On Thieves in the Church

Phyllis Nissila


gold bullionAn Army veteran told this story:

When I arrived at the fort (to guard the gold) I was told there were no bullets for my weapon.

“WHAT?” I asked the CO, astonished.

“No need,” the commander replied. “The gold is gone. We let whoever wants to get in, get in. If they demonstrate evil intent, we simply lock the doors and then they’re ours.”

Brilliant, I thought, and I considered another one who “works the perimeter” of other kinds of repositories: “spiritual storehouses,” if you will. But in this case, by contrast, the “guard” is the one concealing evil intent and looking for easy ways to gather, deceive, then lockdown his intended. Only in his plan, the entrants are completely unaware there might be any sort of danger or deception inside because, well, this is a CHURCH, for heaven’s sake. Literally. By all appearances and reputation (like the famous fort) this “religious treasury” is assumed to house spiritual bullion. Little do the faithful know.*

A few, however, know a lot.

snake-reptileTHE DECEPTION

But it’s no secret what Satan’s intentions have always been, at least for those who are aware. One long-ago believer gave this heads-up: “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8, NIV). And what better place than Sunday gatherings to snare dozens with deception? (Just one lie at a time, however, or too many people would be suspicious.)

And to make things easier for himself, the Evil One doesn’t usually enter roaring and clawing. The master shape-shifter dons attractive guises. A little deftly-orchestrated pomp here, some glittery circumstance, there; a gradual sprinkling of pop culture or an evening of experience-based pizzazz (and for only $30 more, get the how-to manual and DVD). Throw in some carefully wordsmithed “theology du jour,” and voila! Inch by inch, the old artificer snakes down the aisle…

A local, related story comes to mind.

Back in the nineties, the pastor of a well-known and quite large Protestant church in my area began to be wined and dined by the Roman Catholic Church unbeknownst to his congregation, many of whom were former Catholics who had left that denomination due to the weight of extra- and non-biblical teachings accrued over centuries.

One Sunday, however, the pastor spilled the papal beans, as it were, perhaps because he’d already been receiving calls and emails from RC refugees who had begun to be suspicious of a few, Catholic “liturgical embellishments” recently added to services. Pastor decided to hold an informational meeting to address our concerns.

He prefaced a Q&A session by telling us he was involved in what he believed was an exciting new turn of (Holy Spirit) events: trips to Rome to meet with Catholic and Protestant leaders to forge a new unity of the faith(s).**

We waited through his explanation with curiosity and even more concern. Then the questions began.

“Do you understand, Pastor, that the Catholic Church teaches a different salvation?”

“Do you understand how the Catholic teaching of ‘transubstantiation’ attributes a meaning to ‘communion’ not found in Scripture?”

“Are you familiar with the meanings of ‘ex cathedra,’ the ‘Immaculate Conception,’ ‘indulgences’?”***

The questions kept coming.

Not only did the pastor react with condescension and deflective wordsmithing, he rejected the appeal to drop his visits to the Vatican. Many, amazed and saddened, left his church.

A former member who has visited the place from time to time since tells me that not only is the so-called “four-square Gospel” no longer featured prominently in church teachings and literature, all manner of off-topic elements have replaced it along with a few old Catholic influences and some so-called seeker friendly add-ons such as a bistro in the entry hall. This, in spite of the urgency of alerting believers to what God is saying TODAY to the churches about the signs of the times—and the significance thereof, let alone the need to present instruction on the basics of the Gospel, whether or not seekers approve.

All of which is very ironic.

You see, not long before this same pastor began his forays into Catholicism he spoke on one of Satan’s major deceptive tactics: introducing false teachings layer by layer so that without careful inspection it is hard to discern until, for many, it’s too late.

He even used this analogy: “It’s like painting the church walls black one shade of gray at a time,” he said. “Pretty soon, the walls are completely dark and most, having not discerned the gradual transition, remain unaware and fooled.” Another good analogy is the proverbial frog in the pan of water underneath which the heat is ever-so-slowly increased until the poor frog succumbs.

Of course, as in the case of those with knowledge and experience in Roman Catholicism in his church who tried to warn him, there are many “watchers” and apologists in the church at large who will sound the alert for those with ears to hear and who are aware of a Standard on which we can rely.


Insert, here, the rest of the instructions from the 1 Peter text: “ Resist (Satan), standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings” (verse 9).

In short, in every era, every culture, tribe and tongue, the wolf in sheep’s clothing (to add another hungry creature to the list of comparisons with the Father of Evil) seduces, deceives, and scams for one deadly purpose, to destroy—shading over the truth with a lie here and a trick there, as the heat rises.

However, the good news—and the Good News—is that resistance is NOT futile (see Jesus’ own example of success detailed in Luke 4:1-13 and Matthew 4:1-11). Put another way: “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).

And how did Jesus put Satan to flight? By use of the Scriptures: “It is written…it is written…it is written.”

Jesus the Word Made Flesh, Who is the same yesterday, today, and forever, wielded the equally constant standard of the “Word Made Text”. If it worked for Him, we can have full confidence it will work for us.

And how do we know whose translations, additions, subtractions and embellishments are askew?

Jesus sent a teacher, a guide, to help. Consider: “(The) Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (John 14:26). This is what watchers and apologists rely on. This is what we can rely on, too.

At rebirth, the Holy Spirit is gifted and available to those who choose to hear Him, and He is then our constant, in this case fully equipped, spiritual protection.

Don’t go to church—or anywhere else—without Him.


*And that’s our main problem. Stay in the Word of God, my friends.

**For more information on that phase of the ecumenical movement, here is a good starter reference. The researcher is encouraged to go further by reviewing the scholarly critiques by Christian apologists, some of whom are cited in this introductory piece: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evangelicals_and_Catholics_Together

***For a comprehensive primer on what Catholics still believe today, here is a good site: http://www.catholic.com/

Images from the public domain.


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10 Responses to On Thieves in the Church

  1. Carl Gordon says:

    My this article sure ‘hit a chord’ with many, didn’t it? It did with me too. Discernment, and as a very good friend of mine coined, “Keeping the Main Thing the main thing!” (the Gospel of the Real Jesus…)
    BTW, the new photo in your header is soooo beautiful! I believe I know the photographer well and will mention it to her! Thanks for all you share!


  2. Dale Rudiger says:

    Excellent article, Phyllis. I love D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and his “Great Doctrines of the Bible” is excellent.

    Another wonderful book, on the Christian’s armor, is “The Christian in Complete Armour” by William Gurnall. It is life changing reading.


    • pnissila says:

      Thank you. I have been exploring the L-Jones site and will check out the other.


      • healingInHim says:

        Dale Rudiger. Thank you for affirming Martyn Lloyd Jones. In my small semi-remote community, I find so few who even know of him or care to. All the ‘c’hurches are very ecumenical following the leading of the Alpha Course, Rick Warren, etc … Since saving me in 1980 it is truly a work of the Lord that I became aware of the apostasy. Earlier this year I purchased Gurnall’s THE CHRISTIAN IN COMPLETE ARMOUR but haven’t had the chance to study it as I have had some health issues and am fighting my way out of the fog of what I now realize to be an emotional and sexually abusive relationship.
        I covet everyone’s prayers as after much prayer and counsel I sense that I must ‘separate’; even my adult children have turned against me. Just the mention of Gurnall’s book made me realize that perhaps once I’m free from this particular battle zone, I’ll have the peace to glean again as I used to when I was first saved:-)
        Oh, I also had a chance to check out http://xcjournal.org/ … I’m a former Ukrainian Catholic and I literally just finished listening to an interview by Richard Bennett! Let us always be ready to spread the true saving Gospel of Jesus Christ.


  3. This is an excellent article, Phyllis. It’s sad to note that all denominations are varying mixtures of spiritual truth, spiritual error and doctrines of men. That’s why it’s vital to be spirit-led and taught, for He guides us into spiritual truth and alerts us to spiritual error. It’s fascinating to see in scripture that God the Holy Spirit personally led Jesus into the wilderness for satan to tempt Him. Although Jesus is God, He was also human at the same time and surely welcomed the support that was there. We are blessed with the same support in our wilderness.


  4. pnissila says:

    Thanks for the link. I will check it out.

    I love this “The enemy of our souls is spreading GMO seeds…” Modified “seeds,” indeed! 😉

    It always seems to come down to a remnant, no? who will not bow to new and/or old fads in the church, although it is sometimes, as you note, frustrating. Here is some encouragement for us:

    Yet, we don’t really ever know how many we reach for the Lord. These days, it would seem that one has to have a big church doing big things in order to consider oneself “blessed.” But the business model of success is not always God’s model of success. Structuring a congregation according to the “felt need” of the neighborhood, as it were, which is what is at the core of a lot of the so-called seeker friendly churches, or “Peter Drucker churches,” you might call them (and he is a brilliant and respected business leader in the secular realm, no doubt) was the genesis of a lot of what changed the church I referenced, above, in addition to the Catholic influence.

    At any rate, it comes down to “blooming where we are planted,” one at a time, while doing our best to avoid the weeds… 🙂

    Here’s to reliable spiritual “weed and feed” ;).


  5. healingInHim says:

    I guess we shouldn’t be surprised at what we are witnessing. As devastating as it is, the Word states this is to be expected. It’s exhausting to warn others who can not see what is happening and is further debilitating for those being emotionally and spiritually abused.


    • pnissila says:

      HealingInHim: yes, yes, and yes! But, as my sister always reminds me, “whatever hastens His coming.”
      And until that event, there is yet one here and one over there still to come into the fold.

      Blessings and comfort.


      • healingInHim says:

        Amen … I never stop sharing “the true gospel” … We never know when we are either planting the seed or are being used to ‘water’ what someone else has sown? The enemy of our souls is spreading GMO seed and polluting the waters so we must be diligent to keep our hearts and minds pure “in Christ Jesus” … Listening to many sermons by the late Martyn Lloyd Jones. Although they were delivered many, many years ago, you would think he was preaching in today’s ‘c’hurch; pointing them to the Truth. Presently, feeding on “Great Biblical Doctrines” and find it sooo refreshing and filled with much substance. http://www.mljtrust.org/collections/great-biblical-doctrines/


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