biblical teaching about Jesus.[2]

But unless they affirm both the full deity and the full humanity of Jesus, they are not really “confessing Jesus,” but, as John states in unambiguous terms, they are under the influence of the spirit of antichrist. Even so, you will not likely encounter many docetists today, it usually works the other way around in denying his deity. For example, Mormons will say they believe in Jesus but they believe Jesus is the brother of Satan who was born to an exalted man known as the heavenly Father, Elohim. While some modern Mormon apologists obfuscate the differences, the late LDS President, Gordon B. Hinckley, said that “The traditional Christ of whom they speak is not the Christ of whom I speak.”[3]

There are three biblical ways to test if someone has good Christology. This means we want to see if they believe in the historical Jesus rather the false one of Mormonism who was born from the carnal union between Mary and Elohim and is the brother of Lucifer [4] or the Jesus of the Adventist’s who is Michael the Archangel [5], or the Christ of the New Age Movement who is simply an enlightened man or worse yet, not even a person at all, simply a nebulous state of Christ consciousness. Here are three good Christological tests:

  • The biblical Jesus is called God. “My Lord and my God!”(Jn 20:28) also (Jn 1:1, 8:58, 10:30; Rom 9:5; Col 1:19; Heb. 1:8)
  • The biblical Jesus receives prayer. “If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it” (Jn 14:14) also (Acts 7:55-60; 1 Co 1:1-2; 2Thes 2:16-17; Rev 22:20).
  • The biblical Jesus receives worship. “And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’”(Mt 14:33) (Mt 2:2,11; Mt 28:9; Jn 9:35-38; He 1:6, Rev 5:8-13)

In cultist theologies, Jesus is a created being and therefore, He is not called God, prayed to, nor worshiped. As a prime example of test one, we will look at the Jehovah’s Witness Bible translation known as the New World Translation.

ESV: “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Col 1:16–17, ESV)

NWT: “because by means of him all [other] things were created in the heavens and upon the earth, the things visible and the things invisible, no matter whether they are thrones or lordships or governments or authorities. All [other] things have been created through him and for him. Also, he is before all [other] things and by means of him all [other] things were made to exist,” (Col 1:16–17, NWT)[6]

Greek New Testament (with English interlinear)[7]

16

ὅτι

ἐν

αὐτῷ

ἐκτίσθη

τὰ

πάντα

because

by

him

were created

all [things]1

ἐν

τοῖς

οὐρανοῖς

καὶ

ἐπὶ

τῆς

γῆς

,

in

the

heavens

and

on

the

earth

 

τὰ

ὁρατὰ

καὶ

τὰ

ἀόρατα

,

things

visible

and

things

invisible

εἴτε

θρόνοι

εἴτε

κυριότητες

whether

thrones

or

dominions

 

εἴτε

ἀρχαὶ

εἴτε

ἐξουσίαι

·

or

rulers

or

powers

τὰ

πάντα

διʼ

αὐτοῦ

καὶ

εἰς

αὐτὸν

ἔκτισται

·

all [things]

through

him

and

for

him

were created

 

17

καὶ

αὐτός

ἐστιν

πρὸ

πάντων

and

he himself

is

before

all [things]

καὶ

τὰ

πάντα

ἐν

αὐτῷ

συνέστηκεν

,

and

all [things]

in

him

are held together

JWs missionaries are infamous for obfuscating by appealing to the Greek text, so this should set them straight. Notice that in the original Greek NT, there is no use of a term meaning “other.” If Paul would have meant it that way he would have used the word ἑτέρως. Of course, he didn’t, “other” was supplied by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society to support the doctrines of demons.

Next we will examine test 2 using Joel Osteen as an example.



[1] Crossway Bibles, The ESV Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2008), 2296.

[1a]
Stanley Grenz, David Guretzki and Cherith Fee Nordling, Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 15.

[2]Stanley Grenz, David Guretzki and Cherith Fee Nordling, Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 40.

[3] As reported in Deseret News, June 20, 1998.

[4] (What LDS leaders have consistently, historically taught is that God the Father, in his glorified, immortal body, came down to earth and approached the young girl Mary. As a result of this carnal union, Mary became pregnant with a child who was both divine and human; and thus the young Christ was truly the Son of God. ) Latayne C. Scott, The Mormon Mirage (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009), 183. Also see: http://bible-truth.org/jesusbro.htm

[5] Adventists have concluded that “Michael” is another title for Christ rather than the name of an angel. The problem with this view is that Jude 9 says that Michael did not dare rebuke Satan. This could be true only if Michael were an angel and not Christ Himself. See: http://www.logosapologia.org/?p=1947

[7]The Lexham Greek-English Interlinear New Testament (Logos Bible Software, 2008), 524.

 

The Incoherence of Adventist & Watchtower Christology


Seventh Day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses share the view that Jesus and the Archangel Michael are one and the same:

Michaeal Heb.Mika’el, literally, “who [is] like God?” He is here described as “one of the chief princes [Heb. śarim].” Later He is described as Israel’s particular protector (Dan. 12:1). His identity is not definitely stated here, but a comparison with other scriptures identifies Him as Christ. Jude 9 terms Him “the archangel.” According to 1 Thess. 4:16, the “voice of the archangel” is associated with the resurrection of the saints at the coming of Jesus. Christ declared that the dead will come forth from their graves when they hear the voice of the Son of man (John 5:28). It thus seems clear that Michael is none other than the Lord Jesus Himself .

Francis D. Nichol, The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, Volume 4 (Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1978; 2002), 860.
From the Watchtower Bible and Tract society (Jehovah’s Witnesses) :
At times, individuals are known by more than one name. For example, the patriarch Jacob is also known as Israel, and the apostle Peter, as Simon. (Genesis 49:1, 2; Matthew 10:2) Likewise, the Bible indicates that Michael is another name for Jesus Christ, before and after his life on earth.
“Who is Michael the Archangel?”  http://www.watchtower.org/e/bh/appendix_11.htm (accessed 4/19/2011).

Yet one wonders, how they can hold such a view in light of the scriptures. For example, in the book of Jude, an argument is made against false teachers and apostates who have infected the church. Jude makes an argument that they blaspheme “glorious ones”  or beings of higher status themselves. To drive the point home he argues that Michael did not dare pass judgment on Satan:

Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones. But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.”(Jud 8-9)

If Michael is actually Jesus Christ the eternal glorious second person of the trinity upon whom all fullness of God dwells (Col. 1:19), then how could it possibly be so that he lacked authority to judge the devil?  It is logically incoherent! This argument only makes sense in light of the orthodox position that Satan is a rebel archangel himself giving him equal status to Michael. Adventist and Watchtower theology has demoted Christ. It is heresy.

Jesus had no qualms against rebuking and judging the devil,

You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.(Jn 8:44)

Michael is an angel. Angels are created beings. That they were created is clearly implied in Psalm 148:2, 5: “Praise him, all his angels, praise him, all his heavenly hosts.… Let them praise the name of the Lord, for he commanded and they were created.” They were in fact created by Christ,

For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.(Col 1:16)

Jesus is not Michael. The Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses are preaching a different Jesus.

The Trademark of a Cult: Faith vs. Works



A cult is any group that defines itself in Christian terms, but denies one or more of the essentials of historic biblical Christianity. For example, the many Mormons that have recently posted here want to be considered true Christians, and even use Christian language borrowed from scripture, but always with a tell tale flaw. While they may use the Christian vocabulary, they do not use the normal Christian definitions. The fundamental doctrine of grace is good example.

We like to take pride in our accomplishments. Yet, the bible teaches that “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags,” (Is 64:6). It seems very counterintuitive that salvation is not something you can earn with your good behavior but that it is a free gift from God. Paul wrote to the Ephesian church,“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. ” (Eph 2:8–9)

This doctrine of unmerited grace appears in no other world religion. It is just not the sort of idea men would come up with, thus I believe it is an authenticating characteristic of Christianity. Accordingly, the converse is a sure mark of a cult. Men like Joseph Smith or Charles Taze Russell always pervert the Gospel into a personal achievement.

Cults like Mormonism and the Jehovah’s Witnesses make good works the means of salvation. Joseph Smith was brazen enough to add to God’s word in his crudely crafted work of fiction. He wrote, “For we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23). This exactly what one would expect in a man-made religion. Yet, surely our behavior counts?

In converse, Christianity makes salvation the means of good works. James the brother of Jesus wrote, that “faith without works is dead” (Jms. 2:17). Cults often use this argument by James to justify their works based salvation. It may seem that James is contradicting Paul’s teaching yet really he is not. James is addressing false converts, who claim to be Christians but show no evidence of it in their lives. When read in context, James’ point is not that works are the basis for salvation but the result of it.

If you are a Christian, this is a sure way to guard against pride. The next time you feel some well deserved satisfaction in your works, consider this:

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. ” (Eph 2:10)

According to scripture, it wasn’t even your idea! Doesn’t leave much to boast on… does it?

Error of the Cults is the Evidence for the Church

We like to take pride in our accomplishments. Yet, the bible teaches that “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags,” (Is 64:6). It seems very counterintuitive that salvation is not something you can earn with your good behavior but it is a free gift from God (Eph. 2:8). This is an idea that appears in no other world religion, unmerited grace.  Because this is just not the sort of idea men would come up with, I believe it is an authenticating characteristic of Christianity. Yet, surely our behavior counts?

Cults like Mormonism and the Jehovah’s Witnesses make good works the means of salvation. Joseph Smith was brazen enough to add to God’s word in his best selling creative work of fiction, The Book of Mormon. He wrote, “For we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23). You can boast in that! It is the way of the world and exactly what one would expect in a manmade religion. In converse, Christianity makes salvation the means of good works not the mechanism.

James the brother of Jesus wrote, that “faith without works is dead” (Jms. 2:17). He makes a strong case that faith is not some sort of “get out of jail free card.” Cults often use this argument by James to justify their works based salvation. It may seem that James is contradicting Paul’s teaching, yet really he is not. James’ point is not that works are the basis for salvation but the result of it. This is confirmed in Jesus’s teaching.

In John 15, Jesus teaches that he is vine and we are the branches. Branches are worthless apart from the vine, thus apart from salvation our good works are futile. Yet he says he chose us to bear fruit and that everyone who abides in him will. In fact, He taught that works serve as proof that we are indeed his, “bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (Jn. 15:8b) Good works are done out of joy, gratitude and love not fear. The primary work Jesus assigned us was to carry the Gospel to the nations and make disciples (Mat. 28:19-20).

Finally, works carry the message.  As Christians we are “ambassadors for Christ, God is making his appeal through us” (2 Cor. 5:20). There are so many empty promises in this fallen world. Apart from our witness, how can anyone know that Christianity is true (Rom 10:14)? Actions speak louder than words. The way we carry ourselves is an important way the Holy Spirit authenticates the gospel to the outside world. In doing apologetics it is essential to be cognizant of not only 1 Peter 3:15 “make a defense” but to read the passage through to verse 17, “For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.“

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