Article by: Philasande Karambakuwa
Matthew 24:24 “For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.” I remember reading this scripture when I was in first year. I was a budding Actuarial Science student at the leading university in Africa. I was academically astute, and therefore considered intelligent. Thinking about this scripture, I was like “Lord surely this would never be me, I can’t be deceived, I’m saved”. Little did I know I would be deceived not once but multiple times, by different things/ people over the next years. I want to share about that journey below.
The “Prophet” Stage
My first encounter with deception is what I would call the prophet stage. I went through a phase where I thought being close to God meant that you received revelations, dreams, visions and were touched physically by the Holy Spirit, where you would shake uncontrollably as a result. This belief was brought about by a mixture of seeing this in some “spirit-filled” churches and people I followed. I used to read every book I could find on how people got visions and special revelations from the Holy Spirit. I also used to visit churches where people fell when pastors touched them and at the end of the service, the people who wanted to hear from God would go to the front. I remember sitting in my room this one time, waiting for God to shake me. As in, literally shake me. Lo and behold, the shaking came. I must confess though, that I started it. I willed myself into thinking the spirit came and therefore started shaking. Looking back, I cannot believe I used to do that. I cannot find a scripture in the bible where we are supposed to run after this, or even where things like that occurred. After a while, I started getting convicted about the shaking thing. I just felt bad about it happening, but I still did not know whether it was wrong or not given how frequently I saw it happen, even when my conscience was nagging me.
Now this was not the only “spiritual” encounter I had experienced. There was a point where I thought I was a dream interpreter. Now now, before you judge me, I was following all these preachers who would say you could do anything: see things, predict things, have visions etc., and there were books going around about how a Christian can interpret visions. I was just going with the flow, I suppose. I cannot tell you what made me stop the dream interpreting, or chasing after visions but somehow it stopped. I had a desire to know the word more and to grow as a believer. But I still had a misunderstanding in my head that these things (visions/prophecy) were normatively happening, and were a sign of salvation and maturity for every Christian. If they were not happening for you, I was sure that there was something wrong with you. You probably were not saved, or not close enough to God for the spirit to be that intimate with you.
As time went by with this misunderstanding, I came across a group of believers (or so I thought), who called themselves prophets. They would pride themselves on prophesying about everything. Again, I joined because I thought this is how it’s supposed to be, right? I went to all their meetings, any conference where a “Man of God” or “prophet” would be, I was there with them. Until a time where one of them almost duped a friend of mine. He told her that he saw angels of love, and they told him that they should have marital relations. I was so shocked and hurt. Looking back, I cannot believe that it took something so ridiculous to show me, when all the other “prophecies” were also not true. I remember how I too used to prophesy, telling people how “I feel like the Lord is saying xxx” to them. I came across a scripture in the bible about how if a prophecy does not come true, then it’s not from God. After I read that scripture, I knew I also had to stop since I could not prove that my “prophecies” ever came to pass. After that, I asked the Lord to forgive me and to teach me his word so I wouldn’t get deceived again. By the Grace of God, I don’t know how, but I got out of that.
The “They know the Bible” Stage
A few years after my prophet stage, I was still seeking deeper fellowship with the Lord through the knowledge of his word. I was going to a charismatic church at the time, and I felt that they were quite light on the word, and this left me with a yearning for depth. I felt like I was not growing in the word, and was therefore on the lookout for any churches which were bible-based. A friend of mine, who was also looking to grow in the word (Siwe, yes her!), invited me to a church conference. She was raving about how they knew the word etc., so I was really excited. I went to their conference, and was drawn by how they seemed to know the bible well. At the end of the conference, the guy who was preaching made an altar call for those who wanted to accept the sabbath and to follow the ten commandments. He had been preaching about how salvation is not divorced from the ten commandments, and how Jesus did not disobey them like we do today. Therefore, those who have true salvation accept and follow all the ten commandments – including remembering the sabbath and keeping it holy. His argument was well laid, that I was convinced and went to be “saved” again. I then went to their church service the following Saturday, and met with one of their pastors afterwards. The whole time, the common message was how we must obey the sabbath, and abstain from certain foods (most members are either vegetarian or vegan). The way they said it was so convincing, because it was mixed with truth. Lies woven with some truth. But my conscience was nagging me, I just felt unsettled.
At the time, I liked reading apologetics and followed a site called GotQuestions. So, I decided to read up on them and wow, I was shocked by what I found. What they believed was not aligned to Christendom, and they made a constant reference to a specific woman called Ellen G. White (a “prophetess”), and her teachings. I was shaking, scared, tearingly asking the Lord how I could be duped again. They also believed Jesus to be Michael the archangel. I asked one of their leaders this and she confirmed it (though not directly). I was so mad . How could they not have told me this?, I was thinking we talking about the same Jesus I believed in! The one true God. Jesus 100% God, and 100% man. I told them never to contact me again, and that they were spreading lies and this is not the gospel. While I was crushed, I was so grateful for God’s grace, and how he did not let me stay in my error.
The “It must be love, nevermind the error” Stage
At this point, I was just about done with my degree. Due to my past experiences, I was hypervigilant when it came to theology, making sure that I fact-checked everything people told me about God, and researched before I went anywhere. I was still attending my charismatic church, reasoning that since I had never been duped there, I could trust their teachings even if they were light on the word diet.
While I was super conscious when it came to theology and churches, I wasn’t when it came to relationships. This was my weak area given my past encounters with men and my relationship with my dad, which manifested in this need/ desire I had to be loved. I believed a guy who told me: “God told me you are my wife”. Fine, given my friend’s experiences a few years earlier, I wouldn’t have taken this guy seriously if I didn’t like him a bit or desire companionship at that point. Also, weirdly enough, with regards to getting married, I somehow still had a belief that God would come and tell people that through signs or a special word. All this to say that I believed the guy, okay!
It ended in disaster. We were not compatible – he believed that women should just do exactly as the husband told them, and stay at home, make babies, become mothers and do nothing else. I also found out over time that he believed in the “prophet” thing (something he concealed well). Since we didn’t fellowship together, it took me a while to notice that while he would pray, he hardly ever read his bible. When I asked him how come he never read his bible, his response was: “God speaks to me”. That was the last straw, so I ended the relationship. I did not beat myself up after that one, I just thanked God for His Grace yet again.
While my story sounds dramatic (I know!!), over and over again, my eyes were opened to the deceit. Maybe I will never know why God let me get deceived, but I’d rather not focus on that, but trust him and learn from my previous encounters. I have learnt to put safeguards to test churches, and people who come with something different from the faith that has been handed down to the saints from the history of the church. To not be so taken by the “variant” beliefs, but to ask why these people believe differently from others. I have learnt to find reliable sites like GotQuestions where I can find out more. I have learnt that even our nearest and dearest, who we may see as spiritually mature, can be deceived. So should they come sharing something deviant from what we know and trust from scripture, we need to be ready to counter their points with the word, or to lead them to more spiritually mature believers. I have also learnt that God is always always proved true and every man a liar. God’s word warns us about the charlatans we so eagerly let tickle our itching ears. Therefore, we are both victims and co-conspirators to their deception. We are far too easily convinced by the “new things”, instead of sitting under the teachings of those who open scripture from cover to cover. And finally, I have learnt that the greatest gateway to false theology is bad theology. Sitting in churches that do not powerfully proclaim scripture leaves us wanting more. So we go out of our churches, ill-equipped, to search for something “more”, something “better”, something “weightier”. And we fall right into the hands of deceivers. Even so, what gives me comfort is that Jesus keeps us. His prayer for us in John 17 is what kept me from not going into despair of all the times I was deceived.