We Are All Wrong–And That’s OK


Recently, the Phil Vischer Podcast had an episode with a Bible expert, and the team talked about the many ways people mishandle the Scriptures and how not to. It was a good show.

More than anything, what God drove home to me from that episode is that all of us, in some way, mangle our use of the Bible. Further, that’s OK.

Well, maybe it’s not OK that the Bible gets used wrongly by people but more that everyone is going to do it at some time. Because people are fallible, broken, wrong, stupid, selfish, and just plain messed up. How then can we expect them to always handle God’s words perfectly?

If you asked me what one piece of wisdom I could contribute to the vast collection of human understanding, I’d offer this: Every person you encounter in your life you see a slice of only. You don’t see their whole life, their joys, their failures. You don’t see what molded them for good or for ill. You just see that slice. And like a core sample from arctic ice, that person’s life consists of multiple layers of events and realizations that can only be interpreted after careful and prolonged study. And truthfully, some of it may never be understood by you because the person himself/herself doesn’t understand it either.

There is no growth in the Christian life without starting from a place of error and moving to a place that is less error-filled. You and I don’t get to decide whether the person before us now is in that error-filled place or not. Sometimes, that person is the one we see in the mirror.

This is why grace exists. Remember grace? It’s meant by God for us to use when we encounter flawed people who are in the process and on the journey. And frankly, that’s every person on earth.

God’s promise to us:

The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD saying, “Arise and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will announce My words to you.” Then I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, making something on the wheel. But the vessel that he was making of clay was spoiled in the hand of the potter; so he remade it into another vessel, as it pleased the potter to make.
—Jeremiah 18: 1-4

That verse applies to Israel, but what it says about God is what matters.

We are all spoiled vessels. We are all mistaken, wrong, off. And if you catch any one of us in the process of being remolded to the potter’s ideal, we will look ill-formed, ugly even.

But God as potter is faithful to mold us into something beautiful.

So when you come across someone who is wrong or “stupid” or acting ignorantly by your standards, realize that he or she is in that molding stage. It is unfair to judge an artistic work mid-stream, by that slice of life that you see now but which is not the entire creation story. The best thing we can do is to be as faithful as we can to stick around and see how that half-finished vessel will turn out. To the potter at least, it will be gorgeous in His eyes. And ultimately, is not the Author of beauty its best judge?

Following TBN Off a Cliff


'If I see anymore running mascara, I'm going over...'Nowadays, I hate to even admit I’m a charismatic. Sure, every sect within Christianity has its quirks, but sadly for charismatics, their quirks wind up hosting Christian TV shows with sets that look like 18th century French whorehouses.

It’s not enough that some charismatic TV preachers have $23,000 gilt toilets in their ministry centers. It’s not enough that they sell holy water, or boast of gold flakes falling into their worship services, or maintain prophecy hotlines and Web sites. In short, with too many charismatics, especially the prominent ones, it’s just…well, not enough.

Hang around in charismatic circles long enough (particularly in newer Third Wave circles and the true old school William Branham fan clubs) and you’ll likely encounter one bizarre “leading” after another.

Take, for instance, the modern prophetic movement. A number of prominent prophets have arisen in recent years, many from the old Kansas City prophets debacle who have spun off new ministries. People desperate for a “fresh revelation from God” follow leaders within the prophetic movement like groupies. These prophets put on traveling prophetic road shows where they prophesy over people—likely people who have been following the roadshows from town to town. And, of course, it all costs boatloads of money. People dying for that fresh revelation have a tenuous hold on their cash, needless to say.

I, for one, understand none of this fascination, for several reasons:

One of the best-known of the prophets has said their accuracy is only about 60 percent. Judging from the vagueness of most of the prophetic “words” that prophecy-lovers swoon over, that’s a pretty lousy figure, and I would say that even that 60 percent is generous. My guess? Maybe less than 10 percent, and that’s just on stuff like “God will prosper you.”

Modern prophets seem to be highly selective of what is important. For instance, I can recall no celebrity prophet foreseeing 9/11. We had two of the most prominent prophets come to one of my old churches, and for hours they spoke “words,” but neither seemed to make any mention of the fact that within a few months the pastor of the church would die several times after routine surgery, only to barely survive after repeated resuscitations. You would’ve thought that might have come out, wouldn’t you?

Today’s prophets never seem to deliver negative prophecies with drastic consequences—except when they’re warning against not heeding their prophecies.

Too many of these prophets ally with bizarre organizations. The same prophet who cited the low accuracy figure was initiated into the secretive Catholic organization the Knights of Malta. Joining him was a major pastoral figure within the charismatic movement. Why? And why did that same prophet start writing bizarre theology replete with Arthurian legends?

You want to know what I’ve learned about the real prophets out there? For the most part, they are nameless, faceless people who don’t keynote traveling prophetic roadshows, don’t have prophetic Web sites, don’t issue prophetic newsletters, and in almost every case, never go around telling people, “I’m a prophet!” (While I’m not into blanket discernment, I believe applying that reasoning–until proven otherwise by real prophets–will save most people a lifetime of heartache.)

I could go on and on about the sorry state of that part of the charismatic movement, but I’ll switch to another.

Charismatics love the Old Testament. I mean they quote liberally from the OT, often to the expense of the NT. And one of the biggest movements afoot is this whole idea of restoring Old Testament practices once used within Israel, New-Testament-izing them for use in the Church. Reformulating healing oils, attempting to raise up David’s tabernacle, recovering temple worship practices–the list goes on and on.

It doesn’t matter to them that Christ fulfilled all of what they’re attempting to resuscitate. In fact, it doesn’t matter that Christ rendered most of that stuff moot. The OT-resurrectors still want to do it. (Almost as if Christ didn’t do a good enough job fulfilling it. Ouch.)

I could go on and on about the sorry state of that part of the charismatic movement, but I’ll switch to another.

As for the prosperity gospel charismatic types out there, all I can say is this: Is anyone policing the affairs of these folks? I’m avoiding naming names here since that’s not what this blog is all about, but what’s with the excess made off the backs of poor, foolish souls who give money to these notable “ministers” and their “ministries”? And why is no one being held accountable? I understand a lot of these “ministers” don’t answer to any policing denomination, but they should still answer to the charismatics who are supporting them! (I’ll have more to say about that later.) That it took the government to step in and ask what the heck is going on with some of these ministries is shameful and shows the total lack of discernment by charismatics.

Before I go on, let me offer a few harsh insights on the sorry state of the charismatic movement today.

When charismatics chase after prophecy, chase after restoring OT practices, chase after prosperity, and chase after anything that isn’t Jesus, they’re chasing wind. And they’ll reap the whirlwind for it.

Worse, all this chasing after these fringes distracts them from what is most important to the Lord: leading people to Christ and growing them into mature disciples. Do any of us remember the Great Commission? Truthfully, this plagues nearly every church in America. We’re just cannibalizing each other’s congregations; we’re not growing.

For the first time in probably five years, someone handed me a tract last week. Now I’m not a huge fan of tract evangelism, but still. I can’t remember in the last 10 years when a stranger came up to me and asked me if I knew Jesus. That used to happen at least once a month when I was younger. Where are all the evangelists out there? What happened to leading people to Christ and discipling them to maturity?

Those of us charged with the duty got distracted by this and that. It’s amazing to me that the more charismatics want fresh revelation or a “touch from God,” the less interested they become in fulfilling the Great Commission. That’s a “word” none of us wishes to hear, though.

And as far as fresh revelation goes, whatever happened to the old revelation? A couple weeks ago, my pastor stood up in church, held a Bible high and said, “This is the only sure word.” And he’s right. Why then are so many charismatics obsessed with fresh revelation when they don’t even live by the old revelation? Many of them hardly know the old revelation at all. If they did, they wouldn’t be taken in by all these charlatans and hucksters masquerading as “ministers!”

Can you tell I’m sick at heart about this? These issues just frost me to no end!

Here is my plea to anyone out there who claims to be a charismatic. I hope you hear me. And if you’re not a charismatic, consider the problems in your own little sect and ask what specifics will better your group.

Boycott TBN.
Trinity Broadcasting Network has proven time and again it cannot police the people it features on its programming. In fact, the leaders of TBN will nod and weep along with the worst heresies known to man spoken by some of the biggest flakes and con-artists alive today. There, I said it.

Turn off TBN. Open up your Bible. Get down on your knees and repent. Ask God to open your eyes to the need in your little neighborhood. Use the money God has given you to help those people rather than line the pockets of TBN. Lead people to Christ (not to TBN) and disciple them. Do what Jesus commands you to do. But don’t send another dime to TBN. If it takes calling your cable or satellite channel and asking them to block TBN to keep you from watching it, please, do it.

Does TBN feature anything redeemable in its programming? Maybe. But the sheer load of junk that emanates from that network makes the signal to noise ratio infinitesimally small.

Start asking for accountability from these celebrity charismatic preachers.
This begins by cutting off the revenue stream. Nothing gets a person’s attention more than when the gravy train stops. Don’t send money to those ministries. Don’t buy the books of those ministers, their tapes, DVDs, Holy Land vacations, or anything associated with them. If they’re of God, God will provide for them. They may have less to live on, but they’ll be more more humble–we hope. (When we hear some diamond-encrusted “bishop” complaining how badly he needs his Rolls Royce, we should know just who the wolf among the sheep is.) Then start asking questions. Only then might the truth set us all free from the lies we’ve been fed.

Get out of the charismatic ghetto.
I said this before in my post “How Not to Be a Charismatic Headcase.” Time to see how Christians in other sects live. Somehow they manage to survive without fresh revelation. Much of that’s due to them relying on the leather-bound revelation they already have in their hands. Some of those other folks actually lead people to Christ and into a deep relationship with Him. It would be great to know how they do it, wouldn’t it?

Say no to fluff.
No conferences. No traveling prophetic roadshows. No arena-based revival events. Just say no. There’s no substitute for the old fashioned way of doing it right. The charismatic movement’s fascination with show and with “new moves of God” leads more often than not to a big fat nothing (see “Charismatic Churches and the Cult of the New“). We can’t bypass the simple spiritual disciplines and the simple commands of Christ.

Get the spiritual focus off everyone, ourselves included, and back onto Christ.
If I hear another charismatic tell about the spiritual thing they’re pursuing that’s NOT Jesus Christ, I’m going to scream. It is not about us and our needs. It’s about Jesus. The best way to seek first the Kingdom is to seek the King. And you’re not going to find that King except through the old tried and true methods. Not through fresh revelation, not through Christianizing Old Testament practices, not through praying that God will help you keep up with the Joneses, but through prayer, fasting, worship, Scripture reading & memorization, and the rest of the spiritual disciplines Christians have practiced since Pentecost.

Turn off the Christian TV. Turn off the Christian radio. Put down the book by this celebrity charismatic preacher or that. Stay away from the prophetic Web sites.

Instead, find out what the Lord says through the Bible. Don’t go looking for hidden revelation in the Bible for the time being, but stick to the obvious revelation that’s already there. Learn it. Memorize it. Live it. Pray it. And when you’re done praying it, pray some more. Do that and you just may find the Lord’s ready to charge you with His power from on high, taking you into ministry realms you never would’ve discovered otherwise.

Honestly, we charismatics should all be sickened by what’s going on. What sickens me most of all is that Christ is mocked when we act as ridiculous as some of us are acting. Mocked. And if we believe any of His Holy Spirit is going to bless us during mid-mock, then we’re the most deceived people on the face of the planet.

Dissing Discernment


Fork aheadThree weeks ago in church, one of our elders quoted T.D. Jakes.

My head nearly exploded.

You see, T.D. Jakes is a cult leader. He’s not a Christian—at least by the standards of orthodoxy. As a leader in a Oneness Pentecostal church group, he denies the classical understanding of the Trinity. (See update below.) Yet Jakes shows up on numerous “approved” lists of Evangelicals that circulate on the Web and in print media. Just the other day, our YMCA (an organization championed by historic Christian evangelist Dwight Moody) held a book sale to raise money. One table included Christian materials. I suspect a quarter of the books had Jakes’s doughy, smiling face on the cover.

A few days later in one of our small groups, someone mentioned a book by another Oneness Pentecostal without understanding the theology. He’d never heard of them or their beliefs.

In my younger days, cults crawled out of the woodwork. Mo Berg, Victor Paul Weirwille, Herbert Armstrong—we knew these guys and knew to stay far away from their pernicious brands of deviancy. I used to spend hours reading up on Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons just so I could show them the truth.

Now you’ve got Mormon books showing up in Christian bookstores and Mitt Romney giving the commencement address at Pat Robertson’s Regent University.

Times were that the marks of a cult stood out like a sore thumb. Three doctrinal denials will usually reveal a cult:

  1. Denial of the Trinity
  2. Denial of the efficacy of Christ’s blood to cleanse from all sins
  3. Denial of the sufficiency of faith in Christ alone for salvation

Apply those three to any religious organization or leader and they’ll snare cultists with an efficiency close to 100 percent.

In most cases, you don’t have to go any further than looking for a group’s flawed view on the Trinity to unmask it as a cult. Nothing marks the uniqueness of orthodox Christianity than the belief that God exists in three full, unique persons in one essence. We believe the unity of the Godhead in essence, the Godhead’s diversity in persons. And we’ve believed that fundamental understanding of the nature of God since the founding of the Church by Christ Himself.

How fundamental? As I see it, every doctrine we hold dear in the Church must begin with the nature of God Himself. If we fumble that, everything that proceeds from it takes on a warped perspective. For instance, the very love of God cannot be properly understood from a Oneness perspective, for the love the members of the Trinity possess for each other expresses itself in God’s love for us and our love for each other. Our concept of what love means can only be fully understood if we acknowledge that God is Trinitarian in nature.

In fact, I can’t see how anyone can possible read the Bible and not see the Trinity on every page. Consider even Deuteronomy 6:4—Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one—the word “one” there is not the word for a single person (yahid), but a unified personna (ehad). We see the same word ehad in reference to husband and wife being one (ehad) flesh. How appropriate that the ecstatic love the Triune God experiences within His persons reflects in the joining of husband and wife, while also mirroring the unification of Christ and the Church in the imagery of Bridegroom and Bride. I’m also one who believes that Man is a tripartite being (body, soul, spirit) in the same way that God is triune, further reflecting the idea that we are made in the image of God.

Just inches away on my library shelf sits James White’s The Forgotten Trinity. Check it out. For more on the error of Oneness (historically known in several minor variants as Sebellianism, Patripassionism, or Modalism), check out Theopedia.

I spoke with the elder Sunday morning about his reference. He wasn’t familiar with Oneness Pentecostals, their beliefs, or the fact that T.D. Jakes is a non-Trinitarian. He expressed surprise about Jakes and he staunchly defended Trinitarianism. While I wasn’t happy about the Jakes quote, I absolutely understood the elder made the comment without knowing the truth about Jakes.

This brings us to the meat of this post.

So why do we diss discernment? The elder made a telling statement as we talked, “There are so many variants of Pentecostalism, it’s hard to know exactly what each believes.” That’s a legitimate comment on Pentecostalism—and Christianity in general. So much fracturing and splintering over a couple millennia have left us all a bit strung out. When the Lord speaks to the seven Churches in Asia in Revelation, it’s hard to miss the different flavors of practice and belief already evident.

I’ve made the Church my study, but I still can’t tell you what the Ukrainian Orthodox believe differently from the Russian Orthodox. Or Regular Baptists from Bible Baptists. I could give you generalities, but generalities won’t cut it when trying to discern truth from error.

The sheer mass of Christian (and pseudo-Christian) thought multiplied over thousands of belief statements is daunting. No wonder so many Christians appear baffled. Still, we can’t excuse our lack of diligence.

In the charismatic and pentecostal ranks, you tend to see a lot of cult of personality issues. Folks get sidetracked by big name preachers and ministries. Prophets, apostles, deacons, elders, pastors—stick a title on someone (usually self-affixed by the Christian celebrity in question) and you’ll find people who immediately succumb to slavish devotion. Obviously, the chance for delusion runs high. Sadly, once a leader proves to have feet of clay, the defrauded simply move onto another hero. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Folks outside charismatic and pentecostal circles will, of course, laugh and mock any follower of Benny Hinn or Jack Van Impe, but those mockers aren’t immune to deception. My experience shows that rather than falling prey to dynamic individuals, the noncharismatics/Pentecostals fall for an even more insidious lie: power structures and systems. They get sucked into thinking governments, organizations (Christian or not), and even church hierarchies are the means by which the world revolves. The faithful tack a veneer of godliness over the top of power structures, but the core’s still ungodly. These folks end up perpetrating great injustices against the poor, disenfranchised, powerless, and even each other, as a result.

Don’t laugh at someone else, because I can promise that all of us have drunk (or are still drinking) from some soul-corroding teat. Even the best of us get off-track or stumble in little ways. Let’s all be humble here.

I talk about discernment quite a bit on Cerulean Sanctum. On the whole, I think it’s the greatest lack in the Church today. I think five reasons drive this:

  1. We’re too busy – Busy people nod their heads and unthinkingly accept whatever comes their way. That’s a recipe for disaster. While the sheer number of lies out there overwhelms the average person, God still holds us accountable for truth.
  2. We’re too apathetic – “Does discernment matter? Why should I care?” Paul warns that many have shipwrecked their faith by lack of discernment. Rank pragmatism within many Christian hearts pushes discernment into the background because its raison d’être doesn’t immediately leap out. We don’t understand that God’s people perish for lack of knowledge and that this knowledge is beneficial for own its sake—because God said we need to know it.
  3. We think we’ve arrived – We’re saved now, so what? But eternal security isn’t license for spiritual sloth. Too many Christians think they’re in, but then fail to work out their salvation with fear and trembling. That fear and trembling includes godly discernment.
  4. We’re naïvely optimistic – Jesus didn’t tempt God by taking a leap off the top of the Temple. The same Enemy that tempted the Lord tempts us. He’s a master at deceiving us into thinking we’re immune from the mess our neighbors made of their lives. It never dawns on us that we could go down in flames, too. So when the Enemy tells us to jump off, we do. That’s pride, and it’s from the pit of hell.
  5. We’re not drilled on discernment – People quote 1 John 1:4 (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), but it’s always for some other person in some other church at some other time. Our church leaders should have that 1 John 1:4 filter up at all times and show us how to keep it up as well.

As for me, I side with Jesus here:

Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.
—John 2:23-25

In this day and age, it’s foolish for any Christian to go blindly out into the world. Jesus had His filter on at all times. He knew the evil that lurked in the hearts of men, so He did not trust them.

That’s wisdom for us, folks. Begin at skepticism. Never assume someone is telling you the truth, no matter how trusted that teacher/leader/pastor/friend might be. Let God alone be true and every man a liar (Romans 3:4). The Scriptures are our source. The Holy Spirit is our interpreter. Run everything you hear past those two. Any human is capable of error, even this writer. Don’t take everything I say as gospel truth. Prove it against the Word of God. Correct me if I need it. I expect nothing less.

Thanks to all who contributed. I’ll unpack some of your comments from Friday’s post tomorrow.

 (Update: I made an error in currently assigning Jakes to the United Pentecostal Church. He was once affiliated with that Oneness church, was ordained a bishop in another Oneness denomination, and currently is a high-ranking leader within another Oneness church group. I regret the error.)