I’ve seen countless men who, after having lived a life of secular debauchery suddenly claim to have turned over a new leaf and now want to teach or lead a religious congregation. Many of these occupy the fuzzy fringes of formal, established religions. They branch off into the newer groups like Hebrew Roots and Messianic, or form their own splinter groups of existing religions. Any place where there is not a formal hierarchy structure to hold them accountable and they can be a one-man show. I suspect it is because they no longer have any traction in the secular world and are looking for an easier schtick where all they have to do is run their gums, and the money and/or attention flow in. There is no quantifiable measure of success, so they can claim it no matter what they do. There is also no quantifiable measure of expertise, so they can just make stuff up as they go. There are always droves of sheep willing to listen and follow. However, these false leaders don’t just preach. They also try to exert “biblical authority” over your life. Hey poser, you’re not a Levite, so quit pretending you are.
Please note, I am not speaking about earnest teachers and pastors who strive to educate others and help them walk closer with God. I am speaking about people who used this appearance as a façade to try to control how live your life, how you parent, your finances, your relationships and even your day-to-day activities. These are toxic, false leaders.
Power grabs by self-proclaimed religious leaders are nothing new, but these men will rarely come right out and say, “I am your biblical authority.” Rather, they will teach and preach to let you draw that conclusion on your own, thereby solidifying it in your head as your own belief, rather than one forced upon you. Part of this teaching and preaching includes strongly condemning anyone who comes against them and their personal doctrines as “coming against God.” A common ploy that I have seen many times is …
I have seen religious leaders reference Korah’s rebellion against Moses (Numbers 16) when their authority or leadership are questioned. If they do this, then they should also abide by the rest of what is stated in Numbers. They can only claim priestly leadership if they are both Levites and from the line of Aaron. I highly doubt even the first one is true, much less both, or that they could even prove it if it was. These false leaders invoke cherry-picked, misrepresented bible verses and then ignore the rest. They have no credentials under Leviticus, Numbers or Deuteronomy, and thus have no authority. Therefore, speaking out against them is not rebellion. It is disagreement.
The lesson gleaned from Korah is not that the leader of your congregation has authority over you and your life. Rather, it is the consequences of rejecting God’s redemption. God had just redeemed Israel from slavery in Egypt. Moses was God’s mediator. God had shown this to Israel with many signs and even told them with His own voice. They were the only large group of people to ever hear God speak directly to them. Korah had seen and heard this, yet still rejected it and thus rejected God. He and his family paid for it with their lives. There have only been two mediators for God, Moses and Yeshua (Jesus). It is highly doubtful that there would be need for another mediator after Yeshua.
For God is one, and there is but one Mediator between God and humanity, Yeshua the Messiah.1 Timothy 2:5
Has God shown your congregation tangible signs (not ones made up by your leader) that your congregation leader is His mediator? A pillar of fire over the meeting place would be a good indicator. Has your congregation heard God’s voice proclaiming your congregation leader to be His mediator? I can confidently assert that the answer to both of these questions is no. Your congregation leader is not God’s mediator and thus does not have the authority of Moses or Yeshua over you. He is at best a teacher, and it is up to you to decide whether he is a good one, bad one, or even a false one. If he is trying to claim to be in Moses’ place, then he is also claiming to be in Yeshua’s place. They have a name for someone who does that. The name is anti-Christ.
Below are some other ways these pretenders will try to grab power and authority that is not theirs.
Fruits of the Spirit
Some teach that you can recognize someone God has appointed by the fruits of their spirit. This has some biblical validity for good pastors and teachers, but it is not a sign of biblical authority over others. They will then either spin what these fruits are into something they claim to possess, or spin something they claim to possess into a fruit of the spirit. An easy and common attribute to spin is kindness or mercy. The leader will perform acts of kindness for others so that they can be seen by the congregation. Giving money to those in need. Ministering to those who recently lost a loved one. Arranging for child care. Providing a place for them to live temporarily. Don’t fall for it. There are many kind and moral atheists who do the same things. Even psychopaths use kindness as one of their tricks to snare people. It is often used to indebt you to them later through the strong human desire to reciprocate. This is a con well known to salesmen, narcissists and psychopaths.
They or someone close to them has dreams or visions from God. They might even claim to speak to God directly. How convenient that this cannot be verified. You just have to take their word for it. I have never seen a single dream or vision come to pass in my lifetime, nor has anyone else whom I trust to be reputable.
All of you clowns who have failed at prophecy need to just shut up and assume a less glamorous role like the other 99.99% of people who follow God. It has been proven that God does not speak to you. I would wager that most of you failed prophets have known that all along and were fakes from the beginning. How do you mistake God speaking to you without either being delusional or a liar?
People, you need to stop elevating these posers and giving them credibility. One failure is all it takes and they are not a prophet (see Deuteronomy 18:22). That’s it. No second chances. Stop giving them multiple do-overs along with your money and attention. They are phonies who are not fit to lead a congregation, or even teach. If they don’t step down after a failed prophecy attempt, then they are violating God’s commandments and do not serve God. Don’t fall for vague prophecies, shifting time lines, saying that God “postponed” it, or that the congregation didn’t have enough “faith” for it to happen. Real prophets don’t work that way. They speak what God tells them and it happens in exactly that way at exactly that time.
The leader claims authority through superior knowledge or credentials. Make sure you see the credentials and follow up to ensure they are not forgeries or fabrications from a fictitious seminary. You would be surprised at how many of these guys list non-existent seminaries or bible schools on their credentials. A person can lead a religious congregation with less of a background check than renting an apartment. Even if the credentials are valid, that still does not impart Moses’s or Yeshua’s authority upon them. It qualifies them to teach, not rule over you.
The Righteous One
This one juxtaposes The Scholar above. It claims that the leader has his position by virtue of being more righteous than the rest of the congregation. That way, a person with no credentials can still claim authority. It is a bit tricky to pull off without looking arrogant, so the would-be leader often pretends to be humble in conjunction with it. Its success often just boils down to charisma. How do you test for righteousness? How about starting at the bottom with the most menial position, and cheerfully doing that job without complaint. Again, righteousness does not automatically impart biblical authority.
The Called One
They will say God called them to do this. “It’s not something I sought,” he will claim with false humility, “but God made me do it.” How convenient that nobody can check with God to make sure this is true. If they are called, then let them be called to scrub the toilets in service to the congregation for a few years. Watch how fast they are called elsewhere, or you are thrown out of the congregation for suggesting it. Unless God called them audibly from a pillar of fire in front of the congregation, they have no biblical authority.
The Levitical Priesthood
The Levites were chosen out of 12 tribes to serve God. Out of the Levites, only a tiny portion actually served as priests, the line of Aaron. The rest were guards, musicians, workers, etc. A priest could also be disqualified for messing up just once. Some of these exclusionary sins included, drinking while serving God in the tabernacle, getting any kind of physical defect, marrying a woman who was not a virgin, shaving their head or edges of their beard, cutting themselves, tearing their clothes, uncovering their head, or going near a corpse (Leviticus 21).
If some of these conditions occurred, just once, that was it. Game over. This man would never serve as a priest again.
The New Testament also states (Titus 1) the priest should be blameless, the husband of one wife, have faithful children not accused of insubordination, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent or greedy, sober-minded, and self-controlled. 1 Timothy 3 reiterates these and adds ability to teach, gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous, rules his house well, having his children in submission with all reverence, and not being a novice. Many of these men and women are novices, never having held less glamorous positions prior to hanging out their shingle as a leader of God’s people.
Are these self-proclaimed leaders ever vetted? Are there background checks for criminality or financial issues? Have they been arrested for fraud, drunkenness or violent crimes? Multiple times? Do they have a background of not paying their debts or of taking people to court for petty civil matters? Have they declared bankruptcy? How many times have they been married? Any of those would disqualify under the New Testament criteria. They are automatically disqualified under Old Testament criteria for not being from the line of Aaron.
If you have messed up like this, even once, you are no longer fit to lead God’s people. Just accept it. You are required to lead your family, but that’s it. If you really had a heart for God and willingness to serve Him, you would accept a less glamourous role and be satisfied with it. So, in essence, it is you who are being like Korah. He was a Levite not satisfied with a less glamourous role of service to God. That is you.
You’re like a middle-aged man joining the Army and immediately wanting to be a general. Not only is that position reserved for the highest qualified fraction of 1%, you have also started far too late in life and missed the window. If you have truly repented of your past and are following God, that is great. Now prove it by accepting a position serving God that is commensurate with your status.
Authority Without Responsibility
Numbers 18:1 states:
Then the Lord said to Aaron: “You and your sons and your father’s house with you shall bear the iniquity related to the sanctuary, and you and your sons with you shall bear the iniquity associated with your priesthood.”
Is your so-called biblical authority assuming responsibility for the congregation’s iniquities? Is he doing so in a tangible, visible manner, instead of just talking about it? The first is doubtful. The second is highly doubtful. Once again, he wants the authority without the responsibility.
Six verses later, in Numbers 18:7, God states:
Therefore, you and your sons with you shall attend to your priesthood for everything at the altar and behind the veil; and you shall serve. I give your priesthood to you as a gift for service, but the outsider who comes near shall be put to death.
If your leader claims biblical authority, yet cannot prove that he is both a Levite and of the Aaronic line, then God states he must die. Let me be clear, I am not advocating for any violence against these people. However, God’s words are both quite clear and very serious. Be sure of who you let lead you.
Losing the Promised Land
When Israel was about to enter the promised land, 12 leaders went out to reconnoiter the land (Numbers 13). Ten of them refused to trust God’s promise to deliver the land to them. They inflamed the populace against the God’s plan and the entire nation paid the price. Forty more years in the wilderness until they were all dead. Only 10 bad leaders out of 3 million Israelites were all it took to prevent an entire generation from entering the Promised Land. What kind of leader are you supporting and enabling? What impact may this have upon you seeing the promised land?
If a leader has to tell you he speaks for God, he probably does not. Neither Moses nor Yeshua needed to blow their own trumpets. Their actions, characters, and God spoke for them. Watch for the fruit, not the words. Real fruit as defined by the Bible, not false fruit fabricated or misquoted by the leader. Judging by how many of you I see following “leaders” who display little or no fruit, you could use some serious lessons in discernment.
The only reason these false leaders get away with this is because you, the congregation members, keep enabling and supporting them. You defer to them, you obey them, you kowtow to them, and hang on their every word. Stop it! A real leader doesn’t demand obedience by calling anyone who disagrees with him a rebel. A real leader inspires loyalty through compassion, understanding and, if necessary, letting the person go their own way. Stop giving these posers blank checks.
Is the person calling out the leader looking to take his place? If not, then it isn’t rebellion either, it is asking the leader to prove himself. If he won’t do so, the challenger can just leave. What will all the rest of you do, who watch this and remain?
Conduct a background check and ask for credentials. Have they studied under a qualified religious teacher or leader? You will be surprise at how angrily many so-called religious leaders will react to this. They expect you to accept them at their word, with less due diligence required than for employment as a pizza delivery driver. They may even enlist their congregants to attack you, shouting things like, “Where are your credentials?” Oblivious to the fact that you don’t need credentials to attend a congregation, while the leader most certainly should have credentials to lead one. You are simply and rightly asking the leader for his. In such situations, just leave and don’t look behind you. It is a toxic group led by a false leader. It won’t change.