Self-Deception: Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD
Deception is all around us. It permeates political discourse on an almost daily basis. Deception has created a crisis in the arena of public health as people try to sort out who to believe with regard to Covid-19, vaccines, with the pronouncements of public health officials engaged in an unrelenting battle with wide-spread social media conspiracies. It often appears that the agents of deception are so numerous and so vigorous that sooner or later all of us will be taken in eventually.
This is true, however, not only in civil society, but in the life and work of the church as well. We have witnessed everything from so-called “prophetic” deceptions to blatant financial deceptions. Even the abuse which has been uncovered in various denominations, associations and individual churches has its roots in the deceiving of others. Perhaps this is why we are warned so often in scripture to “be not deceived”. I think this warning is given so often simply because the threat is always there, along with the recognition that there are few prerequisites for being deceived. It can happen to good people and bad people alike. It can happen to those who are highly intelligent as well as those who are less so. There does not seem to be given prerequisites for being deceived.
Yet, as bad as deception might be, I believe that self-deception is most likely worse. If you are being deceived it is often through the agency of others. It could be an individual, a group of individuals, an organization or, yes, even a church. Self-deception is different. In self-deception the agency is your own as you internalize something about yourself that is simply not true. This can happen to individuals as well as to a group of individuals, an organization, a church or even a denomination. Such self-deception occurs when we deny what is patently obvious and instead cling to an identity or narrative that flies in the face of reality.
So as not to be accused of pointing the finger at others, I will use my own tribe as an example. Over the course of the last three decades the Anglican Communion has shattered as surely as a large mirror hit by a sledgehammer. In the past, one was defined as an Anglican by being in communion with the See of Canterbury, exemplified by the Archbishop of Canterbury. In Anglican theology, he was seen not as a pope, but as a sign of unity. Currently, there are slightly over 150 bodies of various sizes that call themselves Anglican, yet are not in communion with Canterbury. Now, most of these have separated over what might be considered valid issues, although in retrospect some appear more important than others. The issues include sexuality, the preference for certain versions of the Book of Common Prayer, liturgical differences and, of course, a “catch all” of theological issues. On both sides of the divide, however, I perceive a remarkable degree of self-deception.
For instance, in the Church of England and the Episcopal Church in the US, the self-deception involves membership and attendance. Both bodies have lost a substantial percentage of their members. Statistically, it is hard to imagine either body surviving intact by the middle of this century apart from their substantial financial endowments. “Decades of Evangelism”, talk of the beloved community, or the dream of planting 10,000 house churches seem unlikely to stem the flow of those taking their leave. On the other hand, we have the breakaway bodies, some of which are barely Anglican, while others are eccentric, and still others are struggling to survive. Many of the bodies are at odds with themselves. Some are trying to present a classical expression of Anglicanism, but there are issues with ill-trained clergy, over extended dioceses and a lack of episcopal oversight and support. The self-deception here is rooted in an expression of Anglicanism that, in many ways denies the historical character of the Anglican communion while, at the same time, wanting to be recognized as a legitimate carrier of that tradition.
Now, I will admit that what has taken place in the Anglican Communion has been particularly messy. Yet, similar things are taking place in the UMC, the SBC and even among Roman Catholics.
When Christ addressed the seven churches in the Revelation, each church was corrected, but also commended; that is, each church but one, Laodicea. Most writers are concerned with the church in Laodicea being “lukewarm”. I’m more concerned with self-deception. It seems that they had convinced themselves that they were something other than what they were in reality.
“You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.”
As individuals and as churches, the antidote to self-deception is repentance. Only then can we hear the knock at the door of the One who, tellingly, is outside…
Interesting ponder, Dr. Duane. Y
Yesterday evening, as we enjoyed our barbecued ribs and potato salad, my daughter observed that we were very privileged. She asked, ” Do we thank God for this feast, when so much of the population on this planet goes hungry? ”
That led to a discussion on gratitude for God’s mercies. She grew up with her dad asking God to bless our supper as we sat down to family dinner. Just the two of us now and we’ve gotten careless – we just eat!
We do indeed deceive ourselves! ! !
Without God’s mercies, where would we be? Listening to the Serpent? “You shall not die! Trust i me!”
I think your exposition of the real meaning of the church at Laodicea is brilliant and and stunning in it’s appropriate application to the church today…I think you nailed something I didn’t see before…
I think we all deceive ourselves to some extent, but when self-deception is our identity, we’ve got a big problem!
Does a lukewarm attitude and self deception go hand in hand?
Seems so to me…… Dunno, but sitting here a bit convicted of not giving thanks
Who do any of the churches today have with the stature of (or approaching) the prophet John to call them to repentance, in a manner similar to the 7 churches in Revelation? In other words, who will the churches today listen to?
One of my congregants is in the hospital this morning all prepped for surgery…that may not happen now because the hospital is full of Covid patients and there is no room available for recovery.
A large portion of the church believes that it’s a hoax and despises any mitigation as anti-Christ…
Duane and I ask that question every week…and have yet to find an answer…
The “prophets” now are on secular “news’ networks…and it’s only those voices that are heeded…
If God wills….
He will send a prophet that does get heard…
so my question is, has God come to the end of this drama? no more calls to repent?
The end is only at the very end…until I see Him, I preach the good news of the Gospel and hope it dispels the deception.
Jean, if we have the completed Canon of scripture, why would any church or person seek someone with the stature or approaching that of the Apostle John to call us to repentance? We have Jesus that does the calling and we also have the Holy Spirit to help us. Could part of the deception be that us individuals are expecting and needing more than what God has given us? Our society wants celebrity status and in a way many want a king not that much different than the old testament Israel.
There’s a verse from Judges that has been rattling around in my mind for some time. “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” I’m not sure that anyone would listen to the words of a prophet… everyone seems to think that their “opinion” matters more and carries greater weight.
After all, how many churches have simply set aside the words of Christ in the Gospels?
Prophecy is forth telling as well as foretelling…prophets simply apply the Scripture in a way that brings the church to repentance…and we are in desperate need today of people who will do just that.
I am having a rather miserable day, but I’m blown away with what Duane has posted here…
“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’
Today I saw the news story of disgraced national security advisor, Michael Flynn, being given a AR-15 style assault rifle… it was given to him by, and in, a church. Flynn said he wanted to use it on someone in Washington, DC.. People laughed and clapped. Doesn’t that tell us enough?
Michael, praying here… lots going on to make one miserable
last night our neighbor called and asked my daughter to come over and give her a hug as she was having a panic attack (also fighting alcoholism)… Lynne went over and spent an hour with her
Sad, yes, Dr. Duane…BUT
frankly, there are some in D.C. that, if I had a rifle in my hand, i’d be tempted…
what always brings me around is that God takes no pleasure in the deaths of the wicked
I’m not usually one to let outside stuff get to me…but…we have people trying to start fires, the hospital is full and most think the pandemic is over, and my community is falling apart.
Thanks for praying…need to gather myself in the Lord…
Sad indeed that Ichabod is now written above that church’s doorpost. Christians spend more time listening to pundits (both sides), spewing hate towards those they disagree with, and wishing violence upon said opponents. Where are those who are gentle in spirit.
With respect, there is no “But…”
It is simply heretical and sinful.
They have set aside and forgotten the One we claim to follow.
Duane, I haven’t followed Russell Moore closely, but I understand that his was a prophetic voice within the SBC. Seems like he received a prophet’s honor in his own denomination.
Dr. Duane, @1:46
Yes, i hear you….. Sigh
This says much about a prophet’s reward…
Daune. You are the first person in my life that connected Laodicea and deception. Not a single sermon has ever specified what the interpretation was to be.
Since childhood I have been hearing about Laodecea from one pastor to the next. Sometimes it was a rolled up newspaper to smack us pups. Years later it represented chronic preaching against unspecified backsliding. Lately it’s somehow connected to the gays, and those transgenders.
Which is confusing. Somehow, God is mad at me because somebody in Jersey or Ohio, no longer has all their anatomy. But as a child, it was impressed on me how mad God was about people using said anatomy for fornication. It’s like a Christian guy can’t catch a break.
Laodicea = The People the See, or The People of Justice. They are self decieved and their eye has become evil. They are standing in the place of God, making themselves out to be God.
typo..The People that See..
Plato said that the worst deception is self-deception…
Duane and Michael (and you too Steve!),
Here is the sorrowful thing about the call to repentance:
When in John’s vision, the 4 angels are released by the blowing of the 6th trumpet, the 4 angels kill 1/3 of mankind. Yet, instead of repentance, John says that:
“The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk, nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.”
As a Lutheran, I understand that the law increases the trespass. Yet it is striking and truly lamentable that original sin is so strong in the flesh of mankind that even in the plain sight of death, man cannot repent.
Look at our divisions (church and temporal), look at the wildfires fires, look at the droughts, look at the wars, look at the pandemic, etc. Is God speaking to us? (I say he is) One would expect someone to say, “We’ve got to change what we’re doing; it is insane to do the same thing that is killing you over and over again.” Yet, we do not repent, we do not change course, just like the prophet John says. Amazing!!!!
So, what does John say can change things?
“And at that hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell. Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the rest were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven.”
Did you notice, “the rest were terrified and gave glory the God of heaven.”
It was the death of the 2 witnesses (not 1/3 of humanity), the king and the priest, i.e., the royal priesthood and the holy nation, i.e., the martyrs of the church! In other words, it will be the witness of the church under the cross of Christ that will cause some people to repent. It is the only thing that John’s vision says will bring people to repentance.
That witness (Greek: martyrdom) will do what the judgment of God cannot do.
Can the church today embrace such a prophetic utterance?
Duane, I must say this post really got me thinking.
“Such self-deception occurs when we deny what is patently obvious and instead cling to an identity or narrative that flies in the face of reality.”
A deceived person doesn’t know they are deceived and it would be very difficult to convince them they were. Infact, they would probably come back and say we were deceived. This got me thinking about how reality is shaped. It lead me to investigate consensus vs. consensual reality. For us to challenge ourselves that we could potentially be deceived is asking oneself to question our own reality which to be quite frank is scary and why would anyone do it unless they were convicted by the Holy Spirit that their own perception of reality was wrong. This isn’t a matter of arguing about facts. It’s well beyond that. It’s about perceptions.
“This isn’t a matter of arguing about facts. It’s well beyond that. It’s about perceptions.”
Creating one’s own reality is now widespread… and I’m talking about churches, not politics. I know of a breakaway Anglican church. Eight to ten people attend. They call themselves a “cathedral” when, in fact, they are barely a mission. I know of another church which, after five years, has about 25 people. They currently have four ordained clergy. In these circumstances, facts don’t seem to matter.
The statistics with regard to the collapse of the Episcopal Church and the Church of England are incontrovertible… and they are ignored in favor of new fanciful schemes, none of which have worked. These are the canaries in the coal mine.
Both theological liberals and theological conservatives have entered into the realm of self-deception in which both facts and reality are ignored, corporately and individually, in favor of lies.
It is interesting that in both of our traditions, our prayers of confession are “we”, not “I”. It seems, however, that we have lost a sense of corporate repentance…
GetReligion has had some numbers on the death spiral of the Episcopal Church as part of the death spiral of the mainlines
Evangelicals leaving their churches to join mainlines could create an uptick (I can think of a variety of associates from the Mars Hill years who joined the Episcopal church after they left MH) but that’s a temporary transfer growth spike.
Humility is not a popular trait, even when it is the way.
Those numbers help to tell the story. I would add, however, that there is also a crisis of aging clergy as well as dioceses that are so small and financially strapped that they barely can function…
“Creating one’s own reality is now widespread..”
Duane,. Yes indeed. I personally believe this is part and parcel of the era we live in. It’s really a radical subjectivism that some would say is postmodernism. It’s difficult to navigate through these waters since it’s unstable in it’s trajectory. I’m not sure if these great traditions of the church will survive. But I know somehow Christ’s church will prevail.
How many are there today who say “God” when what they really mean is man constructed religion?
I just can’t see the purpose of attending a “church” that doesn’t believe or teach the Gospel. There is nothing there for the soul. After a few visits, you might as well stay home and eat croissants and lattes and plan a fun outing for the family.
In every good-sized town/city there is a street called Church Row where all the old mainline church buildings are lined up. And most of them have the rainbow flag flying, and on their message boards there’s stuff about global warming and “We love you just as you are” with the subtext “And you can remain just as you are, too, because we are not going to preach that you are a sinner who needs a Savior.”
So they champion social causes, some of them quite worthy, some blasphemous. Why do you need to get up early Sunday morning to come to one of these church’s services? Why not stay home, eat waffles, and think good thoughts about the poor, oppressed, etc. Why not join some secular group that works on whatever thing you’re interested in?
Once you start questioning things, once you start saying things like “Did God REALLY say,” in echo of the Deceiver, you have begun pulling the pieces out of the Jenga game pile and all will collapse.
Recently, the Pope “seems” to have said that the miracle of the fishes and loaves was that people shared their lunches. I don’t know what he really meant, he is always deliberately ambiguous. But if that’s what he said, with no context to fix it, then he’s on the road to denying the miracles of Our Lord. And this is what the mainlines have been teaching for decades.
Self-deception is not limited to the mainline churches. I’ve witnessed it in those that are creedal and orthodox in their theology as well… Additionally, not all churches in mainline denominations are as you describe them, although some certainly are…
As to Pope Francis… it is not what he said…
Well, I don’t actually think of churches that were formally part of the mainline apostasy to be mainline anymore. I would not lump LCMS in with the rest of the rainbow-flag Lutherans, for example. I would lump them in with the Christians.
I could show you numerous churches belonging to mainline denominations that are sharing and teaching the Gospel.
Well Duane, let’s hear about them! I would be thrilled to hear some stories about churches that combine Love for God with Love for neighbor. I posted an article awhile back about a parish that paid off all the medical bills of many people in the area, while still maintaining Christian orthodoxy. Let’s hear more stories like this because all is not lost.
Although I think many of those “churches” on Church Row are lost, unless they have a serious change indirection.
My continual theme here on the PhxP is that the Church will prevail, no matter what, and what can we as individuals do to build up our churches rather than tearing them down?
Some groups that call themselves “church” are no longer churches.
Some groups that have become obsessed with politics are in delusion but will probably come aright eventually because they are true believers in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Some groups are orthodox* (small “o”) in theology but weak in good works.
Some groups have gotten the Love God, Love neighbor thing figured out and I want to hear more about these churches which can serve as models.
All groups probably believe a thing or two that isn’t actually true, some more than others.
*By “small ‘o’ orthodox” I mean groups that believe the Christian basics, believe the Bible, the creed, etc.
What I think many Christians are looking for, and also what unbelievers find attractive, is a Church where the Gospel is preached without ambiguity and there are opportunities to serve the community in God-honoring ways, all done with a cheerfulness that reflects the Light of Christ.
Well, I can show you mainline churches from the Main Line! 🙂
Or maybe this wasn’t exactly what Xenia was looking for. 🙂
What I took from Xenia’s comment about “church row” and apostasy is that the mainline church bodies have all left orthodox Christianity and substituted inclusion and social justice for Christ’s justification and biblical love of neighbor. I can’t say I disagree with Xenia. Can anyone name a single mainline denomination that does not condone one or more of the following: same sex marriage, transgenderism, adoption by same sex couples, ordination of women priests or pastors, or support for abortion?
There likely are orthodox congregations here and there within those mainline church bodies, but they are most likely persecuted by their denomination for holding an orthodox view.
What I took from Xenia’s comment about “church row” is that I think it is far too easy to paint with a very broad brush…
Another true “Mainline” that is creedal, orthodox and engaged in evangelism. I know because I have preached here… http://www.allsaintswynnewood.org
I have a question on liberalism and the Lutheran. Church. It seems that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is a large Lutheran church assembly that has gone liberal but they do seem to hold to the creeds. I’m curious if they preach the gospel at all, is it watered down, or is the emphasis different or is it completely non existent?. I curious about the denomination as well as the individual churches within it and I want to give them a fair shake.
Jean, yes, thank you, that is what I was talking about.
Like we never broad-brush the evangelicals here….
That’s almost a true “Mainline”. Looks like it’s a few blocks off the actual Main Line (Rt. 30 and the corresponding rail line running along side it). 🙂
But maybe it’s more applicable to the real point of this whole discussion before someone broke in with their ridiculousness. 🙂
Those are very pretty churches, Kevin.
In my neck of the woods, churches that look like these have rainbow flags on the front lawn.
Yes… on both points 😁
Duane, that looks like a great church, thank you for posting the link.
God bless them.
I would think it likely that some of these churches do, too. I know I’ve seen other mainline churches around my area (not those on the actual Main Line as I actually rarely ever drive that route 🙂 ) who fly the pride flags and banners. So I would guess that maybe even some of the one’s Iinked to, do so, too. Some do, some don’t.
…And, to stay on point, self-deception is not limited to either liberal or conservative churches. It can also be found in ethnically and culturally bound churches; it can be found in those making use of experimental worship forms as well as those using a Latin Mass… Just sayin’
Kevin, I would imagine it depends on the inclinations of the pastor, although I suspect even an orthodox pastor’s wishes could be over-ridden by a parish council.
At first I was a bit disturbed that the thread began to move in a slightly different direction, but know I’m actually pleased. I think that whenever we convince ourselves that we have “arrived” in terms of spirituality, church life, etc., we run close to what I was trying to explain in the article. In the end, we are not perfect, in our lives or in our churches. When we think that we are perfect… or that our particular church is perfect, we are deceiving ourselves as they did in Laodicea. We are better off when we look to our own shortcomings and remember the Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
It seems there are mire and more “litmus tests” to determine who is a true Christian and who is not. It is becoming harder and harder to keep up with the latest litmus test. ‘ No drinking’ No dancing’ ‘No women in pants’ and ‘No Divorce’ gave way to ‘No gay congregants in the pews, adulterers and divorced are welcome because God’s grace covers a multitude of sins’ And now ‘Real Christians are Republicans’ has given way to ‘Real Christians don’t get the Covid vaccine’. I can remember when Amy Grant divorced her drug addicted husband and the evangelical community shunned her. Yet now, just 20 years later, it seems that the evangelical community embraces divorce. Even Calvary Chapel pastors divorce and remary, and they are “God’s announced ones”. Not sure that these churches have any right to judge another church that flies a rainbow flag , while they themselves are flying a banner which reads ”Divorced are welcomed here with open arms – we won’t judge or condemn you because you’re one of us’
It seems clear that every church is self-deceived if they think they are somehow more holy than the church next door. Only God can judge a church. Someone raised the point that some of these very political churches may one day renounce the sin of their worldliness. Perhaps the churches with the rainbow flags and the divorced pastors someday may also recognize how they are leading Christians astray. I like to think that if the word of God is being preached in these churches, then God’s word will not return void.
I agree with a lot of what you wrote. However, not all seven of John’s churches received Christ’s rebuke. Some of them received no criticism at all.
I think that for those of us who blessed by being in churches which hold to the orthodox, apostolic doctrines of the church, we have the advantage of being built up by an unadulterated gospel, which manifests itself in contentment, peace, joy, confidence, assurance and love. Those are not self-deceptions.
However, individuals within even the most orthodox church can be self-deceived from other influences. That goes with the brokenness of this world and the spiritual warfare that Christians experience. The advantage these individuals have is to be able to hear the Word that can shine light on their darkness and, if the Lord is willing, deliver them from their bondage to self-deception.
I see the bondage that people experience every day. I see it more in the world than in the church, because my church body is highly disciplined in what it teaches, how worship is practiced, and how and under what conditions a man is called to serve as pastor.
The bondage to self-deception that many people today are under is extraordinary. I don’t think if you had asked me just 5 years ago whether such self-deception on a mass scale was even possible, I could have predicted where we would be today and I wouldn’t have believed such a prediction. But here we are.
The Man who said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” has almost nowhere in our society to lay his head. His way, His truth, and His life also are almost non-existent among within our society.
If someone where to talk about picking up a cross, it would likely not be to follow Him, but more likely to crucify Him again if He dared to come among us and say to the vast mass of our society, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
As I said in the article, “When Christ addressed the seven churches in the Revelation, each church was corrected, but also commended; that is, each church but one, Laodicea. ”
With Laodicea, there is a different tone. What did their wealth consist of… we really don’t know. We do know, however, that it blinded them from their true condition, “…you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.”
I think self-deception can arrive in many different packages these days. We can convince ourselves that “our politics”, “our way”, “our church”, “our prayer book”, etc., sets us above others. It blinds us to our own shortcomings and the areas in which we might be taught by others.
“A large portion of the church believes that it’s a hoax and despises any mitigation as anti-Christ…”
How large is it?
Or is it mainly far-right fundagelical nut-bags, the usual faces in the usual places, crazy as outhouse rats.
Not disputing you Michael, just curious to see the numbers, if any.
Muff, I don’t get out much, but I know many people in real life who believe it’s a hoax of some kind. Many believe it’s just a flu and all the rest of the stuff surrounding the virus, including reporting, and stuff surrounding the vaccine, is false information, so in effect, they do think most of the Covid story is a hoax perpetrated by people who want to take away our rights.
Yes, my best friend, who is taking care of my two cocker spaniels while we are in Hawaii visiting family for two weeks, keeps telling me that Covid is just “this year’s version if the flu”. ( She’s not vaccinated) I’ve told her that my next door neighbor’s mother died of it, and my next door neighbor caught it from his mother and he was sicker than he’d ever been in his entire life…and that the lady who prepares our taxes lost her mother to Covid , and my youngest daughter has a close friend whose father died from Covid. But she still believes it’s ” just this year’s flu”? I really don’t understand it.
Here are some numbers from YouGov
From a less scientific POV…I regularly waste my time over at the Christian Post, and when there is an article on vaccines/COVID, invariable at least 1 commenters trots out the “it’s just the flu/99.9% survival rate/made-up pandemic” narrative. I have a co-worker who also said it’s not much worse than the flu (funny those people haven’t looked at the number of fatalities of COVID vs. “the flu”). They are out there no doubt.
Muff. Anti-vax is not the fringe element, although there has always been Christian health nut fringe. This normal Evangelical people.
People have changed churches based on mask use, not doctrine. This appears to be a distillation process that opens Evangelicals to substantial harm. It statistly is creating micro communities that the virus can strike more efficiently on a demographic basis.
Some anti-vaxxers say that the “regular” flu has disappeared because all the cases of “regular” flu are being hoaxily reported as Covid. It has not occurred to them that the lockdowns/masking has reduced the number of regular flu cases.
Can’t speak for all “anti-vaxxers,”. but there are good, scientific, long term side effects to consider. … people upnin years are proably the best candidates for what’s available today…..
That said, i understand a safer vaccine is about to be released. I apologize for not recalling the name. .