Saturday Sampler: March 11 — March 17

Extruded CrossesI admire Albert Mohler’s grasp on church history and his practical way of applying it to our present-day Christian experience. So I appreciate Ligonier for featuring Why Controversy Is Sometimes Necessary in their blog this week. Mohler reasons from insights that wouldn’t have occurred to me, making it a fascinating article.

Check out Six Significant Things I’ve Learned from John MacArthur by Leslie A of Growing 4 Life. She makes several interesting points, even beyond the six that comprise the body of her blog post.

Evaluating the rise of the NAR movement in Berean Research, Amy Spreeman demonstrates How abandoning Sola Scriptura shipwrecks your faith. I recommend this piece to anyone who believes that God supplements His Word by speaking to them directly.

Evangelism requires a balanced attitude, as Jordan Standridge shows us in Facts Don’t Care About Your Feelings, But Christians Should in The Cripplegate. His words particularly encourage me, since I often struggle with guilt that my mom evidently never came to saving faith before she died. Yes, my tone in witnessing to her was sinful, and I need to declare the Gospel with much greater gentleness and humility, but I must remember Who ultimately determines salvation.

Are You a Contender? asks Rebecca Stark in an essay for Out of the Ordinary. I especially love her point drawing a correlation between contending for the faith and knowing God’s Word. Ladies, contending for the faith is a responsibility that each of us must take seriously.

The End Time by Elizabeth Prata looks at The entertainment-driven church that’s so prevalent in evangelical culture these days.  Heed her wise words.

In a guest post for Midwest Christian Outreach, Inc, Marcia Montenegro describes The Basic Spirituality of Yoga to show us why Christians must avoid this practice. Marcia practiced Hatha Yoga for 20 years prior to her conversion to Christ, and therefore handles the topic with authority. If you’re at all considering yoga as a means of exercise, I beg you to read this article and seriously think about the points she raises.

Tim Challies suggests a few reasons Why Some People Aren’t Christians. His insights appear simple, but they are also profound. If you feel discouraged regarding your evangelism efforts, this blog post might give you some helpful perspective.

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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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Dividing From Sound Doctrine

Watch Out

Last night I listened to a sermon given at a Charismatic church. The curious mixture of references to “anointing”and allusions to low self-esteem had me looking for a wall to bang my head against. And the pastor inverted the Scriptural narrative (which he admitted to paraphrasing rather than reading), totally misapplying it to his congregation. He concluded by having everyone leave their seats to come forward to receive prayer and to have members of the prayer team anoint them with oil.

Thirty years ago, I would have scolded myself for feeling uncomfortable with the situation and then I would have submitted to the prayer team.  I would have assumed that my misgivings resulted from rebellion against the Holy Spirit and His work. In short, I  would have caved into peer pressure.

Churches like that depend on peer pressure. They may allow a certain amount of questioning behind closed doors, but they view open dissent as divisiveness.

Interestingly, Scripture’s warnings against divisiveness target those who deviate from sound doctrine, not those who speak out against aberrant teaching and practices.

17 I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. 18 For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. ~~Romans 16:17-18 (ESV)

Today, I would leave the room while everyone else went up for prayer. If anyone asked my reasons, I’d explain each of my objections to the sermon, showing why it deviated from God’s Word. Next, I’d meet with church leadership and show them the problems with the sermon. Then I’d start praying for a new church home.

Sadly, Charismatic churches will only grow worse as time progresses, and they will utilize peer pressure to prevent anyone from challenging them on the basis of Scripture. Yet their influence, fueled largely by promising to help people understand how special God thinks they are, now creeps into non-Charismatic churches, opening people up to mysticism and experience based spirituality.

Right now, I’m disgusted with this shoddy approach to Christianity. Some people in Charismatic churches may be genuinely saved. I’d go so far as to say that some Charismatic pastors may be genuinely saved. But the system, with its promises of self-esteem and anointing, locks people in to the deception and keeps them trapped through peer pressure.

Christians, we need to pray for the Holy Spirit to get good teaching to Charismatics so that His Word will free them from the real divisiveness. No Christian should be divided from the correct teaching of God’s Word and made to participate in silly shows like filling before prayer teams to be anointed with oil. We need to know the Bible well enough to identify such foolishness and to openly reject it.

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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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Saturday Sampler: July 23 — July 29

Swatches 01

For those who wonder why people object so strongly to The Message paraphrase of the Bible, I beg you to read Eugene Peterson by Justin Peters. He compares selected passages with more standard Bible translations to show why this paraphrase cannot be trusted.

One of the things I like best about Michelle Lesley is her unwillingness to compromise God’s Word. Her post, The Mailbag: Female Pastors – False Teachers or Just Sinning?, looks at the issue fairly while raising important questions based on both Scripture and Michelle’s observation. I do wish she would have also commented on women who, although they don’t hold the office of pastor, teach men.

Discernment ministry isn’t the path to popularity, as Leslie A of Growing 4 Life tells us in Don’t Expect a Crowd.

The problem with hip humility by Jennifer at One Hired Late In The Day hits the nail on the head. Is it really cool to cuss a little if we profess to love Jesus? Jennifer causes us to think seriously about such casual attitudes.

What can I say about Erin Benziger’s essay, On the Dangers of Distorting God’s Grace, which you’ll find on Do Not Surprised? She gives a healthy balance on responding to the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. I love her passion for His truth!

It bothers me that evangelicals teach people to expect God to speak to them apart from Scripture. So Elizabeth Prata’s pointed essay, How did they ever hear God without a how-to manual? in The End Time, both amuses and encourages me. She stands firm on the Word of God, as we all should.

Sunny Shell of Abandoned to Christ writes a heartfelt blog entry called Content in Christ Alone that, to be honest, addresses a malaise common to all women. Although she doesn’t say anything particularly novel, she certainly reminds us of basic Biblical truth. Sometimes we need such reminders.

Are you in that heartwrenching season of praying earnestly for someone, only to see them harden themselves against the Gospel? If so, Even If He Doesn’t by Staci Eastin of Out of the Ordinary will most assuredly minister to you.

On her blog, Unified in Truth, Nikki Campbell educates us on The Downgrade Controversy that dogged the ministry of C.H. Spurgeon and relates it to the downgrade in evangelical churches today. She features a short, but compelling video with John MacArthur explaining how history is sadly repeating itself, as well as how pastors and congregations can resist this unbiblical trend.

Let’s add a second article by Leslie A., if only to validate my pet peeve regarding smart phones. Every Three Seconds looks at our addiction to these devices as well as suggesting ways to use them more responsibly and in ways that honor God.

Visiting an Embassy by Jesse Johnson is a slight departure from the sort of writing that usually appears in The Cripplegate. It also makes a powerful point about seeker-sensitive churches.

Please don’t miss Amy Spreeman’s article, When women’s ministries abandon the Bible, on the Naomi’s Table website. It perplexes me that any Bible Study group would choose to study a book when they can study the very Word of God.

If you feel left out because you don’t hear God speak personally to you, check out God Doesn’t Talk to Me on Rachel’s danielthree 18 blog. She guides us on making right decisions. I’ll offer no hints on how she advises us to seek God’s will; I want you to read her counsel for yourselves.

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The False Prophet’s Misplaced Compassion

False ProphecyWhen he showed up at our Tuesday night Bible Study that spring evening in 1993, I thought it was a little unusual. But I dismissed that thought fairly quickly, reminding myself that our Bible Study group was known in our church for having in-depth discussions as well as for our riotous humor. Several others from the church had migrated to our group, so why shouldn’t he?

He sat quietly through the study, not really offering any insights and only half-heartedly laughing at the jokes we made. I again had fleeting thoughts that he didn’t quite fit in, and wondered if the group downtown might suit him better. He appeared as uncomfortable in our group as I had felt the night I’d visited the downtown Bible Study.

After the teaching portion of the meeting, the leader started to open the floor to prayer requests. At that point the visitor interrupted. “I’m sure you’re all wondering why I came tonight,” he began.

From there, he proceeded to explain that God had sent him to give me a message. According to him, God wanted me to know that He was ready to heal me physically. The healing would happen gradually, perhaps over the course of years. Furthermore, God would begin with my hands and slowly work His way through the rest of my body.

The man who led the Study knew me well, and was extremely aware that I had been moving away from Charismatic theology for about three years by that point. I could detect his amusement as he turned to me asking, “What’s your response to that, Deb?”

I answered without hesitation, “It’s hogwash.” Then I elaborated that the gifts of tongues, prophecy and healing ceased with the close of the Apostolic age. I added that Christ is certainly capable of healing people in this present age, but that all miraculous healings in Scripture happened instantaneously. Therefore I seriously doubted that God had spoken to this man.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that incident lately. I regret not telling that man that he’s a false prophet. Yeah, it would have been a harsh pronouncement, no matter how lovingly I might have worded it. And definitely, I believe that his prophecy, vision or whatever you want to call it, came out of that man’s compassion for me. Be that as it may, it was still a false prophecy.

And Scripture shows us, in more places than I can cite this afternoon, that the Lord has zero tolerance for false prophecy. In fact, when Moses prepared Israel to take possession of the Promised Land, he spent a fair amount of time warning them about the dangers of false prophets. To emphasize the Lord’s seriousness about this matter, he instructed them to treat false prophecy as a capital offense.

 But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die. ~~Deuteronomy 18:20 (ESV)

Please  be assured that I’m not suggesting that the man who gave the false prophecy at the Bible Study all those years ago be executed under Old Testament Law. I do, however, find it disturbing that he was permitted to continue giving prophecies in Sunday morning services long after that incident. (Of course, I shouldn’t have remained in that church after the Lord convinced me that Charismatic theology was in error.)

If a church insists on practicing the Charismatic gifts, they should also be consistent with Scriptural parameters in exercising those gifts. People who prophesy implicitly claim to speak for God Himself. Therefore, although I would argue that prophecy is no longer operational because the Canon  of Scripture is closed, those who presume to prophesy must be held accountable by their church leadership. Even one failed prophecy should disqualify them from ever prophesying in a service again.

As the years have passed, I’ve been both saddened and troubled that this man wasn’t lovingly corrected for his false prophecy. People in that church highly respected him, and may have acted on prophecies he gave with the belief that God had really spoken though him. Worse, the poor guy lives with the deception that God speaks to him apart from Scripture. Just as he showed compassion towards me by wanting to believe God would heal me physically, so I pray God will show him compassion by leading him into sound doctrine.

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One Passage, Preached In Opposite Directions

Treasured BibleIn two months, I would leave that church anyway, since marrying John necessitated moving from San Rafael, California to Boston, Massachusetts. Even so, the rambling, 80-minute message by the guest speaker left me literally weeping.

Most of the people at that service found this speaker highly offensive. The guy who had invited him tried, rather unconvincingly, to distance himself, clearly embarrassed by the whole fiasco. His delivery, which included physically humiliating our pastor, offended pretty much everybody. The exhibition felt more like a circus than a worship service, and people began wandering out to the lobby because of their impatience with his incoherence and his theatrics.

Sadly, however, I seemed to be the only one who objected to the actual content of what he taught.

He chose Ephesians 4:11-16 as his text:

11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (ESV)

Sadly, he followed the Scripture-twisting script of extreme Charismatics in order to make this passage say that doctrine must be rejected for the sake of unity. Did he, in his efforts to promote the New Apostolic Reformation, realize that he taught precisely the opposite idea of what Paul meant in this passage?

I wept because, even though my friends were deeply disturbed by his methodology, they accepted his actual message as being perfectly Biblical. They completely missed the fact that his sermon made a diametrically opposite point to the text!

About three years ago, one of the elders from our current church preached on this same text. At first, remembering that horrible evening twelve years earlier, I flinched as John opened my Bible. Would this elder also try to teach that doctrine destroys unity?

But to my relief, the elder taught the passage correctly, presenting unity as a result of proper teaching. Unity, he affirmed, doesn’t require a minimization of doctrine. On the  contrary, God provided First Century apostles and prophets, followed by evangelists, pastors and teachers since then, to teach us how to be the Church.

Uniting over the foundational doctrines of the First Century apostles and prophets as faithful evangelists, pastors and teachers minister God’s Word to us keeps the Church from  fragmenting over doctrinal error. Proper doctrine aligns us under Christ’s leadership because faithful men explain His Word and enable us to access His Word for ourselves. (Faithful women can teach other women, as well as teaching children.)

The elder’s sermon three years ago offered tremendous comfort, assuring me that I could trust my new church to handle God’s Word properly. The leaders understand that right doctrine forms the very basis of Christian unity. Rather than casting doctrine aside, as the guest speaker that night suggested (for 80 long minutes), Christians must rally around true doctrine, carefully mining Scripture and treasuring every nugget and gem.

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