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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Saturday Sampler: November 12 — November 18

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In a short post (as in five paragraphs), Tim Challies uncovers The Problem with the “Want Ads” in Denominational Magazines. Sadly, the person he quotes was not exaggerating.

Leslie A. once again uses her Growing 4 Life blog to get us thinking about how we order our lives to honor the Lord. Balanced is Beautiful cautions us against narrowing our spiritual focus so tightly that we neglect other areas that also require our attention.

If you want to change things up in your personal Bible Study time, consider doing some topical studies.  Sharon Lareau of Chapter 3 Ministries walks us through some ideas on How to Study the Bible by Topic that could definitely help you approach God’s Word in a way you haven’t tried before.

Check out Unlocking the Bible to read Why Christians Should Not Get Angry with the Lost  by Pastor Colin Smith. This analogy is vivid enough to stick with you, and may be useful as you spend Thanksgiving with unsaved relatives.

Like Lara d’Entremont, I’m not a fan of having people point out my flaws.  So her article,  The Gracious Response to Criticism in Renewed In Truth Discipleship, challenges me to again confess my perfectionist tendencies and remember that having someone call me out on sin might help me better obey the Lord.

Don’t overlook Acceptable Sins Not Excepted: Anger in Erin Benziger’s blog, Do Not Be Surprised. Maybe you’ll wince a little (okay, maybe more than a little) as you read it, but keep reading. Her conclusion alleviates all the discomfort.

Have I called someone you follow a false teacher? If so, you probably didn’t appreciate it. But Michelle Lesley’s post, Throwback Thursday ~ Bad Fruit, Diseased Trees, And the Authority of God’s Word, could help you think through your reactions. Sometimes “discernment bloggers” do wrongfully accuse people of false teaching. Michelle’s article can help you determine whether or not that’s happening.

Whether you watch the short video or read the transcript,  be sure to give Tim Challies’ The Problem with Love Languages – Three Minute Thursdays #3 your attention. John and I heartily agree with all of the points Challies makes, and I particularly liked his conclusion.

Continuing her Bible Study on James, Lisa Morris of Conforming to the Truth writes Genuine Faith Understands the Importance of Taming the Tongue. Ladies,  all of us need this one.

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Validating Murder

Anger Makes Us Brutes

Listening to the Grace to You radio broadcast entitled “Forgiveness In An Age Of Rage” yesterday caught my interest as John MacArthur asserted that psychology bears a great deal of responsibility for the widespread anger in society today. In many respects, I agree with him. Psychology encourages people to “get in touch with their feelings,” insisting that even negative feelings must be validated.

MacArthur focuses his teaching on forgiveness as the antidote for anger, and I definitely think he’s on track. What I write today shouldn’t diminish or negate any of his points. But I would like to expand on his comments regarding the effects psychology has on anger because I really think he identified a serious problem.

My personal experience with “Christian” psychology bears out his allegations. Admittedly, counselors always tacked on obligatory exhortations to forgive those who wounded us (usually our parents), but the overwhelming bulk of the counseling centered on our victimization and thus our right to be angry. I remember actually demanding that my mom validate my feelings.

Funny — I felt no interest in validating her feelings.

I eventually admitted that I have a problem with anger. And that my anger, far from being the righteous indignation that Christians should have, is sin. Sin that breaks God’s law. A sin that Jesus said is equal to nothing less than murder.

21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. ~~Matthew 5:21-22 (ESV)

When psychologists (Christian or otherwise)  invite us to experience or anger, assuring us that it’s a valid response to being offended, they actually encourage us to engage in sin. That sort of encouragement can never lead us into God’s holiness. As a matter of fact, it will almost certainly lead us into unholiness.

Anger can be overcome, not through psychology, but as we die to self and obey God’s Word. It’s a simple principle made difficult by our selfishness and determination to gratify our sinful nature. Biblical counseling can show us how to put anger to death by applying Scriptural principles; psychology will only feed anger by validating it.

We dare not validate a sin that the Lord Himself strongly condemned!

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Saturday Sampler: October 29 — November 5

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An essay by Ryan Higginbottom in Knowable Word reveals One Temptation of Digital Searching that had never occurred to me. His admonition might spare you from misinterpreting God’s Word.

I enjoy pretty much everything Candi Finch writes on Biblical Woman, but Meet Katie Luther, One of the Protestant Reformation’s Leading Ladies has to be my all-time favorite piece I’ve read of hers. Once again,  we see that history can not only inspiring, but downright fun! I dare you to get through this piece without cracking a smile.

Writing for The Cripplegate, Jordan Standridge gives us The Cry of the Reformation: Jesus is our Sufficient Savior!  His article goes to the heart of the Reformation, directing us  back to the Lord Jesus Christ as all a sinner ever needs.

What should 21st Century evangelicals learn from the Reformers’ cry of Sola Scriptura?Michael J. Krueger of Canon Fodder answers that question with What is Sola Scriptura Protecting Us Against? More Than You Think. This article taught me a few things that deepen my appreciation for this doctrine of grace.

On her blog,  The End Time, Elizabeth Prata analyzes the state of present-day evangelicalism against the backdrop of the Reformation. Reformation Day 500 and counting! affirms the sad reality that the Reformation is far from over. Her essay will enhance your conviction that we absolutely must stand on God’s Word, using it as an instrument of discernment.

Reprising an article from Tabletalk Magazine (which I read all the time), the blog from Ligonier features The Holy Spirit’s Ministry by Sinclair  Ferguson. If you struggle with the idea that some of the Spirit’s gifts ceased with the close of the apostolic era, this piece may help you.

I’ve definitely sinned in my attempts to perform discernment ministry. So Lara d’Entremont’s blog post in Renewed in Truth Discipleship, Where Discernment Goes Wrong, rightly convicted me. Please take a look at the post yourselves and see whether or not the Lord would have you reconsider your approach to discernment.

Erin Benziger once again correctly uses Scripture to expose a sin that all of us fall into — usually without realizing it. In Acceptable Sins Not Excepted: Envy on Do Not Be Surprised, she illustrates the dangerous potential in this seemingly innocuous sin.

I’m including a second article from The Cripplegate because Jesse Johnson’s Semper Reformanda? addresses seven serious problems in 21st Century evangelical churches. My regular readers will notice that some of his concerns echo issues that I’ve been writing about for years. Please take a look at this thought-provoking blog post.

Commenting on events in the news, Jennifer of One Hired Late In The Day concludes that Sin makes people stupid, and explains the world we live in. Her essay matches the power of its title!

I struggle with sinful, self-centered anger.  But Michelle Lesley reminds of 6 Reasons to Recapture Righteous Anger. She makes very interesting and unexpected observations that most Christians overlook.

As someone who has been severely disabled since birth, I read Tim Challies’ essay,  No Better (Or Worse) Time To Be Disabled with tremendous interest. Although he specifies people with intellectual disabilities, don’t think for a moment that these ideas couldn’t eventually carry over to anyone with severe birth defects.

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How Not To Subdue Pink Elephants

Pink Elephant

Funny how growing in the Lord and getting Biblical teaching changes the way one views things. A little over twenty years ago I left my position as correspondence counselor for an ex-gay ministry, largely because of my personal circumstances. Sure, a few things about the ministry bothered me a bit, but for the most part I believed in what they did. I accepted no criticism of them from any quarter.

To be clear, I still believe homosexuality violates God’s intent for sexuality. Those who engage in it, even if their engagement never extends beyond fantasy, stand guilty of sin. Furthermore I still believe homosexuality can, like every other sin, be forgiven and forsaken through the blood of Jesus Christ.

 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. ~~1 Corinthians 6:11 (ESV)

Over the passage of twenty years, however, I’ve come to question the wisdom of building an entire ministry around one specific sin rather than around the Lord. When people meet together, and especially when they live together in a residential program, should we really be surprised when they fall back into the very sin that they’re seeking to escape?

A friend once counseled me, when I was single and struggling with desires for marriage, that simply telling myself not to think about marriage would invariably backfire. “It’s like trying not to think about pink elephants,” she said. “The harder you try not to think about pink elephants, the more you think about them.” She was right. Try not to think about pink elephants, and see what happens.

The answer to controlling my fantasies wasn’t in thinking about how sinful my fantasies were. Nor was it in gathering with other single women and talking about the struggles to control our desires for marriage. We thought praying together and asking the Lord for psychological insight into the root causes for our desires would eventually free us from our bondage to romantic fantasies.

We ignored a simple principle from Scripture.

16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.~~Galatians 5:16-17 (ESV)

Walking by the Spirit means nothing other than filling our minds with God’s Word and ordering our lives in conformity with His teaching. It does require discipline, yes, and admittedly self-denial causes emotional pain. But the more we delight in the Lord, the less we want things that offend Him. Walking by the Spirit isn’t easy,  but it is certainly simple.

The Bible never advises us to surround ourselves with people who struggle with the same sin we do. Instead, it encourages us to look to Christ with a commitment to glorify Him.  In so doing, we really do experience victory over whatever pink elephants we battle.

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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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Saturday Sampler: October 1 — October 7

Fantasy Flowers Sampler

Fall has arrived, meaning that the time all too quickly approaches when cold New England winters will prevent John and me from going anywhere. Including church. We grieve that many able-bodied evangelicals don’t appreciate the privilege of weekly church attendance. Perhaps Scott Slayton’s post, What You Miss When You Don’t  Gather With Your Church in  One Degree to Another, can give you a different perspective on the importance of meeting with your church as often as possible.

In Growing 4 Life, Leslie A. lists Five ways to know that you are too in love with yourself. Gulp! Her insights don’t  comply with psychological principles, but they definitely agree with God’s Word. Please make this one a high priority on your reading list!

I love Rachelle Cox’s Let’s Get Real About Women’s Discipleship in Gospel-Centered Discipleship. This article puts forth some unexpected thoughts about ways women disciple each other, and I think those thoughts might encourage some of you. See what you think.

For an accurate and concise explanation of Revelation verses Illumination, please visit Unified in Truth and start using the two terms Biblically. If you still believe that the Lord gives revelation now, you may need to rethink your theology.

Some of you are probably married to elders in your church. If so, you might appreciate An open letter to elder’s wives by Andrew Gutierrez in The Cripplegate. I find it also instructive to those of us who are friends with women married to elders. Let’s not place these ladies in awkward positions.

As an introduction to a new series in her Do Not Be Surprised blog, Erin Benziger writes about The Lie of ‘Acceptable’ Sins. This series, she promises, won’t be comfortable, but it will lead us to find comfort in the Gospel of God’s grace. I’m looking forward to it, knowing that Erin writes with fidelity to the Scriptures and with reverent passion for the Lord.

For a truly intriguing discussion on a perplexing passage in Genesis, you shouldn’t miss Mercy, Hope, and The Tower of Babel by the author of A Narrow-Minded Woman. She brings out a variety of points that I’ve never noticed, making the incident much more compelling and applicable. I especially like her emphasis on the sovereignty of God.

In an article for Meet the Puritans, Joel Beeke enumerates Ten Lasting Fruits of the Reformation. Those who consider history to be boring and irrelevant should read this piece, if only so that they can see why geeks like me keep writing about the Reformation as if it actually matters.

Have you been sending positive thoughts to Las Vegas this week? In Why Your Positive Thoughts Are Not Helping Anyone, Josh Buice of Delivered By Grace explains why Christians err when they speak of sending positive thoughts. He also tells us how we can actually help hurting people.

I want to close this week’s edition of Saturday Sampler by sharing the video below of the sermon my pastor, Jeremy Garber, preached at First Baptist Church in Weymouth, MA last Sunday. The reminder to use discernment fits so seamlessly with the purposes of this blog that I believe I must include it.

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