A "Personal Relationship With Christ"-Burden or Biblical?

Here is a guest article from Matthew Garnett, who has a terrific podcast (featured on Pirate Christian Radio) called "In Layman's Terms." I've written on this topic a little bit (Not Feeling It-The Gospel for Everyone Else), but I think maybe Matthew hit the nail on the head. The Bible does not mention a "personal relationship with Christ," even though we've all heard that phrase a million times. The Bible does not mention our need to "spend enough time with God so that you develop an intimate relationship with Him," yet that kind of language permeates Pop Evangelicalism. With those kinds of ideas being so common and prevalent, could it be that you've been given a burden that doesn't come from God? -Steven Kozar  

What’s more work? Religion or a Relationship?

I suppose that depends. If your idea of “religion” is a god or gods who demand services from you in order that the god(s) will look with favor upon you, then it sounds like you’re in for some hard labor. Then again, these kinds of religions are often very good about spelling out exactly what it is that the god(s) demand. Practices such as praying toward a certain geographical location, meditation, giving 10% of your income (pre-tax, of course), and the like, might give practitioners of particular religions the clear sense of what it takes to please their god(s).

Want to please your god(s)? Do A, B, and C. Fail to do A, B, or C, and you will displease the god(s). Yes, it might be a lot of work, but at least you know what the score is.

What about a “relationship?"

For those of you are married, you certainly know that a marriage can be a great deal of work. To boot, you don’t have the benefit of always knowing what it is that will please your better half from one day to the next. One day, your husband is thrilled with the fact you took the time to tidy up his study. The next day, he’s enraged that he can’t find his keys because you moved them in the process of tidying up the study! (I speak from experience of course...)

The problem with understanding God in terms of “relationship” is twofold:

One is that “relationship” usually demands something from you. It implies that you do “your part” in the relationship. After all, “relationships” are a two way street. Call me crazy, but a “relationship with God” is starting to sound a lot like “religion." Only in the “religion” you have some sense of when you might be pleasing God by your devotional activity. In the “relationship” you can never be quite sure if you've done your part enough-especially when the other party (God) isn't speaking clear and audible words to you.

The second problem is that this notion of “relationship” implies that our deepest problem as human beings is that we’re lonely and need a friend. While I certainly do not want to diminish the need for relationships, I am convinced, when it comes to God, that this is in fact not our deepest need as human beings. Consider the paralytic dropped through the roof of the house where Jesus was teaching one sunny Galilean day. (Mark 2)

After much effort from friends to see the man healed, Jesus says to him, “Son, your sins are forgiven." (v.5) If Jesus knew that this man’s deepest need was indeed not his paralysis but the forgiveness of his sins, then surely we must conclude that our loneliness is not our genuine problem, but indeed it's the forgiveness of our sins. We don’t need a “relationship” with God as much as we need something else: as His enemies, we need peace with God through the forgiveness of our sins.

Enter the true religion. The Christian religion.

St. James teaches us in his epistle, “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”

True religion is service and love, not toward God, but toward one’s neighbor. And that’s just for starters. Think about the Man who actually perfectly fulfilled St. James’ definition of a “religious” person here. Who bridles His tongue perfectly? Who never deceives His own heart? Who visits widows and orphans in their affliction? Who kept Himself unstained from the world?

No one but Jesus.

There is only one religion in the world where God becomes the servant to help and please us with His actions in contrast to the religions of the world, the flesh, and the devil, where we are required to help and please a god or gods with our actions. Furthermore, there is only one religion in the world where its primary practices are gifts that meet and serve our needs and not the god(s).

Think of the Christian religion’s encouragement to know and to study the Scriptures. “…man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” (Deut. 8:3) We don’t read and study the Bible so God will be impressed with us. We don’t study the Scriptures thinking that in so doing, God will have some special favor on us. We read and study the Bible because it is a gift from our Father.

Think about that in the context of St. James’ words to us. True religion “visits orphans.” God by His word to us visits us who were once indeed orphans who are now true sons and daughters of His.

Think of the Christian religion’s encouragement for us to gather with other believers in our local churches/parishes. This isn’t a demand from God in order that He’d be pleased with us that week, but a gift that we might know we aren’t alone in this fallen world. He gathers us again so we can, without doubt, hear His voice in His Word.

We Christians don’t go to church to pay homage to God. We go there because it is there that He serves us-it is His very nature to do so. There He feeds us with His very body and blood, given to us for the forgiveness of our sins. He reassures us of His peace in the absolution of all of our sins. He reminds us that we are baptized and He has placed His name on us and given us the Holy Spirit. (By the way, did you ever wonder why it’s called a “church service?" It ain’t because we’re serving God. It’s because He’s serving us!)

Here's the one time "relationship" appears in the bible (from the NASB exhaustive concordance)

Here's the one time "relationship" appears in the bible (from the NASB exhaustive concordance)

If there is a “relationship” at all to be had here, it is a one way relationship. A “relationship” where God in Christ does all the giving and nothing is required of us. Call it what you will, but calling it simply a “relationship” doesn’t describe it accurately. At all.

A “relationship” demands something of you. And in this case, with God, it demands something that you simply do not have the capacity to give. I’ll stick with religion. True religion as St. James describes. Where we who were once orphans are tenderly visited by our heavenly Father. Where He gives us gifts of His Word, of the fellowship of all the saints of Christ, and reassures us of that service with His very body and blood to us and promises time and again to meet our deepest need: the forgiveness of all of our sins.

Many fear religion because this word has been perverted into having Christians believe that in order to have favor with God they must study their Bibles, attend church, and give their money. It somehow seems more palatable to call it a “relationship” and run away from the word "religion." It seems clear to me that this is not a very good solution.

Maybe we should come up with a better word, but until then realize that the Scriptures, the Church, and the Sacraments are pure Gospel gifts to us from a God who loves and serves His once orphaned, but now adopted sons and daughters. These aren’t demands of God to be fulfilled by us, but are manifestations of His love and help for us.



Jesus teaches us that: “…the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve.” In my estimation, “relationship” can simply be another form of false religion. I embrace the true religion of Christianity and accept as pure gift the practices that have adorned our Lord’s Church since way before the word "relationship" became enshrined. I hope you do as well!

-Matthew Garnett

Here's another good article to add some clarity to this topic: "It's a Relationship, Not a Religion"

Lastly, here's an instructive video by Sonseed that should help you understand your relationship with Jesus. ;)

Confirmation Bias: Why You Are Protecting Your False Beliefs

"Confirmation bias" is the name for a very common trait that all human beings share. When we favor information that validates our pre-existing beliefs but refuse to consider information that threatens our pre-existing beliefs, we are demonstrating confirmation bias; other names are confirmatory bias, myside bias or subjective validation. 

Here's a very short video explanation:


It is very difficult for people to change their mind; this is part of our fallen condition as sinners. There isn't much difference between Christians and non-Christians in this regard; we all tend to stick with our pre-existing ideas (also called our presuppositions, the things we "pre-suppose"). On top of this common human trait is the way we stick to whatever "our group" says, especially when "our group" is closely connected to our essential spiritual development. 

For example, someone who has become a Christian in a particular church will feel a strong attachment to that church and its particular beliefs, especially if the pastor keeps reinforcing those particular beliefs, week after week. In many churches, the Sunday service is specifically geared towards reinforcing the importance and validity of that church, and its particular beliefs.  How many times have you heard testimonials about how wonderful your church is? Add in some emotional background music to those tearful stories and it becomes almost impossible for anyone to objectively evaluate the things being taught. Is your pastor and/or church teaching sound doctrine that actually comes from the Bible? Most people want to believe that, yes, their church is really Biblical, and usually that's all that is necessary: if you really believe your church is Biblical, you'll never check your Bible to see what God's Word actually says. And if you're presented with Biblical evidence that threatens your beliefs, you'll ignore it and explain it away. To do otherwise would be very uncomfortable.

So an unwavering belief in your church and your pastor is, all too often, a self-contained cluster of presuppositions based on years of personal experience. What does that personal experience entail? Much of it is listening to your pastor at your church tell you how to understand God, the church, the Bible... pretty much everything. This kind of "thought loop" is very hard to escape from; it's a type of blindness that disguises itself as clarity and certainty.

Additionally, the emotional tug of nostalgia often prevents you from learning the truth. If you've formed your essential spiritual beliefs at a church where you have fond memories, you will probably ignore whatever false doctrine you might have learned there; in fact, you will defend that false doctrine regardless of what the Bible says. But please understand:

God's Word is high above the teachings of any man, and your emotional attachment to any pastor, teacher or church needs to STOP at the very point where the two collide.

Are you interested in finding out if what you believe is actually in the Bible (or not)? Here's an article where a bunch of commonly held "Christian" beliefs are compared with the Bible: 

"Bible-Believing" Christian??

On the subject of nostalgia, have you noticed how pastors will preach "sermons" with topics that will appeal to your feelings of nostalgia? "Gag Me With A Spoon: An 80's Approach to Knowing God's Will" is a fake sermon title I just made up, but it might as well be real. The exaggerated claim to "make Christianity relevant" is most often just an attempt to keep you: 

  • showing up (for the entertainment/spectacle/novelty),

  • signing up (you better get involved, because you've been sent on a guilt trip) and finally,

  • shutting up (because you've been told to be an obedient part of the team).

Your function is to conform to the pastor/leader, and then he confirms his particular beliefs week after week (as he waves a Bible around like a prop). This is how the monster of your confirmation bias gets well fed. 

On top of this appeal to your nostalgia is the even more emotional appeal (and near-constant repetition) of the worship songs. Is it really necessary for the praise band to repeatedly play the Dsus, Em7, C2 chord progression quietly in the background while the pastor wraps up his sermon? Yes! How else can a non-Biblical point be reinforced? How else can you "feel" the Holy Spirit? This is Manipulation 101; it's a form of hypnosis.

If you've read this far into this article and these ideas are new to you, you're possibly experiencing some "cognitive dissonance." This is what happens when we try and hold two different beliefs at the same time; it's like saying "I believe two plus two equals four, but I also believe it equals five." Our minds have a hard time doing that (which is a good thing!), but we tend to blame someone or something else instead of admitting that one of the thoughts has to be deleted. Here's an article that goes into more detail about this:


Most Christians will proclaim that they believe the Bible, first and foremost; and they're certain that their pastor or favorite teacher is following the Bible, too. If that describes you, let me issue a challenge to you (see if this applies to you):

When you are confronted with undeniable proof that your favorite pastor/teacher is actually saying stuff that isn't in the Bible at all, and when you discover that they're actually contradicting the Bible, you will say something like, "Well... I know pastor so-and-so, and he knows what he's doing; he's a good man and I trust him!" When you are doing this, you are putting the teachings of a man above the Word of God. You are just exhibiting a spiritualized version of confirmation bias. Many of the most popular and famous pastors/teachers in the world of pop evangelicalism are "teaching for shameful gain the things they ought not" and they are getting away with it, all the way to the bank.

  • They are getting filthy rich, flying around the world and living like rock stars.

  • They are accountable to no one, except a board full of yes men (often other mega-church pastors).

  • They live luxuriously in gigantic mansions.

  • They teach the false doctrine of "tithing as proven investment scheme" in order to get your money.

  • They manipulate people by constantly claiming to "hear from God," while ignoring and/or twisting God's actual Word.

  • They make millions on the conference/book-selling circuit because they are part of a "club" where they speak at each other's mega-churches and receive sacks full of tax-free cash they call "free will offerings." That's also why they never criticize each other ("you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours").

  • They don't actually study the Bible very much, instead they focus on make convincing speeches that continue to suck people into the bondage of false teaching. Hyper-emotionalism, made-up stories, plagiarism, stand-up comedy ripoffs... whatever works.

  • They are driving people away from true Christianity and setting them up for a life of deception, confusion, false promises and a false Gospel.

  • And you're the reason they are getting away with it.

For there must also be factions among you, in order that those who are approved may have become evident among you.
— 1 Corinthians 11: 19
And for this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they might believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness.
— 2 Thessaloninas 2: 11-12

Maybe it's time for you to take a stand and agree with the "Manifesto of Christian Discernment"


Here's an amazing sermon/article written in the mid 1800s by C. F. W. Walther called, "The Sheep Judge Their Shepherd;" which is even more applicable for today's church.

Here's an article to help you see through all the deception in the church today: Defusing Demonic Dirty Bombs.

Here's an article that the mega/super pastors don't want you to read: Shocking Stuff You're Not Supposed to Know.

Here's an article that proves that many pastors/teachers are twisting the Bible: Frequently Abused and Misused Bible Verses. 

This article by Steven Kozar; check out his new and improved: The Messed Up Church website!

Frequently Abused and Misused Bible Verses

God's Word is getting beaten and bloodied all the time by phony "pastors" who really don't care what it actually says, or what it actually means. Often, these false teachers don't even bother to quote the whole verse. Here's a quick look at some of the most popular Bible verses getting abused and misused:


1.) Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

This verse is often printed on greeting cards and plaques (or used in a peaceful looking meme); it works really good as a “feel good” saying, but it’s not meant to do that; no verse in the Bible should be removed from it’s proper context just to make us feel good (and sell stuff). This verse is a promise to the ancient tribe of Judah in a particular time when they were being held captive in Babylon because of their rebellion against God. God was assuring them that they would eventually be freed-which finally happened 150 years later.

This is not a universal promise from God for all believers in all times, no matter how many times you “declare it” or “claim it.” Here's a great WWUTT Video on this verse; and here's a hilarious satire piece on this verse. This is very similar to the next one… 


2.) 2 Chronicles 7:14 “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

Again, this is not a universal promise to all believers in all times. This verse starts in the middle of a sentence-that should give you a clue that it is being taken out of context. This promise is given specifically to God’s covenant people Israel, and it shouldn’t be universally applied to the church, or especially to any nation. 

Truthfully, we are blessed much more so in our time, because of Jesus and His sacrifice to atone for our sins-no matter which country we live in, or how much worldly prosperity we have or don't have.

Here's a more detailed article from Pulpit and Pen on this verse; and here's another article from Empowered by Christ Ministries.


3.) Proverbs 23:7 “For as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he”

This one is, perhaps, the all-time most abused and misused verse in the whole Bible. It’s used to prop up the pagan heresy that we can “speak things into existence,” and that “our thinking determines our future” or something like that. This is one of the very few verses that “Word of Faith” teachers can use that appears to validate their ridiculous teaching (which comes from the world of sorcery-not the Bible).  

     First of all, it has to be quoted from the King James Version in order to say what they want it to say; read it in the NIV and it says, “for he is the kind of man who is always thinking about the cost.” In the ESV it says, “for he is like one who is inwardly calculating.” Not exactly a “positive thinking” statement…

     Secondly, it’s the second half of a sentence (just like the previous verse)-it’s not even a complete thought by itself. Here’s the same verse (in bold) in the ESV, with the proper context of the verse before and after:

     “Do not eat the bread of a man who is stingy; do not desire his delicacies, for he is like one who is inwardly calculating. ‘Eat and drink!’ he says to you, but his heart is not with you. You will vomit up the morsels that you have eaten, and waste your pleasant words.” 

Any pastor/teacher who knowingly misuses this verse to teach the “power of positive confession” or the “law of attraction” or any such thing, is completely disqualified for ministry. You may need to let that sink in for a while, because this means that what many very popular pastors/teachers are saying is 100% wrong. Completely and utterly WRONG. Here's a great WWUTT Video on this verse. 


4.) Proverbs 29:18 “Where there is no vision, the people perish”

This half-of-a-verse must also be quoted in the KJV in order to be misunderstood and abused. “Vision-casting” pastors often use this verse to prop up their false teaching, which says that God gives them special visions that everyone else is required to follow. It can also be used to make people think that whatever idea they have in their head must be a vision from God, and that idea (or “vision”) is what keeps them alive. This is just a spiritualized version of the business/success teaching that encourages people to be focused and excited about their long-term business goals, because that enthusiasm produces positive results-or something like that.     

     What’s crazy is that false teachers who twist this verse are actually doing the very thing this verse condemns! Here’s the whole verse: 

     “Where there is no revelation (or prophetic vision), the people cast off restraint; but blessed (or happy) is he who keeps the law.”

     This verse is really about people casting off the restraint of God’s Word (His revelation or prophetic vision); which is contrasted against those who are blessed because they keep the law (or listen to God’s Word). 

     It is the height of blasphemy to twist God’s Word to change the meaning of this verse so that it no longer condemns us for twisting God’s Word; but instead it demands that we follow the “vision” of a man! By the way, having goals for your life and/or business is fine; just don’t emphasize it above your faith and trust in God.

Here's a great WWUTT Video on this verse. Here's an Old Testament passage that these false teachers should be using:

Thus says the LORD of hosts: Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the LORD. They say continually to those who despise the word of the LORD, ‘It shall be well with you;’ and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’
— Jeremiah 23: 16 & 17


5.) Habakkuk 2:9 “Write the vision, and make it plain (on tablets, so he may run who reads it).”

This is the other verse that “vision-casting” pastors twist in order to maintain their authority. Also, there are false teachers using this (partial) verse to encourage people to write personal vision statements or to construct vision boards with pictures of what they want (sometimes called a “dream board”). 

     This verse is a specific thing that God told the Prophet Habakkuk at a specific time-it’s not a universal promise from God that you’ll get whatever you want if you just write it down. In fact, the LORD told Habakkuk to write down a vision of the Israelites being taken into captivity by the Babylonians-because they had rebelled against the LORD, not because He was so excited about giving them their dreams! 


6.) Malachi 3:8-10 “Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.”

Bad pastors will often use these verses to drum up business in their church. It’s usually a lose/lose situation for parishioners; either you’re a bad Christian because you don’t give enough (and you’re hindering the work of God with your lack of faith) or you’re a broke and confused Christian, because you “gave until it hurts” (like you were supposed to), but the windows of heaven haven’t opened up for you yet. 

The simple explanation is that this verse is not to be applied to people in churches today. Again, this was God speaking to specific people in a specific time. Simple question: If this was a universal promise from God to the churches today, don't you think Jesus or the Apostles would have mentioned it in the New Testament? Here's a great WWUTT Video on tithing.


7.) Psalm 46:10 "Be still and know that I am God."

Like a lot of the verses on this list, this one is often used as a "feel good" saying on a plaque or poster. But in its proper context, this is not a good news verse; it's an Old Testament warning to the armies that oppose God and His people. Here's a great article to explain it: "Be Still and Know That I Am God" is Bad News.



8.) Matthew 7:1 "Do not judge, or you too will be judged."

Whenever a false teacher/prophet is exposed (because of unbiblical teachings, blatant sin, corruption/greed, prophesies that don’t come true, etc.) they can often maintain the unquestioning support of their followers by the using this verse (taken out of context, of course). This verse is not saying: “don’t ever judge anyone ever!” In reading the whole passage, it’s easy to see that this verse is warning against unjust, hypocritical judgment in our personal dealings with others. It’s not about evaluating the teachings that are being taught by a teacher. Christians have been systematically programmed to ignore all scripture about the accountability of leaders… because their leaders said so. Ironically, the false teacher ends up judging his theological critic who is (supposedly) guilty of being judgmental. Here's a great WWUTT Video on this verse. And here's a longer article on this topic: Does the Bible Tell Christians to Judge Not?


It's time to stop listening to false teachers & pastors who abuse and misuse God's Word-no matter how famous and popular they are! Here's something that Bible-twisting false teachers don't want you to read: Shocking Stuff You're Not Supposed to Know!

This article will be updated with more verses in the days ahead. Here are some other good resources on this vital topic:

Grace To You Blog: Frequently Abused Verses

Entreating Favor: Misused Bible Verses

When We Understand The Text: Website and YouTube Channel

Here's a great little three and a half minute video from the White Horse Inn called "How to Read the Bible:"

"Hateful Haters Shouldn't Have Hatred!!" And Other Useless Ideas

Have you ever questioned the teachings of a famous Christian pastor/author/celebrity and received an angry response-maybe even got called a "hater?" Or maybe you've said some of these things yourself:

 “You’re just being negative and critical! Don’t you have anything good to say? I can’t believe you’re criticizing (insert popular Christian leader). At least they’re trying to help-at least they’re doing something! Why can’t you be more positive? I only listen to positive Christians-not haters!

Here are some thoughts to consider:

Calling someone a "hater" is really a useless thing to do. Think about it: it's a huge contradiction. It's "hateful" to call someone a "hater" if you apply the same vague definition of "hate." Instead of accusing someone of having a particular emotional state, we should, instead, be considering the ideas being discussed. When we disagree as Christians, we should compare a person's thoughts and ideas to the teachings of God's Word-not simply call them a "hater." 

Christianity is a specific set of beliefs that is based on one holy book: The Bible. “Sola Scriptura” is the Latin phrase meaning “Scripture Alone.” This principle was first established in the first three centuries of the church, and then further established during the Protestant Reformation in contrast to the Roman Catholic Church, which claimed that church authority was equal to scriptural authority.

Because we believe the Bible is God’s Word, we must also believe that some ideas are incompatible with the Bible and must be rejected as false. While it’s true that Christians should not be primarily negative and critical people, we should be willing to say negative and critical things about false teachings, because bad doctrine is very harmful-it leads people away from God.

The painful reality is that false teachers are great manipulators and they know exactly what to say in order to keep your trust (and keep their money pouring in), so sometimes it’s necessary to say negative and critical things to confront them and their teachings. The Old Testament prophets, Jesus and all the Apostles did this.

A lot.

 (Here are some of the Bible verses that false teachers don't want you to read)


Lastly, we should not be primarily thinking of “positive versus negative;” instead, we should be thinking of “true versus false.” After all, the Bible itself is not always “positive,” because it contains the truth that we need to hear; so it has to mention our sinful condition, which is very "negative" by modern standards. We humans are like disobedient children who need correction from our Heavenly Father, who loves us enough to tell us the truth. But, most importantly, He also loves us enough to send His Son to die for our sins and rescue us from the punishment we deserve. That very positive Good News-or Gospel-only makes sense once we really grasp the cost of our sin.

In Matthew 23:27 Jesus says “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.” Gee whiz, Jesus, that’s not very nice; at least the Pharisees were trying to do something…

Another very common version of this "hater" issue is the idea that no one can publicly question a pastor/teacher unless they've had a private meeting first; basically, we should never criticize false teachers and just keep our mouths shut. Here's a great 90 second video that addresses that (very) bad idea: Correcting False Teachers? By Name?? WWUTT

Just for fun, here's Steven Furtick's "Hey Haters!" spoken word video (with all the hip coolness removed to expose the contradictory nature of the content): Hey Haters! (Max Holiday Dub) 

(This is article is based on point #1 in the larger article called Defusing Demonic Dirty Bombs)

Defusing Demonic Dirty Bombs

These ideas, catch phrases and concepts have infiltrated the church and have laid a false foundation. They’re a “set-up.” Because many Christians believe these ideas, false teachings are slipping into the church all over the place.

These are the type of comments that Chris Rosebrough and other “discernment Christians” hear over and over again. Yes, there might be some truth in some of these ideas, but taken as a whole, they have replaced authentic, Bible-based Christianity and are allowing “another gospel” to takes it’s place.


 1. “You’re just being negative and critical! Don’t you have anything good to say? I can’t believe you’re criticizing (insert famous/popular Christian leader)! At least they’re trying to help-at least they’re doing something! Why can’t you be more positive? I only listen to positive Christians-not haters!”

Christianity is a specific set of beliefs that is based on one holy book: The Bible. “Sola Scriptura” is the Latin phrase meaning “Scripture Alone.” This principle was first established in the first three centuries of the church, and then further established during the Protestant Reformation in contrast to the Roman Catholic Church, which claimed that church authority was equal to scripture.

Because we believe the Bible is God’s Word, we must also believe that some ideas are incompatible with the Bible and must be rejected as false. While it’s true that Christians should not be primarily negative and critical people, we should be willing to say negative and critical things about false teachings, because bad doctrine is very harmful: it leads people away from God. The painful reality is that false teachers are great manipulators and they know exactly what to say in order to keep your trust (and keep their money pouring in), so sometimes it’s necessary to say negative and critical things to confront them and their teachings.  The Old Testament prophets, Jesus and all the Apostles did this.

A lot.

We should not be primarily thinking “positive versus negative,” instead, we should be thinking: “true versus false.” The Bible is not always a “positive” book because it contains the truth that we need to hear. We humans are like disobedient children who need correction from our Heavenly Father, who loves us enough to tell us the truth.

In Matthew 23:27 Jesus says “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.” Gee whiz, Jesus, that’s not very nice; at least the Pharisees were trying to do something…


 2. “But he’s really famous (he has written popular books, has a huge church, has a TV show, etc.), he must know what he’s talking about!” “That many people can’t be wrong!"

This exposes the common belief that “the group is always right” (my group!); which is like saying “consensus equals truth.” Christians say that they believe the Bible, but too often what they really believe is whatever their “guy” (local pastor, TV preacher, famous author/speaker, etc.) says about the Bible. On top of that, if a local pastor is actually doing a good job of faithfully preaching God’s Word, he’s often being over-ridden by the surrounding culture.

We have millions of Christians watching 10, 20 or even 30 hours of television per week, yet they "don’t have time" to read and study the Bible. But when the latest guru comes along with a new method of “hearing from God” they drop everything to “learn the secret;” yet, they’ve neglected God’s Word-the actual words from God. The situation should be seen as utterly absurd, yet since almost everyone behaves and believes this way, it’s been normalized. As a result, false teachers have free reign and a limitless customer base to promote their weird ideas and enrich themselves.

     In Mark 7:7 Jesus says to the Pharisees (quoting Isaiah): “in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” In Matthew 7:13-14 He says: “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”  Jesus is warning us not to follow the teachings of men (even if it’s a NY Times Best-seller!), and not to “go with the group.”  Psalm 118:8 “It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man."


3. “Judge not, lest you be judged.” (Similar to: “Who are we to judge?”)

Whenever a false teacher/prophet is exposed (because of unbiblical teachings, blatant sin, corruption/greed, prophesies that don’t come true, etc.) they can often maintain the unquestioning support of their followers by the using this verse (Matthew 7:1) taken out of context, of course. This verse is not saying: “don’t ever judge anyone ever!” In reading the whole passage, it’s easy to see that this verse is warning against unjust, hypocritical judgment in our personal dealings with others. It’s not about evaluating the teachings that are being taught by a teacher. Christians have been systematically programmed to ignore all scripture about the accountability of leaders… because their leaders said so. Ironically, the false teacher ends up judging his theological critic who is (supposedly) guilty of being judgmental.

     In Paul’s letter to Titus (chapter 1) he rebukes false teachers saying: “For there are many rebellious people, mere talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision group. They must be silenced, because they are ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach-and that for the sake of dishonest gain. Rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith and will pay no attention to Jewish myths or to the commands of those who reject the truth. They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny Him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.” Wow Apostle Paul, judge much??

A helpful article: "Discerning Judgement"

Another helpful article: "Jesus Said You Shouldn't Judge"

And here's a longer article on this topic: Does the Bible Tell Christians to Judge Not?


4. “Don’t have a religious spirit!” “That guy has a religious spirit; he’s always quoting bible verses and talking about theology and doctrine-what a Pharisee!”

This is a pretty vague concept that really helps empower “super-spiritual” false teachers. Want to refute someone who is promoting sound, Biblical doctrine? Just accuse them of having a religious spirit. It’s much easier than searching the scriptures and seeking the truth. After all, “God doesn’t care about our doctrine, He cares about our heart.” That sounds really good, but it’s just another catch phrase, too.

Doctrine is important! Doctrine is just another word for “instruction” or “teaching,” and it tells us who God really is, and who we really are. The Pharisees were guilty of unbelief and elevating man-made laws over God’s Word, they were not guilty of being too focused on the Bible. The idea that focusing too much on the Bible will somehow cause us to “miss” God or the Holy Spirit is just crazy. This line of thinking is very similar to…

5. “An experience is better than any doctrine!” “I don’t care about theology-I just love Jesus!” “It’s one thing to know the Bible; it’s another thing to know the author!” "Jesus is my theology!"

While it’s true that some people have very real and emotional experiences with God, this should not be where we establish our belief system-God’s Word does that. God has graciously given us the safe parameters within which we can understand Him: in His Word. But if a person depends on experiences they can easily become dependent on more experiences, which will usually escalate into an emotional train wreck. Just ask anyone who has left a Charismatic/Pentecostal church in a state of confusion, never to return.

Saying “I don’t care about theology-I just love Jesus” is a theological statement. It’s just a very weak one. We don’t see anything in the bible about “just loving Jesus” (as if our emotional feelings about Him were the key), but we do see many exhortations to have good, sound doctrine and teaching. Theology is a word that simply means “the study of God.” All Christians are theologians, whether they admit it or not. A solid theological understanding of God’s amazing grace is much better than any emotional experience anyway-because it never changes (unlike our emotions)!

By the way, theology is much, much more than a Calvinist and an Arminian arguing back and forth while confusing and/or aggravating everyone else. Good theology helps us to gain a correct and deeper understanding of the Good News of Jesus Christ.

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 Him. 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.

Question: If knowing God experientially is more important than knowing the Bible, why would Jesus do this? Jesus wasted all that time explaining the scriptures to them?? He should have been developing a deep and personal relationship with them! He must’ve had a religious spirit! 

Here's another helpful article: The Gigantic Problem Beneath the Really Big Problem  


6.      “God offends the mind to reveal the heart.” (Similar to: “it’s all about your heart-not your head” or something like that)

 Sometimes, this anti-intellectual sentence is used in a sermon as if it were scripture. It’s not scripture, it’s just another (stupid) catch phrase. And it can be very manipulative and confusing. If anybody tries to be discerning (which involves using the mind) they can be dismissed with this catch phrase. God did not give us a mind and then expect us to stop using it.  Ironically, when a false teacher says things like this, he is using a type of thinking to convince others to think a certain way. Jesus said in Matthew 22:37 “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and MIND.”  There is no false dichotomy between our heart and mind in scripture-if anything, our heart is not to be trusted, but God’s Word is.


7. “Don’t touch God’s anointed!” “You better be careful if you speak against prophet/bishop/pastor so and so!”

 When false teachers can’t defend their beliefs in the clear teachings of the Bible, they use this (partial) verse as a rebuke. It’s taken completely out of context from the Old Testament and it refers to physically harming the Israelite king or prophet. This has nothing to do with questioning bad leadership or false teachings. It’s interesting to note that cult leaders often use some type of threat to maintain their authority-this is the lowest form of leadership. 

In stark contrast, the Jewish believers from Berea in Acts 17:11, “were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” If it was good and noble for these Bereans to question the Apostle Paul (who wrote much of the New Testament!) and compare his teachings to scripture (which would’ve been the Old Testament), we can do the same thing with any teacher/pastor.  Any pastor/teacher who demands special treatment as God’s chosen and untouchable authority is clearly not! (For more detail on this topic, here's a helpful article: Touch Not My Anointed, and here's another article.)


 8. “We only teach the Bible!”

 Believe it or not, this is probably the easiest way to teach false doctrine. Most Christians will shut off any discernment once they hear a pastor/teacher say something like this. If he’s “just teaching the Bible” who are we to disagree, right? Once a pastor/teacher has gained your trust by saying this, he can easily stick a Bible verse wherever he wants-whether it actually fits or not. He could probably just make up Bible verses half of the time, since no one is checking anyway. If a teacher/pastor actually says, “we should never proof-text!” he might actually be making it easier to keep proof-texting; the key is to keep people comfortable and trusting.

 By the way, proof-texting means using a Bible verse (or verses) taken completely out of context to make a point that it was never supposed to make. Basically, when a pastor/teacher wants to make his idea really convincing he can just dig up some Bible verse to validate his point (with all those crazy stories from the Old Testament you can prove any point!). Unfortunately, this happens a lot; and it really confuses people because it looks like the Bible teaches a thousand different and conflicting things from just one passage. This is not God’s fault-it’s the lazy, loose and wrong interpreting being done by the pastor. James 3: 1 says: “Let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.”

Here's another helpful article: Frequently Abused and Misused Bible Verses 


 9. “You’re putting God in a box! As soon as you think you’ve got God all figured out He’ll do something unexpected!”

 This is a weird way to spiritualize false teaching, and cover it up under a cloud of supposed “mystery.” The truth is, God has made it very clear in His Word that we are to hold fast to correct doctrine. Period. While it’s true that no one can claim to have God “all figured out,” it’s not like God is always changing His ways to keep us guessing like some strange leprechaun in the sky who enjoys confusing us. God has given us His Son and His Word because He wants to be known! In John 17: 3 Jesus said: “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” 


 10. “Christianity has to adapt and change with the times or else it will die.” “Those            discernment people are so old-fashioned and outdated-they’re the problem!”

 This idea is just plain false; it’s a pragmatic “let’s fix it ourselves because God needs our help” way of thinking. Think about it; are your religious beliefs so shallow and frail that they can’t stand up against whatever new trend is affecting society? God’s truth is above us, distinct from us and unchanging; otherwise it’s just something we’re making up as we go. Historically, the Christian church was stronger when it went against the cultural of the day. The early church began and flourished under the (sometimes very) hostile Roman Empire. But it was weakened and diluted when it became enmeshed with political and social power.      

The constant striving to make church “relevant” is usually counter-productive, and the unbelieving world often views our attempts at “marketing God” as shallow pandering. Here's a snarky article from the Museum of Idolatry on this topic: Visual Proof That Modern Churches Are (Much) Better.


Romans 12:2 “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is-His good, pleasing and perfect will.” Galatians 1:10 “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.”


11. “We’re getting lot’s of resistance-we must be doing something right! Satan wants to stop us, that’s why people are being so critical!”

 This line of thinking is, at best, a 50/50 proposition; maybe it’s true, but it’s just as possible that you’re getting resistance because your teaching is wrong and some people are trying to correct you.


12. “Well, he just heard/read some negative stuff on the Internet; they can say anything on the internet!”

 Like the previous point, this is, at best, a 50/50 proposition. It could just as easily be said, “he just read that stuff in a best-selling book; they can say anything in a book!” Do so few people realize that there are no rules for what can be published in a book? The truth is, there’s a lot of information that is only available online; that’s the nature of the world we live in. This idea is very similar to #2, because what people are really saying is: “it might be proven by lot’s of information online (blogs, podcasts featuring interviews with experts and actual witnesses, doctrinal papers, personal testimony, etc.), but it’s not the consensus view (it isn’t supported by giant book publishers, Christian media companies, mega-churches, etc.) so I refuse to believe it.” We should be testing everything against the Word of God-no matter what anybody says!

It’s important to understand that some giant “Christian” media companies are owned by even larger non-Christian media companies. For example, billionaire Rupert Murdoch owns the global media conglomerate News Corporation (Fox News, The Wall Street Journal, Twentieth Century Fox Films, etc., etc.), which owns Harper Collins, one of the largest book publishers in the world. Harper Collins owns both Zondervan and Thomas Nelson which are the two biggest Christian (or “inspirational”) book publishers in the world. These companies are all about making money. It’s crazy to assume that somebody, somewhere is carefully checking the content of every single book they sell. This doesn’t mean that Zondervan and Thomas Nelson don’t have any good books, by the way; it just means there’s no guarantee.

Whether they’re on the Internet or in a book, all ideas and teachings should be diligently compared to the Word of God.


13. “Don’t listen to that discernment guy-he’s a dream stealer! You’ve got a Dream that God has planted in your heart! God has a special Destiny planned for your life-a Divine Assignment! God wants you to find your purpose, but the devil wants to steal your dream!!”

 This is the “Dream Destiny Thingy” theology, and it’s an underlying assumption in a lot of evangelical teaching, but it’s most prevalent within charismatic teaching. The amazing thing is, it’s not in the Bible. Anywhere! Neither Jesus nor the Apostles ever told us to “follow the dreams in our heart.” Yet, in a million sermons you’ll hear pastors claim that “God has planted a dream inside you” or “you’ve gotta have a vision;” but it’s just an assumption that is never proven from God’s Word (and the few Bible verses that might be mentioned are ripped from their context). This is ear tickling at it’s worst.

If you’re under a pastor who teaches this way, you’re either in the earlier stages of false hope where “something really big is right around the corner” (which takes your attention away from Jesus and His finished work on the cross), or you’re dealing with confusion and/or resentment because you haven’t had your dreams come true-in fact, you’ve probably had major disappointments as you’ve waited for God to “come through with His promises” (and you’re attention is not on Jesus and His finished work on the cross).  With this Dream Destiny Thingy as a starting point, all sermons become focused on us, and how we’re supposed to follow the mystical trail of breadcrumbs that God leaves for us, as we ride our unicorns across the rainbows of our imagination…

Here’s one of the very few passages in the whole Bible that could pertain to this issue: Jude 1:8 “In the very same way, these dreamers pollute their own bodies, reject authority and slander celestial beings.” Hmmm… so that’s how the Bible describes a dreamer in the church.


14. “Look at all the fruit on his tree-he must be blessed by God!” “With all those new people going to that church, you just know it’s being blessed by God!”

 Fruit on the tree does not mean “people coming to church.” Here’s the only thing that can be said for sure about a church with thousands of people attending: the pastor is being paid a large salary. Seriously, that’s about all we can know for sure. Oh, and they also must have a good worship team (soft rock band). When Jesus told us to look at the fruit of a teacher, He was telling us to compare the teaching and life of the teacher to Jesus-it should “look” the same. Any pastor teaching things that are contrary to Jesus is a false teacher-no matter how many followers he has. This is often related to the next one…


15. “But he does everything in the name of Jesus-he must be okay!”

 Think about it: if Satan wanted to operate in the church (and he does!), would he do it in his own name? Would he show up in church in his bright red jumpsuit and give himself away? Does any deception announce itself ahead of time? Deception is about pretending to be something else. The apostle Paul exposed the false “super apostles” in the Corinthian church and said: “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness.” 2 Corinthians 11:13-15  

     Jesus said in Matthew 7:22 “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy IN YOUR NAME, and IN YOUR NAME cast out demons, and IN YOUR NAME perform many miracles?’ And I will declare to them; I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.”

It should be assumed that a false teacher would always use the name of Jesus!


16. “It can’t be true, because I would have known about it already!” (or “somebody would have said something by now!”)

 This is a common knee-jerk reaction when people first hear about false doctrine in their midst. This is really saying “I already know everything that needs to be known; if I get new and different information that doesn’t correspond to my currently held beliefs, then it must be wrong. I refuse to look into anything that might threaten my views.” This is sometimes called "confirmation bias." Here's a more detailed article on this topic: Confirmation Bias: Why You are Protecting Your False Beliefs.

 When someone says "somebody would have said something by now..." we should remember that somebody already did say something: In Matthew 7:15 Jesus said, “Watch out for wolves in sheep’s clothing.”

Jesus did NOT say: “Don’t watch out for wolves in sheep’s clothing, because somebody is already doing that for you; besides, you don’t want to be too critical… just go with the flow.” 


17. “That discernment guy is just promoting fear, and fear comes from the devil!” “He’s got a lot of anger-you can tell he’s not of God!”

 By saying things like this, a false teacher can appear to invalidate whatever a discerning Christian has to say. Of course it’s true that we aren’t supposed to live in fear and/or anger; buy when a discerning Christian tries to warn the church about a dangerous deception, it’s only normal to express some outrage. The important question is whether or not his concerns are warranted. If a sheep discovers that his shepherd is actually a wolf, a (temporary) sense of fear and/or anger is an appropriate response in order for him to leave and warn others.

In actuality, it is the cult member that goes through life like a zombie, constantly thinking “positive thoughts” and refusing to wake up to the deception that surrounds him. Warning a fellow Christian about false teaching is not promoting fear-but, ironically, a false teacher has no problem scaring his followers into compliance and threatening them if they dare question his authority.

The Apostle Paul said this to the Ephesian Elders in Acts 20:29 “I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears.” Hey Apostle Paul, why don’t you lighten up and stop frightening everyone with your angry warnings!!


 18. “We need a fresh move of the Holy Spirit!” “These discernment people are afraid of the new things that God wants to do-they’re hindering the move of the Holy Spirit!”

 This sounds so spiritual, but what does it actually mean? How do we know if the “move” is “fresh” enough? What if the “move” is past the expiration date? How does anyone know for sure that a “move” is really even caused by the Holy Spirit and isn’t just emotional hype, or worse? These questions get completely ignored by many Charismatic/Pentecostal churches, because the assumption is: “we must have a revival!” And it depends on us mustering up something; and one hundred different “experts” have one hundred different opinions on how to make it happen.

This kind of teaching is exhausting, confusing and it takes our attention away from the finished work of Jesus. After all, isn’t it enough that Jesus came to earth, died on the cross to forgive all of our sins and then rose from the dead? Do we really need something better than that? Something “fresher??”

Lastly, where in the teachings of the New Testament (the teachings for the church) were Christians ever instructed to ask for, and expect, a “fresh move of the Holy Spirit” or an “End Times Revival?” We weren’t. You can relax now!

The Apostle Paul says this in Titus 3: 4-7 “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing and regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”


19. “Since God is truth, all truth is God’s truth, so we can seek His truth anywhere and everywhere-not just from the Bible. These discernment Christians are too narrowly focused on the Bible-they’re missing the bigger picture of who God is, and all He’s doing!”

 This idea sounds open-minded and “modern” (and nobody wants to appear old-fashioned) but it quickly falls apart in the real world. Why would God specifically reveal Himself in the written Word and in His Son, Jesus Christ, but then “sort of” appear in a million other forms (that can be viewed in a million different ways)? This is just accommodation and surrender to the unbelieving world.

Jesus said in John 14:6 “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Being kind of exclusionary, aren’t you Jesus??

If we’re talking about computers, recipes, and lawn maintenance… ordinary, regular “stuff,” then of course we can learn from our unbelieving neighbors. But in spiritual matters, the potential for deception should always keep us very close to God’s Word.


 20. “I know that some of their teaching is wrong, but they (pastor/teacher/author) have some good things to say; we shouldn’t just throw the baby out with the bathwater!” “Chew on the meat and spit out the bones.”

 Can you imagine a pastor/teacher that doesn’t have any good things to say-ever? Of course not! They wouldn’t last five minutes. Having some good things to say does not qualify anyone for ministry. So, this problem is twofold: first, there are unqualified “ministers” who really think they’re doing God’s work (but they’re not), and second, there are millions of people putting themselves under their authority (and they shouldn’t be). We should be very strict and discerning in who we accept (“ordain”) as our pastor/teacher, just as the Bible instructs us to. This is for our own good!

James 3: 1 "Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness." 

     Lastly, this “chew on the meat, spit out the bones” idea is something that's often said about people getting new "words from God," and it's so ridiculous that it almost doesn’t need to be refuted. If you know there are going to be some “bones” in a person’s teaching that you’ll have to “spit out” afterwards, how can that be a "word from God?" And why in the world are you listening to them to begin with?? Here’s some better advice:

  • Don’t listen to anyone whose teaching requires “spitting out” afterwards.

  • Don’t listen to anyone that gets “downloads” (new revelations) directly from God.

  • Don’t listen to anyone who gives lip service to the Bible but rarely actually reads it.

  • Don’t listen to anyone whose ideas require “The Message Bible” for validation.

  • Don’t listen to anyone who is getting rich from his or her “ministry.”

  • Don’t listen to anyone who twists God’s Word or approves of those who do.

  • Don’t listen to anyone who values the world’s approval more than service to God.

  • Don’t listen to anyone who talks more about themselves than the Lord Jesus Christ.

  • Don’t listen to anyone who “casts a vision” that you’re required to follow.

  • Don’t listen to anyone who claims to have the ability to “speak things into existence.”

  • Don’t listen to anyone who claims to have discovered a “secret” from God.

  • Don’t listen to anyone who preaches a whole sermon based on half of a (KJV) verse.

  • Don’t listen to anyone who preaches a sermon based on his or her new book.

  • Don’t listen to anyone who questions the Bible while pretending to value it.

  • Don’t listen to anyone who values adoration from the audience above service to God.

  • Don’t listen to anyone who refers to their own illegal activities as mere “mistakes.”

  • Don’t listen to anyone who preaches all Law and no Gospel.

  • Finally, don’t listen to anyone who thinks this list is too harsh and narrow-minded!


This article by Steven Kozar; check out his new and improved: The Messed Up Church website!

"The Pastor's Guide to Pandering, Manipulating and Controlling"

1. Use Marketing Techniques (to attract new people and replace the quitters; catchy names and slogans, plus a good multi-media program will substitute for "God working").

2. Use Proof-Texting (so you can appear Biblical. Don't worry, nobody will check their Bibles to see if you're rightly handling God's Word).

3. Use the Worship Team (to create a false Holy Spirit. Musicians want stage time and they don't know much about theology-so let 'em think they're "ushering in the Holy Spirit" and they'll volunteer every time).

4. Use the Worship Service (to push your agenda and maintain tithing. Put on a good hour and a half show every week and the rest is easy).

5. Use the False Dichotomy (to isolate your enemies and reinforce your allies. Examples of manufactured "either/or" statements: "Well, I guess some people don't want more of the Holy Spirit!" or "We're not one of those churches that thinks you have to frown all the time and listen to organ music!" or "Who says church can't be fun?! How else will people hear about Jesus if we don't lure them into showing up?").

6. Use the (Bully) Pulpit (to establish and maintain your version of reality and create the best version of yourself: incredibly humble, yet a strong, effective leader; highly intelligent, yet "just a regular guy;" as funny as a comedian, but as pious as a monk).

7. Use Emotions (for just about everything).

8. Use the Law (because guilt is very effective. The Gospel will take the attention off of you and free people from your control-avoid it).

9. Use People (that's why they're there).

10. Use God (because you and He are pretty much the same thing anyway, right?).  


(Please don't do ANY of these things.)

-Steven Kozar

"When Did the Church Turn Into Amway?"

Photo by Jazmin Quaynor

Photo by Jazmin Quaynor

True Story

      In the 1990's my wife and I had three young children and we were in financial trouble; my income as an artist was very inconsistent. We were invited to become Amway distributors by a family member who knew we were the kind of "go-getters" who could really "make things happen." 

      I was very skeptical at first, but I eventually gave in to the promise of "multiple streams of residual income." In the late 1990's we heard (and fell for) "The Dream Destiny Thingy." This is years before it crept into (and devoured) much of the church. It's a bunch of assumptions that go something like this: 

"God brought you here today for a reason; it's not an accident that you're in this meeting today. The reason you're struggling financially is because you don't have a dream-it's not because you don't have money! Once you have a big enough dream, the money will follow. Amway is just the business vehicle; this is really about changing people's lives by getting them to pursue their dreams." 

They would pray in the meetings like this: 

"Thank you God that you've given each of us the ability to dream. Help us to chase our dreams, discover our destiny and make a real difference in people's lives. In Jesus name, Amen."

 We were taught about the power of using the right words to speak things into existence. We had to be positive-all the time-because being negative would attract negative results.

       Large Amway conventions are the ultimate gig for motivational speakers and other performers, and most of the really big guns were there, helping to prop up the illusion that Amway was a great opportunity for anyone willing to work hard and stick to it. Zig Ziglar, Robert Kiyosaki, John Maxwell and other big name speakers have all done the Amway gig; people would even write books praising the Amway opportunity because they knew thousands of distributors would buy them; it was a built-in audience of niche consumers. I tried not to notice how none of these people making money by praising Amway actually joined up and became Amway distributors themselves.

     But the best speakers in the Amway business weren't the "professional" speakers, they were the "regular folks" who worked hard and had made it to the level of Diamond (or higher). These "regular folks" would convince the socks off of anyone that you could make it happen! "You just need to really buy into the system and do everything your leaders tell you to do-your success is guaranteed!" "If your dream is big enough, the facts don't count!" The most convincing Diamond speakers would come from another organization and speak at your meeting to help you grow your business. "Wow, these people are so nice and giving of their time" you would think. Plus, they would always start by praising your leaders and telling you how lucky you were to have the leadership that you had in your own organization. 

     Eventually, I learned that all of these diamond (and above) speakers were getting giant speaking fees. They weren't giving their time, they were selling their time. If you were getting $10,000 for an hour and a half speech, do you think you could praise whoever was writing your check? On top of the very convincing speakers, they had amazing videos with powerful music and emotionally charged stories to tear at your heartstrings. The use of multimedia was incredibly effective-especially in a stadium full of like-minded people who all believed. 

We were even told that if you went to the next big meeting it "would really build up your belief." A more honest way of saying it would be "if you go to this big meeting you'll be convinced to stick around long enough for us to make money off of you for a little while longer, because you'll be emotionally convinced that this business is great!"

This Isn't a Dream, It's a Nightmare!

     In short, we spent 4 years trying to build an Amway business and lost about $40,000 in the process. We did everything we were supposed to do-everything!

I know all about mind control techniques because I experienced them first hand. I know what it's like to be emotionally manipulated because I experienced it first hand. I know about turning the Christian faith into a vehicle that promises to make your dreams come true because I experienced it first hand. On top of all that, we started going to a large "positive confession" charismatic church as a result of this new outlook on our faith. We prayed and prayed and prayed... and prayed: "God please help us build this great business so we can be financially free and help others..." 

     But God didn't answer. We had to figure out the hard way that we were being scammed. 

You see, in most Amway businesses, all of the emphasis is on "the system," which had 3 components (called "tools"): Books, CDs and Functions. We would buy and read the positive self-help type books (a new one every month); we would buy and listen to a motivational CD every week (or more if you were really committed like us), and we would buy a ticket to a different function every single month. 

No matter what. 

This is how they could build such large and compliant organizations. This is simply a type of thought-control. Some of the teaching was actually decent business/success type material, but overall, the system kept people in the business and in the dark. Sure there were always people quitting, but there were always new people to replace the quitters. And there was tremendous profit to be made on each and every book, CD and ticket; that's where the upline distributors were making most of their money. It was all in secret and a lot of it was cash under the table, so these hucksters weren't even paying tax on all their income. After the internet became popular, Amway's seedy underbelly couldn't hide so easily, and it has never gotten back to its original multi-billion dollar American heyday (much of Amway's growth has been in foreign countries in the past 15 years).


The Evangelical Industrial Complex has copied many of the very things that have "worked" so well in Amway:


  • Tell people that Christianity is all about getting your Dreams and realizing your Destiny. Check.

  • Tell people that having lots of money is a good thing that God wants for you (so you can help others, of course). Check.

  • Tell people to only listen to positive messages about success and prosperity. Check.

  • Tell people that they can speak things into existence because words have power. Check.

  • People continually quitting and leaving, but they get replaced by new and different people just as fast. Check.

  • Get people to "experience life change" by learning self-help and relationship-building techniques. Check.

  • The guy on the stage is making money off the people in the seats. Check.

  • The guy on the stage is promising you things you'll never actually get (in the name of God). Check.

  • After you don't get what you were promised you're told to have more faith and try harder (and buy the latest book). Check.

  • The visiting speaker (pastor) praises the local leader (pastor) and gets a fat speaking fee (plus sells his books in the lobby). Check. (handy tip: It's not a speaker fee if it comes from a "free-will offering")

  • Use music, lights and multimedia/video to emotionally manipulate like-minded people who desperately want to believe. Check.


Wait a minute, is this Amway or a Mega-Church we're talking about?? 

It's the SAME DAMNED (literally) THING!


FYI, Here is an excellent website with details about the Amway tool scam:

Stop The Amway Tool Scam

Also, just to be clear, I have no ill feelings towards those in my upline who were taken in by this "business" -and who probably lost more money than I did. God help us all. -Steven Kozar

Check out the new and improved: The Messed Up Church website! 

"Eliminating Cognitive Dissonance and the Silly Putty Jesus"

Jesus Christ (the actual God/Man of the Bible) is not a mythical being that we've created; He is the second person of the Holy Trinity-the Godhead. However, the Jesus of Pop American Evangelicalism is too often an ambiguous and subjective creation that adapts and adjusts to us, in order to meet our felt needs. He's like Silly Putty. We can bend him into any shape we want-we can even even press him against any image and he'll take on that image like a cheap copier. He's very accommodating of our every whim and fantasy. There's only one small problem: he isn't real. At all.

     Pop American Evangelicalism should be busy eliminating the Silly Putty Jesus; after all, aren't Evangelicals supposed to be the ones following the Bible very closely? Or is that just something that's assumed, without much evidence? Does Jesus really exist to "make our dreams come true?" Did Jesus die on the cross to "give us a sense of purpose and community" or to help us promote "leadership principles?" Did the Sovereign Maker of the Universe come and take on flesh and die on the cross so that we could become:

    "Empowered Dreamers of Destiny?" or

             "Prophets of Global Awakening?" or

                        "Radical Worshipers of the Heavenly Realm?" or,

                                 just insert whatever non-Biblical (yet spiritual sounding) phrase pops into your head...

No, Jesus came to rescue us from sin and death.

     In psychology, "cognitive dissonance" is the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time, or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values. Dr. Leon Festinger's theory of cognitive dissonance (which was developed in the late 1950's) focuses on how humans strive for internal consistency. When inconsistency (dissonance) is experienced, individuals tend to become psychologically uncomfortable and they are motivated to reduce this dissonance, in any number of ways. It's painful to hold two opposing beliefs at the same time. One can either change one's beliefs in order to make them consistent or one can make some other superficial adjustment.

     When confronted with the Silly Putty Jesus, Evangelical Christians tend to react in two different ways: they either recommit to their false beliefs with increased fervor (often by invalidating the messenger who delivers the uncomfortable truth; i.e. "that blogger is just a mean jerk!!"), or they give up on Christianity altogether (which they've mistakenly believed was owned and operated by the Silly Putty Jesus, and thus, all their dreams have not come true).

     It's very interesting to note that Festinger's theory of cognitive dissonance was formulated during research for the 1956 book "When Prophets Fail." Festinger and his collaborators, Henry Riecken and Stanley Schachter, examined conditions under which disconfirmation of beliefs leads to increased conviction in such beliefs. The group studied a small apocalyptic cult led by Dorothy Martin (under the pseudonym Marion Keech in the book), a suburban housewife. Martin claimed to have received messages from "the Guardians," a group of superior beings from another planet. The messages purportedly said that a flood would destroy the world on December 21st.

     As a side note, Dorothy Martin received her messages by utilizing an "automatic writing" (demonic) technique just like Sarah Young, who wrote the "Jesus Calling" book that Evangelicals have made a runaway best-seller.

     Anyway, the three psychologists and several other assistants infiltrated Dorothy Martin's group incognito, where they observed the group firsthand for months before and after the predicted apocalypse. Many of the group members quit their jobs and sold their possessions in preparation for the predicted "End of the World." When the prophesied doomsday came and went, Martin claimed that the world was spared because of the "force of good and light" that the group members had spread throughout the world. Rather than abandoning their discredited beliefs, group members adhered to them even more strongly and began proselytizing with fervor.

     So, these people had experienced tremendous cognitive dissonance when their leader was proven utterly wrong; so they increased activity and fervor in order to compensate for their internal discomfort. Hmmm....

     Doesn't this sound like a lot of church services where the goal is to prop-up shallow beliefs and bad theology with emotionalism and cheer-leading? And in the charismatic American Evangelical church, there have been so many false prophets saying so many false things that it's impossible to even keep track of it all. How many of the "New Apostles" have said false things that don't line up with scripture? All of them have. How many of the "New Apostles" have made false prophecies that haven't come true? All of them have. Yet they keep "preaching" and getting richer. Sound Biblical teaching has been replaced with: "Speaking my dream into existence" and "declaring and decreeing my destiny" and "My time of special anointing is about to be birthed..." These ideas came from the world of sorcery and "Mind Science," but they've been accommodated by charismatic churches for decades and now many Evangelical churches (that were previously non-charismatic) have accepted and adopted these charismatic practices and beliefs without pause. Why? Because it's "what people want" and it "brings in the numbers."

     More recently, another psychological study found that playing pleasant music (Mozart, in the study) can decrease cognitive dissonance. In other words, if one is holding two or more conflicting beliefs simultaneously, the resulting tension can be decreased by listening to soft music. Of course, the best thing to do would be to eliminate whatever false belief is causing all the trouble! And yet, this helps explain why a soft rock "praise band" is a vital part of any Evangelical service nowadays. While the parishioner sits and listens to a sermon that conflicts with Biblical Christianity (usually in a subtle, sneaky way), he is eventually lulled into compliance by an emotional chord progression played repeatedly in the background.

     As an accomplished musician I know about this from playing for many years on the "worship team." We musicians would often be out in the lobby talking and eating donuts during the sermon, but we had to watch for the pastor's signal to come up and play while he delivered his emotional ending plea. Charismatic churches compound this charade by calling any emotional response "The Holy Spirit," or by saying "you could really feel the Holy Spirit fall down during the service this morning!" Do we really believe the Holy Spirit was somewhere (up in the rafters maybe?) and by playing a certain type of music that we can "call Him down" as if we had some kind of mystical God whistle? In truth, emotional music is, well, emotional. That's why can you feel very similar feelings at any concert when certain similar music is being played. In the church, this is plain old emotional manipulation, and it's been a hallmark of American Evangelicalism ever since the days of Charles Finney.

Here are some thoughts on how to fend off cognitive dissonance for good:

1. Diligently eliminate all false teachings from you life.

 This is what God's Word tells us to do. Check out all these Bible verses. This will probably take some time and effort-do it anyway. This will also probably make you unpopular with some people-do it anyway. Even though Jesus and the Apostles tell us repeatedly to "watch out for wolves in sheep's clothing" we've been told by Evangelical "experts" to do the opposite; we've been told to just be accepting, non-judgmental and positive. As for me, I've been more at peace than ever before by ignoring all the "experts." If Jesus is the head of the church, shouldn't Jesus be the head of the church? Why are we allowing "vision-casting" pastors to promote the Silly Putty Jesus? Probably because he tells us whatever we want to hear. But it's all deception, and true freedom comes from the true Gospel.

2. Question everything.

 Seriously. Question your own presumptions before you even start asking questions. For example: instead of saying, "I want to go to a church where the pastor can really keep my attention with exciting and humorous sermons" or "I want to go to a church that I'm comfortable with" or "I want to go to a church that's relevant to my needs" you should be saying "I want to go to a church that carefully follows God's Word-no matter what!" The pastor who keeps your attention with his exciting and humorous sermons is quite possibly preventing you from hearing about Christ and Him crucified for your sins.  Is hearing a little pep talk about improving your "life skills" a good enough reason to attend church? Do you really expect so little from the God of the Universe? Question everything, but make the Bible your final authority. Which leads to the last point...

3. Stop following the teachings of men. 

Do you want to follow Jesus Christ, the Risen Savior? Great! That means taking up your cross and denying yourself, it doesn't mean "having your best life now." Evangelicals believe that the Bible is God's Word, yet they read it very infrequently, and then they often misunderstand it when they do. It's not a "manual for life" or a set of instructions for "achieving you dreams." It is God revealing Himself through the redeeming Savior, Jesus Christ. He came to earth by taking on human flesh through a virgin birth; He lived an amazing life full of astounding miracles; He had authority and wisdom far beyond any human; He died on the cross where He took our sins upon Himself, and then He was raised from the dead. And then He gave us His Word-His unchanging and objective Word. We need not doubt anymore.

That's enough.

              Actually, that's much, much more than enough!

Why would we add anything to this? What pathetic "new" teaching of man could possibly be better than the true Gospel? When we focus on the shocking, stunning and truly wonderful miracle of Christ's atoning sacrifice for our sins and the complete, final and unconditional forgiveness we've been granted, we won't have any need for the shallow teachings of man to tickle our ears.

Leave the Silly Putty Jesus behind, and find true freedom, forgiveness and hope in the real Jesus!


Also, here's an article about cognitive dissonance that you might find helpful:

Creating Straw Men from Cognitive Dissonance

"A Parable About Ignorance in the Church-And Some Solutions" by Steven Kozar

Imagine that you've never heard a piece of classical music.


     You never went to a concert, or even saw one on TV. Now also imagine that you knew absolutely nothing about all the instruments in an orchestra-you couldn't tell a flute from a tuba or a violin from a piano. Also imagine that you know nothing about the history of classical music throughout the centuries or any of the great composers. Maybe you've heard a few of their names, but you have no idea who they were or what they did.

     But now imagine that you and all your friends (who also don't know anything about classical music) were sitting around watching TV one day and you randomly came across a classical performance on PBS for just a few seconds while switching channels; and imagine that you only saw the conductor waving his arms around for those few seconds. That's all you saw. 

     What if someone asked you "how familiar are you with classical music being performed by an orchestra?" and you answered "I know all about it! Me and my friends saw that guy waving his arms around on TV." 

     Would you really know very much about classical music? Of course not. But you insist: "I saw that guy on TV waving his arms around! Don't tell me I don't know about classical music!" And you might add: "and all my friends saw it, too!"

Sorry, but you and all your friends don't really know what you're talking about; and until you get a lot more information, you're going to remain ignorant of classical music being performed by an orchestra. And you'd be missing out on a lot!


     This is, very sadly, an illustration of where a lot of Evangelicals stand in regard to Christianity. They're ignorant of their faith's history, its leaders and its key doctrines, and they often believe that any study of theology is inherently bad; which is kinda like saying "I don't care about notes-I only care about music!" or "I don't care about ingredients-I only care about food!"

      Yet they believe they really know about their faith based on a guy (their favorite pastor, evangelist or author maybe) "waving his hands around," so to speak (or maybe waving a Bible around). Worst of all, they don't even know very much about the very Word of God that can teach them. The Holy Spirit should be teaching them through the Word of God, but He's been replaced by a bizarre, mystical "genie in a bottle" who requires rock bands in order to "manifest himself" and who always demands more and more attention. And to make matters worse, these very Christians are gleefully unaware of their own ignorance. They believe their pastor really knows what he's talking about. Why? Because he said so! And all of their (church) friends think so, too!

     I know about this topic, because I was one of these ignorant Evangelicals, and I'm very glad to be leaving their ranks. Not because I want to be smarter-but because I want to know the truth about my faith and my God.

I had an extremely limited understanding of Christianity-and I didn't even know it. I thought I was hearing about solid, Biblical Christianity, but in fact, I was only hearing about the American, Arminian, Revivalist, Semi-Pelagianist tip of the pragmatic Protestant Evangelical iceberg. I thought I was going to a "New Testament" church, but it was actually an outgrowth of a number of movements from only the past 200 years or so-and we were greatly affected by even more recent teachings from just the past few decades. Now if those various Christian movements from the past 200 years had really "improved" or "purified" Christianity (as they claimed), I had no way of really knowing, because I was inside that movement and it was all that I knew. Once I stepped outside of the movement and studied what came before us, I could actually see things more clearly, and I could compare the teachings of a pastor or church against historical, Biblical Christianity. It was like a (very) cold splash of water to my face. Or more like a slap upside the head (that I'm still recovering from). But now that I know all of this, it's okay, and I'm very glad to be where I am.   

     I write about this because I wish nothing more than for all my Christian friends (and everyone else who reads this) to experience something similar in their own lives. I'm so much more at peace and so much more confident in my faith because of what I've learned. As I've learned to see both Law and Gospel in the Bible, I'm not so confused anymore. And I'm excited to learn more everyday-literally!

 The thing that really concerns me, is that a lot of Christians, especially as they grow older, are getting tired of pat answers and shallow catch-phrases from pastors who don't know how to rightly handle God's Word. So they just tune out. They gradually stop attending church and whimper away; but a new crop of younger faces (usually with children in tow) show up to replace them. They'll buy into the shallow catch-phrases and pat answers, but only for a while. And then the cycle begins again. After 10 or 20 years of therapeutic "life-lessons," un-Biblical "success strategies" and unfulfilled "prophetic words" they'll eventually whimper away, too. No amount of cool videos, hip new logos, "relevant" messages or rock bands will fool them anymore... they're done. 

Please, don't let that be you!

If you can relate to this, here are a few ideas that might help you:

First of all, maybe you just need to spend more time reading the Bible. Duh, right? But, seriously, many Christians don't even read God's Word. So just get started. Read entire books, too; don't just skip around to a favorite verse here or there. The New Testament epistles are all pretty short-that might be a great place for you to start if it's been a while. Remember, the real meaning can only be understood properly in context, so reading a whole passage will always help you understand the meaning better. I don't recommend The Message or The Passion Translation (they're not really Bibles-they are paraphrases of the Bible that sometimes sounds pretty neat, but many times are just plain wrong), but I do read the New Living Translation sometimes (which uses very easy, modern language); otherwise I mostly read a more accurate translation like the NASB, ESV, NKJV or the original NIV. For further study, I love The Lutheran Study Bible. Also, the Reformation Study Bible, the ESV Study Bible, and the NIV Study Bible have tons of helpful content (these are just a few of the excellent study Bibles available).

Secondly, here are three great programs (and a couple YouTube channel) that have helped me to leave the foggy land of the Evangelical Industrial Complex (although there are a lot more). All you have to do is listen to them.

Seriously, just start listening ASAP!

Fighting for the Faith

This is from my buddy, Chris Rosebrough. As he says, "don't listen with an open mind, listen with an open Bible!" This show is a little like Mystery Science Theater 3000; he plays sermons by the "Super Pastors" and interrupts/corrects them using correct interpretation (and then rips their bad teaching to shreds). I'm amazed at how much I've learned from this one ministry-I'm sure I've learned more in just 2 or 3 years of listening to this, than in 30 years of sermons. I am not exaggerating. Now that I'm occasionally on the show it's even better. (That was a joke)


The White Horse Inn

"Know what you believe, and why you believe it!" This ministry has been slugging away for over 20 years, trying to teach Christians about the Bible, the Reformation, and why we need another one. You can also find a lot of their shows archived on YouTube here. I love this show, and I don't know where I'd be without the things I've learned here! The men on this program also do an excellent of demonstrating what it’s like when people from different denominational traditions talk together respectfully about their differences, and about the Gospel message that draws them together.


Critical Issues Commentary

This is a simple radio show that originally featured the excellent teaching of Bob DeWaay (the newer ones have different hosts). Bob has tackled a lot of the topics that most Christian shows wouldn't touch. And he's taught me a lot, in fact, I've listened to many of his half-hour shows over and over again, just so it can all sink in (and correct the confusing stuff I used to believe). He has also published a lot of excellent (and short) articles on the same topics as the radio shows; I often print these off (they're even available in PDF form) and give them to people.


Ryan Reeves YouTube Channel

 This is a great collection of videos about the history of the Christian Church and it's theological development; plus they are presented with a pretty neutral viewpoint. Done in a narration/documentary style, most of these are around 30 minutes or so. I've listened to many of these multiple times, because they're so interesting and well done. Reeves is a Professor with a PhD in Historical Theology from Cambridge; basically, he's giving away college lectures for free!


Bruce Gore YouTube Channel

This is similar to the Ryan Reeves channel, but these are videos of actual lectures given at Mr. Gore's (very fortunate) Sunday School class. He's a brilliant and engaging teacher, and the lectures have extensive notes and photos to follow along with. This is another amazing free resource!


This is just a start, but I hope this helps! (I originally wrote this article before I was a part of Pirate Christian Media, so if you're here just check out the many great programs and blogs to be found on this site)

            -Steven Kozar