Jim Bakker was at the height of the Christian world when everything came crashing down in the late 80s. He ended up serving a 45-year prison sentence for fraud and had to pay a $500,000 fine. While in prison, Bakker “saw the light” and wrote a book titled I was wrong. He had repented, but in 2003 he returned to television and his old ways.
It is obvious that Bakker’s repentance wasn’t genuine and that his 1996 book was to suck people back in. The question is, after all the scandals and exposure, how could he get back on television? The same question could be asked of Jimmy Swaggart and Todd Bentley’s restoration after Lakeland came down. The answer, in a word, is deception.
Deception, by its very nature, is hard to see. If you could see it, you wouldn’t fall for it. I’ve asked myself how I could have been so deceived by the word of faith teaching and the prophetic movement. I was saved at a young age, I heard a gospel message, and I read my Bible. How was I deceived so intensely for so long? part of the answer is I heard the gospel amid deception. I was exposed to the word of faith very early, and things grew over two decades into the prophetic.
Looking back, I know the Lord was protecting me because I never bought into Jesus’ suffering in Hell, I stayed clear of Bethel and some prophetic ministers, and I questioned much of what I was taught.
Coming out of deception is a process. First, there are layers of falsehood that must be peeled off, and in my experience, the false teaching I did believe is exposed in more significant ways the more I read the truth. Secondly, you must stop the defense mechanism that defends the teacher while critiquing the teaching. This is what I have found recently. As I understand the depth of falsehood more clearly, I find myself defending aspects of the person. When you are deceived, the most significant part is the connection you feel to the one deceiving you. I keep reminding myself that those who taught me these things are not good people. In many cases, what they teach puts them outside the Christian faith.
I realized the other night that there is still a desire to defend the people because the moment I stop, the gravity of the deception becomes more real in my mind. At that point, the acknowledgment of delusion is less about them and more about my lack of ability to acknowledge the falsehood I lived under. In the last few years, I have cried many tears and have walked into a state of continual repentance. The Lord has done a great work and has been gracious in setting me free from false teaching.
This process began in 2008 when I first heard teaching on the sovereignty of God. This has been a process. Spiritual growth of any kind is a process. In the last few years, people’s eyes have been opened because of the American Gospel Documentaries, and I thank God for that; it is part of my journey as well.
I encourage those who have walked away from things like Bethel, Todd White, Kenneth Copeland, and a plethora of other false teachers to let the process happen. Allow yourself time not only to get grounded in truth but to see the layers of false teaching peeled off to the point that you understand how you were deceived.
For me, Rod Parsley, Jerry Savelle, and Gloria Copeland used the Bible. But it wasn’t until recently that I completely understood that you could use the Bible and not be teaching the Bible. The enemy puts enough true-sounding words in a deception so that we will fall for it.
Another component in my path towards a wrong understanding of Scripture was finally listening to Kenneth Copeland. When I first heard him and others, I was more interested in his wife’s teaching and Jerry Savelle. It was in my mid-twenties that I started listening to Kenneth Copeland regularly. There were red flags immediately, but I didn’t pay attention.
The most important thing I’ve learned through all this is that you don’t need to thoroughly understand why something is off to walk away from it. All the years I listened to the false teaching of the word of faith, the Holy Spirit was leading me out; I didn’t follow the leading completely. Instead, I walked away from it and went back four times. I also tried to combine biblical truth with the false gospel of the word of faith. Thankfully, God is merciful and will rescue those who belong to Him.
Letting yourself see the truth about the deception you’ve left is hard. But the more truth you learn from God’s Word, you will see the error, and we need to know the error. In seeing the error, we guard against future deception. If you are on the road out of deception, praise God! Embrace this process of learning the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Don’t go to deception lite. Keep your guard up and be discerning. Most likely, you were taught that discernment was judgemental and that questioning false prophecy was quenching the Spirit. You know now that is not true. Read your Bible, do word studies, and believe the Scriptures. Listen to good Bible teachers like Pastor John MacArthur, Phil Johnson, Steve Lawson, and Paul Washer. But when you listen to them, do it with an open Bible. Don’t believe something just because they say it. We are to study. Paul commended those who searched the Scripture to see if what he said was true.
The last thing I will say is walk in a continual state of repentance as you see the falsehood of the past but do not beat yourself up for being deceived. Instead, thank God for the grace of setting you free and pursue the truth of the Word of God. Don’t label yourself an ex-Bethel student, former word of faith, or ex-anything else. Yes, that’s part of our stories, but that is not our story. Walk in the light, help others leave the darkness, and embrace Biblical truth.