Church Under Fire

Normally, I try to avoid drama on social media. There are times, however, where you kind of get drawn in anyway and sometimes, need to wade through all the comments, likes, and links to find where you stand. Recently, I got tagged in a debate in regard to the charismatic movement and their place in orthodox Christianity. The start of the whirlwind was a video clip from John MacArthur’s Strange Fire conference and it launched quite the discussion from there.

First of all, I have to say that I am proud of my friends who seemed to have a civil discussion free from name-calling and accusations. In this, God is glorified. Too often both fear and pride mix to produce some of the most toxic, ungodly and profane arguments among God’s people. No matter what the topic is, we must be able to talk to one another with love, humility, and compassion…and grace. If we have confidence in God and his sovereign hold an all who are his, then we must be able to discuss differences without freaking out or berating one another.

Secondly, we must be very, very careful about blanket statements. Are there teachings within the charismatic movement that are unbiblical? Yes. And at the same time we have Presbyterians, Methodists, and Episcopalians–considered orthodox evangelicals–who are ordaining homosexuals, a practice that is clearly in opposition to God’s Word. Are we to assume that everyone in those denominations are lost? Of course not. The head of American Baptist College in Tennessee recently followed in apostate Rob Bell’s footsteps and stated that we can’t judge the homosexual lifestyle based on the Bible because it is outdated and irrelevant, and to believe the Bible is to make an idol out of it. Shall we declare that all Baptists are heretics? No. Those are apostate teachings, but is the college official bending to popular opinion for the sake of his school, or is he not in Christ? I don’t know, and I can’t know from here, but I will be praying for him. There are people who openly deny the gospel of Christ insisting that he is not the only way and that the Bible is not the word of God. That’s different than a debate about healing, tongues, and what we mean by “fire fall down.” (Just for the record, I know “fire” has kind of taken the place of “zeal,” but every time fire falls from heaven in scripture, it’s a judgment against the wicked. Maybe we should go back to “fill me with zeal”).

In an effort to avoid self righteous, unjust accusations and labels, address doctrine with people rather than judging groups of people absent of relationship, love, and trust. Some of the most godly people I know have some flaws in their theology (I probably still have some flaws in my theology…I suspect God is working on all of us). Sanctification is a process here in time and space. In eternity, where our great hope lies, it is finished and we are whole and holy before God in Christ. In time, we are “working out our salvation with fear and trembling.” Certainly, there are some critical, essential truths that define us, for example: There is one God and this one God eternally exists in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone; that the Bible is the Word of God and infallible in all it proclaims. This is not an exhaustive list, but obviously we cannot have fellowship with those who teach that all roads lead to heaven, that Jesus is a created being rather than the Creator, that the Holy Spirit is a “force” and not God, or that the Bible is just a book of stories. That’s a different dynamic altogether, but if we have common ground on the essential issues of the Christian faith, then we have room for discussion in the non-essential issues. Even though a teacher, a church, or a denomination may have doctrines in their statement of faith which do not line up with scripture, it does not mean that every person who identifies with that denomination or teacher agrees with every statement. There are Presbyterians who do not agree with ordaining gay clergy. The majority of Baptists know the Westboro folks are way out of line. I know Roman Catholics who question the idea of Purgatory and just love Jesus their Savior.

At MacArthur’s Strange Fire conference, they used video clips to illustrate the doctrines of the charismatic movement with which they took issue. Of course they chose extreme examples in each case, and though many of those practices are common within the charismatic bent, not every person or church who identifies as Pentecostal or charismatic practices all those things…or to the extent to which they were shown. I’ve been to several Pentecostal churches and have worked beside many Pentecostal pastors, whom I consider both friends and brothers, and have not once encountered the “Holy Ghost Hokey-Pokey” or weird animal noises/behaviors in their churches or in our discussions.

All that said, there are doctrines which are harmful that are professed by churches around the world and we need to challenge these and persevere in teaching the truth. There will always be people who “come to Jesus” for what they think God will give them. Even in the most orthodox, biblical church people will come for what they can get from God, rather than in response to God himself. Some teachings just give such people more opportunity to build an empty faith founded on their own selfish expectations. The danger is that when their idols fall, God is the one who gets the blame, not the bad doctrine or the individual who embraced it. Among these teachings is the health, wealth, and prosperity gospel: the “name it and claim it” teaching. Jesus did not die on the cross to give us our best life now with every comfort and luxury. He died to save us from the eternal consequences of our sin bringing us into the kingdom of God. Period. Living under the rule and reign of God certainly comes with blessings, and expensive cars, fat bank rolls, and big houses aren’t chief among them. This teaching is really just an excuse to pursue the idol of wealth and prosperity rather than righteousness. There is nothing wrong, if you can afford it, in buying a nice car (or something). It is wrong to assume that just because you “asked in faith” that God has to give it to you, and that if he doesn’t that there is something wrong with your faith. The Bible never says anything about having enough faith…rather, it teaches that a measure of faith is given by God (e.g. Romans 12:3). The truth is that we need to live in the faith we are given.

The doctrine of dominion is another problem area. I’ve talked to several people who identify as charismatic who are totally unaware of this teaching. It says that there are seven mountains in society: arts, business, education, religion, government, family, and media. The teaching is that the saints are to use their power and authority to claim dominion over these seven areas and once that dominion is established we will usher in the return of Christ. In contrast, what the Bible teaches is that our enemy will be given authority to make war on the saints and prevail, and that at the return of Christ the remaining faithful will be encamped and surrounded by the forces of darkness at which time fire will come from heaven and consume the enemies of God (Revelation 20). We are warned that things get worse, not better, from a temporal standpoint and that God defeats the enemy, not us. The purpose of the book Revelation is to encourage a persecuted church trying to shine like stars in a dark and hostile world. I believe that we are in that period of time where our enemy is making war on the saints and prevailing. We need the encouragement God has given us, not a false doctrine touting some power and influence we simply do not have. That crushes faith and does not strengthen the church. We need to understand that we do not have power and authority in and of ourselves. We are under the authority of God. As we walk with him in obedience, we walk in his power and authority and God will do amazing things in, through, and around us to accomplish his purpose (Luke 10:19-20). We cannot presume to know better than God, demand our way according to our desires, and expect God to come in line with us on the notion that “he gave us dominion.” We are under his authority, not the other way around.

Those who identify as Pentecostal/charismatics are not the only ones who teach these kinds of things. More and more churches are teaching this stuff because it puts more power and authority in our hands, it feeds our emotions, it glorifies us (in Jesus name, of course), and it puts butts in the seats. Men are weak and selfish. A big church is better, right? It means we’re doing more for God, doesn’t it? And all the better if sounds spiritual, even if we have to take verses out of context.

Our tendency is to set our selves apart (or above) the rest of the Body of Christ. “We have the baptism of the Spirit,” “We have the right doctrine,” “We have the oldest traditions,” “We have signs and wonders.” We’ll make idols of these ideas and spend all effort and energy to prove our claims, even if we have to rely on glitter in the ventilation, or straw-man arguments, or “the Greek.” Things have gotten out of hand and where we were meant to temper and fulfill each other, we have gone too far to validate ourselves…even if we do so “humbly” and with the best intentions.

The church is under fire enough from the world and our enemy. We don’t need to start taking shots at each other.  We need to discern between taking a stand against a false doctrine, and accusing our brothers and sisters without really knowing them. Is it really about making disciples, growing God’s kingdom, and glorifying him, or is it just about “being right?” Address the issues with the people. No doubt, God will separate between the sheep and the goats…that’s His job. He is judge. We’ll see it unfold as people cling to their ideas over the truth when God’s truth is revealed. It will mean that we sometimes let people go, but if the foundational truths are common between us, who am I to judge some else’s servant? There are people in my own church who see things like healing in a different light than I do. We discuss it, but I know their heart and I know that ultimately what they want is to experience God more deeply and to see him glorified. I want that too…and neither of us are arrogant enough to claim that we have all the answers. I trust that God will judge between us regarding our differences if such a judgment needs to be made. I will stand on my convictions and continue to seek God.

Faith is a life’s journey. Baptism of the Spirit is demonstrated over a lifetime, not in an emotionally charged moment. We are anointed and sanctified. That is a truth in Christ, not a feeling. We are on this journey to learn to walk with Christ together and we will learn from our victories and our failures. We cannot be afraid of the mess. Church is messy, it always has been. That’s why we have two-thirds of the New Testament! My intent is to be willing to surrender my ideas to God’s truth and to the process of maturity as God leads. I have to trust my brothers and sisters to do the same. God will deal with us. It may mean we have to let one go while he works in them, yet when the essential truths are present I will not cast a judgment on the people over debatable issues. God alone is the judge of the soul. I will discern doctrine and teachings. I will teach, counsel, and encourage by what I am convicted is true, and refute what I am convinced is false (hopefully with humility and respect as Christ commands), all while working to encourage and build up the Body of Christ, not burn it down.

We cannot make a right judgment apart from relationship. Things like the Strange Fire conference cast a blanket judgement on people they don’t know from…Adam. That kind of forum can be informative and can feed discussion, but is not very helpful in ministering to a body that grows through relationship. We need to walk together, discuss things together, challenge what we believe, but do so in the light of scripture, not in the shadow of logic, reason, and preference…or from behind the wall of pride. And should our paths lead in different directions, then I entrust you to God from whom, through whom, and to whom are all things (Romans 11:36).

Looking forward to any discussion…

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