Fight for Joy! Blog
Where Jesus Changes Everything
Video Blog: The Prosperity Gospel
In my latest video blog installment I discuss the so called Prosperity Gospel, which is really no gospel at all. Colossians 2:6-10; 1 Timothy 6:11-12.
Don't Be Misled
“See to it that no one misleads you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many’” (Matthew 24:4). Deception is defined as acts to propagate beliefs that are not true, or not the whole truth (as in half-truths or omission). Deception can involve dissimulation, propaganda, and sleight of hand, as well as distraction, camouflage, or concealment. There is also self-deception, as in bad faith. In the context of Scripture, bad faith is understood as taking a position that is either known to be false or is false but believed to be true. In either case, the one holding the position is self-deceived. It is interesting to me that Jesus, when speaking of the time period just prior to His return to this earth, said more about deception than He did anything else. In Matthew 24, He warns against being deceived three different times (Matt. 24:4-5, 11, 23-24). There are at least 25 instances in the New Testament where the biblical writers warn against being deceived. This is why it is crucial for us to understand not everyone who claims to speak for Christ actually does. In fact, I would venture to say no one speaks for Christ as He has already spoken for Himself in His Word given through His Prophets and Apostles. The warning is clear: Don’t be misled.
Contending for the Faith
“Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints”(Jude 3). I just returned from another outstanding annual meeting of the Pre-Trib Study Group (www.pre-trib.org). The meeting took place at the Sheraton Grand Hotel near the Dallas/Fort Worth airport. This was my fourth opportunity to attend, having also attended in 2007, 2008, and 2011. The conference did not disappoint, proving once again to be Christ exalting, biblically focused, and academically stimulating.
Several papers were presented by various scholars around a common theme: Contending for the Faith in the Last Days. Dr. Thomas Ice began the conference with a paper on, “What Does the New Testament Teach about End-Time Apostasy?” Mike Gendron (www.proclaimingthegospel.org) presented a paper giving an overview of “Roman Catholicism’s Drift into Apostasy.” Tom McMahon (www.thebereancall.org) presented a paper on, “Psychology in the Church,” which to me, was the best paper presented at the conference. The so called church growth movement was discussed by the Monday evening banquet speaker, Paul Smith, where he discussed the church growth movement and how it was used to change the church’s focus from theology to sociology. Several other papers were presented, all focusing on end-time apostasy in the church.
“See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form”(Colossians 2:8-9). I have written on numerous occasions regarding the fact that we live in an age of remarkable theological and biblical confusion. This should come as no surprise as Jesus said on the Mount of Olives that deception would be one of the primary signs we are living in the last days. He said this three times in Matthew 24. If He says something once, it’s important. But to say it three times means it is seriously important. “See to it that no one misleads you” (Matt. 24:4). “Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many” (24:11). “For false Christs and false prophets will arise…” (24:24).
False theologies, religions, and other belief systems have been around since sin entered the world. Some of these belief systems are so well package that even some in the Church are deceived. A recent article appearing in USA Today drives this point home: “More U.S. Christians mix in 'Eastern,' New Age beliefs.” Did you know that many theologically conservative churches offer “Christian” Yoga classes to their membership? Or how about this—a Bible professor at a Christian university in Minnesota says there just might be “common ground” with Buddhism and Christianity when it comes to “meditation.” I doubt the kind of meditation he has in mind is that found in the Scriptures. Eastern religions with their practice of meditation and self-revelation are considered to be exemplary and valuable in today’s society. Yoga and other meditative practices are heralded for their “positive” physical, emotional, and spiritual benefits. But what many believers fail to realize is you can’t take something pagan and dress it up in Christian lingo and make it “holy.” In other words, there is no such thing as Christian Yoga. There are several reasons I could offer in support of this, but suffice it to say, Yoga is thoroughly Hindu and cannot be divorced from it or its pagan gods. Yoga postures are designed to form one's body into the likeness of man, animals, birds, insects, snakes, fish, and many more--all of which are revered as gods in Hinduism. Therefore, the words of Christ and Paul serve as a strong warning to believers: “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception.” Elsewhere, Paul writes, “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God (your body) with idols?” (2 Cor. 6:14-16). These are all rhetorical questions, meaning the answer is obvious—NOTHING! Christianity has nothing in common with this garbage! Therefore, if you are thinking about doing “Christian” Yoga, don’t. If you are already involved with it, stop! Repent of your sin and ask for and receive God’s forgiveness. Run from “the elementary principles of the world,” and pursue a pure devotion to Christ, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3).
Many Christians have been duped into thinking there is nothing wrong with Yoga and other Eastern meditative practices, all of which are designed to put the practitioner into an altered state of consciousness. According to one apologist, “believers who think they’re just exercising are being swept into a [false religious system].” Authentic Christians are to stand against such evil. We do this by running to the Word of God and resting in and believing His warnings and promises. Regardless of how physically, emotionally, and spiritually positive something might seem on the surface, if the Word of God says it’s evil, then it’s evil and is to be shunned and avoided. All pagan practices are inherently evil. “Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them… Therefore, be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:11, 15-16).
Treasuring Christ -- He is My All in All
"Though the fig tree should not blossom and there be no fruit on the vines, though the yield of the olive should fail and the fields produce no food, though the flock should be cut off from the fold and there be no cattle in the stalls, yet I will exult in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength, and He has made my feet like hinds’ feet, and makes me walk on my high places" (Habakkuk 3:17-19). Like this passage, Dennis Jernigan’s lyrics to "You are My All in All," capture the essence of what it means to treasure Christ above all. "You are my strength when I am weak, You are the treasure that I seek, You are my all in all. I’m seeking You like a precious jewel, Lord, to give up I’d be a fool. You are my all in all… Taking my cross, my sin, my shame, raising again I praise Your name; You are my all in all. When I fall down You pick me up, when I run dry you fill my cup; You are my all in all…" Sadly, many today treasure anything and everything rather than Christ. Equally as sad is the number of so called ministers who stand in pulpits across this land and preach a blasphemous message of health, wealth, and prosperity, rather than the greatest treasure of all—Jesus Christ. Jernigan says it well—I’d be a fool to seek anything other than Christ. Indeed, He is the treasure that I seek and pray you seek as well.
The prophet Habakkuk gives us one of many reasons found within Scripture to treasure Christ above all. He concludes his short book (only 3 chapters) with an "If everything goes south I will still trust in the Lord" scenario. This is a far cry from much of what we hear coming out of Christendom today. Much of what is being taught today says God wants you to be rich. He wants you to feel good about yourself. He wants you to live a life of ease, comfort, and pleasure. He wants you to own expensive cars, big houses, and maybe even a yacht and airplane. The problem with such thinking is twofold. First of all, it simply is not true. Secondly, when one treasures such temporal things and the bottom does drop out, their faith (if they even had any to start with) will spiral out of control, leaving them bitter and disillusioned. But when Christ is my treasure, "Though the fig tree should not blossom and there be no fruit on the vines…, yet I will exult in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation." Habakkuk’s point is this—Treasure Christ above all! If everything collapses and I lose it all, I will still rejoice in and desire Christ. This is true hope and security. Such is not based on temporal blessings—stuff—but on the Lord Himself. This is the essence of treasuring Christ. Indeed, He is My all in All! If my focus is living by faith in the crucified, risen, ascended, and soon returning Lord—treasuring Christ above all—then I can say, "The Lord God is my strength, and He has made my feet like hinds’ feet, and makes me walk on my high places." My faith in the Lord will enable me to endure difficulty, suffering, and even loss—tremendous pain and loss at that.
"I’m seeking You like a precious jewel, Lord, to give up I’d be a fool." I see a lot of fools these days and I’m not talking about "fools for Christ’s sake" (1 Cor. 4:10). I’m talking about those who seek earthly treasures over Christ. What treasure do you seek? Paul wrote, "I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord" (Phil. 3:8). Do you consider all things loss, your sin included, for the sake of knowing and treasuring Christ? Is Christ more important to you than life itself? "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain" (Phil. 1:21). The Psalmist wrote, "Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, my lips will praise you" (Ps. 63:3). What’s the point of all this? It is simple, really. Jesus is the goal. He is the prize. He is the treasure that we seek. Sadly however, many seek after that which will not satisfy. My heart grieves for those who follow after false prophets, false religious systems, and pseudo-Christianity thinking such things will bring them joy and guarantee eternal life. Furthermore, my heart breaks over those whom I know and care about who are seeking happiness by embracing sin rather than Christ. Jesus said, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Luke 12:34). If you treasure things your heart will be in things. If you treasure sin, your heart will be consumed with sin. If you treasure wealth, your heart will long for more and more. But if you treasure Christ, your heart will be satisfied with nothing less than Christ and Christ alone. Treasuring Christ guarantees satisfaction here and an eternal joy that simply cannot be described this side of heaven—"But just as it is written, things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who [treasure] Him" (1 Cor. 2:9). "You are the treasure that I seek, You are my all in all…to give up I’d be a fool."
Messages from Heaven
“Behold, you are trusting in deceptive words to no avail” (Jeremiah 7:8). Deception has been a problem for humankind since the serpent deceived Eve in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:1-7). However, the Bible indicates that as the return of Christ draws near, deception will increase significantly. In Matthew 24, Jesus, when answering the disciples’ question about His Second Coming and the end of the age, warned them repeatedly about deception: “See to it that no one misleads you” (24:4; see also verses 11, 24). Paul warned against this last days deception as well: “Let no one in any way deceive you” (2 Thess. 2:3). In Revelation 13, we are warned about the great deception that is coming, literally in the flesh, known as the Antichrist: “And he deceives those who dwell on the earth because of the signs which it was given him to perform” (Rev. 13:14). Paul calls this great deception that is coming, “lying signs and false wonders” (2 Thess. 2:9). Deception is ever present but the days are coming and have come when many will be deceived by these “lying signs and false wonders.”
Visions of “Mary” are nothing new. They have been appearing around the world for hundreds of years. However, in recent years, there appears to be a significant increase in these appearances. I believe these so called apparitions, claiming to be messages from heaven, are nothing more than a last days deception. It only takes a casual familiarity with Scripture to see that these appearances simply are not biblical. Take for example the apparition that began appearing in Conyers, Georgia on October 13, 1990. An apparition claiming to be the “Blessed Virgin Mary” began appearing to Nancy Fowler to give messages to the United States. For me, the first thing that comes to mind is Hebrews 1:1-2, “Although God spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son.” Clearly, God is not speaking through Mary or anyone else today. On May 9, 1991, this apparition appeared and said, “Please photograph this statue [a statue of Mary] and distribute it freely to my children.” This is nothing new as nearly every “Mary” apparition through the years has requested a statue or shrine. But this brings several warnings from Scripture to mind. Here is one example: “So watch yourselves carefully, since you did not see any form on the day the Lord spoke to you at Horeb from the midst of the fire, so that you do not act corruptly and make a graven image for yourselves in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female” (Deut. 4:15-16). These kinds of visions continue to increase around the world. The visions are often accompanied by prophecies about the last days, urging all men and women to, “love the mother of God and submit themselves to her.” But the Scriptures tell us that we are to love God and submit ourselves to Him: “Submit therefore to God” (James 4:7). One witness to an apparition reported, “I do not know exactly what she wants me to do, but this much I do know, that she will complete the good work she started in me!” This is pure blasphemy. Paul wrote, “For I am confident of this very thing, that He [Christ] who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6). This kind of deception is what we can expect from a movement that fails to submit to Christ alone through the Scriptures alone. Jeremiah wrote, “Behold, you are trusting in deceptive words to no avail” (Jer. 7:8).
It grieves my heart to no end when I think about the countless multitude of people following after these “lying signs and false wonders.” Mary was not venerated in Scripture. She is not the “Queen of Heaven.” The only time that title is used is in Jeremiah chapters 7 and 44, both times referring to an Assyrian and Babylonian goddess, the worship of which Scripture seems to indicate will occur in the last days. This is not Christianity. Christianity, by definition, is a faith centered on Jesus Christ alone. Paul warns us to be careful so that we can avoid being deceived. He wrote, “But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ” (2 Cor. 11:3). Furthermore, writing about these deceitful workers, he wrote, “No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds” (2 Cor. 11:14-15). Do not be deceived! These apparitions often said to be messages from heaven are nothing more than messages from the pit hell, designed to deceive and lead astray. Furthermore, they are another sign that we are indeed living in the last days just prior to the return of Christ for His Church. “Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming” (Matt. 24:42).
A False Hope is No Hope at All
“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God…And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation”(Romans 5:1-11). A major theme of the book of Romans is righteousness from God. It appears more than 30 times in one form or another and describes the state or condition of perfectly conforming to God’s perfect law and holiness—a standard man falls woefully short of according to Romans 3:23: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” But the true Gospel of Jesus Christ reveals that on the basis of faith—and faith alone—God will give His righteousness to ungodly sinners. Furthermore, Paul argues in Romans 5:1-11 that not only does God justify sinners on the basis of faith alone, but they are eternally bound to Christ, kept by His power and not by any human effort. Churches and groups that add to salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone—and there are a lot of them—are nothing more than false religious systems dispensing false hope, which is really no hope at all. According to Dr. J.C. Ryle, one of these so called churches, that boast more than a billion followers, is nothing more than “a huge organized idolatry.” Speaking of this same false religious system, Dr. John MacArthur describes it as, “a pseudo-Christianity…the best front for the kingdom of Satan.” I could not agree more!
With so much deception in the world today, one might rightfully wonder how to determine a false religious system from the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul wrote to the Corinthian believers, “I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ” (2 Cor. 11:3). The Corinthian believers faced the same danger many face today—falling prey to satanic lies, thus abandoning simple devotion to Jesus Christ in favor of the sophisticated errors of false teachers and religious systems. A church that departs from the simplicity of the Gospel is no church at all but a false religious system that enslaves its followers, leading them straight down the “broad road that leads to destruction” (Matt. 7:13). Dr. Loraine Boettner, speaking of this same so called church that boasts more than a billion followers says, “The [miserable] evidence of [this church’s] steadily increasing departure from the simplicity of the Gospel, a departure so radical and far-reaching at the present time (1965) that it has produced a drastically anti-evangelical church. It is clear beyond possibility of doubt that [this religion] as now practiced is the outgrowth of centuries of error. Human inventions have been substituted for Bible truth and practice, [so that now, a false gospel is preached].” It is no wonder Paul wrote, “I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really no gospel at all” (Gal. 1:6-7). In other words, a false hope is no hope at all!
So the question is this: Are you trusting in Christ alone for your salvation or are you trusting in your church membership, your participation in your church, your confirmation, your baptism, communion, anything other than grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone? Any church or religious system that goes beyond the simplicity of the Gospel message—grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone—is so far from what Scripture teaches that it is garbage, or to use the Greek word Paul uses in Philippians 3:7, it is “dung”. So my appeal to you is simple. If you are in a church that teaches you must do something in addition to believing, don’t just walk, but run as quickly as you can away from that church. It is a false religious system that will leave you eternally lost. Only by believing the true Gospel can one be saved and have the assurance of eternal life with Christ. Only faith alone in Christ Jesus yields true hope. Anything else is a false hope that will never satisfy. Paul wrote, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9). This is not a simple acknowledgment that He is God but a deep personal conviction, without reservation, that Jesus is “the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). This “simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ” is that which results in justification by faith (Rom. 5:1)—a one-time legal declaration by God with continuing results. In other words, God declares the sinner no longer guilty but now righteous in His sight. This is the essence of reconciliation (Rom. 5:11) between God and sinners. So again, are you trusting in Christ alone for your salvation? If the answer is no, then you are still lost and facing an eternity separated from Christ and the joys of heaven—no matter what church you attend. “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1).
“Holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; avoid such men as these” (2 Timothy 3:5). It was twenty years ago this fall that I met some of the nicest lost people I have ever met. I know that statement sounds pretty judgmental if not downright cruel. But it is an appropriate statement when one considers the true Gospel of Jesus Christ as revealed in the Scriptures. I was in my first semester of college and faithfully participating in the life and ministry of the local Baptist Student Union. I noticed a couple young ladies who would come in and hang out in the lobby of the BSU almost every day. What intrigued me about these two ladies was they had very long hair, dressed modestly (they always wore a dress), never wore make-up, and seemed genuinely interested in mine and others’ religious experience. We quickly developed a friendship and a few of my BSU brethren and I accepted their invitation to attend their midweek “church” service on several occasions. It didn’t take me long to figure out this so called “church” was nothing more than one expression of unbelief after another. They had “a form of godliness, although they denied its power.”
The very first thing noticed was about this “church” was their woman pastor. This immediately brought to mind Paul’s instructions concerning pastors and church leaders. “An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife…” (1 Tim. 3:2). “The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves…for it is improper for a woman to speak in church” (1 Cor. 14:34-35). Paul here is not suggesting women are inferior or that they can’t say anything in church, but he is giving us God’s instructions concerning church leadership, particularly the office of elder/pastor. The second thing I noticed was the whole service seemed to be quite disorderly. They would run around, shout, clap their hands, and carry on in such a way that one wondered two things: what they were drinking and what was coming next. But God’s Word reminds us, “All things must be done properly and in an orderly manner” (1 Cor. 14:4). One would assume this rule applies to worship services in the local church. After all this carrying on, the woman pastor would then proceed to “preach,” which consisted of nothing more than picking a chapter from the Bible and reading it with an extra syllable (“uh”) on the end of nearly every word. There was no verse-by-verse exposition of Scripture. This was probably by design as any verse-by-verse exposition would surely reveal the error and outright rebellion of their unbelief. Despite all this, the one thing that both irked and saddened me to no end was their focus on tongues and the magic words, “in the name of Jesus Christ,” that they insisted must be said over a person at his or her baptism in order for salvation to occur. They had “a form of godliness, although they denied its power.” They denied Christ’s finished work on the cross and His subsequent resurrection as sufficient for salvation. It wasn’t “salvation by grace through faith” (Eph. 2:8) but rather words and experience that saved. The words, “in the name of Jesus Christ” said over you at your baptism and the experience of speaking in tongues was the necessary formula for salvation—never mind what the Bible actually teaches. But what is to be said of their so called experience of speaking in tongues? The Bible reminds us that Satan is the great deceiver “who disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14). What better way to deceive than to give someone the false notion they are saved because of some ecstatic experience.
It is interesting to note that nearly every verse they used to justify the necessity of speaking in tongues refers to the false gibberish of counterfeit pagan ecstatic speech found in the first century (and even today I might add). Not only this, but their proof texts for being baptized “in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 2:38; 8:12, 16; 22:26) have nothing to do with words said over a person at their baptism. Instead, the phrase used in these passages indicated, for the new believer, it was a crucial but costly identification to accept—that they were identifying with the Lord Jesus Christ, knowing that such identification may very well result in their execution for their faith. As far as words said at baptism, in the early church, baptism was always “in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19). That formula, which has no saving merit by the way, is the same formula for baptism the Church is to employ today. We are to “make disciples…baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that [Christ] commanded [us]” (Matt. 28:19-20). If I add to or subtract from what the Word of God teaches about salvation and following Christ, what I have in effect done is deny the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. In so doing, one indicates they have “a form of godliness, although they have denied its power.” They may be some of the nicest folks you will ever meet. But the sad reality is they are lost, having denied the power of the Gospel. The Bible says, “Avoid such men as these.”
Who Is Jesus -- And Why Does It Matter?
“Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins”(John 8:24). A radical change—the Emerging (or Emergent) Church—continues to sweep evangelicalism. We are told this change is necessary if we are to reach the post-modern generation. Unfortunately, this change has left many Christians starving for God’s Word in their churches and chapels. Furthermore, it is not uncommon for these change agents to label as judgmental and out of touch those who resist the movement away from Christ-centered preaching and Bible teaching. The utterly shameful fact is this movement proclaims a different gospel from that of the Apostles “once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 3), and is deceiving many with a false hope. For Emerging Church leaders, the Bible is more about doing good works, as God’s people, for the benefit of all people; it is not about revealed truth. A tragic result is they end up with a Jesus far removed from the one revealed in the Scriptures.
The false “gospel” being preached today says that Jesus came to save people from a lack of purpose, lack of happiness, or from living a stress filled and problem filled existence. The New Testament pattern is gospel preaching (which includes the person and work of Christ and the need to repent and believe) followed by nurturing the flock with the whole counsel of God. The gospel must answer four questions—who Jesus is, what He did, why we need Him, and what He expects us to do. Otherwise, Jesus said, “you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins” (John 8:24). This is a far cry from the “gospel” preached by Emergents. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—a lot of things in life we can get wrong, but not this. Eternity is at stake. So the question is, “Who is Jesus and Why does it Matter?”
Paul told the Philippians of Christ’s pre-existence with God and as God : “He existed in the form of God” (2:6). In his second letter to the Corinthian believers he wrote it is Satan who “has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (4:4). So, Jesus is God who became human without ceasing to be God. But what did He do? Paul wrote, “Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). Jesus died for yours’ and my sins, which answers the next question—why do we need Him? To the Roman believers Paul wrote, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…For the wages of sin is death” (3:23; 6:23). We need Christ’s atoning death and subsequent resurrection because we need His righteousness over our own to be found blameless before a holy God. So, what are we to do? Exactly what He expects us to do: “That if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved…for whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:9, 13). This is the gospel—but you won’t hear it in any “Emerging” congregation nor will you read it in any “Emergent” manifesto. For some strange reason, the gospel of Jesus Christ is not boldly preached, the message of the blood atonement is overlooked, and the verse-by-verse teaching of God’s Word is absent. Perhaps this is because it really is offensive to preach Christ Jesus and Him crucified.
So why does it matter? Because, “having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31). The certainty of future judgment is the reason Paul laid before us the necessity of repentance. This is in keeping with Jesus’ words, “for unless you believe I am He, you will die in your sins” (John 8:24). Like Jesus, Paul proclaimed that we must “repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance” (Acts 26:20). In other words, it is not merely mental assent to certain facts about Jesus. It is belief that results in lives actually changed. Regardless of the radical change taking place around us, the gospel will always remain the same—that Jesus died, was buried, and was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures (see 1 Corinthians 15:3-4). And it is faith in this crucified, risen, ascended Lord that is required of all who desire salvation. This is the message of the Apostles—“God is commanding all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). There are no exceptions.
“But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1). “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death”(Proverbs 14:12). I have witnessed a lot of changes over the course of my lifetime. However, nothing has prepared me for the changes I have witnessed of late in the body of Christ. I am referring to ancient mystical practices and a mystical spirituality that have gained access to the church. Twenty years ago I think we would have recognized it for what it is – “deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons.” Today spiritual discernment seems to be a thing of the past. Methods have become more important than orthodoxy – the basic tenants of “the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 3). Sometimes it comes under the guise of, “the message never changes but we must find new methods of reaching others.” My response to that often repeated assertion is, “says who?” Jim Wilson, in his book Future Church, suggests these “new methods” must have “appeal to believers and unbelievers alike” in order to “usher them into the presence of God.” The problem is these “new methods” are of a mystical-experiential flavor, one that the body of Christ would do well to avoid!
The Bible is overwhelmingly clear in its warning that in the days before Christ returns, truth will be exchanged for a wider spiritual road that originates with “deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons.” I think we are beginning to see a slow subtle appearance of this end-time reality, one that is readying the masses for the Antichrist. Roger Oakland suggests a new form of Christianity has begun to emerge that will replace biblical faith with a faith that is driven by ancient mystical experiences, not to mention a system of works and rituals. I wholeheartedly agree. It seems that well educated, supposedly doctrinally sound and solid Christian leaders are throwing all discernment to the wind in favor of mystical experiences rather than simple belief or faith. We must remember, the Bible says, “faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). Furthermore, the Scriptures assert that God is, “well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe” (1 Cor. 1:21). So there you have it. The preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ has worked well for nearly two-thousand years. It has continued to have the power to change lives. Continued, that is, until now. Now we are told we must abandon the “old” way of doing things for something newer and more relevant to this so called postmodern generation.
One method that has been suggested for reaching the postmodern crowd is the Prayer Labyrinth. It is a multi-sensory worship practice involving a maze-like structure used during times of contemplative prayer (contemplative prayer is the vehicle through which many churches are being assimilated into these ancient mystical practices). I say “maze-like” because it really isn’t a maze. There is one path in and one path out. It is often described as “an ancient-future prayer experience with postmodern appeal.” It usually includes prayer stations complete with candles, icons, pictures, etc. What its proponents fail to realize (or maybe they just don’t care) is that the labyrinth originated in early pagan societies. Furthermore, there is no evidence in the Bible that the disciples or the early church turned to such a mystical form of worship, especially one that needs candles, icons, pictures and other paraphernalia to feel more spiritual. Nowhere in Scripture is there even a hint of this. In fact, I would suggest it is an insult to the stable and eternal truths of the Bible – truths that although centuries old are still relevant today. I submit to the reader that the labyrinth isn’t a biblical way from the ancient past of experiencing the presence of Christ. Rather, it is an ancient and dangerous form of mysticism that most assuredly opens the practitioner up to a spiritual realm that is both spiritually deceptive and deadly. I genuinely believe prayer labyrinths and other contemplative practices are a slippery slope that will lead to spiritual deception, thereby rendering the message of the Cross unnecessary and the truth of the Gospel void. “But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons” (1 Tim. 4:1).
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