Monday, February 6, 2023
Secular journalists love exposing Christian charlatans. But is it a modern phenomenon? Not really. Lucian wrote satire in the mid-second century, and he loved to pick on Christians—especially when he smelled a fraud. In one of his works, he reports on a huckster named Peregrinus, a murderer and child molester who fled to Palestine and got involved with the Christians.
“In a trice he made them all look like children; for he was prophet, cult leader, head of the synagogue, and everything, all by himself. He interpreted and explained some of their books and even composed many, and they revered him as a god, made use of him as a lawgiver, and set him down as a protector, next after that other, to be sure, whom they still worship, the man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced this new cult into the world.”
Peregrinus was imprisoned for his involvement with the Christians. This, Lucian says, was an “asset to his future career” as a charlatan. Christians traveled from all around to visit him; some tried to rescue him.
“Much money came to him from them by reason of his imprisonment, and he procured not a little revenue from it.” Lucian comments on the strange beliefs of “these poor wretches,” the Christians, who “despise all things indiscriminately and consider them common property, receiving such doctrines traditionally without any definite evidence. So if any charlatan or trickster, able to profit by occasions, comes among them, he quickly acquires sudden wealth by imposing upon simple folk.”
Released from prison, Peregrinus wandered for a while, “possessing an ample source of funds in the Christians, through whose ministrations he lived in unalloyed prosperity.” But his defrauding of the Christians would not last forever. Lucian says he “transgressed in some way even against them (he was seen, I think, eating some of the food that is forbidden them) so that they no longer accepted him.”
Lucian’s tale continues, culminating in Peregrinus’s spectacular suicide. Before a crowd of Greeks at the Olympic festival, he jumped into a burning pyre. “So ended that poor wretch [Peregrinus], a man who (to put it briefly) never fixed his gaze on the verities, but always did and said everything with a view to glory and the praise of the multitude.”
Of course Lucian treated this story in his classic satirical fashion; he may have overstated the facts. A fraud like Peregrinus could never dupe Christians so thoroughly, could he?
2 Peter 2:1 “They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves.”
The church of Jesus Christ is being duped by false teachers, as it has been since the time it started 2000 years ago. Peter wants us to be able to recognize the false teachers when they come. He begins his discernment training in verse one, and points out the following fundamental traits of a false teacher:
- They are sneaky – they will seem to know what they are talking about and be very convincing, but their hearts are blackened with pride. They will slowly infiltrate what little truth they teach with seemingly insignificant suggestions that bring doubt and questions to the follower’s mind, causing them to question what they really believe.
- Their teaching is destructive – This doubt leads to the destruction of true spiritual intimacy with Jesus through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is quenched and fellowship with Jesus is minimized.
- Their teaching is heresy – heresy applies to any teaching that benefits self. The Greek word means to “choose what one wants for himself.” These teachers thrive on giving people choices of what they want to believe, all for personal benefit.
- Their goal is to renounce the Deity of Jesus Christ – Ultimately the goal of every false teacher is to discredit Jesus. They will deny that He is equal with God. They will deny that He needed to die to save man from sin. They will deny He is Lord of Lords. They seek to remove any and every reason for man to be dependent on anyone or any God other than self.
We are off to a good start, and our understanding is already growing. Take time to review these indicators of a false teacher. (Four today and one from the previous devotional) Learn them. Then ask the Holy Spirit to make you keenly alert to them in your church or in the churches of your friends and family. The true church of Jesus Christ must remain pure and strong against the evil of the day, and that evil is pretty sneaky.