Humans like to be dazzled. We will overlook most anything if it is spectacular. We will watch citizens eaten by lions, mostly naked girls gyrate on stage at an awards show, or an epic TV show that includes sodomy, rape, and extreme violence as long as it is amazing. We will ignore the sins of star athletes because of what they do on the field or the court. Christians are not immune to this fascination with the spectacular. We have our celebrities as well. We are always in danger of being pulled away from the truth by the dazzling deeds of the prophets. But it is important to remember that Pharaoh’s magicians could did signs and wonders too.
God knew this. In Deuteronomy 13 the Lord reminds us that signs and wonders are not a guarantee of holiness and orthodoxy.
If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the LORD your God is testing you, to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul (Deu 13:1-3).
God spoke through prophets and dreams in the Old Covenant. These prophets often used signs and wonders to prove that their words came from the Lord. It would be easy for Israel to assume that when they see a sign, wonder, or a fulfilled prediction that the prophet is speaking for God. But there is a warning attached. It does not matter how spectacular a man’s ministry is if he encouraged Israel to “serve other gods.” The prophet in this passage can do some amazing things. He is also part of the covenant community, the people of God. He is teaching rebellion from within. He is a prophet within the church, who does signs and wonders, and claims to be speaking for God, yet he is the piper leading them to ruin.
The application of this passage to the modern world is easy. Charismatics are prone to believing a man because he can do signs and wonders. He can heal people. He must have the anointing of the Spirit. He can speak in tongues. He must be an authentic, Spirit-filled person. Many Pentecostals listen carefully to preachers who deny the Trinity. Why? Someone who denies the Trinity is not a Christian. But that doesn’t matter he can do signs and wonders.
But even outside of Charismatic circles Christians ignore false teaching if the one saying it has a spectacular ministry. While these teachers may not be speaking in tongues or healing they are still easy on the eyes and ears. Rachel Held Evans is a good example. A woman who is slowly but surely leading people to damnation, yet her teaching is ignored by many because she is so “authentic” and of course, because she is a woman. Joel Osteen comes to mind, as well as many other mega church pastors and writers, such as Robert Schuller. Their teaching is rooted in love of self. They are leading people away from God. But hey at least the journey is amazing.
And what about us reformed and evangelical folks. We like to think we above this. But we aren’t. There are men in our midst who compromise on central truths, such as the sovereignty of God and the necessity of internal, once for all, regeneration. There are men who are slowly eroding Sola Scriptura. There are men who deny the historical Adam and believe in evolution and yet they teach at our seminaries. There are men who are soft on the sinfulness of sodomy and abortion and the role of women. There are men who have covered up child abuse. There are Christian schools that allow women in their preaching classes and allow women to teach classes that should be reserved for male teachers. There are pastors who are greedy for money and power. Not all of these sins are sins of apostasy. But they are sins and major ones. Too often Christians believe these men, women, and institutions, not because of their solid orthodoxy, but because they appeal to our desire for something spectacular, something big. We like their preaching, their teaching, their style, or the fact that they have influence outside reformed circles. Whatever the reason is, too often we are blind to men and women who lead us away from God because their ministry is so great.
Deuteronomy 13 is clear. Any ministry, any preacher, any teacher, any writer, any prophet, no matter how amazing their ministry, no matter what great deeds they are doing, no matter how great their teaching, and no matter how many books they sell is to be ignored and rejected if they lead us away from the living God.