“Beware of Scammers… Even Religious Ones”
Have you noticed the increase of telephone scammers lately? Yes, scammers have been around forever, but some of their tactics are fairly modern. For instance, some people receive calls from computer tech “support companies” offering to help you with “viruses” on your PC. The only problem is that when they are granted remote access to your computer the “tech” then steals your personal information. Not to mention all of the calls about your “car’s extended warranty” or those alarming messages from the “IRS”. This is wicked stuff! Please, don’t fall for these calls. If something seems fishy, it most likely is!
Recently, scammers used my name to contact people via social media and text messages to try to get money from folks. Friends received a message that “Pastor Nick” was in a meeting - only reachable by text - and needed gift cards for church members in the hospital. When I started getting phone calls from people asking me about it, I knew right away what the problem was and told everyone to simply ignore the messages that were coming from “me”. Thankfully, no one fell for this shameful trick. It makes me wonder, how many people throughout the country get bamboozled into sending these scammers money?
Scammers seem to employ these basic tactics. They tend to use authority as a means to incite fear or trust. Take for instance the example of the fake IRS call. When you gets a call from the IRS stating you are in danger of penalty or even jail time unless payment is made immediately, your heart begins to race and fear sets in. The scammers hope that you will not think clearly and will simply pay the money. Similarly, when the scammers use the name of a church or community leader, they are hoping the reputation of the individual is such that requests for money will not be questioned. In other words, because I trust the person named, I will follow the request. Fear or trust: how should we view these two concepts?
First, I think it is important to recognize that these two views of leadership and authority are far too common. It has been my experience that those outside of the Christian worldview believe that this is how “church people” follow leaders. Right? “Christians don’t think for themselves; they just do what they are told.” This may be true in quasi-Christian or cultic groups, but not in any biblically faithful Christian community that I know of. In fact, quite the opposite is true.
God calls us to weigh whether something is truth or error. “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world" (1 John 4:1). The Apostle John is adamant that we must test what we are taught, even by self-professed prophets. Here, John contends against false teachers who preach that Jesus didn’t come to earth as flesh but merely as a spirit (1 John 4:3). Should we believe this because some leader taught it? No! Rather, the church should look at what God has already revealed in the Bible and test it to see if this new teaching is in line with God’s word. “Test everything; hold fast what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). True followers of Christ do not blindly follow church leaders.
“But I love my leaders. They are so smart and in tune with God. I just know in my heart that they would never lead me astray.” The standard for weighing truth cannot be our own feelings! “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). You see, sin not only fractures our connection with God but even causes our feelings to be untrustworthy. In the book of Proverbs we find this bit of wisdom, “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool” (Proverbs 28:26). While emotions are a good gift from God, they are not a good standard for judging truth. Instead, we must look to the solid rock of God’s written, inspired word, the Bible; this is our measuring rod of truth. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
Now this is not to say that church leadership should be ignored. No, Christians are called to obey and submit to church leadership (Hebrews 13:17). This is one of the reasons that it is important for every Christian to be a dedicated member of a local church. However, Christians are not to obey and submit out of fear or mere blind trust. I tell the congregation that I serve that my job is to teach the Bible and their job is to make sure that I’m teaching the Bible correctly. You see, we both, pastor and congregation, have a standard by which we can judge truth from error. Our standard is the Bible. So good church leadership directs the congregation by simply following the Bible. Following good church leadership is simply listening to the Bible, which is vital because, fundamentally, when the Bible speaks, God speaks.
Beware of scammers… even religious ones. Don’t believe everything you are told simply because a church leader, pastor, priest, prophet, or otherwise tells you it is so. Listen first to God’s word, the Bible, then you can rightly discern if you are being told the truth or being fooled. I hate when people take advantage of other people. I don’t want this to happen to you. This world is filled with scams and scammers, but God will always be faithful.