Many a wolf, as he lies in wait or circles the flock in search of the opportune moment, may secretly wish he could slip into a sheepskin and boldly approach his unsuspecting prey. Jesus warned His followers of just such a danger. “Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly they are ravenous wolves” (Matt. 7:15). Peter also gives a graphic warning: “There shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies (2 Pet. 2:1). Jesus began His discourse on last-day events with the words, “Let no man deceive you” (Matt. 24:2).
With so many red flags waving, one would think the saints would be more guarded, less likely to be taken in. But it seems all it takes for some people to be deceived is for the wolves to show up in perfectly-tailored, well-pressed wool suits. The saints are armed and ready to do battle with the beast and the dragon, not with charismatic people and their winsome ways.
I want to present two sets of questions that I think might help in unmasking the predators that plague our people today. First, some questions we should ask ourselves--questions that examine our vulnerability.
Am I well-grounded in the doctrinal positions of the Seventh-day Adventist church? None are so vulnerable as the uninformed. They are “tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4:14). And “when the shaking comes, by the introduction of false theories, these surface readers, anchored nowhere, are like shifting sand” (Testimonies to Ministers, p. 112).
“Those who have accepted the truth of the third angel’s message are to hold it fast by faith; and it will hold them from drifting into superstitions and theories that would separate them from one another and from God” (Review and Herald, Aug. 19, 1909). We are to study each of our 28 doctrinal positions so thoroughly that there are no serious doubts or questions.
Do I have a settled loyalty and commitment to the Seventh-day Adventist church as a divinely ordained movement? If you harbor doubts about the remnant status of the Seventh-day Adventist church—its message, its mission, its authority—there is no way you can honestly deny your susceptibility to deception. Your knowledge of doctrine, your hard-headed commitment to the “truth,” your bold assertion of loyalty to the Spirit of Prophecy—none of these will save you from deception. If your loyalty to Advent movement is weak, you have sold your best armor to the devil. You can be sure he already views you as his lawful prey.
Do I have a keen appetite for hearing about the shortcomings of church institutions and leaders? If your ears are open and eager to hear about the latest Adventist college campus scandal, the infidelity of some pastor, the misuse of funds by some Conference committee, etc., it is safe to predict that the day will come when you will find yourself outside of the Seventh-day Adventist church. Sour grapes do not make sweet grape juice. The tragedy of focusing on the negative is that it leaves too little time and brain space for the really good things that are happening in the church.
Do I have an unusual curiosity about “new light,” innovative interpretations of Bible prophecy, or far out ideas about anything religious? Are you the kind of person who has a consuming interest in such things as the Old Testament year-of-jubilee cycle, the idea that all of the time prophecies in the Bible will be repeated in literal time in the last days, or that Israel really will be a major player in end-time events?
Beware of becoming an “Athenian Adventist,” one who lives “either to tell, or to hear some new thing” (Acts 17:21). Perhaps the best response to such invitations is that which Nehemiah gave to his detractors: “I am doing a great work so that I cannot come down.” (Neh. 6:3).
Am I very satisfied or terribly dissatisfied with my own spiritual condition?Either of these extremes can make us susceptible. Here’s why. One who thinks he knows enough, prays enough, obeys enough, surely fits the self-satisfied condition Jesus finds in Laodicea. But while all of us need to hear the call to “come up higher,” we need to recognize that a nagging burden of guilt and lack of peace can also make us susceptible. The devil’s predators have no scruples against offering sympathy and spiritual renewal as a way of winning our confidence and luring us away from the fold. They will intimate that we are “not being fed” where we are, and that they will give us better food. But be assured; their rations are full of poison.
So how did you score? If you said “yes” to the first two questions and “no” to the last three, you should be fairly well prepared to identify wolves regardless of how they are dressed.
Next month we will consider some questions to ask of those who would entice you, your family, or your friends to push against the fence or to leave the church’s sheltering fold altogether.
--Lee Roy Holmes, retired Seventh-day Adventist pastor, College Place, WA.