How can a pastor deceive his congregation on some major point or principle?
Only God can read minds and fully know a pastor's motives. The pastor may be intentionally trying to deceive his congregation, or the pastor may be sincere and himself a victim of Satan's deceptions. The pastor may actually believe a change in doctrine is needed and may be trying to persuade his congregation as well as he can, thinking he is only persuading them to believe the truth. Nevertheless, he can deceive them if he himself is deceived. On the other hand, the pastor may be deliberately lying, and members need to be on guard against deception in any case.
Here is a technique. I am not advocating this technique, but we should be aware of this technique so we do not become a victim of it if someone tries to use it against us. I have observed this technique being used.
Not everything a liar says is a lie. In fact, the most effective liars tell the truth most of the time. That is how they build credibility. They will tell you the truth about 99 things, to make you trust them, then slip in the one lie that they wanted to tell you all the time. Their lie has a better chance of being believed if it is surrounded by 99 truths.
Then, oftentimes the lie can be taught in a hidden way by ignoring the truth on that point, denying it by implication but not by directly contradicting it. By omitting the teaching of a doctrine in a context in which it is expected, you diminish it in the minds of the listeners.
If you fail to teach a doctrine of the Church of God, any doctrine, eventually it will diminish and perhaps disappear. If there is no regular reinforcement, it will not be permanent.
Over time, you can destroy a doctrine by silence.
Finally, all this can be aided by teaching a culture of change, teaching members to question the past, to kind of wipe the slate clean and start fresh. This can be disguised with a cloak of humility, emphasizing the limitations of our human thinking in the past, our collective mistakes and shortcomings, our need for repentance and change, the need for God to teach us His truth, and our need to be open to what God has to teach us.
Some of the things I say may sound familiar to those who were in Worldwide Church of God after the death of Mr. Armstrong.
I will use an example. Suppose a speaker wants to reverse the doctrine of believing the Bible. Instead of believing the Bible, he wants his congregation to believe Church of God traditions plus whatever the minister tells them. He does not want his members to be checking up on things in the Bible to see if they are really true.
Now, that would be a major change in the Church of God. Our beliefs and our culture are based on believing what the Bible says. That is a way of thinking passed on to us from Mr. Armstrong.
So to teach Church of God members that the Bible is not important would be a major doctrinal shift.
Here is how members could be deceived about this, not all members, but weak ones.
One, make people question everything or a lot of what they have thought or now think. In other words, empty their minds to a degree so they are like a clean slate you can write on. Some COG people will tend to accept that in their desire to be humble if it is done carefully and in the right terms. Emphasize our human limitations, our past mistakes, and our need for God to guide us. Talk about our mistakes in the past in language that calls everything into question. You can emphasize our scattered condition, for example, and state that this shows there is something wrong in our current and past approach - we need to let God show us something new and different - language like that.
Carefully avoid talking about past Church of God successes, particularly Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong's success in preaching the true gospel and the Ezekiel warning to millions and in building the Philadelphia era of God's Church. Do not talk about his right practices and approach that led to that success and made him a useful tool in Christ's hand - his willingness to prove all things in the Bible, his zeal for preaching the gospel to the world, and his approach to government in the Church of God. Find a way to paint Mr. Armstrong's accomplishments (actually what God accomplished through him) in a negative light.
By doing this, you can build a frame of mind in your listeners that is willing to cast aside right principles they have learned in the past. That will make the next steps easier.
Next, fill the void you have created in the minds of your listeners by teaching from the Bible very selectively and de-emphasizing the principle of believing the Bible. It may seem contradictory to teach from the Bible and yet de-emphasize the importance of the Bible, but it can be done. You can quote the Bible to emphasize believing God's Holy Spirit in your minds, believing the ministry, believing the oral traditions of the Church. What you don't want to do is a lot of Bible reading - most of what you say will be your own words, but you can selectively back it up with quotes from the Bible, especially if you then twist those quotes out of context.
But when you quote the Bible, what you don't want to do is quote those parts of the Bible that emphasize the Bible. Don't quote the Bible saying that scripture cannot be broken (John 10:35). Don't quote the Bible saying that all scripture is given by inspiration of God and is useful for doctrine, correction, and instruction in righteous so we can be complete (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Don't quote anything that says that the word of God is sure and true or sharper than any two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12). Don't quote God saying, to this man will I look, to him who trembles at My word (Isaiah 66:2). Don't quote Jesus Christ saying that we are to live by every word of God (Matthew 4:4).
Above all, do not quote passages about the members of the Church actually looking to the Bible to find answers. So, do not quote anything that says we should prove all things (1 Thessalonians 5:21) or follow the positive example of those who searched the scriptures daily to find out if the things Paul taught were true (Acts 17:11-12).
Or, if you do very occasionally quote one of these things, use a tone of voice that is very casual and designed to impart the meaning, "yeah, yeah, we have heard this before, let me read past this quickly", not at all giving it the importance it deserves.
But do teach a lot of the things you are not trying to change, and do use a lot of Church of God terminology that will establish credibility. Sound as much like a minister in the Church of God as you can, speaking to the congregation in language and terms they are familiar with. This establishes credibility. Talk about our human nature, our need for repentance, our need to bear good fruit. Talk about God's greatness and our need for Him.
This will help the members to think you are spiritual and are really trying to help them get closer to God.
Finally, reverse their belief you are trying to change by omitting it. So with the example of trying to change their beliefs about the Bible, just keep omitting saying anything about the need to really believe and obey the Bible. You can tell the members to spend time in "Bible study" - that is expected - but don't talk about really regarding the Bible as final authority for all questions about doctrine and Christian living. Talk about the Holy Spirit, talk about the ministry, talk about letting God guide you (without saying how), talk about drawing closer to God in prayer and fasting. Talk about letting God work with you. Talk about God's law. Say, "God's law is truth" (rather than, "God's word" is truth). But carefully avoid saying, look to the Bible for answers to tough questions, believe what the Bible says, obey what God in the Bible says. Carefully avoid telling the members to let the Bible interpret the Bible, to let clear scriptures interpret difficult ones, and to get all the scriptures about a particular subject to know the truth of that subject.
In other words, don't teach the principles of Bible study to your members. You can mention "Bible study", even pretend to encourage it from time to time, but avoid affirming the authority of the Bible in a practical way.
Why will this work? Over time, if you neglect something, you will weaken it.
If a pastor teaches the context of letting God build his character and way of thinking in us so that we have the mind of God, but omits the importance of letting God's very word, the Bible, be the final authority in all questions of practice and doctrine, he will be teaching by implication that we need to be guided some other way than by the Bible itself.
And he can do this all without leaving himself vulnerable to accusations that he is teaching against the Bible.
You don't have to tell people not to believe the Bible. Just leaving out the principle that we are to believe the Bible will have the same effect when you do this in the context of knowing what is true.
In other words, if you teach how to know what is true, but leave out saying that we know what is true by believing the Bible, by implication you are teaching members to know what is true SOME OTHER WAY, NOT BY THE BIBLE.
These things can be taught by repetition to change members from believing the Bible to the opposite - believing what the minister is teaching them when he slips in some doctrine that is contrary to the Bible, such as not preaching the gospel, into his messages.
A pastor can then eliminate anything he doesn't like in the Bible by neglecting it and over-emphasizing other things.
For example, he can neglect the Bible's teaching that we should preach the gospel and the warning message, and then over-emphasize setting an example as a way of "preaching the gospel" and calling that "doing God's work".
And if weak members have allowed themselves, over a period of months or years, to be brainwashed into thinking they do not have to prove these things in the Bible, they may swallow that.
But the strong members, those who have been reading, believing, obeying, and proving things in the Bible for years, will likely not swallow that.
And God may allow this as a test to separate those who are faithful to Him from those who are not.