TODAY 1553: John Calvin & Michael Servetus

Michael Servetus was a thinker who seems to have been the first to describe the “pulmonary transit” of blood through the lung from the heart’s right ventricle to the left auricle.  He didn’t, however, stick to anatomical studies, he ventured into theology.  By doing so, he embraced a heretical view by rejecting the Trinity and by advancing theories that seemed to many theologians to entail pantheism.  He published these ideas in his book The Restitution of Christianity.

In 1540 Servetus commenced a correspondence with John Calvin denying the Trinity and the divine sonship of Christ.  After authorities condemned Servetus to death for heresy, he showed up in Geneva, where he was soon recognized and imprisoned.  John Calvin visited him in prison many times, laboring with him to change his views, embrace orthodoxy, and avoid death but Servetus clung to his unorthodox views.

Today, October 26, 1553, Geneva’s city council condemned Servetus to death with the words, “Let him be condemned to be led to Champel, and there burned alive, and let him be executed tomorrow, and his books consumed.”  Calvin asked that the heretic be given a more humane death than burning.  The council refused.

J.I. Packer describes it like this:

The anti-Trinitarian campaigner Servetus was burned at Geneva in 1553, and this is often seen as a blot on Calvin’s reputation. But weigh these facts:

  1. The belief that denial of the Trinity and/or Incarnation should be viewed as a capital crime in a Christian state was part of Calvin’s and Geneva’s medieval inheritance; Calvin did not invent it.
  2. Anti-Trinitarian heretics were burned in other places beside Geneva in Calvin’s time, and indeed later–two in England, for instance, as late as 1612.
  3. The Roman Inquisition had already set a price on Servetus’ head.
  4. The decision to burn Servetus as a heretic was taken not only by Calvin personally but by Geneva’s Little Council of twenty-five, acting on unanimous advice from the pastors of several neighboring Reformed churches whom they had consulted.
  5. Calvin, whose role in Servetus’ trial had been that of expert witness managing the prosecution, wanted Servetus not to die but to recant, and spent hours with him during and after the trial seeking to change his views.
  6. When Servetus was sentenced to be burned alive, Calvin asked for beheading as a less painful alternative, but his request was denied.
  7. The chief Reformers outside Geneva, including Bucer and the gentle Melanchthon, fully approved the execution.

The burning should thus be seen as the fault of a culture and an age rather than of one particular child of that culture and age. Calvin, for the record, showed more pastoral concern for Servetus than anyone else connected with the episode. As regards the rights and wrongs of what was done, the root question concerns the propriety of political paternalism in Christianity (that is, whether the Christian state, as distinct from the Christian church, should outlaw heresy or tolerate it), and it was Calvin’s insistence that God alone is Lord of the conscience that was to begin displacing the medieval by the modern mind-set on this question soon after Servetus’ death.

What do you think?  Is this episode a detriment to Reformed Theology?  Or is this episode defensible?  I’m afraid that the answer isn’t quite clear.  I say that because Calvin’s Geneva existed in a vastly different time than we do now, and operated by vastly different laws/worldviews.  There was no separation of church/state, so someone could be imprisoned for theological offense as well as civil offense.  This was the norm.

It is not our norm.

Many people who reject Reformed Theology today use this episode as fuel for their fire, further prompting them toward a hatred of all things Calvinistic.  Some even go so far as saying Calvin killed Servetus himself.  Others, like myself, who hold the Reformed/Calvinistic worldview think of this episode, not as a blemish, but a historical lesson on the importance of love and theology.

Right theology is a life and death issue.  Love was displayed in Calvin’s repeated attempts to persuade Servetus of the truth.  Regardless of what cultural milieu we find ourselves in we must never forget these two important things: theology and love.

John Piper has a caution for us all:

So the times were harsh and immoral and barbaric, and had a contaminating effect on everyone, just as we are all contaminated today by the evils of our time. Their blind spots and evils may be different from ours. And it may be that the very things they saw clearly are the things we are blind to. It would be foolhardy to say that we would have never done what they did under their circumstances, and thus draw the conclusion that they have nothing to teach us. In fact, what we probably need to say is that some of our evils are such that we are blind to them, just as they were blind to many of theirs, and the virtues they manifested in those times are the very ones that we probably need in ours. There was in the life and ministry of John Calvin a grand God-centeredness, Bible-allegiance and iron constancy. Under the banner of God’s mercy to miserable sinners we would do well to listen and learn.

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Andy Stanley – Joel Osteen: Brothers in Heresy

From Pulpit and Pen:

headerImage-stanleyOsteen

Editors Note. This article was originally written and posted at Jeff Maples Blog and is being reprinted here with permission.


Remember the old days where churches had steeples and stained glass windows? Remember when there were pews and a choir that sang edifying hymns to our Lord? Remember those days when people wore suits and ties and ladies wore dresses and heels trying to present their best to our God? Remember those days when children used to go to Sunday School classes and learn the Bible and families went to service and the pastor preached a sermon? “Well,” says Andy Stanley, “the greatest thing about all of this, is we don’t have to do that anymore,” he proclaims in his latest sermon series, “Brand New.”

Stanley is making it abundantly clear that he has no qualms about changes that are being made in today’s churches, and he’s proud of it.

“The things that are holding people back from coming to church are actually the things the church should be letting go of,” Stanley says. But what kind of things is he referring to? Could it be things like clear Biblical doctrine about salvation, sin, grace, etc? Could it be a pastoral teaching from the pulpit? Could it be edifying worship to our Lord and Savior? Just exactly what things is the church holding on to that’s “hindering growth,” according to Stanley?

He goes on to say that in his lifetime, he has never heard anyone say that the reason they don’t go to church is because they follow Jesus.

Seriously? Where has his head been? “The Church should be irresistible except for the fact that we love Jesus.” But according to Stanley, the Catholic church loves Jesus too. Does this also include Mormons? Jehovah’s Witnesses? Unrepentant sinners, like Matthew Vines, who think living in sin is fine with God?

He goes on to say, “even if you never come to the conclusion that Jesus is the Son of God, or that Jesus is your savior, if you follow his teachings you will have a better life.”

Stanley goes on to proclaim that Church has become resistible to people because of all of the baggage that comes along with it; baggage like clear doctrine, and traditional, edifying worship. By removing these things that are “holding the Church back” we can now make church attractive to people and give people a “better life.” Much like Joel Osteen, he isn’t concerned with the eternal salvation of people’s souls, rather he wants to give people “their best life now.” So let’s do away with doctrine that teaches people about sin and repentance and the merciful loving grace of God. Let’s not teach people about the consequences of sin (Hell), but let’s just teach people to come in and sing rock and roll music, follow some of the red-letter teachings of Jesus about loving one-another. Then people can walk out of here on Sunday mornings temporally fulfilled, have a better life, and perhaps the pockets of wolves like Andy Stanley will be lined with the dollar bills of these lost sheep and/or goats.

  • You can view the entire “sermon” at Northpoint’s site here.
  • You may also listen to Chris Rosebrough‘s review of two of the full sermons here and here.

[Contributed by Landon Chapman]

False Teachers: Creflo Dollar

FalseTeachers-02Tim Challies:

Today for our last profile in the false teachers series we turn to one of the chief proponents of the popular but sinister prosperity gospel.

CREFLO DOLLAR

Creflo DollarCreflo Augustus Dollar, Jr. was born in College Park, Georgia on January 28, 1962. Though he was raised in a church-going home, he did not have a conversion experience until the summer following his freshmen year at West Georgia College. Even after this experience he felt no pull toward full-time ministry as his heart was set on being a professional football player. It was only after that football career was cut short by injury that he began to consider other options. In 1984 Dollar received a Bachelor of Science degree in education and soon began work as a educational therapist. The next year he married Taffi, with whom he would eventually have five children.

While recovering from his football injury, Dollar had begun to lead Bible studies among his fellow students and he gained a reputation as a skillful and charismatic teacher. He called his study “World Changers Bible Study.” By 1986 he had determined that he was not meant to be a therapist but that the Lord was calling him into full-time preaching ministry.

He and Taffi founded a church and they held its inaugural worship service in an elementary school cafeteria. Only eight people attended that service, but the congregation soon grew and was renamed World Changers Church International (WCCI). In less than ten years the church had grown exponentially and Dollar’s sermons were being broadcast over the radio through Creflo Dollar Ministries. In 1995 WCCI moved to its current location, the 8,500-seat World Dome in College Park, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta.

Today World Changers Church International serves nearly 30,000 members each week through the main campus, 6,000 through an affiliated congregation in New York City, and thousands more through many satellite campuses across America.

Dollar is known for his extravagant wealth which includes two multi-million dollar homes, expensive cars, and even a private jet. Creflo Dollar Ministries made headlines several years ago when it was one of six ministries audited by U.S.Senator Charles Grassley. “My goal,” he said, “is to help improve accountability and good governance so tax-exempt groups maintain public confidence in their operations.” The ministry was deemed uncooperative. MinistryWatch, an organization that reviews Christian ministries based on their financial accountability and transparency awarded Creflo Dollar Ministries an F rating and has added it to their Donor Alert listing. Dollar made headlines again in 2012 when his daughter called police to their home, charging that Dollar had choked and hit her. Dollar denied the charges which were dropped after he completed an anger-management program.

FALSE TEACHING: PROSPERITY GOSPEL

Creflo Dollar is one of the foremost proponents of what has become known as the prosperity gospel. This doctrine teaches that God has promised his people financial and other forms of prosperity in this life, if only God’s people will take the necessary steps to claim it. A uniquely American creation, this false teaching has since been exported across the world where it has especially taken root in the developing world. In one of his Bible studies Dollar lays it out:

As the righteousness of God, your inheritance of wealth and riches is included in the “spiritual blessings” (or spiritual things) the apostle Paul spoke of in Ephesians 1:5. Based on Psalm 112:3, righteousness, wealth and riches go hand—in—hand. You have every right to possess material wealth—clothes, jewelry, houses, cars and money—in abundance. It is that wealth that not only meets your needs, but also spreads the Gospel message and meets the needs of others.

The Bible says that wealth is stored up for the righteous (Proverbs 13:22, New American Standard). However, it will remain stored up until you claim it. Therefore, claim it now! You possess the ability to seize and command wealth and riches to come to you (Deuteronomy 8:18). Exercise that power by speaking faith-filled words daily and taking practical steps to eradicate debt. Like God, you can speak spiritual blessings into existence (Romans 4:17). Remember, doubt keeps silent, but faith speaks!”

The way such prosperity is activated is by the planting of seeds, so that the person who wants financial prosperity must plant a seed of financial prosperity. Needless to say, such seeds are usually through a donation to a ministry like Dollar’s.

You can say, “Oh, God, I need money! The rent is due. The baby needs shoes. And what about my breakthrough?” But if you haven’t sown financial seed, how can you expect a financial harvest?

If you wanted to grow apples, would you plant cucumber seeds or pumpkin seeds? You would not! So why do people expect to receive financial increase when they purposely plant anything and everything but what is needed? They will plant hope seed, shout seed, dance seed, and even “claim it” seed! All of these are good things, but alone and without the appropriate seed, they are unproductive.1

FOLLOWERS & ADHERENTS

Creflo Dollar is one of the most prominent and most successful teachers of prosperity theology. He preaches live to tens of thousands of people each weekend and his “Changing Your World” broadcast extends to nearly every country on earth. He publishes CHANGE magazine which has 100,000 subscribers, and he has written several bestselling books. His voice extends around the world and every week hundreds of thousands or even millions of people listen to him.

WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS

  1. The Abrahamic covenant is a means to material entitlement. Prosperity teachers look to God’s covenant with Abraham and see its fulfillment as providing material prosperity to Christians today. Dollar’s mentor Kenneth Copeland says, “Since God’s Covenant has been established and prosperity is a provision of this covenant, you need to realize that prosperity belongs to you now!”
  2. Jesus’ atonement extends to the “sin” of material poverty. They hold that Jesus’ atoning death provided not only for our spiritual needs but also for our financial prosperity. Thus it is only sin that keeps us trapped in poverty or anything less than abundant wealth.
  3. Christians give in order to gain material compensation from God. Creflo Dollar and others like him teach that giving to the Lord’s work is primarily a means of gaining further compension from God.
  4. Faith is a self-generated spiritual force that leads to prosperity. Many prosperity gospel preachers, Dollar among them, teach that we, like God, have the ability to speak reality into existence when we speak in faith. Thus faith becomes a force that allows us to speak prosperity into our lives.
  5. Prayer is a tool to force God to grant prosperity. Dollar writes, “When we pray, believing that we have already received what we are praying, God has no choice but to make our prayers come to pass. … It is a key to getting results as a Christian.” Thus prayer is little more than a means through which we bring about our desires for wealth.

Al Mohler says it well: “Prosperity theology is a False Gospel. Its message is unbiblical and its promises fail. God never assures his people of material abundance or physical health. Instead, Christians are promised the riches of Christ, the gift of eternal life, and the assurance of glory in the eternal presence of the living God. In the end, the biggest problem with prosperity theology is not that it promises too much, but that it promises far too little. The Gospel of Jesus Christ offers salvation from sin, not a platform for earthly prosperity. While we should seek to understand what drives so many into this movement, we must never for a moment fail to see its message for what it is — a false and failed gospel.”

False Teachers: T.D. Jakes

FalseTeachers-02Tim Challies:

Today we turn to a man who pastors a mega-church, whose sermons are a staple on TBN, and who has written a long list of bestselling books.

T.D. JAKES

TD JakesThomas Dexter Jakes was born on June 9, 1957 in South Charleston, West Virginia and grew up in nearby Vandalia. As a teenager he was charged with supporting and caring for his invalid father and dedicated himself to that task. While still a young man he felt that the Lord was calling him to ministry so he enrolled at West Virginia State University and began to preach occasionally. Before long, though, he dropped out of school to work at Union Carbide, while continuing to preach on a part-time basis. In 1981, at the age of 24, he married Serita Ann Jamison.

Around this time Jakes, still eager to be a minister, founded Greater Emmanuel Temple of Faith, a small, independent, Pentecostal congregation in Montgomery, West Virginia. The church quickly began to grow from the ten founding members meeting in a small storefront to two hundred and then three hundred attendees. Jakes soon came into contact with Bishop Sherman Watkins who had founded the Higher Ground Always Abounding Assembly, which at that time was an association of more than two hundred Pentecostal churches. Watkins ordained Jakes and suggested that he plant a church in the Charleston Area.

In 1990 Jakes moved to Charleston and began to focus on the spiritual concerns of the women in his church, many of whom were in abusive or other otherwise difficult relationships. He called his class “Woman, Thou Art Loosed” and this later became the title of his bestselling book and the name of an annual conference. By 1993 he had moved his congregation to Cross Lanes, West Virginia, where the mixed-race congregation exploded to more than 1,100 people. The next year he established T.D. Jakes Ministries to produce televised sermons and conferences. In 1996 he moved to Dallas, Texas, where he founded the Potter’s House. Today some 17,000 people call it their home church. His television broadcast “The Potter’s House” appears on the Trinity Broadcasting Network and other networks around the world, making him one of the world’s most prominent and recognizable preachers. His annual MegaFest event draws up to 100,000 people each year. He has written more than 30 books, many of which have appeared on the lists of bestselling Christian books.

A gifted speaker and excellent communicator, Jakes has been widely praised for his teaching and his leadership. In September of 2001 he appeared on the cover ofTIME magazine with the title, “Is this man the next Billy Graham?” He has also appeared on Oprah Winfrey’s network and has reciprocated the invitation, inviting her to appear at his MegaFest event. He has acted in or produced several movies including the currentHeaven Is For Real. Among his acquaintances he counts both President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama.

FALSE TEACHING: MODALISM

T.D. Jakes is associated with several troublesome teachings including the prosperity gospel and positive thinking. For our purposes, though, we will look at his teaching on the Trinity. Jakes has long been associated with Oneness Pentecostalism which holds to an unorthodox position on the Trinity. This position is known as Modalism or, historically, as Sabellianism.

Modalism holds that Father, Son and Holy Spirit do not refer to distinct persons in the godhead, but to different modes of existence of a single person. It teaches that in ages past God manifested himself as the Father, during the incarnation of Christ he manifested himself as the Son, and subsequently he manifested himself as the Holy Spirit. As one of its key tenets it states that God cannot exist in more than one mode at a time. So while this teaching does hold to a form of trinitarian theology and while it does proclaim the divinity of Jesus Christ, it denies that there are three distinct persons who together make up the godhead. Hence the belief statement at the Potter’s House says, “There is one God, Creator of all things, infinitely perfect, and eternally existing in three manifestations: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” (Formerly the statement was even clearer: “We believe in one God who is eternal in His existence, Triune in His manifestation, being both Father, Son and Holy Ghost AND that He is Sovereign and Absolute in His authority.”) The important word here is manifestations. Where historic Christianity affirms persons, modalism demands use of manifestations or modes.

FOLLOWERS & ADHERENTS

Jakes has wide influence in many circles. Some 17,000 people attend his church on a weekly basis and millions more encounter his teaching through his broadcasts, conferences, movies and books. He is one of a few Christian figures who has a voice that extends into the broader culture through association with Oprah Winfrey, American presidents, and other leaders.

WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS

These minor distinctions in trinitarian theology, a word here, a letter there, actually represent colossal differences and even eternal differences—the difference between heaven and hell. Modalism has long been labeled as a heresy meaning that if you believe it in place of the biblical understanding of the Trinity, you are not and cannot be a true Christian.

We can define the Trinity, as the church has historically understood it, through a series of seven simple statements: There is one God; The Father is God; The Son is God; The Holy Spirit is God; The Father is not the Son; The Son is not the Spirit; The Spirit is not the Father.

In all that is, in all that exists, there is only one God. No truth was more precious to the Israelites of old. In Isaiah’s prophecy God records:

There is no other god besides me
a righteous God and a Savior;
there is none besides me.
Turn to me and be saved,
all the ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there is no other. (Isaiah 45:21-22)

It could hardly be clearer. The New Testament is equally explicit. Paul writes, “There is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5). James agrees: “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder” (James 2:19).

There is one God. The other six statements affirm both unity and diversity within the godhead. There is one God who exists as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, yet each of these is distinct from the others. There is unity here, but there is also diversity. There is a real sense in which God is one, and there is a real sense in which God is three.

To summarize those seven statements, we might say, “God eternally exists as three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and each person is fully God, and there is one God.” In all that we believe, in all that we affirm or deny, we must hold these seven statements together. If we take away one, the entire structure collapses. In fact, every time the Trinity comes under attack, or every time the Trinity is denied, it is because one of these statements has been taken away or tampered with.

Though he has recently denied being a Modalist, T.D. Jakes continues to usemanifestations in place of persons and continues to affirm the faith of those who remain ardent Oneness Pentecostals. This is no minor quibble in theology because it contradicts and confuses the orthodox and accepted view of the Trinity. Until he clearly affirms the orthodox definition of the Trinity and denies the Modalist definition of the Trinity, we must regard him warily as a false teacher.

False Teachers: Brian McLaren

FalseTeachers-02Tim Challies:

Along the way we have visited such figures as Joseph Smith (Mormonism), Ellen G. White (Adventism), Norman Vincent Peale (Positive Thinking) and Benny Hinn(Faith Healing). Today we turn to a man who helped lead the Emerging Church and who was once named by TIME as one of the 25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America.

BRIAN MCLAREN

McLarenBrian McLaren (born in 1956) studied humanities at the University of Maryland and graduated with graduate and post-graduate degrees in English. Beginning in 1978, he taught college-level English, before founding Cedar Ridge Community Church in 1986. He served this church as its founding pastor until 2006, when he handed off the role so he could focus on writing and public speaking.

In 1986 Zondervan released McLaren’s first book,The Church on the Other Side: Doing Ministry in the Postmodern Matrix. This book established him as a leader and thinker in the church at a time when Christians were attempting to grapple with the dawning reality of postmodernism.

However, it was his 2001 work of fiction, a New Kind of Christian, that introduced him to the wider church and earned him Christianity Today’s Award of Merit in 2002. It was the first volume in a trilogy and quickly became one of the foremost texts for what was soon known as the Emerging Church movement. A New Kind of Christian tells the story of Dan Poole, a pastor who finds himself ready to give up on Christian ministry. Increasingly disillusioned, he has become less and less certain about what he believes. When he takes his daughter to a concert he meets Neil Oliver, a high school science teacher, and together they discuss a long list of core Christian doctrines. According to the publisher, “This stirring fable captures a new spirit of Christianity—where personal, daily interaction with God is more important than institutional church structures, where faith is more about a way of life than a system of belief, where being authentically good is more important than being doctrinally ‘right,’ and where one’s direction is more important than one’s present location.” McLaren became known as a Christian leader who was talking about life and faith in ways that seemed new and fresh.

McLaren followed this book with many more—nearly twenty to date. The most noteworthy of his books have probably been A Generous Orthodoxy which he calls “a personal confession and a manifesto of the emerging church conversation” andA New Kind of Christianity in which he offers responses to “ten questions that are central to the emergence of a postmodern, post-colonial Christian faith.”

In 2005 McLaren was named by TIME as one of the 25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America under the heading “Paradigm Shifter.” They pointed to his ambiguous statements about gay marriage and said that he represented a kinder and gentler form of Christianity. The following year he joined with Tony Campolo, Jim Wallis, Richard Rohr, and others to found Red Letter Christians, an organization dedicated to seeing Christianity liberated from both right-wing and left-wing politics in America. Where Christianity has been dominated for too long by discussions of abortion and homosexuality, this movement prefers to look to the words Jesus spoke and focus on issues related to social justice.

McLaren has traveled the world as a teacher, preacher, lecturer, and conference speaker, and has been granted honorary degrees from both Carey Theological Seminary and Virginia Theological Seminary. In September 2012 he made headlines for participating in a gay marriage ceremony for his son Trevor and his partner Owen Ryan. The wedding was officiated by a Universal Life minister, with McLaren leading a commitment ceremony built around Christian themes.

FALSE TEACHING

As McLaren’s theology has matured and taken shape over time and through his books, he has stepped forward as a leader in a new and revived form of theological liberalism. This displays itself most clearly in his view of Scripture.

In A New Kind of Christianity he insists that Christians have long been reading the Bible through the distorted lens of a Greco-Roman narrative. This narrative produced many false dualisms, an air of superiority, and a false distinction between those who were “in” and those who were “out.” These three marks of false narrative have so impacted our faith that we can hardly see past them. His book attempts to do that, and to reconstruct the Christian faith as it is meant to be.

Leading the way is his view of the Bible. He does not see the Bible as God’s inspired, inerrant, infallible, authoritative Word. He displays this, for example, in his interpretation of the account of Noah by saying, “a god who mandates an intentional supernatural disaster leading to unparalleled genocide is hardly worthy of belief, much less worship.”

He goes on to say, “I’m recommending we read the Bible as an inspired library. This inspired library preserves, presents, and inspires an ongoing vigorous conversation with and about God, a living and vital civil argument into which we are all invited and through which God is revealed.” After all, “revelation doesn’t simply happen in statements. It happens in conversations and arguments that take place within and among communities of people who share the same essential questions across generations. Revelation accumulates in the relationships, interactions, and interplay between statements.” He understands the Bible to be a slowly-evolving human understanding of God. “Scripture faithfully reveals the evolution of our ancestors’ best attempts to communicate their successive best understandings of God. As human capacity grows to conceive of a higher and wiser view of God, each new vision is faithfully preserved in Scripture like fossils in layers of sediment.”

This is nothing less than theological liberalism in twenty-first century, post-modern clothing (which is why Gresham Machen’s Christianity and Liberalismoffers a rebuttal, though it was written 90 years earlier). Like Fosdick and other liberals before him, McLaren has assumed authority over the Bible instead of placing himself under its authority. His understanding of Scripture frees him to see Christian doctrine as evolving, and himself as an instrument of this evolution. In this way he revisits and reinterprets whatever does not accord with modern sensibilities. He has denied the literal nature of hell along with its eternality; he has denied the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ; he has denied Jesus Christ as the only way to the Father; he has affirmed homosexuality as good and pleasing to God. And he continues to think and to write, meaning that his theological development is not yet complete.

FOLLOWERS AND ADHERENTS

McLaren has long been a leader in the Emerging Church, and almost all of those who “emerged” with him have known his influence. So too have many of his fellow progressive Christians. He continues to have a broad speaking platform and to write popular books.

WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS

Where McLaren casts doubt on the idea that we can ever really confidently know and understand the Bible, Christians have long held that God spoke and inspired his prophets and apostles to write because he actually intended to be heard as saying something, and that the message would be carried on and be understood forever after (see 2 Peter 1:16-21). This is why Jude calls it “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3), and why Paul is so emphatic with Timothy that he “guard the good deposit entrusted to [him]” (2 Timothy 1:14). Kevin DeYoung says it well in Taking God at His Word: “The Bible is an utterly reliable book, an unerring book, a holy book, a divine book. … There is no more authoritative declaration than what we find in the word of God, no firmer ground to stand on, no ‘more final’ argument that can be spoken after Scripture has spoken.”

False Teachers: Benny Hinn

FalseTeachers-02Tim Challies:

Today we turn to one of the most outrageous charlatans of our time, a man who claims to have healed countless people. His name is Benny Hinn.

BENNY HINN

Benny HinnToufik Benedictus Hinn was born on December 3, 1952 in Jaffa, Israel (modern-day Tel Aviv), the son of a Greek father and Armenian mother who had immigrated from Greece. He was raised in the Greek Orthodox tradition but educated in Roman Catholic schools. After the Six-Day War, he and his family emigrated to Canada and at the age of nineteen he professed faith in Jesus Christ. He immediately became involved in the Pentecostal movement in Toronto and was mentored by Dr. Winston Nunes of Broadview Faith Temple.

In December 1973 Hinn traveled with other Christians to Pittsburgh to attend a miracle healing service led by Kathryn Kuhlman, the foremost faith healer of that day. Though Hinn never met Kuhlman personally, she left an indelible impression on him, and at that service he had a life-changing religious experience. Shortly after, he received a vision of people falling into a roaring fire and heard the words: “If you do not preach, every soul who falls will be your responsibility!” Later that year he began to preach and claimed that at this time God miraculously cured him of a terrible stutter. He soon began to imitate Kuhlman and even to sponsor services endorsed by the Kathryn Kuhlman Foundation. In 1979 Hinn moved to the United States of America, settling in Orlando, where he met Suzanne Harthern, a pastor’s daughter who would become his wife.

He claims to have preached the gospel to over a billion people, either face-to-face or through television.

In 1983 Hinn founded Orlando Christian Center and began to perform miracles and conduct healing services, claiming that God was using him as a conduit for these supernatural deeds. Soon his “Miracle Crusades” were being held around the world and, by 1989, were being televised across America. The daily talk show “This Is Your Day” followed, and is now broadcast in over 200 nations around the world. In 1999 he handed the leadership of Orlando Christian Center to Clint Brown so he could focus entirely on travel and crusades. Millions, or even tens of millions, attend his crusades each year. The largest event to date took place in Mumbai, India, where over seven million people attended over a three-day period. He claims to have preached the gospel to over a billion people, either face-to-face or through television.

In recent days Hinn has been the subject of scrutiny on a number of fronts. In 2010 his wife filed for divorce citing “irreconcilable differences.” This was shortly after the National Enquirer published photographs of Benny Hinn and fellow televangelist Paula White walking out of a Rome hotel hand-in-hand. However, nearly three years later, Benny and Suzanne were remarried at The Holy Land Experience theme park in Orlando. His claims of miracles remain unverified despite a host of programs and publications that have looked for evidence. He has also been widely criticized for his lavish lifestyle, which includes a private jet, a multi-million dollar mansion, and regular stays at hotels costing thousands or tens of thousands of dollars per night. This extravagance led to United States Senator Chuck Grassley announcing that the United States Senate Committee on Finance would be investigating Hinn’s ministry.

FALSE TEACHING – FAITH HEALING

Critiques of Benny Hinn can span a multitude of areas—his Word-Faith theology, his “little god” theology, his claim that each person of the Trinity is actually his own trinity, his outright lies about his accomplishments, and much more besides. But for our purposes, we will recognize him as the world’s most recognized faith healer.

Hinn teaches that God intends for everyone to be healed of all of their diseases. If people simply have the faith to believe they can be healed, God will heal them through the agency of a healer like himself.

Hinn’s crusades are carefully constructed to lead and manipulate those in attendance, with singing and repetitive music that build a particular atmosphere and sense of anticipation. These crusades crescendo in a time where he announces that God has begun to heal people and he then invites those people to come to the stage to tell what God has done, a technique that was mastered by Kathryn Kuhlman and has since become a staple of faith healing. Hinn claims that God is working powerfully through him to heal others and begins to list those miracles, usually starting with ones that are invisible and unverifiable at the moment—diabetes, depression, and the like. As the healings begin, many people come forward, hoping for their own miracle. Generally, though, only people who claim to have already been healed are showcased on the stage where Benny speaks to them and then often “slays” them in the Spirit.

In this way he has manipulated countless people to give money to his cause, believing that giving money will be key to activating their miracle. Not a single one of Hinn’s miracles has ever been verified, though many have been proven to be temporary or false.

Benny Hinn Prayer

FOLLOWERS & ADHERENTS

Hinn’s television show “This Is Your Day” is broadcast around the world and remains regular viewing for millions. He speaks to millions more each year through his crusades. He has also perfected faith healing techniques that have been imitated by a host of others. He is the world’s best known and most notorious faith healer.

WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS

While the Bible clearly presents a God who is capable of healing and a God who at times does heal miraculously, it never tells us that it is always God’s will that we be healed. In fact, it may be God’s will that we suffer for a time. Never does the Bible tell us that our healing is dependent upon the quantity or the activation of our faith. And most Christians hold that even while God does still heal people today, he no longer does so through the agency of a healer (see James 5:13-16 and read about A Presbyterian Healing Service).

In the final analysis, Benny Hinn is a dangerous deceiver, a fraud and charlatan who enriches himself at the expense of countless others.

False Teachers: Pope Francis

FalseTeachers-02Tim Challies:

Today we will look at a man who commands more followers than perhaps any other person in the world: Jorge Mario Bergoglio, known also as Pope Francis.

POPE FRANCIS

Pope FrancisJorge Mario Bergoglio was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on December 17, 1936, the first child of Italian immigrants Mario and Regina. He graduated from college as a chemical technician and pursued that career for a short time before entering seminary at the Diocesan Seminary of Villa Devoto. On March 11, 1958 he entered the novitiate of the Society of Jesus and over the next decade studied and taught in a variety of disciplines. He was ordained a priest in December 1969 and made his final profession with the Jesuits in April 1973.

In July of that year he was appointed Provincial of the Jesuits in Argentina and held that position for several years before resuming his work as a priest and a teacher and, later, as spiritual director and confessor to the Jesuits in Cordoba. As a priest he was loved and admired for his kindness and willingness to engage in patient dialog with his students and parishoners. However, he also walked into a political quagmire as the military sought to assert its dominance over the nation. He was accused of complicity with the military forces in the kidnapping of two Jesuit priests, though he has strenuously denied the charges which have not been satisfactorily proven.

In 1992 Pope John Paul II appointed Bergoglio titular Bishop of Auca and Auxiliary of Buenos Aires. He became the Archbishop of Buenos Aires in 1998, and was quickly elevated to Cardinal in 2001. After Pope John Paul II died in 2005, some reports indicated that Bergoglio received the second-most votes in that papal election, though Joseph Ratzinger (who became Pope Benedict XVI) was eventually elected to succeed John Paul. As a cardinal Bergoglio gained a reputation for his low-key lifestyle, his commitment to social justice, and his doctrinal conservatism, proving himself an ardent opponent of same-sex marriage and public efforts to introduce free contraception. One of his friends says, “He’s as uncompromising as Pope John Paul II, in terms of the principles of the Church – everything it has defended regarding euthanasia, the death penalty, abortion, the right to life, human rights, celibacy of priests.”

When Pope Benedict XVI voluntarily resigned as pope on February 28, 2013, the papal conclave elected the 76-year-old Bergoglio as his successor. He chose Francis as his papal name in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi and his lifestyle of simplicity. He is the first Jesuit to be pope, the first pope from the Americas and the southern hemisphere, and the first non-European pope in almost 1,300 years.

As pope, Francis immediately made his mark by maintaining his relatively austere lifestyle and eschewing much of the formality that has marked previous pontiffs. He chose not to live in the Apostolic Palace but instead to reside in the Domus Sanctae Marthae guesthouse. He wears simpler vestments than his predecessors and insists that he wants the Roman Catholic Church to be a church for the poor. He immediately began planning reforms to the Vatican’s expansive bureaucracy, emphasizing efficiency and transparency.

Francis has given hope to both conservatives and to progressives within the Roman Catholic Church, sometimes by apparently contradicting himself. While insisting that the Church’s view on sexuality will not be the subject of negotiation, he has also said “If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?” He has also hinted toward a kind of universalism saying, “You ask me if the God of the Christians forgives those who don’t believe and who don’t seek the faith. I start by saying—and this is the fundamental thing—that God’s mercy has no limits if you go to him with a sincere and contrite heart. The issue for those who do not believe in God is to obey their conscience. Sin, even for those who have no faith, exists when people disobey their conscience.”

In the year since he became pope, he has received wide acclaim both from within the Roman Catholic Church and from far outside it. In 2013 he was named Person of the Year by TIME magazine as well as LGBT-interest magazine The Advocate.Esquire noted his simpler dress and named him The Best Dressed Man of 2013.Fortune magazine ranked him at the top of their list of the top-50 leaders whileRolling Stone featured him on the cover of a recent issue.

FALSE TEACHING

For all we can commend about Pope Francis, the fact remains that he, as a son of the Roman Catholic Church and as the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, remains committed to a false gospel that insists upon good works as a necessary condition for justification. He is the head of a false church that is opposed to the true gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. The core doctrinal issues that divided Protestantism from Catholicism at the time of the Reformation remain today. The core doctrinal issues that compelled Rome to issue her anathemas against Protestantism are unchanged. Rome remains fully committed to a gospel that cannot and will not save a single soul, and officially damns those who believe anything else: “If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to cooperate in order to the obtaining [of] the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.”

Roman Catholic doctrine states that justification is infused into a person through the sacrament of baptism. The Catholic Catechism explains: “Justification has been merited for us by the Passion of Christ. It is granted us through Baptism. It conforms us to the righteousness of God, who justifies us.” However, this justification is not a judicial declaration by God, but the beginning of a lifelong process of conformity. It is insufficient to save a person without the addition of good works. This infusion of righteousness enables a person to do the good works that complete justification. However, this justification can be diminished or even lost through sinful acts and in such cases it must be renewed and regained through confession, through the Eucharist, and through good works. Those who have been granted justification eventually merit heaven on the basis of the good works enabled by that justification. Again, according to the Catechism, “We can therefore hope in the glory of heaven promised by God to those who love him and do his will. In every circumstance, each one of us should hope, with the grace of God, to persevere ‘to the end’ and to obtain the joy of heaven, as God’s eternal reward for the good works accomplished with the grace of Christ.” This is another gospel, a false gospel, that adds human merit as a necessary addition to the work of Christ.

Francis also holds that Mary is mediatrix and co-redemptrix with her son Jesus, that Scripture is insufficient and must have the tradition of the church added to it, that even Christians who die may have to endure Purgatory, that Christ is sacrificed anew each time the Mass is celebrated, and so on. But no false teaching is more scandalous than his denial of justification by grace through faith alone.

Good deeds done to promote a false gospel are the most despicable deeds of all.

Those within the Roman Catholic Church who have experienced salvation (and I sincerely believe there are those who have) have done so despite the church’s official teaching, not through it. Even while Francis washes the feet of prisoners and kisses the faces of the deformed, he does so out of and toward this false gospel that leads not toward Christ, but directly away from him. Good deeds done to promote a false gospel are the most despicable deeds of all.

FOLLOWERS AND MODERN ADHERENTS

Pope Francis is the head of a church that spans the globe and may well be the most powerful organization in the world. Fully 17% of the global population—over 1.2 billion people—profess to be Roman Catholic and that number continues to increase. With his efforts to reach out to adherents of other faiths, Francis has a voice that extends to perhaps a third or a half of the world’s population. This makes him by far one of the most influential people in the world.

WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS

From the time of the Reformation Protestants have insisted that Roman Catholicism is a false church that promotes a false gospel. The Bible insists that we are justified by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone and apart from all human effort. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). While we can agree with Rome on the necessity of good works, we must insist along with the New Testament writers that such works are the fruit of justification, and have no part in the root of our justification.

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 of 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. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. (Titus 3:4-8)

False Teachers: Marcus Borg

FalseTeachers-02Tim Challies:

Today we will look at the life and legacy of a man who assumed and further developed theological Liberalism and paved the way for what became known as Progressive Christianity. His name is Marcus Borg.

MARCUS BORG

Marcus BorgMarcus Borg was born in 1942 to a Lutheran family in North Dakota. After high school he went to Concordia College in Minnesota determined to become an astrophysicist but soon changed his major to math and physics, and then again to political science and philosophy. As a young man he experienced great doubts about his Christian faith and decided to pursue postgraduate studies at Union Seminary in New York City and here he was heavily influenced by W.D. Davies, a man who laid the groundwork for what has become known as the New Perspective on Paul. After graduating from Union he moved overseas to Mansfield College, Oxford University, where he earned his Doctorate of Philosophy.

In 1979 Borg became a member of the faculty at Oregon State University, a position he would hold until he retired in 2007 as Distinguished Professor in Religion and Culture and the Hundere Endowed Chair in Religious Studies. However, his career as a professor would be overshadowed by his career as a writer and public figure, and his leadership in what has become known as Progressive Christianity, an updated form of theological Liberalism.

Borg is a gifted writer who is adept at popularizing difficult concepts and his prose is attractive for its lively and meditative style. One person he has influenced writes, “Almost single-handedly among progressives, Borg has opened up new avenues of experience and thought for lapsed Christians or nonbelievers interested in re-visioning the Christianity of their childhood. He writes clearly and concisely about the meaning of wisdom, compassion, justice, the kingdom of God, and life as a journey of transformation. His books boldly take us into fresh fields of wonder, mystery, and passion in regard to Jesus, God, the Bible, and the Christian way.”1

His most significant contributions have been as a scholar whose focus has been on the person and work of Jesus Christ. He has written or edited more than twenty-five books, and the great majority of them have been focused on Jesus. He also led two nationally-televised symposia—one focused on Jesus and the other on God—, served as national chair of the Historical Jesus Section of the Society of Biblical Literature, and has made regular appearances on PBS and other television networks. His bestselling book is Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, and it is in this book that he most clearly lays out his convictions. He draws on his own journey, from a childhood, childish faith in Christ to the development of what he considers a deeper, richer, and more plausible set of beliefs based on a historical rather than fabled Jesus. He teaches here that the Christian life is not meant to be rooted in dogma or creed, but in compassion and community.

In 1985 Robert Funk founded the Jesus Seminar, a group of 150 critical scholars who were tasked with re-examining the traditions surrounding the historicity of Jesus, and in particular, his deeds and his sayings. Among these scholars was Marcus Borg. The scholars employed social anthropology, history and textual analysis to attempt to reconstruct Jesus’ life and to separate the historical Jesus from what they take as myth. They famously used a voting system that relied on colored beads to represent whether one of Jesus’ deeds or sayings was authentic. Of the over five hundred sayings of Jesus recorded in the Gospels, they determined that only thirty-one were authentic with the rest being possibly authentic, doubtful or completely inauthentic. Over their many meetings and through much dialog they eventually determined that Jesus was a mortal man who, like the rest of us, had been born of two parents, that he did not perform miracles, that any healings attributed to him were merely psychosomatic, that he did not die a substitutionary death, that he was not physically resurrected, and that the post-resurrection sightings of Jesus were merely visions.

Marcus Borg became and remains one of the foremost leaders in what has become known as Progressive Christianity which differs from Evangelical Christianity in a number of important ways. Where Evangelical Christianity emphasizes life after death, sin and forgiveness, the substitutionary atoning work of Jesus Christ, and grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone as the only way of salvation, Progressive Christianity takes a historical and metaphorical (rather than literal) approach to the Bible, affirms that God can be known through every religion, is far more concerned with good behavior than orthodox beliefs, and pursues progressive social and political views.

Today Marcus Borg has retired from Oregon State University but continues to serve as Canon Theologian at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Portland. He also remains an active writer and blogs often at Patheos.

FALSE TEACHING

As a Progressive Christian, Borg denies important tenets of the historical Christian faith while affirming what Christians have long held as unorthodox or outright heretical positions. He has long denied the inspiration and authority of the Bible, saying, “I let go of the notion that the Bible is a divine product. I learned that it is a human cultural product, the product of two ancient communities, biblical Israel and early Christianity. As such, it contained their understandings and affirmations, not statements coming directly or somewhat directly from God.” He explicitly denies Jesus’ virgin birth: “Jesus almost certainly was not born of a virgin, did not think of himself as the Son of God, and did not see his purpose as dying for the sins of the world.” He also denies the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ: “I do not think that the gospel stories of Easter require us to think of the resurrection in material physical terms. I see them as parables of the resurrection. Parables are about meaning. They are truth-filled and truthful stories, even as they may not be literally factual.” In fact, he denies so much of the core beliefs of the Christian faith that it becomes nearly absurd to consider him a Christian at all.

FOLLOWERS & MODERN ADHERENTS

As one of the foremost Progressive Christians, Borg has been an influence on many of today’s Liberal and Progressives Christians. These would include Tony Campolo, Brian McLaren, Karen Armstrong, Shane Claiborne, Anne Lamott, Jim Wallis and many others. He has lent the weight of his scholarship to their attempts to renegotiate the place of Scripture in the Christian life and faith, and to rethink many of its most sacred doctrines. He is often quoted favorably by those who want to consider themselves Christians but without holding to inerrancy, the virgin birth, the resurrection, and others beliefs most Christians have long held sacred.

WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS

2 Timothy 3:16 assures us, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” Peter speaks of Scripture as God’s inerrant and inspired revelation of himself saying, “no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20-21). The writer to the Hebrews says that, because Scripture is God’s Word, it is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). If any or all of these things are true, then we do not read and judge Scripture—it reads and judges us. We have no right to stand over Scripture; instead, we have the privilege of sitting under it as it does its work in and through us.

False Teachers: Norman Vincent Peale

FalseTeachers-02Tim Challies:

Today we will look at the life and legacy of a man who prepared the way for Robert Schuller, Joel Osteen, Oprah Winfrey, and so many others.

NORMAN VINCENT PEALE

Norman Vincent Peale

Norman Vincent Peale was born on May 31, 1898, in Bowersville, Ohio, the first child of Charles and Anna Peale. Charles was a Methodist minister who served a variety of churches in Ohio, and before long Norman, too, began to consider ministry as his vocation. When he was a boy, one of his teachers accused him of being “a weak willy-nilly” and he soon realized the teacher’s assessment was correct. He saw that he would need to push himself past a deep-rooted inferiority complex and crippling self-doubt.

As a young man Peale attended Ohio Wesleyan University and Boston University School of Theology. During his first summer break he returned home and was asked to fill a nearby pulpit. He dutifully prepared a sermon and showed it to his father. His father read it and promptly advised burning it, telling his son “the way to the human heart is through simplicity.” These are words the young man took to heart.

In 1922 he was ordained in the Methodist Episcopal Church, and was assigned a small congregation in Berkeley, Rhode Island. Two years later he moved to Brooklyn, New York where he established himself as a gifted communicator so that in only three years he grew a church from 40 to 900 members. He spent a few years at another Methodist congregation in Syracuse, New York, before changing his affiliation to the Reformed Church in America so he could pastor Marble Collegiate Church, one of the oldest Protestant congregations in America. When he arrived, this church had around 600 members; upon his departure 52 years later it had 5,000. It was here that he would gain worldwide acclaim and notoriety as a teacher of positive thinking.

Peale developed a fascination with psychiatry as an answer, or partial answer, to his congregant’s problems. While he was at Marble, he teamed up with a Freud-trained psychiatrist, Dr. Smiley Blanton, to begin a religious-psychiatric clinic in the church basement. They wanted to respond to the psychological needs of their congregation and especially the deep-rooted effects of the Great Depression. In 1951 this clinic was organized into the American Foundation of Religion and Psychiatry, with Peale as president and Blanton as executive director.

Peale spread his teaching through a variety of media. While serving the church in Syracuse he founded a radio program called “The Art of Living,” and it would broadcast his sermons for 54 years. By 1952 he and his wife were also on the new medium of television, featured on the show “What’s Your Trouble?.” In 1945, along with his wife Ruth, and Raymond Thornburg, a local businessman, he founded Guideposts. What was at first a weekly four-page leaflet evolved to a monthly inspirational magazine that would soon have 2 million subscribers.

During his lifetime, Peale authored 46 books, and the most successful by far wasThe Power of Positive Thinking. Published in 1952, it stayed on the New York Timeslist of bestsellers for 186 consecutive weeks and sold 5 million copies, making it one of the bestselling religious books of all-time. It began with these words:

This book is written to suggest techniques and to give examples which demonstrate that you do not need to be defeated by anything, that you can have peace of mind, improved health, and a never-ceasing flow of energy. In short, that your life can be fully of joy and satisfaction.

The book had chapters with titles such as “I Don’t Believe in Defeat,” “How to Have Faith in Healing” and “Power to Solve Personal Problems.” Each chapter contained sections titled “energy-producing thoughts,” “spirit-lifters” or “faith attitudes.” Much of his teaching was distilled to lists of eight practical formulas or seven simple steps. This book rocketed Peale to new levels of fame and acclaim, and elevated his message with him. He became one of the most influential Christian leaders in the world, gaining a voice into business and politics, even officiating at the wedding of David Eisenhower and Julie Nixon. On March 26, 1984 President Ronald Reagan awarded him the highest civilian honor in the United States, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, for his contributions to theology.

Peale retired as senior pastor in 1984 and died of a stroke on December 24, 1993 in Pawling, New York. He was ninety-five years old. President Bill Clinton honored him with these words: “While the Clinton family and all Americans mourn his loss, there is some poetry in his passing on a day when the world celebrates the birth of Christ, an idea that was central to Dr. Peale’s message and Dr. Peale’s work. He will be missed.”

FALSE TEACHING

Readers were thrilled with this notion that if they believed it, they could have it, or be it, or do it.

Norman Vincent Peale popularized what came to be known as positive thinking. He took existing ideas from Christian Science and other inspirations, gave them a biblical veneer, integrated them with psychology, and packaged them for the masses, spreading his message through The Power of Positive Thinking and his other works. His foremost contribution to the world was this notion that thoughts are causative, that our thoughts can change our lives, our health, our destiny. Readers were thrilled with this notion that if they believed it, they could have it, or be it, or do it.

Peale believed we live in a world that is mental more than physical and this allows our thoughts to be determinative. If this is the case, all that stands between us and our desires is properly controlling our thoughts. In one of his books he taught the importance of

a form of mental activity called imaging. It consists of vividly picturing, in your conscious mind, a desired goal or objective, and holding that image until it sinks into your unconscious mind, where it releases great, untapped energies. It works best when it is combined with a strong religious faith, backed by prayer, and the seemingly illogical technique of giving thanks for benefits before they are received. When the imaging concept is applied steadily and systematically, it solves problems, strengthens personalities, improves health, and greatly enhances the chances for success in any kind of endeavor.

None of this would be remarkable, except that he taught it as a minister who claimed to be a Christian. Yet as a Christian minister he denied that God was a being, saying “Who is God? Some theological being? He is so much greater than theology. God is vitality. God is life. God is energy. As you breathe God in, as you visualize His energy, you will be reenergized!” As a Christian minister he told Phil Donahue “It’s not necessary to be born again. You have your way to God, I have mine. I found eternal peace in a Shinto shrine … I’ve been to Shinto shrines and God is everywhere. … Christ is one of the ways! God is everywhere.” He denied the very heart of the Christian faith and replaced it with his doctrine of positive thinking.

Many Christians critiqued Peale, including Episcopalian theologian John Krumm who saw that Peale had reduced God to a force and made Christianity self-centered rather than God-centered. “Very little is said about the sovereign mind and purpose of God; much is made of the things men can say to themselves and can do to bring about their ambitions and purposes.” Surprisingly, some Christians continued to embrace him. In 1966 Billy Graham said, “I don’t know of anyone who had done more for the kingdom of God than Norman and Ruth Peale or have meant any more in my life for the encouragement they have given me.”

FOLLOWERS & MODERN ADHERENTS

The popularity of Peale’s teachings guaranteed his lasting influence. One of his most committed devotees, who patterned himself accordingly, was Robert Schuller, also a minister in the Reformed Church in America. Schuller restyled “positive thinking” into “possibility thinking,” but kept much of the core teaching intact. But Peale’s influence was much wider than that. His voice can be heard behind contemporary books like The Secret, which advocates the law of attraction, another way of speaking and believing reality into existence. His voice can be heard behind the Oprah Winfrey’s, Joel Osteen’s, T.D. Jakes’, and Tony Robbin’s of the world, along with a host of others who teach that the power of the mind, combined with some kind of faith, can change your life and change the world.

WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS

The Bible makes it clear that the troubles we experience in this life are not merely the result of negative thinking that can be overcome by tapping into our potential through positive thinking. They are the result of a deep-seated rebellion against God that involves not only the mind, but the will. We simply cannot overcome the evils of this world, or even the evil in our hearts, in our own strength. Apart from Christ we can do nothing (John 15:5). Apart from being born again, we are eternally dead in our trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1). Where Peale taught that our deepest problem is a lack of belief in ourselves and that our salvation comes with a simple shift in thinking, the Bible teaches that no man can save himself, regardless of how positive his thoughts may be. His salvation must come from outside himself. The glory of Jesus Christ is in the fact that he “has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death” sinners “who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds” (Colossians 1:21-22). Tragically, by his life and legacy, Peale showed that he rejected this Savior and chose to trust in his own strength.

False Teachers: Harry Emerson Fosdick

FalseTeachers-02Tim Challies:

As we move steadily closer to contemporary times we must pause to take a brief look at the life and ministry of Harry Emerson Fosdick, the foremost proponent and popularizer of theological liberalism.

HARRY EMERSON FOSDICK

FosdickHarry Emerson Fosdick was born in Buffalo, New York, on May 24, 1878. As a young boy he claimed to have been born again, but even as a teenager rebelled against the “born again” movement known as fundamentalism. He developed an early interest in theology and chose to pursue ministerial training at Colgate Divinity School where he was influenced by William Newton Clarke, an early advocate of the social gospel. Upon graduating from Colgate he continued to Union Theological Seminary. In 1904 he accepted his first pastorate at First Baptist Church in Montclair, New Jersey, and four years later also accepted a faculty position at Union where he was to teach until 1946. Fosdick quickly proved himself a skilled communicator and compelling speaker and it would not be long before he would be known as America’s foremost minister.

In 1919 Fosdick was asked to become associate pastor at First Presbyterian Church in New York City, though he was allowed to retain his baptistic convictions. He quickly gained a reputation as a leading Christian voice, and hundreds and then thousands descended on First Presbyterian to hear his sermons. It was here, on May 21, 1922, that he preached the sermon that came to define him: “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?” In this sermon he proclaimed that there was a great battle in the church between the fundamentalists and the modernists or liberals, and that he was going to stand firmly on the side of the liberals. Because of his desire to modernize the Christian faith, he soundly rejected belief in a series of traditional Christian doctrines including Christ’s virgin birth, the inerrancy of Scripture, and the literal return of Jesus Christ. He decried the fundamentalists as being intolerant for demanding adherence to doctrines that science, reason, and a modern world could no longer sustain. John D. Rockefeller enjoyed this sermon so much that he had 130,000 copies printed and mailed to every Protestant pastor in the nation.

“Shall the Fundamentalists Win?” set off what would soon be called the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy. We need to be clear that we cannot import into this battle a twenty-first century understanding of fundamentalism. When Fosdick battled the fundamentalists of his day, he battled nothing less than traditional or conservative Christianity. Fundamentalists were those who insisted upon the key tenets of historic, orthodox Christianity—what they defined as the fundamental doctrines of the faith.

Fosdick was by no means the only liberal theologian of his day, but he was the one to gain the widest acclaim and the broadest platform. While many others were pressing theological liberalism in the seminaries and the halls of academia, Fosdick was on the radio waves and in the bookstores, taking his message to the common people. His voice extended through his radio program, The National Vespers Hour, which was broadcast in the Northern and Eastern United States, and through many bestselling books which eventually sold in the millions. On two separate occasions he was on the cover of TIME magazine.

By the mid 1920’s Fosdick had established himself as the leading voice of twentieth-century liberalism. His stand for liberalism put him at odds with many of the conservative voices in Presbyterianism, and this led him to leave First Presbyterian Church in 1925 and to go instead to Park Avenue Baptist Church.

I am a heretic if conventional orthodoxy is the standard. I should be ashamed to live in this generation and not be a heretic.

In the early 1920’s, J. Gresham Machen emerged as one of the foremost opponents of liberalism. His 1923 book Christianity and Liberalism was a strong, biblical response that drew comparisons between the Bible and liberal theology and showed that the two were in clear opposition. He rightly asked, “The question is not whether Mr. Fosdick is winning men, but whether the thing to which he is winning them is Christianity.” Others joined the battle as well. Fosdick remained firm in the face of such attacks, declaring “They call me a heretic. Well, ‘I am a heretic if conventional orthodoxy is the standard. I should be ashamed to live in this generation and not be a heretic.

In 1929, Princeton, once a bastion of Reformed thinking and teaching, was reorganized under modernist influences. Almost immediately four Princeton professors who held to the Reformed faith (Robert Dick Wilson, J. Gresham Machen, Oswald T. Allis, and Cornelius Van Til) withdrew from Princeton and established Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia in order to continue upholding the faith Princeton once defended. If the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy was begun with Fosdick’s sermon in 1922, if was effectively cut off among conservative churches in 1929 with the departure of those professors.

Rockefeller money soon built a grand new building on the Hudson, and in 1930 Fosdick was installed as pastor at Riverside Church. He would pastor this congregation for sixteen years, and, after his retirement, attend it for a further twenty-eight. This church became his laboratory for liberalism and it was here that he practiced his liberal values to the full. (To be fair, and to give credit where credit is due, he was a strong advocate of racial reconciliation and was perhaps the most notable preacher to invite African-American preachers into his pulpit.)

Fosdick died in New York City on October 5, 1969, two weeks after being hospitalized for a heart attack. He was ninety-one years old.

FALSE TEACHING

Harry Emerson Fosdick was not an original thinker as much as a popularizer who took the theory of liberalism from the seminaries and brought it to a common level. He wanted to modernize the faith by making it attractive to, and compatible with, modern times and modern sensibilities. At heart, liberalism questioned the nature of the Bible and denied its inerrancy, infallibility, and authority. Liberalism denied that the Bible is the Word of God and insisted instead that it contains the Word of God. Once Scripture’s authority had been denied, a host of doctrines would necessarily fall in its wake.

Fosdick questioned the essential beliefs necessary to be a Christian and began to challenge long-held, orthodox Christian beliefs such as the virgin birth, and the return of Christ Jesus. Robert Moats Miller, one of Fosdick’s biographers, wrote, “Fosdick could not believe that Jesus was virgin born. He did not ridicule those who did, but he was adamant that such belief was not essential to acceptance of Christian faith. … Fosdick doubted whether Jesus ever thought of himself as the Messiah; perhaps he did, but more probably Jesus’ disciples may have read this into his thinking.” He also denied the wrath of God, suggesting that wrath was simply a metaphor for the natural consequences of doing wrong. With wrath removed, it was inevitable that the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ would also be denied. Before long Fosdick’s Christianity looked nothing like historic Christianity.

In a later sermon, “The Church Must Go Beyond Modernism,” Fosdick spoke of his methodology in modernizing the Christian faith, saying, “We have already largely won the battle we started out to win; we have adjusted the Christian faith to the best intelligence of our day and have won the strongest minds and the best abilities of the churches to our side. Fundamentalism is still with us but mostly in the backwaters. The future of the churches, if we will have it so, is in the hands of modernism.” Of course, he was too optimistic, and too blinded by his own success. Liberalism posed a major challenge to the faith, but like all other challengers, it would rise and then wane.

FOLLOWERS AND MODERN ADHERENTS

If Fosdick was the man who popularized and legitimized liberalism, we can rightly say that subsequent liberals, and especially those who operated at the popular level, followed in his footsteps. Men like Norman Vincent Peale, Robert Schuller and John Shelby Spong are among them. Martin Luther King Jr., a theological liberal in his own right, regarded Fosdick as the greatest preacher of the century and in 1958, inscribed a copy of Stride Toward Freedom for Fosdick with these words: “If I were called upon to select the foremost prophets of our generation, I would choose you to head the list.”

But Fosdick’s influence extends farther than that. Though the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy began within Presbyterianism, it soon spread to other Protestant denominations, eventually leading to today’s division between “mainline” and “evangelical” Protestant churches. About half of today’s mainline Protestants consider themselves liberal, and they, too, whether they know it or not, are influenced by Fosdick.

WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS

Fosdick’s teaching was false in many areas, but the heart of it all was his denial of the inerrancy, infallibility and authority of the Bible. He elevated human reason above the plain words of Scripture; he made reason the final arbiter of truth. All the other doctrines he denied depended upon first undermining the Bible. Christians have long insisted, as the fundamentalists did in his day, that God’s Word, not science or human reason, is the measure of true knowledge. Proverbs 3:5-7 says, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil.” Our understanding of ourselves and the world around us is flawed; we must depend upon God to reveal true knowledge.

If we remove the offense of the gospel, we have removed the power of the gospel.

In his second letter to Timothy, Paul warned, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4). Fosdick wanted to make the Christian faith soothing to those itching ears and, in so doing, distorted it beyond all recognition. The reality is that the Christian faith is, and always will be, offensive. If we remove the offense of the gospel, we have removed the power of the gospel.

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1 Corinthians 1:20-25)

False Teachers: Charles Taze Russell

FalseTeachers-02Tim Challies:

We continue this morning with a false teacher whose name has been nearly forgotten even though his followers regularly knock on your door. He is Charles Taze Russell, founder of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Charles Taze Russell was born on February 16, 1852 in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, the second of five children born to Joseph and Ann Russell. Charles grew up in a devout home and his parents were respected members of the Presbyterian church. When he was young, his family moved to Pittsburgh, where his father came to own a number of haberdashery stores. In his early teens Charles became a partner in this business and soon owned several of the locations.

As a boy Charles had a great deal of religious enthusiasm, and while still only a teenager left his Presbyterian congregation to attend a Congregational church. As a form of evangelism he would often go to public locations and use chalk to write out Bible verses related to sin and damnation. But then, at the age of sixteen, he engaged in a debate with a friend that led him to question the reliability of the Bible and the validity of the Christian faith. He embarked on a period of religious searching and dabbled in many Eastern religions before determining that they, too, were empty and unsatisfying.

Charles Taze RussellWhen Charles was eighteen he encountered Adventist preaching and began to regularly attend a Bible study. It was not long before he determined that he could not reconcile an eternal hell with a merciful God. Over the next two years he came to question many other historic Christian doctrines and became convicted that the historic creeds betrayed true Christianity. At the same time he adopted Adventist teachings: that the end times had begun in 1799, that Christ had returned invisibly in 1874 and been crowned King of Heaven four years later, that all Christians who had already died would be resurrected before the end of 1878, and that 1914 would mark the end of a harvest period and usher in Armageddon. He sold his five clothing stores, an act that generated a substantial amount of money (today’s equivalent of several million dollars), and committed his life to writing, publishing and funding the propagation of the message of Christ’s imminent return. He did this at first through a partnership with Nelson H. Barbour and his Adventist periodical Herald of the Morning.

When 1878 came and went without any of the predicted events, he was forced to re-examine his beliefs and to distance himself from some of his Adventist peers, including Barbour. He founded his own periodical which he titled Zion’s Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence. At this time he also married Maria Frances Ackley in an apparently celibate union that would last until 1897 before ending in an acrimonious divorce.

In 1881 Russell founded the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society which grew to a substantial publishing venture, and there were soon some 16 million of his books and booklets in print. His ministry and his opportunities to preach grew exponentially and Pastor Russell, as he became known, soon had followers all over the Northern and Eastern states. He preached and wrote constantly, his sermons were printed in several thousand newspapers around the globe, and he became one of the most famous preachers in the world. He eventually moved the headquarters of the Watch Tower Society to Brooklyn, New York, where they remain today.

Russell died of cystitis on October 31, 1916, near Pampa, TX, as he attempted to return to his home in Brooklyn. By the time of his death, his writings had become among the most widely-distributed works in the world. Some estimate that when he died, only the Bible and the Chinese almanac were in greater circulation than his myriad books and pamphlets.

FALSE TEACHING

Unlike so many other false teachers before and after him, Russell did not rely upon visions or other extra-biblical revelation. Rather, he simply interpreted, and misinterpreted, the Bible. While claiming to be a Christian and, in fact, a Christian who was restoring the faith of the New Testament, he denied many key Christian doctrines including eternal punishment, the Trinity, the deity of Christ, and the existence of the Holy Spirit.

Russell, as with most Adventists, denied the existence of hell as a place where the wicked face God’s wrath. He also held that the soul simply ceases to exist after death.

As with Arius centuries before, he held that Jesus was a created being, and was actually Michael the Archangel in human form. While he taught that this Jesus died on behalf of humanity, he also taught that Jesus rose only spiritually rather than physically. While he denied the divinity of Jesus, he denied the existence of the Holy Spirit, teaching that the Spirit is not a person, but simply a name given to express a specific manifestation of God’s power. In denying the divinity of Jesus and the existence of the Holy Spirit, he necessarily denied the Trinity.

FOLLOWERS AND MODERN ADHERENTS

Those who followed Russell during his lifetime referred to themselves as Bible Students. In the years following his death, Joseph Franklin Rutherford succeeded him as president of the Watch Tower Society. Despite many people withdrawing from the Bible Study movement, and despite those who remained splitting many times over, Rutherford’s followers maintained control of the Watch Tower Society and officially renamed themselves Jehovah’s witnesses in July 1931.

The Watch Tower Society remains the official religious body of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Though both their beliefs and their structure have evolved in the past century, they continue to state that there is one God in one person, that there is no Trinity, that Jesus was God’s first created being, that the Holy Spirit is an impersonal force, and that there is no hell. While Russell is honored among Jehovah’s Witnesses, they do not refer to him as their founder. Rather, they hold that Jesus is their founder while Russell was simply a man used by God to restore beliefs that had been lost.

Today there are some 8 million Jehovah’s Witnesses in the world.

WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS

The Bible teaches clearly, forcefully, and repeatedly that hell is real and that in hell God’s wrath is poured upon out upon the wicked in conscious, eternal punishment.

That the Holy Spirit is a person rather than an impersonal force or manifestation of the power of God is attested in many passages that refer to the Trinitarian formula of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. A host of verses speak to his personhood, including Romans 8:11, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” The Spirit is a person who can teach, be grieved, be resisted, speak, help, and so much more besides.

False Teachers: Ellen G. White

FalseTeachers-02Tim Challies:

We continue this morning with a false teacher—the first woman in the series—who has around 18 million followers in the world today.

ELLEN G. WHITE

Ellen Gould Harmon was born on a small farm near the village of Gorham, Maine, on November 26, 1827. Only a few years after her birth, her parents Robert and Eunice Harmon gave up farming to move to the nearby town of Portland where her father became a hat maker. When Ellen was nine she was permanently disfigured when a fellow student maliciously hit her in the head with a rock. The rock put her into a coma that lasted several weeks and forced her to miss a long period of schooling.

Ellen G WhiteWhen Ellen was twelve, she and her family attended a Methodist camp meeting in Buxton, Maine, and there she had a formative religious experience in which she professed faith in Jesus Christ. In 1840 and 1842 she and her family attended Adventist meetings and become devotees of William Miller. Miller had dedicated himself to the study of biblical prophecy and was convinced that Christ would return on October 22, 1844. When Christ did not return, a non-event that would become known as The Great Disappointment, most people abandoned Adventism. But in the resulting confusion, Ellen claimed to have received visions that were soon accepted as God-given revelation. The small Adventist movement that remained was split by many rifts and much infighting, but Ellen was believed to have a gift that could reunite and guide the movement. Her dreams and visions continued and she quickly became a leader among them.

In 1846, Ellen married a young Adventist preacher named James White and together they traveled extensively, spreading the Adventist faith to New England and beyond. Twelve months later she gave birth to a son, one of four children she would bear, but soon left the child with friends so she could carry on traveling, preaching, and writing.

In 1855 the Whites moved to Battle Creek, Michigan, and that became Adventism’s hub. Five years later, representatives from each Adventist congregation gathered there and determined that henceforth they would be known as Seventh-day Adventists. Soon after they formally organized as a denomination.

All through this time Ellen continued to receive prophetic dreams and visions—some 2,000 during her lifetime—and through them she guided and formed the church. Over her lifetime Testimonies for the Church expanded from a mere sixteen pages to nine full volumes. In 1863 she received a vision about human health and her followers soon adopted her health regulations as part of their practice, rejecting meat, coffee and medication in favor of natural remedies.

The Adventist movement continued to expand and the Whites were in high demand across America. They traveled constantly, addressing large congregations and meetings. After James died in 1881, Ellen traveled all the more, spending two years in England and almost nine years in Australia. She spent most of the final fifteen years of her life in Elmshaven, California, and was largely consumed with writing and organizing the growing denomination. She died on July 16, 1915, at the age of 87. During her lifetime she had preached countless times and had written some 5,000 articles and 40 books. By the time she died, Seventh-day Adventism had a worldwide membership of nearly 140,000.

FALSE TEACHING

In many respects Ellen G. White appeared to hold to the historic Christian faith. She believed in Christ’s imminent bodily return, she held to the inspiration and authority of the Bible, and she taught that we are saved by Christ’s righteousness rather than our own. But amid that truth were some dangerous false teachings. I will focus on only two.

The most obvious false teaching was the one that gave the Seventh-day Adventists their name: the view that the proper day of worship is Saturday rather than Sunday. Shortly after James and Ellen married, they studied a tract written by Joseph Bates titled Seventh-day Sabbath and became convinced that they were to keep Saturday as the sabbath. Six months later, Ellen had a vision in which she saw the law of God with a halo of light surrounding the fourth commandment. She and her husband took this as proof that their newfound understanding was correct. They elevated this to a doctrine of first importance.

Of far more concern was White’s aberrant view of death, hell and eternal punishment. Adventists adopted several key tenets including one stating that God does not eternally torment sinners, but that the dead enter into soul-sleep until the second coming and last judgment. At that time the punishment for sinners will be that they cease to exist.

White held that a God of eternal wrath must be incompatible with a God of love and kindness. In The Great Controversy she wrote, “How repugnant to every emotion of love and mercy, and even to our sense of justice, is the doctrine that the wicked dead are tormented with fire and brimstone in an eternally burning hell; that for the sins of a brief, earthly life they are to suffer torture as long as God shall live.”

She also believed that God would simply annihilate the souls of those who did not follow him. “But I saw that God would not shut them up in hell to endure endless misery, neither will He take them to heaven; for to bring them into the company of the pure and holy would make them exceedingly miserable. But He will destroy them utterly and cause them to be as if they had not been; then His justice will be satisfied. He formed man out of the dust of the earth, and the disobedient and unholy will be consumed by fire and return to dust again.”

FOLLOWERS AND MODERN ADHERENTS

Adventism nearly came to an end in the days following The Great Disappointment. But Ellen G. White gave the movement new life and a new voice. Through constant preaching, teaching and evangelism, she and her followers had grown the movement to nearly 140,000 by the time of her death in 1915. Today there are an estimated 18 million Seventh-day Adventists in the world. Their individual beliefs vary so widely that some Christians consider them a cult while others do not.

Seventh-day Adventism has continued to evolve. They continue to regard Ellen G. White as having a unique, God-given gift of prophecy. They continue to hold to the sabbath and to their emphasis on healthy eating and living. They continue to deny both the immortality of the soul and the reality of hell as eternal, conscious torment. Successors to Ellen G. White have also developed the distinctive and troubling doctrine of Investigative Judgment. (CARM helpfully lists their affirmations, denials and most troubling teachings and provides this counsel: “There are too many problems within Seventh-day Adventism to recommend it as a safe church.  Though there are Seventh-day Adventist groups that are within orthodoxy, there are too many of them that are not.”)

WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS

The Bible counters much of what Ellen G. White taught and what her church teaches today.

In contrast to White’s teaching on the eternal destiny of those who do not know the Lord, the Bible teaches that hell is real, that it is eternal, and that in hell God’s wrath is poured out in conscious, everlasting punishment. John the Baptist spoke of Jesus, saying, “His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:12). Jesus himself spoke of hell saying, “if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire” and “these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Mark 9:43, Matthew 25:46). And in the epistles, Paul warned “They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2 Thessalonians 1:9). Only by deliberately twisting the Scriptures can anyone deny the terrifying reality that hell is real and that those who do not know the Lord will be there to face his wrath forever.

False Teachers: Joseph Smith

FalseTeachers-02Tim Challies:

We continue this morning with a false teacher who has at least 15 million followers in the world today, many of whom have undoubtedly knocked on your front door. His name is Joseph Smith.

JOSEPH SMITH

Joseph SmithJoseph Smith was born on December 23, 1805 in Sharon, Vermont. When he was a child his family moved to Palmyra in western New York where there was a lot of revivalism and religious fervor due to the Second Great Awakening. The wild enthusiasm and the many denominations present confused Smith and he was uncertain of what to believe and how to worship. As he writes in The Pearl of Great Price: “In process of time my mind became somewhat partial to the Methodist sect, and I felt some desire to be united with them; but so great were the confusion and strife among the different denominations, that it was impossible for a person young as I was, and so unacquainted with men and things, to come to any certain conclusion who was right and who was wrong.”

In 1820, in this time of confusion, Smith read James 1:5 which instructs those who lack wisdom to request it from God. He immediately withdrew to a wooded area near his home to pray for wisdom and it was at this point that he recalls having a vision of a pillar of light coming down from heaven and God the Father and Jesus his Son standing above him in the air. Smith asked them which of the denominations or sects were right and which he should join. He was told that all of the denominations were evil and corrupt.

It was at the time of this experience that Smith became convinced he had been called as God’s prophet. On September 21, 1823, while praying in his room, he received an angelic visitation. This angel, named Moroni, told him that he had been chosen by God for a great work. He told Smith about a book written upon gold plates that had been buried alongside the Urim and the Thummin of the Old Testament. Smith immediately found this book, and, using the Urim and Thummin, translated it, and published it in 1830 as The Book of Mormon. This was the same year that he formally organized the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

A commanding and gregarious figure, Smith began to amass followers. As the movement grew, it migrated west, in large part because their teaching was not welcome in most places and was often opposed with threats of violence. Smith moved first to Ohio, then to Missouri, then to Illinois. As the movement grew, it required more and more revelations, and Smith received them as need arose. These revelations continued until his death and were compiled into a book referred to as the Doctrine and Covenants.

There was strife within the Mormon church, and in the spring of 1844 it led to threats of violence between Smith and others in the town of Nauvoo, Illinois. The governor intervened and imprisoned Smith until he could stand trial. Before this could happen, though, an armed mob stormed the jailhouse where he was being kept, and Smith was shot and killed while trying to escape through a window.

FALSE TEACHING

The heart of Joseph Smith’s false teaching was that he put his own authority over the authority of Scripture. He added his own revelation to the Bible’s revelation and took it upon himself to identify and correct what he claimed were errors in Scripture.

Smith believed that the Bible was corrupt and insufficient and for that reason both took away from, and added to, God’s written revelation. Regarding the Bible’s corruption he said, “I believe the Bible as it read when it came from the pen of the original writers. Ignorant translators, careless transcribers, or designing and corrupt priests have committed many errors.” These errors were both typographical and doctrinal. To address the Bible’s shortcomings, Smith produced his own translation of the Bible, making many corrections and additions to a variety of Old Testament and New Testament books.

He also claimed that his own revelations from God were the only access point to the true gospel that had apparently been lost. Mormon historian Richard Bushman says the “signal feature” of Smith’s life was “his sense of being guided by revelation.” He placed himself above all previous revelations and interpretations of the Bible—even those of Christ himself.

FOLLOWERS AND MODERN ADHERENTS

Joseph Smith gained many devoted followers during his lifetime. Immediately after his death, his followers split into two main groups: those who followed Brigham Young to Utah to become the modern “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” and those who coalesced under Smith’s eldest son, Joseph Smith IIIto become the modern “Community of Christ” (formerly known as the “Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”).

These are the two main groups who follow Joseph Smith today. They continue to adhere to his false teachings about the Bible and countless doctrines contained within it. They continue to deny the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture while elevating personal experience above the authority of the Bible. In total they number approximately 15 million and their ranks continue to grow through constant and systematic proselytization.

WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS

The Bible claims that it is the authoritative, infallible, inerrant, sufficient revelation of God. “Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar” (Proverbs 30:5-6). It offers this dire warning: “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book” (Revelation 22:18-19).

The diversity of interpretations and sects among those who claim to follow the Bible, the very context which so confused Smith and led him to create an entirely new religion, does not provide warrant to say that the Bible itself is ambiguous or lacking in any way. We are told to expect divisions and factions among the body, “in order that those who are genuine … may be recognized” (1 Corinthians 11:18-19). Mormonism itself has been cut by endless in-fights and divisions, showing that the problem when the fractured church is not corrupted Scriptures but corrupted hearts.

False Teachers: Muhammad

FalseTeachers-02Tim Challies:

We continue this morning with a false teacher whose teaching is known in almost every part of the world. His name is Muhammad.

MUHAMMAD

Muhammad was born around 570 in Mecca in what is now the nation of Saudi Arabia. This was an area where there were significant populations of both Christians and Jews, so there was access to the Scriptures and the teachings of both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Muslims claim that Muhammad was a direct descendent of Ishmael, and thus of Abraham, though the only evidence to support this comes through oral tradition. Muhammad’s father died before he was born and his mother sent him as an infant to live in the desert with Bedouins in order to become acquainted with Arab traditions. While in the desert he is said to have encountered two angels who opened his chest and cleansed his heart with snow, symbolic of Islam’s teaching that he was purified and protected from all sin.

Muhammad returned to Mecca sometime soon after. His mother passed away when he was 6 and he came under the immediate care of his grandfather and then his uncle. At 25 he married a wealthy Meccan woman who was 15 years his senior.

By the age of 35, Muhammed had become highly respected in Mecca, largely for his piety. He would often go into the desert to meditate and pray, and on one of these retreats, at the age of 40, he is said to have been visited by the angel Gabriel. It was here that he received the beginnings of revelation that would become the Qur’an. This process of revelation, which was sometimes mediated through Gabriel and other times came directly to his heart, lasted approximately 23 years, and ended shortly before his death.

Around the age of 50 Muhammad had his most significant spiritual experience. One night he was taken by Gabriel to Jerusalem, and from there he ascended to the very presence of God. On the way to the throne he met earlier prophets, such as Moses and Jesus. According to Britannica, “Muhammad is said to have received the supreme treasury of knowledge while he stood and then prostrated himself before the divine throne. God also revealed to him the final form and number of the Islamic daily prayers.”

Muhammad’s religion was not joyfully received by all those around him. He experienced opposition in Mecca, and some of his adherents even faced persecution for following him. In 621 the city of Yathrib approached Muhammad about becoming their leader, hoping he might end a long-standing battle for power between the city’s tribes. On September 25, 622, Muhammad arrived in the city, renamed it Medina, and ensured that Islam became the established religious and social rule with himself as supreme judge and interpreter. It was also in this year that Islam was explicitly defined as purely monotheistic and Abrahamic.

Before long, those who had opposed Muhammad in Mecca became determined to crush the rise of Islam in Medina. What followed was many years of battles of both self-defense and conquest as he attempted to unite all of Arabia under the banner of Islam. His ambition to spread Islam led him to many great successes.” By 631 Muhammad had brought to a close ‘the age of ignorance,’ as Muslims called the pre-Islamic epoch in Arabia. He united the Arabs for the first time in history under the banner of Islam and broke the hold of tribal bonds as the ultimate links between an Arab and the society around him. Although tribal relations were not fully destroyed, they were now transcended by a more powerful bond based on religion” (Britannica).

In 632 Muhammad fell ill and three days later passed away on June 8th. He was buried in his house in Medina.

FALSE TEACHING

Among many heterodox teachings in the Qur’an, the most significant may be its misrepresentation of Jesus.

Muhammad’s teaching is embodied in the Qur’an. Because Muhammad is the sole source of the Qur’an, and because he is said to have known, believed and obeyed it better than anyone, we have little difficulty knowing exactly what he taught. Among many heterodox teachings in the Qur’an, the most significant may be its misrepresentation of Jesus.

Muhammad and the Qur’an taught many true things about Jesus, such as his virgin birth and miracles, and for this reason Muslims claim to honor Jesus. But they actually deny the deepest and truest realities about him, and in that way diminish and dishonor him. Instead of holding him as the Son of God, they demote him to the position of mere prophet, no greater than Moses or Noah or Abraham … or Muhammad himself. “Christ, the son of Mary, was no more than a messenger; many were the messengers that passed away before him. His mother was a woman of truth.” (Surah 5:75; cf. 5:116-120)

In addition, the Qur’an claims that Jesus was not in fact crucified. Instead, according to most interpretations, another person who was made to look like him was killed in his place, while Jesus escaped and was taken up into heaven without dying. “And they said we have killed the Messiah Jesus son of Mary, the Messenger of God. They did not kill him, nor did they crucify him, though it was made to appear like that to them; those that disagreed about him are full of doubt, with no knowledge to follow, only supposition: they certainly did not kill him. On the contrary, God raised him unto himself. God is almighty and wise.” (Surah 4:157-158)

FOLLOWERS AND MODERN ADHERENTS

All Qur’an-believing Muslims of the past and present hold to these very same false teachings about Jesus. What Muhammad taught, they still believe. In this way, there are some 1.6 billion of his followers in the world today and together they comprise 23% of the world’s population.

WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS

The Bible also makes it clear that Jesus was not spared from the cross. God the Father willed for him to be crucified, and Jesus, in history’s greatest demonstration of love and obedience, accepted and drank that cup of God’s bitter wrath (Isaiah 53:9-10; Philippians 2:8-11). He did ascend into heaven, but only after he really and actually died and only after he really and actually rose from the dead (Acts 1:1-3, 9).

False Teachers: Pelagius

FalseTeachers-02Tim Challies:

We continue this morning with a false teacher whose teaching can still be found today, though most often in a reduced form. His name is Pelagius.

PELAGIUS

Historians believe that Pelagius was born in Britain around the year 354. We know little about his early years, but do know that at some point he became a monk and in that capacity journeyed to Rome. While in Rome, Pelagius began to write theological works, though, except for a few fragments, these have been lost and are known to us only through quotes in the writings of those who refuted him. He began to promote a rigorous asceticism, apparently out of concern for the moral laxity he saw among many Roman Christians. This austere lifestyle made him attractive to many Romans and he soon gained a considerable following. One person in particular, a lawyer named Celestius, became a devoted follower and promoter of Pelagius’ teachings.

It is said that at one time Pelagius heard a quote from Augustine’s Confessions—“Command what you will, and give what you command”—and blamed such teaching for the lack of morality in the church. He believed that Augustine was teaching doctrine contrary to a biblical understanding of both grace and free will and believed such teaching turned man into a mere automaton. Contrary to Augustine, “Pelagius taught that human beings have a natural capacity to reject evil and seek God, that Christ’s admonition, “Be ye perfect,” presupposes this capacity, and that grace is the natural ability given by God to seek and to serve God” (Theopedia).

When the Visigoths attacked Rome in 410, Pelagius and Celestius fled together to Carthage in North Africa. Pelagius’ influence began to spread there as well, causing concern for Augustine who responded by publishing several works that refuted and counteracted Pelagius. After a couple of years in Africa, Pelagius moved to Palestine and Augustine promptly warned Jerome that Pelagius was spreading a seditious heresy. Jerome, too, labored to prevent this false teaching from spreading in the East.

In 416 the church in North Africa held two separate synods to examine Pelagius’ teachings and both of them condemned him. Their results were sent to pope Innocent I for his decision, and upon receiving them he excommunicated Pelagius and Celestius. However, less than two months later, pope Innocent died and he was succeeded by Zosimus. Pelagius and Celestius asked Zosimus to reconsider the previous pope’s decision. When he did so there was alarm in North Africa and yet another synod was immediately convened to beg him not to repeal the prior pope’s sentence until it could be proven that the two men had clearly denounced their false beliefs.

Zosimus listened to these pleas and commanded that another council be convened to consider and decide the matter. In May of 418, the Council of Carthage once again branded Pelagianism as a heresy and Pelagius was expelled from Jerusalem. He settled in Egypt, and was never heard from again. In 431, at the Council of Ephesus, Pelagius and Celestius were officially declared heretics by the entire church.

FALSE TEACHING

Pelagius believed that man had not been entirely corrupted by Adam’s fall and that he could, by his own free will, do works that pleased God, and thus be saved. This led Pelagius to deny the doctrines of original sin and predestination, and to deny the need for special grace to be saved. Essentially, he believed that man is basically good and moral and that even pagans can enter heaven through their virtuous moral actions.

Monergism summarizes in this way: “Jesus Christ, was a good example. Salvation is a matter chiefly of following Christ instead of Adam, rather than being transferred from the condemnation and corruption of Adam’s race and placed ‘in Christ,’ clothed in his righteousness and made alive by his gracious gift. What men and women need is moral direction, not a new birth; therefore, Pelagius saw salvation in purely naturalistic terms—the progress of human nature from sinful behavior to holy behavior, by following the example of Christ.”

FOLLOWERS AND MODERN ADHERENTS

Though church councils condemned Pelagianism as heresy, this did not immediately crush the teaching. In the early church, Pelagianism was carried on by Julian, Bishop of Eclanum, one of eighteen Italian bishops who refused to sign the papal decree and who were consequently exiled. To advocate Pelagianism was to battle Augustine, and Julian did this until Augustine’s death, though he was never able to gain as great a following as Pelagius. Over the next century or so, Pelagianism broke out a handful of times, but the councils condemned it so consistently and strongly that by the sixth century it had been nearly eradicated.

Pure Pelagianism has not resurfaced in a major way during the past fifteen hundred years, but a modified form took root in the sixteenth century through the teachings of Jacob Arminius whose beliefs are often described as semi-Pelagian. Semi-Pelagianism teaches that while humanity is tainted by sin, we are not so tainted that we cannot cooperate with God’s free offer of grace. Calvinists tend to describe Arminianism as a form of semi-Pelagianism, though Arminians tend to consider the label unfair.

Perhaps the closest modern-day successor to Pelagius was Charles Finney. Like Pelagius, he denied original sin saying “Moral depravity is sin itself, and not the cause of sin.” He believed the whole notion of a sinful nature is “anti-scriptural and nonsensical dogma” and taught that we are all born in a state of moral neutrality, able to choose between good and evil—to choose between being good or being sinful.

WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS

Today, Orthodox Christians confidently proclaim because of the disobedience of our first parents, Adam and Eve, all of creation is fallen; we are all born in sin and guilt, corrupt in our nature and unable to keep God’s law (New City Catechism, Answer 14).