The following is a real devotional email sent by the pastor of a large charismatic church to his congregation. This pastor had recently been confronted by a few of his church members who didn't like his "Signs and Wonders/Rick Joyner/Bill Johnson/IHOP" teachings and asked that he only use the Bible and stop referencing those other teachers and teachings. He was never asked to adopt a cessationist position; just to hold more closely to Scripture alone. Several weeks after he had the meeting with those people, he wrote this devotional message/email and then preached a sermon based on it. I think this is a good example of what happens when a pastor wants to divert attention away from a valid theological discussion and continue teaching his version of "Signs and Wonders" Christianity. His original article is in bold; I will make comments (in parenthesis) throughout the article. This article originally appeared in October of 2014.
A Personal Relationship
"You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life." John 5: 39
(This verse is the "set-up" for the rest of the article; it's supposed to make Christians who demand adherence to the Bible look like Pharisees, but it's taken completely out of context. These Pharisees were unwilling to recognize that the Messiah had come-it was Jesus! The Scriptures pointed directly to Jesus and they were guilty of not going to Him. Jesus was not saying that you should come to Him instead of the Scriptures, He was saying that they should have found him in the Scriptures.)
I believe many things about my wife, Jane (not real name). Some are just facts, like her birthday, her place of birth, her parents' names, and her general history which anyone who is interested could easily learn. Other things require more personal involvement like knowing her character and her heart's desires. My current beliefs about her are numerous, but my relationship isn't with my beliefs about Jane, it's with her. She's a person. Because of this reality, my beliefs are always growing and deepening as we walk together. (This line of thinking utilizes the common method of telling stories instead of teaching from the Bible; this way you can make any point about anything. The implication here seems to be that the Bible is not enough-it's just a bunch of facts and figures about God. We can't really know God through the Bible-we need a "relationship" with Him; which appears to be shorthand for "a subjective experience of God.")
But what if I no longer lived with my wife? Wouldn't my belief system become static? I would still believe things, but they wouldn't deepen or grow because of a lack of present experience with her. In the text above, Jesus is rebuking the Pharisees because their relationship isn't with God Himself; it's only with their beliefs about Him. (God was rebuking the Pharisees because their relationship was only with their beliefs about God? What the?? No, that's totally wrong!! Their beliefs were just plain wrong-they didn't believe in Jesus! This is not hard to understand. This is a total mishandling God's Word. This is such a gigantic error that I really want to end the critique right here... but let's keep going.)
There is a great danger in evangelical Christianity today of making our beliefs about God an idol that takes the place of an actual relationship with Christ. (Where do we read about this "belief in God" idol in the Bible?) How can I tell if I'm in danger of this idol? Here are five symptoms:
1. We become unteachable. We no longer believe what we read in the Bible; we only read what we already believe. (Yes, we should want people to accurately and faithfully understand God's word-not read into it whatever they want, this is very true. But how does this pastor define "unteachable?" He could be referring to anyone that disagrees with him; hmmm...)
2. We become divisive with Christians that don't believe exactly what we believe about God and Christ. We're experts and everyone else needs to listen to us to get it right. (This point is very important for what it doesn't say; it fails to mention that some people want a teaching to line up with Scripture. These people aren't commended for being good Bereans, they're condemned for being "experts" who want everyone to listen to them. What if they really just want everyone to listen to the Bible?)
3. We become suspicious of any fresh moving of the Holy Spirit that doesn't fit into our box of who we think God is and how He should act. (Just as in the previous point, this fails to mention that people might be suspicious of a so-called "fresh move of the Holy Spirit" not because it doesn't "fit into our box," but because it is false and/or doesn't line up with Scripture. This pastor believes that subjective experiences are good and acceptable, but an objective evaluation of an experience compared against Scripture is to be avoided. No wonder so many people leave Charismatic churches confused and hurt.)
4. We find ourselves bored with worship because our hearts actually love what we believe about God more than we love God Himself. (This point is just too weird to analyse very much. Somehow, this pastor can see into the hearts and minds of people and discover that they love their beliefs so much that they become bored with worship... insert creepy 50's Sci-fi music here.)
5. We realize we're no longer growing. We're no longer amazed by God or ever surprised by anything He does. We're sure we're doctrinally "right", but if we're dead, we can't be right because Jesus came to give life. (Let me see if I understand this; I need to be surprised or amazed by something God does in the present tense to prove that I'm growing? And if I'm sure I'm doctrinally "right" that proves that I'm dead. I would think that Jesus coming to earth as a virgin-born baby, living an amazing life full of teachings and miracles, giving His life on the cross as a penalty for our sins, rising from the dead on the third day, etc. etc. are all good enough things to embrace, celebrate and remember for all of our days, aren't they? Is it not enough to be surprised and amazed by what He's already done? Do we really need something "new" to validate our faith? Does "growing" mean that we should adopt new and different beliefs every time the latest "prophet" has a "word for us?" The clear implication here is that just studying God's Word isn't enough to get "God's Word;" we need extra-biblical revelation through some kind of subjective experience. Is it any wonder that Christians are biblically and theologically ignorant? If you put Post-Modern Subjectivity and Hyper-Charismatic Anti-Theology into a blender this is the kind of nonsense that comes out...)
The Scriptures are not an end in themselves, they direct us into a personal relationship with the God who loves us and died for us. We all know "in part" and the even the part we think we know is only a seed of all that is true about the transcendent, majestic, unchanging, and uncreated God of the universe. I think we would all do well to examine our hearts and humble ourselves before Him every day acknowledging that the mystery of who He is in Himself goes far beyond our present beliefs about Him. (But does it go beyond God's Word??) Getting to knowHim is the greatest adventure of our lives and will last for all eternity!
(After His resurrection, Jesus met two of His followers on the road to Emmaus and didn't reveal himself; He first asked them a series of questions to see what they knew and believed about Himself. When they said that they basically didn't know what was going on even though the empty tomb had been discovered and angels had said He was risen, Jesus said to them, "How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter His glory?" And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning Himself." Luke 24: 25-26.
Why did Jesus do this? Didn't He know that "the Scriptures are not an end in themselves, they direct us into a personal relationship with God..." like this pastor claims? Jesus wasted all that time explaining the Scriptures when He should have been developing His personal relationship with them. They could have, I don't know, exchanged recipes or sung show tunes together-that would have been more personal.)
Here's what God's Word says: "Now He said to them, 'These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.' Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them 'Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sin would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And, behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high." Luke 24:44-48 "For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart." Hebrews 4:12
Btw, here's a follow-up article I wrote about this same pastor: Hey Pastors-Wanna Protect False Teachers? Here's Your Template!
This is not intended to be a personal attack on this particular pastor; I'm using this to explain vital differences in theology, and to explain how bad theology (un-Biblical teachings) can be promoted and protected.