On April 17 I opened by singing some of the words from Supertramp’s “The Logical Song,” which is about how the people around us shape us into things that are very foreign to the way we really are on the inside. Wonder and discovery turn into dependability and a robot-like conformity to the social norms of our group.
Robot-like conformity is often dictated by leaders who masquerade as benefactors (see Matt. 20:25). Jesus refers to these as “wolves in sheep’s clothing” (Matt. 7: 15-23). Notice that the context of 21-23 is the false prophets of v. 15. Jesus also says in this passage that you know them by their fruits. Some of the fruits are mentioned in places like Acts 20:29-35, Deuteronomy 13:1-4 and Jer. 23:1-2 (the entire chapter is highly illuminating).
Is it possible to see the “fruits” of such a wolf before the catastrophic failure of that ministry? Sometimes it is easier to see when it is explained by somebody in our own generation. I found a very helpful way to see at least some of the fruit of such a false prophet on this page posted by the late Jesse Ancona. She describes the tactics used by what she calls “the humble phony” to make him or her look like a genuinely humble minister of God. The entire short article is a gold-mine of good signs to watch for, and is well worth reading.
Watch if your boundaries are always being tested when you say, “no.” Watch for where the power in the group flows from and to. Especially watch their reaction if someone questions their sincerity or kindness. If they are quick to defend themselves by blaming others, there is a problem. If the organization begins to become colder or you start being left out in decsion-making (at least more than usual), they are punishing you indirectly. If the mere fact of publicly questioning the wisdom of decisions brings accusations of causing division, run – don’t walk – away. That group is probably being brainwashed. These people are dangerous to your soul.
One of the most important early-warning tips I picked up, however, is to check your own emotional response whenever you have an encounter with someone in religious authority. How do you feel? Frustrated? Diminished? Angry and confused? Thwarted to the point of feeling violent? If so, it could be that you are being manipulated. Think back to what was said and try to get a feel for why you feel the way you do. You may be surprised at how ruthlessly put-down or rudely you have been treated when you examine it closely. Blaming the victim for his or her anger at being manipulated is very common in this type of individual.
We pray that every believer learn how to discern the difference between sheep and wolves in sheep’s clothing.