If Balaam lived among today’s evangelicals, he would be considered a great man. His public sayings would be widely known, and his “ministry” would have great impact (Numbers 22:6). In his day, Balaam was also known for his “prayer power.” That is, when he spoke to the Lord, Balaam usually got an answer (Numbers 22:8, 18, etc.). He certainly would have been at home among many of today’s televangelists.
But Balaam had an appetite for monetary success and a desire for secular recognition (2 Peter 2:15; Jude 11). He willfully embraced error in spite of the Lord’s warnings and with clear knowledge beforehand that he was doing wrong (Numbers 22–24). In so doing, he foreshadowed the likes of the foolish teachings of Harold Camping, the damnable writings of Rob Bell, the oily compromise of Peter Enns, and the open betrayal of Scripture by “evangelical” academics like Bruce Waltke and the fellows of BioLogos.
How do “good” people become “enemies of the cross of Christ” (Philippians 3:18)?
Basic Biblical Guidelines
Of the many passages in the Bible that contain information or warnings about false teaching, there are four key New Testament passages that will help answer that question. In 2 Peter 2:1-3, the apostle Peter lists five characteristics of the leaders of false teaching:
- They will come from “Christian” churches or backgrounds.
- They will deny the Lord Jesus in some way.
- They will become very popular.
- They will cause shame to the ideals of Scripture.
- They will use human greed and hidden meanings to deceive.
These character checks might be satisfactory in and of themselves, since they would quickly identify some of the more notorious “cult” leaders of the last 200 years. Jim Jones, famous for leading the Guyana mass suicide, was a Baptist preacher in California for many years. Joseph Smith, who has never been known for being “biblical,” founded what has become the largest “Christian” cult movement in the world, the Mormons. Charles T. Russell, founder of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, became disenchanted with orthodox Christianity and began issuing prophetic predictions in light of special signs and mysteries he found in the Great Pyramid of Egypt. Not only did he make highly publicized and false predictions of the second coming of Christ and the end of the age, but his successors continued to do so for several decades.
The so-called “health, wealth, and prosperity” gospel that has consumed much of the Pentecostal and charismatic movements since the 1970s primarily attracts those given to human greed, and has been led by such notorious characters as Reverend Ike, Benny Hinn, Terry Cole-Whittaker, Jim and Tammy Bakker, Robert Tilton, Oral Roberts, and many others whose behavior is so bizarre and unethical that even secular media has aired their hypocrisy for all to see.
Yet that “gospel” continues to garner followers and the movements continue unabated. Evidently, a more serious departure from the biblical ideal is necessary for some to take notice.
The All-Encompassing Error
Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world. (1 John 4:2-3)
John amplifies this error to include anyone who “transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God” (2 John 9). Not only is it blasphemous to deny the deity of Jesus Christ, but also to deny that which He has taught.
Surely the reader is aware of the anti-Trinitarian teachings of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who view Jesus as a created individual, second in power, but never equal to Jehovah.
The public position of the Mormons is more subtle. Mormons pray in Jesus’ name, call Him the Son of God, and talk about His death on the cross, His resurrection, and His second coming. What they do not talk openly about is their own belief that Jesus is the son of Elohim and Mary, brother to Satan, and approved as Savior only after a vote of the Council of gods.
The Christian Scientists are today not often taken seriously except by the New Age intelligentsia, but this cult was a major force of division and schism in the early part of the 20th century. They did not deny the deity directly; they just changed the meaning of the word.
The Battle Is for Our Mind
Sadly, many well-meaning people are attracted to these movements without ever considering the issues of truth or error. The battle is fought and won or lost in our mind. Circumstances, feelings, popular acceptance, and even miraculous signs are all subject to deceptive manipulation and distortion. Our minds can be deceived (2 Corinthians 11:3).
The passage that outlines the “subtlety” of the enemy is Genesis 3:1-5. It specifies a three-stage process:
- Dispute the accuracy of God’s Word: “Yea, hath God said…”
- Deny the ability of God to do what He said: “Ye shall not surely die…”
- Denigrate the actions of God toward man: “For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.”
Fundamental to all error is the way that one approaches the written Word of God. Doubt about the accuracy and integrity of Scripture, once entertained, is the first step onto a spiritual slide that ends in utter heresy.
All false religions have other writings that attempt to explain what God “really” meant to say. Mary Baker Eddy authored Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures in 1875, and it is still used by Christian Scientists today. The Mormons study The Pearl of Great Price and Doctrine and Covenants. Jehovah’s Witnesses faithfully read Let God Be True, Make Sure of All Things, as well as The Watchtower to maintain their understanding of “truth.”
More subtle yet, however, are the writings of some Christian denominations and religious leaders. Roman Catholicism insists that the writings of the church fathers, the various encyclicals, creeds, papal bulls, etc., are to be used to properly understand the truth “contained” in the Scriptures. Mainline denominations have been voting approval to statements and creeds that openly defy clear teachings of the Bible, all in the name of “tolerance” and “love.” Christian television regularly airs “revelations” and “visions” and “experiences” that have nothing in common with biblical truth. Regardless, some evangelists are building huge empires preaching these “damnable heresies” (2 Peter 2:1) and leading “captive silly women laden with sins” (2 Timothy 3:6).
All of that pales into insignificance when we begin to grasp the insidious inroads of compromising Bible teachers in the seminaries and in parachurch organizations across this nation. Two fundamental positions emerge from analysis of the writings, blogs, and teachings of those who knowingly embrace a hybridizing of God’s foundational truths:
- The message of Scripture must be subject to the “discoveries” of science, philosophy, psychology, history, logic, or academic analysis and scholarship.
- The Bible, therefore, cannot (indeed must not) be taken as a literal or historically accurate document. All of the biblical text must be “interpreted” in light of a theological system, scholarly historical analysis, or “proven” science.
The result is an increasing fear of controversy among pastors to deal with the errors, a growing ignorance of biblical doctrine being replaced by a “love for God” and “one another” that is both emotional and amorphous, and an ever-increasing withdrawal from “absolute truth.”
How can this growing dilemma be solved?
There are certain absolutely clear teachings in the Scriptures that impact the way the entire message is understood. Departure from or rebellion against these clear biblical basics will surely bring God’s judgment and set those who follow teachings against these basic doctrines on the “broad road” that leads “to destruction” (Matthew 7:13).
1. The creation of all things, from nothing, by the direct fiat of God
Done with purpose, design, foreknowledge, and sovereignty; accomplished in six solar days (Exodus 20:11), not through some mechanistic and random interplay of cosmic forces, but the "things which are seen were not made of things which do appear” (Hebrews 11:3).
Planned in the eternal councils of the Triune God, spoken into existence by the omnipotent, omniscient Word of God, and energized by the omnipresent Holy Spirit of God (Genesis 1:1-2; John 1:1-3; Colossians 1:16-17). The resultant universe was “very good,” all things and every creature perfect in their design and in their nature (Genesis 1:10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31).
Man, both male and female, was created “in the image of God,” set in the garden of God to rule and subdue the earth and to fill it with other men living and ruling under the delegated authority of the Creator (Genesis 1:27-28). All was in perfect harmony with and in submission to the Godhead.
2. Sin and death are an intrusion into the creation
Sometime subsequent to the completion of the creation work of God, Lucifer, “the anointed cherub that covereth” (Ezekiel 28:14), rebelled in heaven against God, was cast down to the earth (Ezekiel 28:15-17; Isaiah 14:12-15), entered the body of “the serpent” (Genesis 3:1-6; Revelation 12:9), and deceived Eve into disobeying God’s prohibition against eating of the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” Adam then also rebelled—in full knowledge of his rebellion, bringing sin and death into and upon the entire world (Romans 5:12). All the universe, every being and every particle, “groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now” (Romans 8:22).
3. A worldwide flood during the days of Noah
Designed by God to destroy all air-breathing life on the face of the earth (Genesis 6:17; 7:22). Excepted were the “eight souls” of the family of Noah and the graciously preserved seed of the animal kinds kept by God in the Ark (Genesis 7:2; 1 Peter 3:20). All present life now living has descended from those so preserved in the Ark (Genesis 9:19).
4. The repentance and salvation of all men is the main objective of God
The world is now under the patient maintenance and preservation of the Creator (Colossians 1:16-17; 2 Peter 3:7-9). God has focused His heart, sovereign will, and active word during this age (1 Peter 1:18-25), first through the Law as schoolmaster to bring us to Christ (Galatians 3:24-25), then through personal repentance and faith in the work of Jesus Christ on Calvary (Romans 10:6-17).
5. Jesus Christ shall return bodily to the earth
The Creator of the universe, Head of the Church, and King of kings is now ruling from the throne in heaven, awaiting the time known only to God (Matthew 24:36) when He will establish His Kingdom in righteousness and holiness (Matthew 24:29-31; 25:31-46; John 5:28-29; 1 Corinthians 15:50-54; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10; Hebrews 12:25-27; 2 Peter 3:9-13). We who are now alive and remain are to “occupy” until He comes (Luke 19:13), working as “stewards” (1 Corinthians 4:1-2; 1 Peter 4:10), “soldiers” (2 Timothy 2:2-3), and as those running a race (1 Corinthians 9:24; Hebrews 12:1), expecting any moment to be called to account before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:6-11), to be forever thereafter with the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:17).
6. Destruction of the entire universe will come
God will complete His work in this age (2 Peter 3:10-12) and will usher in the eternal “new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness” (2 Peter 3:13) under the reign of God’s Son, the Savior, Jesus Christ, as the King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:11-16).
There is much more, of course, in the text of Scripture—all of which is to be our study and lifelong source of truth. However, compromise or inattention to the framework doctrines of the Bible listed above, contained throughout and within nearly every book of the Scriptures, can only bring disaster.
The apostle Jude’s strongly worded letter insists that when we distort “the faith which was once delivered unto the saints,” it will bring to the forefront of our churches “certain men [who] crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ” (Jude 3-4).
May God protect us. May God challenge us. May we see His hand bring revival among His churches through the communication of His truth.
* Dr. Morris is Chief Executive Officer of the Institute for Creation Research.
Cite this article: Morris III, H. 2011. Balaam’s Error and Today’s Evangelicals. Acts & Facts. 40 (8): 4-6.