One of the great strengths of Thai culture is the high value placed on maintaining the peace. Social harmony is very important to Thai people. You don’t get upset at bad drivers or pushy salesmen. You don’t have an argument in public. You avoid saying things that would embarrass other people or make them feel bad. In many ways, this value on maintaining social harmony and good relationships makes Thailand a wonderful place to live.
But there is also a downside. Feelings get hurt and people never forgive each other. Injustice, error, and corruption run rampant and are swept under the rug. Leaders at all levels abuse their power and no one says anything. Sin is winked at and everyone pretends that everything is okay when they know it isn’t. The need for holiness and reconciliation is one the great challenges facing the Thai church today.
When the Prophet Comes to Town...
Into the midst of this cultural milieu come the traveling prophets. Teachers like Joyce Meyer and Cindy Jacobs parachute in to Thailand and receive huge venues to speak to the Thai church. They are big names in many evangelical and charismatic circles in America but are relatively unknown in Thailand. But they quickly become known as their big show event is promoted broadly in the small Christian community in Thailand. It is big. It is exciting. And it is “Christian.”
“I’m a Christian too!”
There aren’t a whole lot of Christians in Thailand (0.5% of the population) so when a Christian runs into someone else who is a Christian too, there is great rejoicing. Certainly they have more in common with each other than with their Buddhist neighbors who worship idols, don’t they? Christians often accept other Christians’ professions of faith at face value. And in many ways, this is a good thing. We should always give other people the benefit of the doubt and assume the best. But we should always have our eyes open and realize that there is a lot out there that parades as Christian but really isn’t. In short, we need to use discernment.
Obedient Citizens or Discerning Thinkers?
Unfortunately, the Thai school system doesn’t produce discerning citizens who can critically evaluate the world around them and make good choices. Instead, it aims to produce good citizens who will dutifully take their proper place in a hierarchical society. Conformity is valued. Independent thinking is not. Critical thinking skills are not taught in the school system. A college student once told me that she can drink Spy (a brand of wine cooler) and not get drunk because “it is for women.” She simply didn’t have the ability to pick out truth from error in advertising. Imagine how that lack of discernment affects other areas of her life.
Is False Teaching Really That Bad?
When big name Christian teachers fly in from America, they are warmly welcomed by many in the Christian community. In Thailand (and increasingly in America), it is frowned upon to say that someone is wrong. In Thailand, it is often taken as a personal attack rather than an objection to a particular doctrine or teaching. It disrupts the social harmony and causes friction in personal relationships, both of which are big “no-no”s in Thai society.
But bad doctrine and false teaching HURTS people. False teaching (and false teachers) must be called what they are, for the sake of love. It may seem unloving to call someone a false teacher and warn people away from them.
But to warn people away from things that will hurt them is a very loving thing to do.
The apostle Paul put a high premium on teaching right doctrine and opposing those who taught false doctrine (1Tim 1:3, 1Tim 1:10, 1 Tim 4:6, 1 Tim 6:3, Titus 1:9, Titus 2:1). But the reason he did this was not because he didn’t value unity or social harmony, or because he was unloving or judgmental. Rather, Paul explained to Timothy the reason behind all the instructions he gave him for leading the church. Paul wrote, “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” (1Timothy 1:5, emphasis added). If we truly love other people, then we will steer them away from error. And we will stay away from it ourselves.
Joyce Meyer, Perfectionism, and Prosperity
There are a lot of evangelical Christians who really like listening to Joyce Meyer. They find her inspirational and down-to-earth. I’m sure that there are many people who could testify that they have been blessed by her ministry. But that does not change the fact that she is a false teacher.
Joyce Meyer believes that she does not sin anymore. Meyer says:
“I’m going to tell you something folks, I didn’t stop sinning until I finally got it through my thick head I wasn’t a sinner anymore. And the religious world thinks that’s heresy and they want to hang you for it. But the Bible says that I’m righteous and I can’t be righteous and be a sinner at the same time.”
But we ARE righteous and sinners at the same time. We have the righteousness of Christ imputed to us (2 Cor. 5:21), yet this side of heaven we still must struggle with sin (Phil 1:6, Rom 7:14-25, 1John 1:8-10). This is the Gospel truth that Martin Luther rediscovered at the time of the Reformation and summarized in the famous dictum “simul justus et peccator” (simultaneously saint and sinner).
When Meyer teaches that she no longer sins, she is both deceiving herself and her hearers. The only way that a person can honestly say that they no longer sin is by using a very superficial and legalistic definition of sin. If we think that we no longer sin, we have already lost the battle against sin because we will be completely unprepared for the onslaught of the enemy. And if we think that we longer sin, then there will be a tendency to look down on people who still struggle with sin.
Meyer is also influenced by the prosperity gospel and Word of Faith movement. She teaches that our words have the power to cause blessings or the lack thereof. That is magic. That is animism. That is not Christianity. You can read more about Joyce Meyer, her teachings, and her opulent lifestyle in this article.
Updated (January 24, 2012):
Since posting this article, some people have told me that I have taken Joyce Meyer out of context, namely that she does not claim to be sinless, but merely that her identity is not as a sinner, but as righteous in Christ. A missionary colleague who attended Meyer’s event in Bangkok reported that “she quite clearly stated she is still a sinner and has not achieved perfection.”
Therefore, I retract my assertion that Meyer teaches perfectionism.
I have looked through her website and see that she affirms and teaches a number of things that align with Scripture. However, I still have concerns about her teaching, especially about Word of Faith and the prosperity gospel; And as long as she holds to those I stand by my statement that she is a false teacher (though I would not be so bold as to claim that everything she teaches is false).
Cindy Jacobs’ Prophecy for Thailand
At the end of 2008, a lot of Christians in Thailand (both Thai and missionaries) got excited about Cindy Jacobs' prophecy of a coming revival in Thailand. Church growth has typically been very slow in Thailand and everyone longs for more people to know Christ and churches be planted. Jacobs prophesied:
“Look to South Thailand. Revival is beginning to burn in South Thailand... In 2009, it will begin. In 2010, Fire begins in fullblown. 2010-2020, I will fill this nation. More churches will be planted, more than in all the years before...Prepare in 2009 with Daniels and Josephs bringing about market place revival...You have one year (2009) to prepare for the Decade of the Harvest. Prepare regional evangelists. There will be revival in all sectors, great transfer of wealth, wisdom and revelation.”
It is 2012 and we are still waiting. What she said didn’t happen. That makes her a false prophet. A missionary friend in Philippines told me that Jacobs prophesied that a Pentecostal candidate would win the presidency in the Philippines. When it didn’t happen, Jacobs popularity declined. Again, a false prophecy. In the Old Testament, false prophets were supposed to be put to death (Deut. 18:20). We don’t live under Old Testament Jewish civil law so we don’t put false prophets to death today, but at the very least we should stop listening to them. God said:
“when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.” (Deuteronomy 18:22)
What Then Should We Do?
I don’t think that Joyce Meyer, Cindy Jacobs, and teachers like them will stop flying to Thailand and other nations to say exciting things to large crowds. But for those who love God, and are saddened when God’s people are hurt by false teaching, there are four things that we can do.
1. Know the Bible
Immerse yourself in the Scriptures so that your walk with God is close, your knowledge of the truth is deep, and your spiritual discernment has been refined by the Holy Spirit. Knowing the truth and walking in it goes a long way towards helping you discern truth from error.
2. Give Other Christians the Benefit of the Doubt
It is impossible to know the pedigree and teaching of every traveling preacher and evangelist that comes to town. But when you don’t know much about another Christian’s faith or their teaching, give them the benefit of the doubt. Assume that they love the Lord Jesus and embrace the Gospel until you have reason to believe otherwise. We shouldn’t close our eyes or ignore things that concern us. But, as John Calvin said in his commentary on 1 Corinthians 13 (the love chapter), we should not wrong a brother by “an unfriendly suspicion.”
3. Listen Carefully
False teaching is often difficult to spot. The Devil deceives people by mixing truth and error together because most people would never accept error straight up. The sugar coating helps the poison pill go down. For that reason, we need to listen to Christian teachers with discernment, comparing their teaching to the Scriptures, and to what we know to be sound doctrine. We must also help other Christians within our sphere of influence to discern truth from error. Spiritual discernment can take a long time to develop and young Christians, or untaught Christians, are particularly easy prey.
4. Oppose False Teachers
It will always be unpopular to stand up against false teachers. It doesn’t feel loving. It doesn’t feel edifying. Most people would rather just focus on the positive and leave the dirty work of confronting error to someone else. But one of the most loving things that we can do for our brothers and sisters in Christ is to cation them against teachers and teachings that will hurt them and dishonor God.
Confronting error is a very difficult task in a country like Thailand where it is bad manners to disrupt the peace by criticizing someone, or not going along with what everyone else is doing. But if the church is to mature and be conformed to the image of Christ, then false teaching must be exposed and opposed. There is a right and wrong way to do this, and it is necessary to discern whether it is the time and place to address a certain issue. In Thai society, you can say certain things to certain people depending on whether they are your superior or inferior, and how you are related in society.
I myself am still learning how disagreement can be done constructively in Thai society, and I am sure I have have failed at times to use the most culturally appropriate ways of addressing issues. But what I do know is that some things must be addressed. God’s truth must be upheld for the sake of the health of God’s people and the glory of His name.