Over dinner last night the guests at my table shared their experience with a large religious group that claims to be “Christian.” That ‘church’ preaches strong family values, encourages morality and hard work, and builds tight-knit communities. But, the heart of their ‘faith’ is not Christian at all. The cross is not seen as a place of grace, Jesus is not God come to us, the Savior. Yet, this group continues to dupe many into believing that they are a renewal of apostolic Christianity.
I ask you, are you orthodox in doctrine or have you, either because of lack of knowledge or direct intention, diluted the Gospel of Jesus Christ with silly superstitions, angel stories, or bizarre worship practices? In a lifetime of Pastoral ministry I have observed trends, fads, and bad doctrines flow through the Church. Some issues correct themselves rather quickly. Thirty years ago, there were groups predicting the date of Jesus’ return. Their error was obvious when their dates came and went without His appearing! Other errors have more staying power, taking root and hanging on. The preachers of the ‘prosperity gospel’ remain influential. Their message that God wants everyone with enough faith to be healthy and wealthy appeals to us, so we ignore the holes in that message.
The current issue of syncretism (mixing religions) is a serious problem. Even “Spirit-filled” disciples are turning to strange doctrine and weird practices. Many are readily embracing the lie that ‘all roads lead to God.’ What allows people to adopt false teaching as true, to become deceived?
The sufficiency of the Scripture’s teaching for life and godliness has been diminished in favor of experience.
“What works for me” replaces “This is the Word of the Lord.” In part this is a reflection of our highly individualistic culture. Self-expression and personal happiness are highly valued, even to the point of rejecting the authority of God’s Word.
And, then too, there is our celebrity culture.
The fact that someone can put on a great concert or move us with their skill in portraying a character in a movie does not mean they have anything authoritative to say about politics, climate science, or religious truth. Yet, we are regularly exposed to the opinions of celebrities whose words are treated as if they grow from years of study, deep spirituality, and/or great intelligence. Are they experts? Perhaps they are in their field but on others issues, not so much. I do admire the passion of celebrity advocates for children’s right, climate change, and social responsibility. But, I do not give their words the same weight as those who have years wrestling with those issues!
The same celebrity worship happens in the Church. An athlete who comes to faith in Christ from a life full of dysfunction is too often put on the stage while he is still a baby Believer. He is presented as a role model before the water of his baptism has dried. And, sadly, we are too often shocked when the pressure takes it toll and we find that our ‘hero’ is just an ordinary sinner like each of us. Christian musicians often enjoy more influence in shaping theology than pastors, despite have a Scriptural depth and understanding that is frequently slim to non-existent. The result is shallow Christians with faith built on experience alone, their focus shifted from the Awesomeness of a Holy God to subjective feelings celebrated by the song writer.
Before you fire off an angry protest to me, please know that I am not saying that all Christian musicians are shallow! There are many who take the way of the Wesley brothers in 18th century who wrote their amazing hymns of faith from the depths of the soul, shaped by lives dedicated equally to study of truth and excellence of their craft. Then, too, we cannot ignore the huge influence of media speakers whose words fill up books, who take the stage at conferences, using human interest stories to explain life to us. Frequently their message is without much Bible content or any theological anchors.
Then, too, some are ‘bored’ by steady, solid, and practical teaching of the Word. Novelty replaces truth. Fascination with demons, angels, and psychic phenomena replaces Discipleship and love for the Word of God.
In God’s Name, all kinds of silliness has been invited into the Church disguised as the “move of the Spirit.” This is nothing new, but it is a growing trend. There are terrible consequences for the health of the Church. The Word speaks of this: “The time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4, NIV) Discipleship is not about a great Sunday worship experience alone. It is about learning and doing the will of God so that our lives are marked by wholeness of mind, soul, and body in a way that honors our Creator.
Let’s love the Truth!
Seek out leaders whose lives show integrity.
Commit yourself to a church that is more than a ‘show,’ that is Word-centered even as it is innovative, looking for ways to bring the unchanging Truth to the culture in which we live.
We need not be misled by strange doctrine, duped by false teachers, or overcome by silly superstition. Jesus promises that we will know the Truth and the Truth will set us free.
Here is a word from the Word. May we be challenged to be people led by the Spirit and grounded in the revelation of Scripture. This passage comes from Paul’s final word to a younger pastor. “Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have wandered away from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some. Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.” (2 Timothy 2:14-19, NIV)
Hallelujah, what a Savior.
“I need no other argument,
I need no other plea,
it is enough that Jesus died,
and that He died for me.”
“My heart is leaning on the Word,
the written Word of God.
Salvation by my Savior’s name,
salvation through His blood.”