by Dale Holzbauer
I was astounded at the question she asked. An older lady, a godly woman and faithful part of a Christian church had called me. She was leading a Bible study in her home and had done so for several years. Her question: “What do you think of our group studying a book and the accompanying DVDs by Perry Stone?” Perry Stone’s teachings include his own visions and prophecies (some of which he receives from the dead), divine healing and miracles wrought through prayer cloths and the taking of communion (which he sells), generational curses, a corrupt view of demon possession, the use of Bible codes instead of solid hermeneutics, a wrong view of the place of modern-day Israel, etc. How is it possible that this dear lady could not see through the non-biblical and anti-biblical teaching of Stone? May I say at the outset that “there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecc. 1:9)? The reader will find that the issues dealt with herein have been faced by the Church of the Lord Jesus for a very long time. Only the names and dates change.
What do church attendees really believe?
We must consider the place of sound doctrine – right belief – in the Church of the Lord Jesus. “Is this a necessary topic?” one might ask. A challenge: take an anonymous survey in the church you serve and/or attend. Keep in mind some terms will have to be very clearly defined. Some questions deliberately touch on concepts in earlier questions to elicit clearer responses. Ask questions such as…
- Is the Bible inspired, inerrant and infallible?
- Is Jesus Christ the only Savior of the world or are there other paths to salvation?
- Does absolute truth exist or is it possible that truth depends on circumstance(s) and is therefore relative?
- Is hell a real place and will people go there for eternity?
- Are other religions, if sincerely held, adequate for one to be acceptable to God?
- Since cultures change, does the Bible need to be continually re-interpreted for succeeding generations?
- Does the Bible contain errors?
- Does one’s experience(s) equal truth for that person?
I have done what I suggested, seven times to date, in churches I have served either as the preacher/lead minister, or where I have been hired as a consultant to come alongside leadership and help a local church. To say that I have been astounded at the results of the surveys is an understatement.
From modalism to the Word of Faith movement, to so-called “progressive” Christianity, to the various cults, to issues that once-great denominations have compromised over (the ordination of homosexual clergy, homosexual marriage, abortion, the authority of the Bible, nature and source of salvation, etc.), those dear people who are members of Bible-honoring, Christ-exalting churches are confused and being led astray simply because, in many cases, they do not know better. Someone, many “some ones,” has/have dropped the ball.
To paraphrase Edward Hallett Carr, it is wise to study the historian before one studies history. A brief introduction is in order. I have been in the Christian ministry for 54 years beginning when I was 19 in a youth ministry in Cincinnati. I have five earned college and seminary degrees, including a doctorate. I have served as preaching minster for over 35 years and have worked as a college and seminary professor. The issues raised here have been known for years.
Two excellent books that I would recommend on this topic would be “A Grand Illusion” by Dr. David Young and “The Faith Once For All” by Dr. Jack Cottrell.
We Were Warned
Both Testaments contain abundant and familiar warnings against false teachers and false prophets. God spells out exactly what He will do with the false prophets of Ezekiel’s day in Ezekiel 13:9. Through Jeremiah (23:16), the people were told not to listen to those prophets who would fill them with false hopes. Jesus predicted in Matthew 24:24 that false prophets and false Messiahs would appear and deceive many. Paul, writing to Timothy, said that the time would come when people would not put up with sound doctrine but would embrace myths (2 Timothy 4:3-4). Acts 20:28-30 is a sobering passage wherein Paul warns the Ephesian elders that “savage wolves” (see also Matthew 7:15,16) would come in and distort truth for the purpose of taking followers for themselves. First John 4:1-6, 2 Peter 2 and Jude come to mind as do many other texts, situations and authors. We get the point and we note that in both Testaments, false teachers/prophets are called out by name (2 Timothy 4:10, 1:15, 2:17; 1 Timothy 1:19,20; 2 Chronicles 18:10,11; Jeremiah 20:1-3, etc.).
Recent Trends in the Wrong Direction
In the interest of time we will briefly consider some of the more recent trends which are contrary to clear biblical teaching. This list is nowhere near exhaustive. It is merely suggestive of the root of the problem, that being a departure from a proper understanding of clear biblical teaching. It should be a concern to all Christians that careful study of hermeneutics, languages, context, etc., are often derided by those who distort the Bible.
A term of derision (from the political right) is “social justice warrior.” A trend in the wrong direction is to see the Christian faith primarily as a belief system which calls one to enact social change, resulting in justice. Of course there is merit here, but Christians see the upending of priorities in this approach.
Arguably, the worst trend in the wrong direction is the re-ordering of sexual ethics and mores. I was labeled on Facebook by a young man who attends a Christian church (but rejects the label, “Christian!”) as a “follower of Satan” because I espoused the biblical teaching that sexual expression was to be limited to one man and one woman who were married to each other. To imagine that the ordination of practicing homosexuals is even an issue, is staggering.
To gain a deeper understanding of the issues and the incursion of relativistic/postmodern thinking into the church, see the Pew Research Center, Barna, and Gallup on, “What do Evangelical Christians think about” these topics: absolutes, the existence and source of truth, the Bible’s accuracy and reliability, sexual ethics, marriage and ordination, the exclusivity of Christianity, etc. The results of such research will be shocking.
What Must be Done
Reject the notion that all that needs to be taught, emphasized and believed is simply the resurrection of Jesus. This sounds good on the surface, but obviously neglects much that is necessary in Christian life and doctrine. Some of the back story here is the old liberal canard that Paul and Jesus are at odds or, at best, Paul has less authority than Jesus. It is likely that many Christian teachers and preachers have heard, “Jesus said nothing about homosexual behavior.” Though, at face value, it is true, it is a blatant misdirection and ignores the fact that Jesus clearly laid out His expectations in multiple encounters. First, He fully upheld a “traditional sexual ethic” when He quoted from the Creation accounts of Genesis 1 and 2 in Matthew 19. Additionally, He expected the woman caught in adultery to “leave [her] life of sin” (John 8:11).
Re-establish classes in the church that teach substantive doctrine, whether Sunday mornings, Wednesday evenings, or other times good for your congregation. Said classes should be taught by people who have a good understanding of biblical chronology, biblical theology, the holy life, etc. These classes can be put online. Teachers can be properly prepared and released .
Re-establish “life recruit” weeks at our Christian camps. This is critical. These camps should be staffed by preachers and teachers who have proven themselves in Christian spiritual warfare. Yes, it is war.
Appreciate and insist upon biblical preaching. Biblical preaching is sometimes controversial and sometimes includes topics, texts and themes which are absolutely counter-cultural. No Bible preacher should feel intimidated when he preaches biblical truth.
Teach separation from the world. I am well aware of the problems associated with hyper-fundamentalism. I am also well aware of the problems associated with compromise with the world. Christians need to be reminded that we are in, but not of, the world – that we are pilgrims and aliens in this world.
I wrote this in the sincere hope that the reader will be aware of the issues the Church is facing in our culture and will, within his or her sphere of influence, make a difference for the cause of Christ.
May we all be strong salt and bright light.