N.B. In light of some current discussion of the Church of Nigeria and the “prosperity gospel, I am posting a relevant presentation from GAFCON 2013 by Bishop Michael Fape, who is author of Powers in Encounter with Power: Spiritual Warfare in Pagan Cultures (2003). I was Moderator of the Holy Spirit group. SN
A Paper Presented to the Holy Spirit Group at GAFCON 2013 in Nairobi, Kenya
24 October 2013
THE RT. REV. DR. MICHAEL OLUSINA FAPE, PH.D
I want to acknowledge with immense gratitude the works of the Presenters before me who have taken time to explain all various difficult concepts connected with the topic of our focus during this Conference group: The Ministry of the Holy Spirit. Having listened to them, and their presentations – “The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit,” “The Ministry of the Holy Spirit in the Anglican Way,” “The Gifts and Fruit of the Holy Spirit,” and “Encountering Evil in the Power of the Holy Spirit” – as a faithful Anglican, one might be tempted just to sing the Nunc Dimittis, with the understanding that my own sub-topic – Encountering False Teachings of the Holy Spirit – has been alluded to and taken care of in bits and pieces in previous presentations. However, since repetition may not always be synonymous with tautology, it is essential that we still take a look at our topic in this session to receive one or two fresh insights. As we seek to address this topic, we shall look at the topic from four angles, namely False Teaching on Speaking in Tongues, False Prophecy, Prosperity Gospel induced by False Prophecy, and False Eschatology.
II. False Teaching on Speaking in Tongues
Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy” (1 Timothy 4:1).
If there is anywhere in the Bible where the issue of false teaching of the Holy Spirit as it relates to speaking in tongues is quite pronounced, it is in 1 Corinthians 12. There was a problem threatening the unity of the Church at Corinth, and this problem centred on the exaltation of one spiritual gift (glossolalia) over and above the other gifts. For the spiritual aristocrats in the Corinthian Church on the one hand, speaking in tongues is the manifest proof of the reception of the Holy Spirit, which is otherwise known as the Holy Spirit Baptism; and on the other hand glossolalia is the true test of being spiritual. This would mean that speaking in tongues is a cardinal sign of the presence and power of the Spirit of God, and a confirmation of any authentic spirituality.
It seemed that the wish of some believers in the Corinthian Church was to make speaking in tongues the actualisation of their desired level of spirituality. For instance, Gordon Fee, in his Commentary on The First Epistle to the Corinthians is of the opinion that reference to 1 Corinthians13:1 where tongues is associated with angels might mean that the ‘spiritual strongs’ thought that they were already truly spiritual, having considered themselves to be living already like angels. The immediate implication of this is their participation in the new reality in which they neither need sex in the present existence (1 Cor. 7:1-7) nor a body in the future life (1 Cor. 15:1-58). This has resulted in their singular enthusiasm for tongues.
Of course, this is a false realised eschatology. Since for some in this Church, speaking in tongues is the manifest proof of spirituality, therefore those who failed to exhibit this sign could be discriminated against and be regarded as fake believers (if not as total unbelievers). This spiritual aristocratic attitude has unarguably endangered the brotherly love among the Corinthians. Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 substantiates this as he writes:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
In a way, the specific response of Paul in chapters 13 and 14 has a direct bearing on the nature of the problem in chapter 12, where the strong believers were maintaining a superior attitude over and above other believers because of their ability to speak in tongues.
For Paul, the presence of the Holy Spirit at the point of conversion and the fact that subsequent event of baptism is administered in his power leave believers in no doubt of their authentic spirituality. With his use of “I do not want you to be ignorant” in 1 Corinthians 12:1, Paul again as he does elsewhere (Rom. 6:3, 16; 7:1) reminds the Corinthians of a basic fact. He reminds them of the basic Christian teaching that the confession of the Lordship of Jesus Christ, which in fact serves as the basis for their conversion and the subsequent new life, determines whether or not an individual is spiritual. For Paul, it is not the fact of speaking in tongues that confirms a believer’s level of spirituality, but rather the repentance and confession of the Lordship of Jesus Christ. This would mean that all Christians are spiritual by virtue of their confession of the Lordship of Jesus Christ and their new life in him. Anything short of this is a false spirituality.
Paul knew that glossolalia was a feature very prominent in the Corinthians’ pagan background, and they were used to this before their conversion. However, in the present situation, the insistence of some Corinthian believers on speaking in tongues as a sure test of one’s spirituality could be seen as a lapse into this pagan practice. Such a practice was a clear indication that “the faults of the [Corinthians] former state of life are reappearing.” Glossolalia among believers in such a way that it encourages discrimination (insofar as it results in class division of low and high Christians) is an unworthy witness to Jesus. Paul does not see such a high view of tongues to have come from those who confess the lordship of Jesus Christ.
If glossolalia brings about division among believers it was not inspired of God, which means there are induced utterances other than the ones which come directly from the Spirit of God. That is the reason why every spirit must be tested whether they are of God, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).
It must be remarked however, that Paul was not in doubt that glossolalia is a genuine activity of God (since at least he permitted its use in an orderly manner in worship – 1 Corinthians 14:13, 27, 29). Also the way Peter referred to it when challenging the Jewish elders about the miracle of salvation among the Gentile family of Cornelius in Acts 10 shows that speaking in tongues is a genuine activity of the Holy Spirit.
However, for Paul, glossolalia is just one of the many gifts of the Holy Spirit. In a sense, as he writes in 1 Corinthians 12:4-11, he highlights the different gifts of the Holy Spirit: word of wisdom, word of knowledge, faith, healings, working of miracles, prophecy, discerning of spirits, different kinds of tongues, interpretation of tongues. All these 9 gifts, including tongues, proceed from the one Spirit. Therefore for Paul, one gift is not more important than the others, insofar as they all issue out from the same source – the Holy Spirit who is the basis of their Christian life.
There is need for caution here. It is not unlikely today that there are many Confessing Evangelical Anglicans trying to make an issue out of speaking in tongues in their local Churches, thinking that other Christians who are not able to speak in tongues do not have genuine conversion experience. Nothing can be further from the truth. While speaking in tongues is commended as a worthy experience in the new life of a Christian, it is not the sole determinant of one’s height or level of genuine spirituality.
III. False Prophecy
A classical example of a false prophesy is found in 1 Kings 13:11-22, 23-32. There was a man of God from Judah inspired with a message to deliver the word of the Lord to Jeroboam in Bethel, while trying to burn incense. Both the Messenger and his work were inspired by God (1 Kings 13:1, 8-10). After delivering the message of God, Jeroboam sought to arrest the man of God aiming to cast aspersion on the word of God and his Messenger. However, God was behind his word, watching over it to perform the same (cf. Jer. 1:12). The proof of this was the miracle in 1 Kings 13:4-6, the king’s hand dried up, the altar rent and ashes poured out from the altar. It took God’s divine intervention for Jeroboam’s hand to be restored.
God knew what would follow the ministry of the Prophet; and he had forewarned him of the dangers ahead (1 Kings 13:8-9). In obedience to the word of God, he resisted the reward from Jeroboam (I Kings 13:10). Hardly had this Prophet left when the sons of an old Prophet in Bethel told him what had happened to Jeroboam. This old Prophet pursued the young Prophet, caught up with him and persuaded him to act contrary to the word of God, claiming to have received the word of God from an angel, meaning he had been divinely inspired too (1 Kings 13:11-22); and the young prophet succumbed to the entreaty of the old prophet to his own peril because he was killed by a lion (1 Kings 13:23-29).
There are so many self-acclaimed prophets today masquerading the Holy Spirit, pretending to hear from God. But of a truth, they are false prophets deceiving the elect of God. Another case apposite is 1 Kings 22 where Ahab at the instance of Jehoshaphat, before the ensuing war to take over Ramoth-Gilead, asked that Micaiah in addition to Zedekiah be brought in to know the mind of God. Here Zedekiah and his cohorts prophesied victory under the influence of lying spirit, while the Spirit of God through Micaiah gave a message of doom for Ahab (1 Kings 22:1-28).
We are in the age when people like Ahab have been lured away into errors because there are false prophets from the kingdom of darkness preaching and offering to them what they want to hear. Hence Paul says:
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables (2 Tim. 4:3-4).
It is a common spiritual phenomenon today, to hear many Christians claiming to have received a message from God, when in actual fact they were only voicing their own personal opinion trying to fake the Spirit of God. Examples abound in the areas of marriage and call into the ministry.
IV. Prosperity Gospel induced by False Prophecy
I will be more contemporaneous here. There is no doubt that difficult economic conditions in Nigeria in the last two decades in spite of being an oil producing country have occasioned spiritual ambivalence in the Church. Nigeria is endowed by God with huge natural resources. But like many other African countries, these resources have been mismanaged by our leaders, be they military or civilian. This mismanagement has left the greater percentage of the masses in abject poverty. Economic and financial hardship has brought frustration and depression to many people.
The result of the above is that people are looking for economic survival by any means. It is not surprising therefore that many ordinary Church goers are caught up in the web of corruption while looking for means of economic survival. They have found justification for their immoral life by shifting the blame onto the chronic economic hardship in the country. It is sad to note today that the desire to amass wealth through fraudulent means is so great that people have devised many dubious methods via ecclesiastical organs. This has made a complete mockery of the Christian faith.
People easily embrace prosperity gospels that promise instant wealth or escape from their poverty. Many spiritual carrots are dangled before a teeming population of miracle seekers such as blessed anointing oil, anointed candles and anointed handkerchiefs. There are many self acclaimed Pastors, Apostles, Church Founders and General Overseers merchandising these articles and claiming to minister in the power of the Holy Spirit. Yes, there is no denial of the fact that these magical or cultic practices bring instant solutions. But the solutions are not Holy Spirit inspired. An example can be found in Acts 16 with the ministry of Paul and Silas in Philippi:
Now it happened, as we went to prayer, that a certain slave girl possessed with a spirit of divination met us, who brought her masters much profit by fortune-telling. This girl followed Paul and us, and cried out, saying, “These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation.” And this she did for many days. But Paul, greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And he came out that very hour (Acts 16:16-18).
By the time the spirit of divination was cast out, those behind the evil act knew that was the end of the road for them, and they put up a strong fight against Paul and Silas! Today, there are many false teachers, prophets and pastors claiming to be performing miracles in the power of the Holy Spirit; but in actual fact they are wolfs in sheep clothing?
Little wonder that Paul warns the early Christians, a warning which is still very relevant for believers today:
But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works” (2 Cor. 11:3, 13-15).
Today, vigilance is our watchword, and there is the need to test every spirit, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). The fact that people perform various miracles, signs and wonders; and can bring down fire should not make us believe that every miracle, sign or wonder is from God. It should be noted that before the arrival of Philip in Samaria, there were ‘miracles and signs’ from the agents of Satan:
But there was a certain man called Simon, who previously practiced sorcery in the city and astonished the people of Samaria, claiming that he was someone great, to whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, “This man is the great power of God.” And they heeded him because he had astonished them with his sorceries for a long time” (Acts 8:9-11).
However, Philip’s arrival in the town meant an end to the operation of the false prophets (Acts 8:12-13). The power of the Holy Spirit proved much superior to the spirit of divination which they were previously used to in keeping their preys in bondage. Of a truth, where there is Spirit of God, there is liberty (2 Cor. 3:17).
The word of God should be our guide. We should watch out and be wary of miracles, signs and wonders which do not have the Cross of Christ at their centre! Any miracles, signs and prophecies that are out of alignment with the word of God are a mere deceit and poison from the pit of hell. Such should be resisted. That is the truth contained in the scripture as proclaimed by Paul:
But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed (Gal. 1:8-9).
V. False Eschatology
Eschatology simply means, teachings about the last days, with the specific focus on the return of Jesus Christ for the end-time judgement, which includes reward and punishment. There have been many eschatological predictions by false prophets who claim that the world will end at such and such times, but none has been fulfilled. Only on Monday, 14th October, 2013 I read from the Nigerian Tribune that scientists predicted life on earth would end on March 16, 2880. While the context of this publication may not have any religious connotation, the fact that it impinges of the matter of the end time makes it a subject that is relevant to our discussion here. The report reads in part:
If the latest scientists’ predication about the destruction of this present world is anything to go by, then the world should brace for the coming to an end of life on planet Earth come March 16, 2880. The United States scientists at National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), said they have been watching an asteroid, named 1950 DA, which is currently on a path to collide with Earth on March 6, 2880.
A recent advocate of the end of the world was Harold Camping, of the Family Ministries, Inc. who claimed that the world would come to an end on May 21, 2011. According to Camping, true Christians will be raptured on May 21, 2011. For everyone that is left on earth, they would come under the judgement of Christ for a period of 5 months which would end on October 21, 2011. Before his 2011 false predication, Camping had predicted that the world would end on September 6, 1994. Unfortunately, his earlier prediction in 1994; and the ones of both May 21 and October 21 had come and gone again, without the world coming to an end. Of course, if the world had come to an end, you and I would not be here today! It is interesting, however, to note that Harold Camping had made a u-turn and repented of his false prophecies and teachings after his prediction did not come true on May 21, 2011, the day of God’s judgement that he previously claimed that God would stop saving people from their sins.
There are clear indications in the scripture that nobody knows the exact time of Christ’ return except God, the Father himself (Matthew 24:3, 11, 24, 36). One amazing thing is the fact that all these false prophets had always claimed to have received their messages from God in the instrumentality of the Holy Spirit. They have arisen at different times; and faded into oblivion but with high level of regrets for their teeming followers who had been left behind with their spiritual, emotional and physical wounds. What these false prophets/leaders had done was to build a system around themselves that made them the centre of focus, or offering themselves as the ultimate solution to the problems of their followers. This could be best described as humanism.
Of course there is sure evidence in the scripture that there is no salvation in any other, except in Jesus (Acts 4:12), and that many false christs will arise just to deceive many and lure them away from the faith (Matt. 24:5). But because people have not been deeply rooted in the word of God, they have fallen prey to these false prophets or leaders. It has caused many their lives because they were lead astray into errors.
The only way Christians, especially members of GAFCON, who are confessing Anglicans can overcome the antics of false teachings in connection with the person and works of the Holy Spirit in the present milieu is by taking heed to search into the scriptures to find out what the word of God says on any emerging issues threatening the spiritual sanity of believers. As it goes with the popular Anglican phrase, “As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end, Amen,” so let no one be deceived that false teachings of the Holy Spirit with be stamped out so soon. If there is any time Satan is very restless and stubbornly aggressive to draw Christians back from the faith once committed to us, it is now. As there were heretics in the early Church, so also do we have them now, and we shall continue to have them as long as Jesus tarries his coming. Only for true Confessing Anglicans, and redeemed members of GAFCON, Christ says, “But hold fast what you have till I come” (Rev. 2:25).
In order to hold fast to what we have, we must endeavour to study the word of God and be ready to obey him as he speaks to us. This is why the admonition of Paul is relevant to us as we run the race set before us. Therefore brethren, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). As we return from this Holy Convocation, I pray that the Holy Spirit will guide us in our Christian pilgrimage to run the race successfully to the very end. Amen.
- As Confessing Anglicans, how does our understanding of the gifts of the Holy Spirit help us against the wrong interpretation of the Holy Spirit Baptism?
- While it is true that prophecy is commended by Paul over speaking in tongues, how can we distinguish prophecies inspired by the Holy Spirit from those induced by demons?
 F.F. Bruce, 1 and 2 Corinthians (New Century Bible). London: Marshall, Morgan and Scott, 1971, p. 117.
 J.P.M. Sweet, “A Sign for Unbelievers: Paul’s Attitude to Glossolalia”, NTS 13 (1966-1967). pp. 241-245. Here Sweet saw 1 Cor. 14:22 as an outright rejection of the claim of the so called ‘strong’ in Corinth. He maintained that rather than seeing tongues as a sign for the believer he sees it as a sign (of confusion) for an unbeliever, more so that it might have a negative effect on such an unbeliever attending their worship.
 “Scientists predict life on Earth ends March 16, 2880.” Nigerian Tribune, Monday 14th October, 2013. P. 47
 Harold Camping Exposed as a False Prophet – Again: www.spiritual-research-network.com/harold_camping_false_prophet.htm accessed on 15th October, 2013