Saturday Sampler: January 14 — January 20

Bell Sampler

The age of feminism seduces Christian women into thinking we have to perform monumental tasks for God, according to Elizabeth Prata of The End Time. She writes Ladies, no job is too menial and no sphere is to small to make a huge difference as an encouragement to those of us who feel unnoticed and obscure.

To help us understand the importance of patience, Clint Archer posts Waiting for God? Oh. in The Cripplegate. The English major in me appreciates Archer’s allusion to the play, Waiting for Godot, but I appreciate even more the Biblical application he brings out in this devotional piece. Each of us should take this message to heart.

What do you think The Easiest Sin to Justify is? I used to justify this one all the time, so I believe Tim Challies hits the nail on the head. See if you agree.

Once again, Leslie A of Growing 4 Life graces us with her wisdom in Do I Need a Special Experience in Order to Know God? It’s shameful that evangelicals still need teaching on this matter, but praise the Lord for people like Leslie who continually proclaim the truth and remain faithful to Scripture!

If, like me, you wondered if Hollywood’s protest against sexual harassment at the Golden Globes was disingenuous, Brett McCracken’s Will #MeToo Cause Hollywood to Rethink its Views on Sex in The Gospel Coalition Blog will confirm your suspicions. But it doesn’t just throw stones at the entertainment industry; it also challenges Christians to accept responsibility.

Guest posting for Unlocking the Bible rather than her own blog, Lara d’Entremont addresses the typical decline in maintaining New Year’s resolutions her article, Change of Plan: To Change Every Day. She strikes at the heart of Christian living, using Scripture to illustrate the practical principles she proposes.

Although Michelle Lesley repeats Answering the Opposition – Responses to the Most Frequently Raised Discernment Objections in Discipleship for Christian Women, reading it again sure doesn’t hurt! So many of the objections she addresses betray a lack of properly understanding Scripture in its context. This issue accentuates the critical importance of knowing God’s Word thoroughly.

Al Mohler’s article, Moralism is Not the Gospel (But Many Christians Think It Is), raises a point that all too often gets overlooked. Praise God that Mohler brings it to our attention, handling it with balance and fidelity to Scripture.

Quoting the heartbreaking experience of a feminist who aborted her baby, Denny Burk writes A feminist describes her abortion… and sadness to remind us that the unborn aren’t the only victims of this horrible practice. What a needless tragedy.

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Insisting That God Speaks Apart From His Word

God's MegaphoneStarting off the New Year with an intestinal bug that results in minor (but headache inducing) dehydration sorta makes blog post ideas fly out the window, ya know? So now I sit at my computer keyboard, scrambling to recall the great ideas I had during a couple separate but loosely related Twitter debates I engaged in over the weekend.

I know — arguing on Twitter accomplishes little. The utter frustration probably lowered my resistance to the stomach ailment that decimated my yesterday, and I certainly didn’t persuade either of my opponents to rethink their positions.

Both conversations centered on the sufficiency of Scripture, with my opponents vigorously objecting to the proposition that God now speaks exclusively through the Bible. Both people claim to be Christians. And maybe they are, just as I was during the years I subscribed to Charismatic theology. I don’t  believe I can judge the genuineness of their salvation based on brief Twitter exchanges. But I do find it disturbing that people who profess to be Christians demonstrate such hostility to the statement that God speaks exclusively through the pages of the Bible.

One of them admitted that she wanted more than God’s Word offers.

Certainly, Scripture does seem limited sometimes. When we face major decisions or suffer heart rending tragedy, we want God to whip out His megaphone and speak directly to us. After all, He spoke personally to people in the Bible. Just this morning, as a matter of fact, I read several conversations He had with Abraham. If He spoke directly to Old Testament prophets and New Testament apostles, why shouldn’t He speak directly to us?

Answering that question would require multiple blog posts. And writing even one such post when I still feel tired from yesterday’s tussle with whatever bug assailed me really doesn’t appeal to me at the moment. It’s a valid question that deserves a thoughtful answer. I’d prefer to approach it when I feel healthier.

I would, however, like to address my dismay that so many evangelicals in our day do expect direct revelations from God. This expectation no longer confines itself to Charismatic circles, which further distresses me. We’ve forgotten that the Holy Spirit gives us everything we need through His Word.

16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. ~~2 Timothy 3:16-17 (ESV)

“That the man of God may be complete,” it says. Doesn’t that phrase imply that we don’t need mystical experiences or extrabiblical words from God?

Although the Church faces threats from those outside its walls, it faces even greater threat from false teachings within those walls. And every one of those false teachings in some sense challenge the sufficiency of Scripture. Consequently, we have a responsibility to stand firmly on the knowledge that we have everything we need in the Word of God. Applying His Word to our individual circumstances admittedly takes patient study, but the Lord will faithfully use it to teach, rebuke, correct and train us in righteousness. What more could we possibly need?

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Welch Revivals, Bondage And Actual Obedience To The Lord

Bible Mask MedievalFor years, John and I have been getting DVDs from Netflix. For reasons that would distract from the point of this blog post, we’ll be closing our account soon, so we’re watching the last few movies on our queue.

A few nights ago, we watched a documentary about Evan Roberts, an evangelist during the Welch revivals in the early 1900s. I knew very little about either Roberts or the Welch revivals,  but I thought the movie might be interesting. And okay, I hoped to glimpse places I’d seen during my three months in Wales.

The movie definitely brought back memories (including memories of Wales), but not exactly the memories of lush green hills dotted with sheep or ruins of medieval castles that I’d anticipated. Instead, watching Roberts agony as he sought God through one spiritual experience after another while he burdened himself with the legalism of fearing to step outside of God’s  will reminded me of the Bible college I attended in Wales. And of Charismatic teaching in general.

I’d never really seen the connection between legalism and the dependence on spiritual experiences until I watched that movie, but the relationship struck me powerfully. Certainly we see it in 21st Century evangelicals (even those who don’t consider themselves to be Charismatics) as they urge us to expect personal revelation from God and warn us against “stepping out of God’s will.” I remembered the desperation to receive personal guidance, which caused me to wrench fragments of Scripture out of context, and pleading with God to speak to me lest I make a mistake and foil His plan.

What a sad way to go through life!

And what an affront to the sovereignty of God, as well as to His love! Yes, the Lord commands our obedience, but He calls us to obey what He clearly commands in His Word, not impressions or voices in our head telling us whom to marry or what job to accept. God’s principles outline what characteristics to look for in a husband. Marry whomever you please, as long as he possesses those characteristics and proposes to you. Take the job as long as the employer doesn’t ask you to violate Scripture. Don’t agonize unnecessarily, straining for some  mystical experience to offer confirmation.

People like Evan Roberts may appear quite spiritual, but their gnosticism never allows them to walk in the Spirit. Consider Paul’s words to the Colossians:

20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. ~~Colossians 2:20-23 (ESV)

Although I don’t recommend the documentary (which is why I won’t give the title), I’m glad I watched it because it clarified some of the dangers in Charismatic teaching. I certainly praise God for mercifully rescuing me from that bondage.

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The Christian Professor Marvel

Psychology AftermathOnce a year, a certain guest speaker came to our church in California.  By God’s providence, I missed his first visit (I can’t remember why, though I suspect I had a cold that I didn’t want to share).

In the days following,  my friends gushed over this man’s ministry,  recounting his “words of knowledge” as verification that he operated in the “power of the Holy Spirit.” Even a friend who had previously expressed skepticism regarding Charismatic phenomena tried to convince me by saying, “He told me things about myself that only the Lord and I knew.”

“Like Professor Marvel in The Wizard of Oz?” I asked, pretty much ending the conversation.

The biggest draw to the annual meetings with this man, however, was that people got “slain in the Spirit” when he prayed over them. My girlfriends anticipated his meetings, positively giddy over this prospect. Even in my Charismatic days, I saw no point in people falling backwards to the floor in spiritual ecstasy.  But this prophetic speaker started coming around after I’d turned from Charismatic theology. Thus the very prospect that made them giddy made me nauseous.

The last year he came, I told my pastor that I wouldn’t attend church that week because I couldn’t support the practice of slaying people in the Spirit.  My pastor, in an effort to persuade me that the practice was godly, blurted out, “But Deb, your best friend gets slain every year!”

No appeal to Scripture whatsoever.  Please notice that point.

In both conversations I’ve recounted today, people based this man’s credibility on the personal experiences of those who attended his meetings, not on whether or not he accurately preached God’s Word (which I doubt, given the Charismatic excesses that routinely accompanied his appearances). And that appeal to personal experience troubles me even more today than it did at the time. Although my friends didn’t realize it, they elevated personal experience over the authority of Scripture.

Yet the apostle Paul warned that not everyone who appears to preach the Gospel actually does.

12 And what I am doing I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do. 13 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15 So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds. ~~2 Corinthians 11:12-15 (ESV)

Not once, in all the years that this man came, did anyone tell me he inspired them to study Scripture, that he exhorted them towards holiness or that he helped them see Christ more clearly. As I recall, they always came away focused on themselves instead of the Lord. And that disturbs me.

Ladies, the Lord didn’t institute His Church so that we could enjoy Christian equivalents to psychics or luxuriate in euphoric trances. His Church exists solely to glorify Christ Jesus and to equip His people to proclaim the Gospel. Spiritual goosebumps may offer momentary pleasure, but usually they distract us from Him. We must evaluate preachers, not by personal experiences they make available, but by how faithfully they handle the precious Word of God.

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Gnosticism: The Draw Of Psychology (Even Christian Psychology)

Little blonde angelI just did a Google search on “gnosticism and psychology,” naively thinking I’d find a simple article drawing a connection between the two. Instead, I found multiple pages of scholarly articles, many of which apparently celebrate psychology as the modern form of gnosticism. So okay, there definitely is a connection.

Gotquestions.org provides a brief overview of gnosticism, starting with its original teachings. If you read this article, you’ll notice that gnosticism promises secret knowledge, obtainable only to those who are initiated into the mystical circle. In our day in age, psychologists become those elite mystics, promising that their techniques will help us unravel the mysteries of our inner being. So-called Christian psychologists claim an even greater ability to do so, since they presume that the Holy Spirit will give additional revelation. Certainly, friends, psychology is nothing more than an updated form of gnosticism.

But Christians, rather than seeing the connection between gnosticism and psychology as cause for celebration, ought to recognize that many New Testament epistles were written in response to the seeds of gnosticism being planted in the First Century Church. The letter to the Colossians particularly addresses the gnostic heresy by drawing its readers away from human philosophies and back to Christ. I look forward to writing detailed blog posts on various portions of Colossians in the near future.

Today, however, I think I will spend a few moments demonstrating that psychology attracts both Christians and non-Christians by promising special insight into the human psyche. I’ll speak from personal experience, but I more than suspect that my attitudes were not unique, particularly among women.

When the church I attended in California began integrating psychological principles into its sermons and counseling, I delighted in the prospect of understanding myself more deeply. Oh, the thrill of going deeper than “mere” Scripture! Christian psychology offered something that the Bible, as much as I claimed to love it, couldn’t give me.

I knew I had problems with anger, but the Bible only admonished me to exercise self-control. Psychology promised that, by uncovering reasons for my anger (which my pastor divined most likely came from childhood trauma) I could overcome anger without needing to actively control myself. Counseling, I believed, would rid me of all angry feelings so that I’d automatically respond to any irritant in a sweet, Christlike manner.

Oh brother!

The Bible does teach that patience and self-control come from the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), but it also holds Christians responsible to walk in obedience to the Spirit  (Galatians 5:25). The Spirit doesn’t magically remove our angry feelings; He just empowers us to choose not to act on them. No introspection. No analysis. Above all, no blaming our parents for childhood traumas which then excuse our sinful behavior.

Psychology, you see,  offers us an excuse to stay in our sin “while we work on it.” Usually, that means our counselor has at least two years of income as she finds all sorts of underlying issues for us to work through. But we believe her psychological training gives her deeper knowledge than Christians trained in the Bible possess, and we enjoy focusing on ourselves.

In summary, psychology attracts us with its promise to supply special insight into our natures. It deceives us into thinking that God’s Word lacks the ability to address our issues and free us from sinful behavior patterns. Like all forms of gnosticism, it shifts our attention from the Lord to ourselves.  And like all forms of gnosticism, it should be avoided.

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What John Calvin And Martin Luther Say To Rick Warren And Beth Moore

Medieval Tower

Yesterday I tried to demonstrate that today’s popular teachers who promote new paradigms and/or claim to receive personal revelations from God are completely different from the Reformers of the 16th Century. I noted that, while these present-day teachers distract us from Scripture, the Reformers called Christians back to God’s Word.

So why should we bring up 500-year-old people instead of tackling Beth Moore, Rick Warren and the others directly?  How does understanding a group of religious dissenters from the Renaissance help us combat the false teachings that permeate 21st Century evangelicalism? Most Christians (even those who have excellent discernment abilities) ask such questions.

And in some respects, the people asking those questions have a point. Yet many of the errors that Beth Moore, Rick Warren and others make run parallel to errors that Martin Luther, John Calvin and the other Reformers had to correct.

For example, Beth Moore often bases her teachings on visions and personal revelations she claims to have received from the Holy Spirit. A simple Youtube search on “beth moore visions from god” will document this fact. One of the reasons discernment bloggers warn so strenuously against Beth Moore is precisely because of her extrabiblical revelations.

But did you know that John Calvin devoted Chapter 9 of his seminal book, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, to the very topic of extrabiblical revelations? It’s a short chapter, which you can read by clicking this link, but it offers a Scriptural argument (as long as you know that he understands prophecy to mean the Canon of Scripture) against personal revelations.

On a wider scope,  Rick Warren’s statement that Catholics and Protestants have the basic doctrines of Christianity in common probably would have perplexed an older Martin Luther. Hadn’t Luther risked his very life refuting Rome’s teaching that grace came through the sacraments and through purchasing leftover merits accrued by Mary and the saints? Hadn’t he insisted that justification comes through faith alone?

Until the Catholic Church rescinds the Council of Trent, which stridently condemns the doctrine of salvation by faith alone, Protestants must recognize that Catholics preach another gospel. Therefore we cannot accept Rick Warren’s embrace of Roman Catholicism. The very Reformation itself exposes Rick Warren as, at best, a seriously compromised evangelical.

Of course, we must ultimately measure truth by the Bible, not by the Reformers. Calvin and Luther had a few blind spots of their own. But the Reformers teach us how to apply Scriptural principles to teachers like Beth Moore and Rick Warren. Studying the Protestant Reformation enhances our discernment. Don’t underestimate its value.

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Why Beth Moore, Rick Warren And Ann Voskamp Aren’t Like The Reformers

Ancient Scripture

We’ve talked a lot about popular teachers such as Beth Moore, Rick Warren and Ann Voskamp on this blog, highlighting their claims that God speaks to them personally and shows them new — or at least  deeper  — understandings of Christian spirituality. Invariably, these understandings (really the same recycled lies of false teachers throughout history) result in twisting Scripture and/or elevating something to the same level as God’s Word.

One might argue that these teachers aren’t a great deal different from Martin Luther, John Calvin and the other 16th Century Reformers who split from Roman Catholicism. On the surface, it admittedly appears to be the case. Can we really consider these 21st Century teachers as heretics when they actually might see a new direction that the Holy Spirit wants for His Church?

I believe there’s a tremendous difference between 21st Century teachers and the Reformers of the 16th Century. And I’m here to tell you why I believe there’s a difference.

In the first place, the Protestant Reformation never set out to divide from the Roman Catholic Church. That fact, sorry to say, gets largely overlooked by both Catholics and Protestants as we discuss 16th Century church history. Some even believe that the Reformers deliberately wanted to start a new religion.

You may counter by reminding me that the teachers I’ve mentioned also have no desire to divide the Church. Indeed, Beth Moore and Rick Warren famously advocate for unity among professing Christians, even to the point of obscuring differences between Protestants and Catholics. Doctrine, they say, divides the Church. In contrast, they believe the Holy Spirit has given them new revelation that leads to new ways of knowing God and/or “doing” church.

The Reformers, on the other hand, based their reforms on the Scriptures in their original languages. They saw inaccuracies in the Latin translations of the Bible, as well as false teachings within Roman Catholic tradition and an unbiblical elevation of papal authority. As a matter of fact, they objected to the supposed special revelation that God allegedly gave to popes, insisting instead that God’s Word contains all the revelation we need.

The Reformers eventually did have to break from the Roman Catholic Church, but only because the Roman Catholic Church first broke from Biblical Christianity. Luther, Calvin and the others went back to God’s Word as the only trustworthy means of hearing God’s voice. Furthermore, they labored hard and long to make the Word of God accessible, both through translating it into common languages (only clergy in the 16th Century knew Latin) and by preaching expositional sermons verse by verse to teach Christians proper ways of interpreting the Bible.

One hallmark of false teachers is that they promise something new. The Reformers, however, restored God’s people to the old Gospel of Jesus Christ. To them, novelty and innovation only breeds the corruption of sound doctrine, drawing people away from the simple truth of Scripture.

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