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If I had a nickel for every time an angel lied to a person and led them to start a false religion, I’d have at least 10 cents. I’m thinking here of Joseph Smith and Muhammad, both of whom started their religions (Mormonism and Islam) after receiving revelation from a bright and shining angel.

In reality, angels lie to people far more often than this. John had to warn his readers:

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1 John 4:1)

The Angel Moroni (atop a Mormon Temple), who gave further revelation to Joseph Smith.

The Angel Moroni (atop a Mormon Temple), who gave further revelation to Joseph Smith.

Just because an angel says it doesn’t make it true. Many false prophets, John says, have gone out into the world on this account. John calls us to have discernment in light of this grim reality.

But the scariest angel warnings actually come from Paul. He says:

“Even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:8-9)

He says it twice for emphasis. It doesn’t matter who is teaching the false gospel. Even if an angel from heaven stands before you and tells you something that contradicts biblical teaching, you tell that angel to go straight to hell! (This is the literal meaning of “let him be accursed.”)

But what if the angel is really bright and shiny? Paul addresses that question too. He talks about those who are teaching false doctrine (the “false prophets” that John mentioned), and says:

“Such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness.” (2 Corinthians 11:13–15)

Surely if you see an angel of light, you can believe what it says. Right? No! Paul says that your shimmering angel may well be Satan himself.

The Angel Gabriel revealing the teachings of Islam to Muhammad.

The Angel Gabriel revealing the teachings of Islam to Muhammad.

These frequent warnings in Scripture show how dangerous it is to rely on our experiences alone, as if a word from an angel should be enough to direct us away from God’s truth. These warnings have been available for thousands of years, and both Joseph Smith and Muhammad claimed to have a reverence for the Bible. Why did they not pick up on these warnings?

At these two crucial moments in human history, Satan’s messengers (perhaps even Satan himself) appeared to these two men in angelic light and spoke soul-damning lies. And so many tragic souls have been swallowed in allegiance to what they believed to be truth.

Of course, this is a good reminder to stay away from false religions. But it’s more than that. It’s a reminder for all of us to stick to the bedrock truth of what God has revealed in Scripture. This is what Paul was calling for in Galatians 1:8-9. Know God’s truth intimately. Know it so well that when an angel, a kindly person, a church leader, or whomever, shows up speaking ideas that contradict Scripture, you will recognize those lies for what they are.

Yesterday I wrote about U2. I said that they stand amongst the most influential Christians in the world. If that statement bothers you, at least read yesterday’s post to see why I say that.

U2 CoexistIn any case, I have a lot of respect for U2, and I see a lot of value in listening to their music. But U2 has made themselves suspect to many Christians in recent years because of their “Coexist” campaign in which they call Islam, Judaism, and Christianity to all get along. That makes many of us uncomfortable. Think of it this way. Judaism aside, if the Bible says that there is only one God and describes him in a specific way, and if the Quran says that there is only one God and describes him in a contradictory way, then both of these religions cannot be true. Truth becomes a meaningless term when we use it like this.

So is this what U2 is proclaiming when they call us to coexist? Here is the way their mantra gets expressed lyrically:

“Jesus, Jew, Mohammed, it’s true…All sons of Abraham…Father Abraham, look what you’ve done, You’ve pitted your son against your son, No more, no more, no more…”

In our postmodern world, it’s difficult to not take this as a proclamation that your truth is as good as mine, and that you can believe something contradictory to what I believe and we can both be right. And that may well be what U2 intends. If that’s the case, then I stand against U2 on this point.

But it’s also possible that Bono is simply saying that all of these religious beliefs are deeply held, and that we should not persecute those who disagree with us. If that’s the case, I’m with him.

For centuries Christians and Muslims have been killing one another, and everyone has been killing the Jews. That’s not right. But there have also been great moments in history where Christians have lived under Muslim rule or when Muslims have lived under Christian rule and things worked out peacefully. They found a way to “coexist,” if you will. So if U2 is calling us not to kill each other over religion, then I agree with them on this point.

(Part of me wishes they would be more clear on their meaning here, but I also believe that much of the power of art comes from ambiguity and indirection because it forces us to think more deeply.)

Let me be clear: when anyone—rockstar, president, pastor, spouse—goes against the truth, we reject the lie and call that person back to the truth.

U2 - Coexist2But let’s not stop there. Too often Christians don’t think beyond the presence of inaccuracy. Worse than that, Christians tend to freak out about ambiguity. Can we still get along with someone with whom we disagree? Can we still appreciate U2 and most of their message if we disagree with some of what they say?

I absolutely think we can. Even if U2 is getting it wrong with the coexist thing, I don’t think that makes them useless.

It’s not right of us to expect our musicians to be infallible. We’re all going to get things wrong, and none us is too important to have our errors seen for what they are and called to correction—rockstars not excepted. But Christians of all people should understand that God uses imperfect people to further his kingdom.

So I say listen to U2. But always do so with both appreciation and discernment. They may be leading people astray in some regards, but they are helping people think through some important issues in some other regards. And in reality, this is the case with all of us.

It’s okay if a band like U2 doesn’t complete the Great Commission single handedly. On the flipside, it would be a mistake to ignore the unique and significant contribution they have made toward helping people see truth and beauty. They can be helping the cause of Christ and still be imperfect.

Getting legitimately excited about U2 does not equal agreement with everything they say and do—past, present, and future. Where there is truth and beauty in their lives and in their music, let us affirm it. Where there are lies and ugliness in their lives and in their music, let us reject it and call them back.

Isn’t this the way we would want people to treat us, rockstar or no?