The Disgrace Of Almost Right

Faded ChurchThis morning, scrolling through Facebook, I once again came across a popular quote attributed to Charles Spurgeon:

Discernment is not knowing the difference between right and wrong. It is knowing the difference between right and almost right.

Having spent the past few days in unrelated Facebook conversations with people who passionately disagree with the reviews I’ve posted about War Room, I found this quotation to be incredibly timely. The “almost right” that evangelicals frequently employ in efforts to win people to Christ may be less appropriate than the “right” of simply preaching the Gospel from Scripture. The “almost right” of quoting Bible verses may be less honoring to the Lord than quoting them in proper context. “Almost right” may actually lead people into error.

War Room may, by God’s providence, open some hearts to the Gospel, and even result in a handful of genuine conversions, just as the Charismatic ministry I participated in as a teenager led me to saving faith in Christ. But should Christians settle for pragmatic approaches to ministry at the expense of truth simply because those approaches might be (or even have been) effective?

The apostle Paul refused to compromise God’s Word simply for the purpose of making the Gospel more attractive. Consider his words to the church in Corinth:

Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. ~~1 Corinthians 4:1-4 (ESV)

Some might argue that 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 authorizes a seeker-sensitive approach to evangelism, to which I’d counter that the context of that  passage emphasizes Paul’s humility in limiting his personal freedom so he wouldn’t distract people from the Gospel. That attitude is far different than taking a non-Christian to a movie in which protagonists rebuke Satan, hoping that non-Christian will come to Christ despite the doctrinal error. Evangelism that tampers with God’s Word may be “almost right,” but it’s still disgraceful and underhanded.

The Lord calls Christians to exercise discernment. Like Spurgeon, we must understand that “almost right” fails to actually be right. “Almost right” may produce short-term effects, but we must aim at making eternal disciples.

A Joyful Question

Why me?

No, I don’t ask that question in bitter reference to having been  born a quadriplegic as a result of Cerebral Palsy. I know better than to consider myself undeserving of life’s hard knocks. In fact, I know that my sins render me deserving only of eternity in hell.

To my astonishment, however, the Lord showed me mercy by bearing my punishment by shedding His blood on the cross. I’ve done nothing whatsoever to merit such favor, yet He has enabled me to place my faith in Him as my Savior. His kindness honestly baffles me, although I praise Him for bestowing such kindness.

Today’s hymn reminds me of my undeserving condition, but also of Christ’s grace in dying for me. It encourages me to celebrate His love and generosity, and to ask with an attitude of joyful wonder, “Why me?”

Warfare, Without Presumption

BemaBased on reviews by Justin Peters, Seth Dunn and Elizabeth Prata, I’ve pretty much decided not to bother with the newest Kendrick Brothers’ movie, War Room. Since I have no intention of seeing the movie, obviously I lack the qualifications to write a review of my own. But Justin Peters’ review brings up a concern that I can address from my 31 years of  first-hand experience in and around Charismatic/Pentecostal circles. Peters writes:

Sadly, biblical parameters dealing with spiritual warfare are exceeded throughout the movie. The entire film is saturated with Word-Faith/N.A.R. spiritual warfare lingo.  There seemed to be as much time and effort expended in binding, rebuking and casting out Satan by Mrs. Clara and Elizabeth in their respective war rooms as there was praying to God.

In one of the more emotionally rousing scenes of the film, upon discovering her husband’s philandering ways, Elizabeth retreats to her war room. As she repeatedly cites to herself James 4:7b, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you,” indignation swells within her and she begins to talk to the devil. “No more, you are done! Jesus is Lord of this house and there is no room for you anymore! Go back to Hell where you belong and leave my family alone!” she shouts.

There are at least two significant problems with this. First, Satan is not in Hell. Only when the eschatological events of Revelation 20 take place will he be thrown into the lake of fire and “tormented day and night forever and ever” (vs. 10). The Bible makes it very clear that, for now at least, Satan is quite free “prowling about like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8).

Secondly, and more significantly, we as believers are not to be addressing Satan. Ever!

Consider that in Jude we have the record of Michael the archangel disputing with the devil and arguing over the body of Moses. Jude records for us that when he disputed with the devil, Michael the archangel “did not dare pronounce against him a railing judgment, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you!’” Think about that for just a moment and let it sink in. If Michael the archangel – the archangel – did not “dare” to rebuke Satan then I think it’s probably a safe bet that we should not do so either. Pastor Jim Osman in his excellent book Truth or Territory writes, “What God’s highest holy angel would not dare to do, sinful, fallen men presume the authority to do. It is unthinkable. I have been in the presence of Christians who boldly declare, ‘Satan, I rebuke you in the name of Jesus,’ and I wonder, ‘Who do you think you are?’ Rebuking, commanding, or ridiculing the devil are not tools of effective spiritual warfare; they are marks of prideful, arrogant, self-willed false teachers.”

I engaged in the unbiblical practice of “‘rebuking” Satan for many years,  falsely believing that Christ had given Christians more authority than He’d given the archangel Michael. I misapplied Matthew 10:1, in which Jesus gave His twelve disciples authority over demons. That commission, I now understand, was limited to that specific time rather than being a  broad prescription for all Christians at all times. When I presumed to exercise authority over Satan, therefore, I placed myself in a position of apostolic authority that didn’t belong to me.

Yes, James 4:7b does say that Christians must resist the devil and he will flee from us, but that verse fragment rests in the context of obedience and submission to God.

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. ~~James 4:1-10 (ESV)

If anything, this passage calls us, not to proudly consider ourselves as equal to the apostles, but to humility. As we submit to the Lord by turning away from the world in favor of Him, Satan loses his influence over us. The victory comes, not in shouting down the devil, but in surrendering our will to Christ.

God Told Me To Write This Post

African Teen Flower BackgroundWell, no, God actually didn’t give me such specific instruction, and the title of this post is designed to add a touch of ironic humor. Yes folks, I’m returning to the topic of whether or not God speaks to us apart from Scripture. I do so because so many Christians have migrated away from the belief in the sufficiency of God’s Word. As a result of this migration into subjectivity, we’ve adulterated the Word of God with our own agendas, interpreting it through a grid of personal experience and self-service when we ought to evaluate personal experience through it and then obey the Holy Spirit’s direction in its pages.

God didn’t “speak to my heart” and instruct me to write this post. The idea came from the Pyromaniacs blog (which may well be one of my favorite blogs), in which Dan Phillips posted Untangling (too) terse words about affirming sufficiency and meaning it. Please make the time to read his post, as well as the comments which follow.

Like Dan, I’m troubled over the liberal theology that has invaded evangelical churches, wooing us away from sound doctrine until we’re indistinguishable from the world. Part of our descent into worldliness, I believe, manifests itself in subjective spirituality instead of a resolute dependence on the clear teaching of Scripture.

We busy ourselves straining to hear His “still small voice” when we ought to put effort into the things that He’s plainly revealed in His Word. For instance, 1 Thessalonians 5:12-22 (ESV) reads:

12 We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. 14 And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. 15 See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil.

Did you notice that second phrase in verse 18? “For this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” How many of us obey His instructions even in this short paragraph? I’m not raising my hand, and unless you’re either self-deceived or terribly dishonest, you won’t raise yours either! So, if we haven’t yet learned to follow the guidance He’s given us in the Bible, what makes any of us think that He would bother to give us personal revelation? Could He trust us to obey something He “whispers to our hearts” when we don’t even submit to the precepts He’s plainly spelled out in the Bible?

Most assuredly, God did not speak to me directly, nor did He specifically instruct me to write this particular post. But He has given me a concern about the influence of Charismatic theology and mysticism on 21st Century evangelicals. As more and more people insist on spiritual experience, they inevitably lose interest in the Bible. So, while I didn’t hear His “still small voice” or feel “a prompting of the Spirit,” I believe He is honored when I stand for the sufficiency of Scripture.

Don’t Mistake Windshields For The View

Today, let me offer a thought-provoking quotation as a reminder to focus on the Lord rather than on Reformed theology for its own sake:

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Windshields are one of those technological wonders we have all gotten used to. In fact, they work best when you don’t notice them, when they are invisible so that all you can see is what they reveal.

I am concerned that many Calvinists today do little more than celebrate how wonderfully clear their theological windshield is. But like a windshield, Reformed theology is not an end in itself. It is simply a window to the awe-inspiring universe of God’s truth, filled with glory, beauty, and grace. Do we need something like a metaphorical windshield of clear, biblical truth to look through as we hope to marvel at God’s glory? Absolutely. But we must make sure that we know the difference between staring at a windshield and staring through one.

~ Greg Dutcher

– See more at: http://reformedquotes.com/page/4/#sthash.IxiJMIlu.dpuf

I Know Who Cleans My Dishes

3D Cross Mother of PearlMy time in God’s Word this morning didn’t make me feel good. I read Matthew 23, in which Jesus blasted the scribes and the Pharisees for their hypocrisy. At first, I felt relatively comfortable with this chapter as I applied the Lord’s harsh words to present-day evangelicals who either fail to practice what they preach or deliberately tinker with Scripture so that they lead others into deception.

But the Holy Spirit began getting a bit personal with me at verse 24: “You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!” (ESV). He reminded me of times I’ve displayed outward “obedience” all too fastidiously while I covered up secret sins. Like the Pharisees, I’ve leaned on my self-righteous legalism as I distracted  myself from the ways that I willfully rebelled against the Lord.

The next couple of verses intensified the indictment against me.

25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean. ~~Matthew 23:25-26 (ESV)

To be fair to myself and honest in my writing, I have stopped living in deliberate hypocrisy for quite some time. I’ve received God’s forgiveness, and His Spirit has been graciously helping me resist temptation with increasing frequency. Yet the Lord wanted me to remember that, at any time, I could fall back into my legalism and hypocrisy (1 Corinthians 10:12).

The Holy Spirit needs to constantly cleanse my heart through His Word so that I obey Him with integrity. Thankfully, He has been faithful to expose any hypocrisy in me and to lead me in confession and repentance. Today, He may have reminded me of the  many times I’ve acted just as hypocritically as those First Century scribes and Pharisees did, but He also encouraged me that He will cleanse me as I look to Him.