Why Many Charismatics Lack Discernment

I have always wondered why certain Christian leaders say and do things that are wildly unbiblical and lacking in discernment. How can people who know the Bible endorse false teachers and partner with those who oppose the gospel? How could John Piper share the stage with a female Word of Faith preacher and why would Michael Brown interview Benny Hinn? Both charismatics and cessationists can make decisions that are utterly lacking in discernment, but it seems that charismatics are more guilty than cessationists in this regard. Phil Johnson, Justin Peters, and Tom Chantry have all noted the same trend that charismatics who should know better have no problem associating themselves with false teachers. Why is it that charismatics are more prone to listening to false teachers than non-charismatics?

The reason for this is because charismatics view one another as being more in step with the Spirit than non-charismatics. They are willing to overlook serious doctrinal errors in each other’s theology because they are in agreement when it comes to the gift of tongues and prophecy. Charismatics share a common bond in believing that God still speaks today outside of his written Word and that belief leaves them open to searching for revelation from God in charismatic teaching. The reasoning is, “Well, that preacher might be wrong on a lot of issues, but at least he doesn’t believe I’m speaking gibberish when I speak in tongues and therefore I respect him more than that other preacher who thinks I’m crazy but is more doctrinally precise.” Those churches which do not believe that God is still speaking today through prophecy are viewed as places where the Spirit’s power is absent, even if the church’s statement of faith is pristine.

This is especially true in Pentecostalism with its two-tiered system of Christianity where those who have never spoken in tongues have not yet experienced the baptism of the Holy Spirit. From this perspective, some Christians have been baptized in the Holy Spirit while others have not. Why would you want to listen to a preacher who has never experienced the baptism of the Holy Spirit? He does not have the anointing of God while that preacher who may have questionable theology at least has experienced the power of God in speaking in tongues.

Because all of the teachers in the Word of Faith movement are in agreement that tongues and prophecy are for today, this attracts those who agree with them on this issue. We like to listen to those who agree with us, not to those who hold to beliefs that are different from our own. Charismatics have constructed an echo chamber for themselves in which they can listen to voices that affirm their experience of speaking in tongues, even though many of those voices teach heresy. And the more voices, the better. But we are not called to listen to voices that already agree with us, but to the one voice of Scripture which is God’s final and authoritative Word on the subject. God has already spoken once and for all in Scripture. We do not need to go searching for his voice anywhere else.

Sunday Meditation – Pray Without Ceasing

“To pray without ceasing is not to be engaged in the duty of prayer at all times so that other duties are swallowed up in its place. It is to be in prayer regularly at set times and seasons (Gen. 8:22), and to observe a constant course of prayer at fixed and appointed times. To pray without ceasing is also to pray with importunity and emotion (Acts 12:5). The church was very earnest and persevering in praying for Peter. To pray without ceasing is also to take every opportunity through the day to send up a holy meditation. We may do this when we hear or read the Word, or in whatever duty we are engaged, even in our earthly employments. If our heart and affections are heavenly, they will force out a prayer through the crowd and tumult of worldly business. There is a holy mystery in directing our earthly employments through heavenly arrows of prayer. A Christian can be withdrawn and private, in the midst of a multitude. He can turn his shop or field into a closet, and he can trade for earth, and yet get heaven also in the bargain. Praying without ceasing is keeping our hearts in such a praying frame that we are always ready to pray. This is probably the most genuine and natural sense of the words of the Apostle here: to have the habit of always freely and sweetly breathing out our requests unto God. It is to take all occasions to prostrate ourselves before the throne of grace. To do this we must certainly do two things: (1.) Be not too much in the business and pleasures of this life: the world with its affections must not be allowed to stifle and extinguish the holy flames ascending to heaven. (2.) If we would maintain a praying temper, be careful not to fall into the commission of any known and presumptuous sin. The guilt of sin lying upon the conscience will exceedingly deaden a heart for prayer.”

Ezekiel Hopkins

Why Do We Have So Many Shut-ins?

Why do churches have so many older people on the membership roll who never attend the gathering of the church on Sunday morning? I have come to the conclusion that a large portion of them are not really shut-ins at all. It is not so much that they are unable to attend church, but that they are unwilling to attend. The same people who are on the membership roll as shut-ins still leave the house to go to the doctor when they need to or have a friend drive them where they need to go. Most shut-ins could go to church if they really wanted to. They could ask another member of the church to give them a ride on Sunday morning or call the pastor to ask him to send someone to pick them up so they can go to church. But they choose not to.

So why is this? I believe the reason is because they are bitter and angry with God. Because God has not given them what they wanted in life, they refuse to go to church as a means of getting back at God. Because God has not given them what they want: health, prosperity, a happy marriage, and children who do not die before they do, they refuse to give God what he wants: worship. In their old age, they are revealing the true condition of their heart. By removing themselves from the fellowship of the church on Sunday morning, they are unknowingly practicing church discipline on themselves when the church did not have the courage to remove them earlier when they first stopped attending. To leave the church is to leave Christ (1 John 2:19). True Christians are marked by love for God and for one another (1 John 3:10, 14). But if someone is not part of the gathering of a local church, how can he show love for the brothers of Christ?

So what should churches do about all the shut-ins on the membership roll who are not really shut-ins? Of course there are some people who really are shut-in and confined to their bed. But those people usually do not have much longer to live and their absence from the church is only temporary until they are taken into glory. But for those shut-ins who are able to come to church on their own power or through the assistance of others, the church should admonish them gently to return to the fellowship of the church and offer them any assistance they need (1 Tim 5:1). If they still refuse to listen, then the church should begin the process of church discipline in Matthew 18 which may end with that person being removed from the membership of the church. By not attending, they have already removed themselves from the membership of the church and the final stage of church discipline is only making formal what has already happened informally.

Sunday Meditation – The Vanity of Earthly Enjoyments

“The god of this world has blinded man’s eyes and cast a strange mist before them so that they cannot discern what is very evident: namely the instability and vanity of all earthly enjoyments. Whatever God has made is good, but if it is considered the greatest good, it turns into vanity. It is vain to expect happiness and contentment from the world whose crosses are greater than its comforts. There are two seasons especially when the soul needs relief and comfort: when the conscience is troubled and in the hour of death. In each of these the world is vain and useless. Should the never-dying soul be neglected? Alas! Most busy themselves to heap up temporal riches. But this is giving the soul husks. Our Saviour brands the rich man a fool when he stuffed his barns with corn at the neglect of his soul. What folly it is to purchase a vain world at the loss of our precious souls! What great losers they are to gain the world, and then at last lose the world with their souls!”

Ezekiel Hopkins

Why False Teachers Avoid Labels

Last week I was reading a book written by a universalist who denied the existence of an eternal hell. Instead, she believes that most, if not all, of those who die without believing the gospel will eventually be saved. She recounts how one of her students asked her if she was a universalist, and rather than being straightforward and honest about her position, she replied by saying that she believed God’s love and forgiveness are always available to people, even beyond death. She refused to use the term “universalist” to refer to herself even though it is the most accurate description for her position. This is a common tactic by those who hold to beliefs they know are outside of mainstream Christianity while still claiming the title of Christian for themselves.

Alexander Campbell, the founder of the Campbellite movement, was a master of this tactic. He denied that he was a trinitarian while saying that unitarianism, Arianism, and Sabellianism were all false at the same time. He refused to use labels to describe his own theological beliefs because this would allow others to critique his position. He simply said that he believed everything the Bible says while accusing his opponents of departing from Scripture because they used extra-biblical terminology such as “Trinity” to describe their beliefs. False teachers like Campbell and this universalist professor avoid using labels for themselves because they do not want their beliefs to be examined and refuted by others. Once we know what a person believes about a particular subject, we are able to classify it and turn to the Scriptures to refute it. But if we can never define or categorize the beliefs of others, that makes them much more difficult to critique. As the apologist James White put it, trying to argue with such people is like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall.

To say that one believes everything the Bible says about a particular topic is not good enough because anyone who affirms the authority of Scripture could say the same thing. A Mormon could say that he believes everything the Bible says about God while denying central truths about him. An annihilationist could say that he believes everything the Bible says about hell while denying that hell lasts forever. We must be bold enough to express our beliefs in a way that invites criticism from others. Refusing to use labels to classify and express our beliefs is a form of cowardice rooted in the fear of what others might do once they know what we really believe. Labels are important because they allow us to clearly express our beliefs in a short amount of time. Extra-biblical terminology is not meant to be a replacement for the words of Scripture, but a way to summarize what the Bible already teaches. We need to distinguish between what the Bible says from the terms we use to describe what the Bible says. May God give us the boldness to clearly express our beliefs and the courage to really believe everything the Bible says.

Sunday Meditation – Our Desire for Happiness

“Our great desire is happiness, and our great folly is to think we can obtain it by the enjoyments of this world. This makes men pursue pleasures, hoard up riches, and court honours and promotions because they believe these can make them truly happy. But this is to seek the living among the dead. They are leaky cisterns that cannot hold living water. In our perverted fancy, we look upon them as stable, permanent, and satisfactory. We consider them as the goal when they should only be used by us in our pilgrimage. We expect much more from them than they can yield, and so the vanity is not so much in the object but in our affection for it. To enjoy something is to cleave to it in love for its own sake. This should only belong to God. We ought to use things of the world only that we might arrive at the Creator. We may use them for our benefit, but we must alone enjoy him. . . . Fancy and custom have conspired together to cheat us. The truth is, the world is much better in show than in substance. How vain is the world at the hour of death! Nor can these earthy pleasures free us from our cares and crosses. In him alone can be found true rest and satisfaction. Let us cast our cares and burdens upon him who promised to sustain us. Let us turn the stream of our desires heavenward, where alone we can find permanent and satisfactory good. Let us walk humbly with our God.”

Ezekiel Hopkins

Notes on Church Revitalization

Last weekend I had the privilege of attending a conference on church revitalization. I would like to share with you my notes from the conference:

The only people who like change are babies when they need their diaper changed. Change is painful and it is easier to learn from other people’s mistakes than your own. No church ever died from a lack of opportunity. There will always be a shortage of helpers but take care of the laborers you have. Win people over to your vision instead of forcing them. The message cannot change but our methodology can. Everyone must know the vision of the church. We must be engaged in life-changing ministry, not just fixing the building. Simplify the church’s schedule to focus on ministry.

Take care of yourself before the day starts. Finish your sermon preparation early in the week so you can devote the rest of it to pastoral ministry and family. Get away for a week every few months. Meet with those who may oppose your ideas individually before meeting as a group. Do not build the church on your personality. There should be a holy discontent with the way things are. Discover and develop informal relationships by spending more time with the members of the church. Buy credibility and build trust. Trust is more powerful than disagreement.

You are going to make mistakes, but how you respond to them determines whether you live or die. You can’t die on every hill. Perseverance is key to pastoral ministry. Jesus did not come to them immediately because he wanted them to first strain at the oars to show them that they can’t do it on their own. Maintain the spiritual disciples of the Christian life. Work harder at winning over skeptics and pray for them. Make hires based on character, competency, and chemistry. Just because I love you doesn’t mean I won’t fire you. Place the strengths of your employees on a board outside their office.

You have to put coins in the bank before you can take them out. As a pastor, you have a relational account and an authority account. Draw from your relational account instead. Find things that you can be successful at. Lots of early successes builds credibility. Cast a vision for growth – a plan that others can get behind. It takes time to build credibility. The power of a defining moment. Call other pastors and ask to take them out for coffee. Find a person you can be honest with. Life change keeps pastors going. Fellowship is the most valuable commodity you have.

Every church has its own culture. The church is more than an organization, but it is not less than an organization. Is the organizational culture of your church sabotaging your vision? Vision is the seed; organization is the soil. The DNA of a church is fashioned by its values. The church must be outreach focused and expect to see new members join. A new members class is essential and creates an expectation that guests will visit. Inject the DNA of your church into new members at this class. Start new ministries to give new members opportunities for service. The DNA of a church is its purpose and passion. Make members partners in ministry. “Member” implies perks as opposed to a ministry partner. Small groups are places for ministry. These growth groups are where community happens.

Reallocate resources for the purpose of discipleship. Design the facility to reflect the mission of the church. There needs to be a clear front door and community room to hang out in. Use transparent glass whenever possible. Install massive windows to see outside. Tell stories about the church. Every church needs a creation story. It’s not about us, it’s about serving, it’s about reaching people.

Some people will not change. Pray and seek counsel before each decision. There is no such thing as too much counsel. Leave cow patties alone and don’t kick them or else they’ll stink. Some people should not be disturbed and the best thing that could happen is for them to leave the church. Meet with a mentor regularly. Ease into change, don’t force it. Don’t spin the merry-go-round faster when you want people to get off. Make sure people know you love them when trying to bring about change. Don’t keep changing your vision. Barking dogs don’t bite. Have a volunteer huddle once a month: feed them, do giveaways, birthday stickers, encourage two people not in your ministry. What you celebrate is what gets repeated. Celebrate the wins. We’re in a party inviting those on the outside to join us. Show them instead of telling them. No one likes a party pooper.

Tell compelling stories to build a new church culture. Make the preaching more conversational – like Jesus taught, instead of behind a pulpit. Use an illustration every 2-3 minutes to keep the attention of the audience. Allow people to download the slideshow to their smartphones. Create ministry apps and be connected through social media. Serve your volunteers every quarter. The cumulative effect of change will make some people change who once resisted.