110) Falling Away To False Prophets

Still following the Hegelian dialectic:

Problem: Corruption of big business and the right; labor reforms; civil rights and women’s rights movements; belief in equality of condition,i.e. that equality is to be achieved primarily by government programs aimed at raising wages and transferring income from rich to poor through income taxes and finance welfare programs; rise in belief that poverty is not a personal failure but a societal failure; expansion of secondary and higher education; attack on religious and racial barriers to equal opportunity leading to later attacks on gender-based assumptions of behavior and discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Reaction: The “mainline” Protestant churches weakened sharply in both membership and influence while the most conservative religious denominations (such as the Southern Baptists and Missouri Synod Lutherans) grew rapidly in numbers, spread across the United States…and became politically powerful. Other evangelical and fundamentalist denominations also expanded rapidly…and the more conservative churches saw themselves battling secularism in terms of issues such as LGBT rights, abortion, and creationism.

Solution: Becoming more “relevant” in society by appealing to the self-indulgence of the Me Generation and eliminating requirements for holy living. This has happened 1) corporately by becoming a political action committee for White Anglo Saxon Protestants, and worse yet, 2) individually by expanding the emphasis on a personal relationship with Jesus to the detriment of doctrine.

The Evangelical PAC.

I’m an evangelical, like about a quarter of the United States population. Evangelicals believe in the good news of the Gospel — that Jesus died on the cross, for our sins, and in our place — and we need to tell the world about that.

But that’s not what most people are talking about today…

Many evangelicals and leaders invested money, time and conviction toward the promise of making America great again.

And right there is the problem. How many passages are there regarding “my kingdom is not of this world” and the promise on which believers should be focusing?

before the great and notable day of the Lord come…it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved...hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know: Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it…God hath made the same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ…Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call. And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation.” (Acts 2:20-40)

In turn, Donald Trump made good on these investments from an evangelical perspective. Most evangelicals (me included) are grateful for the Supreme Court justices he appointed and for some of the religious liberty concerns he addressed. His anti-abortion stances surprised many (again, me included), and for that I was thankful.

Nevertheless, most of that is in jeopardy now because Trump is who many of us warned other evangelicals that he was.

He has burned down the Republican Party, emboldened white supremacists, mainstreamed conspiracy theorists and more.

Yet of greater concern for me is the trail of destruction he has left within the evangelical movement. Tempted by power and trapped within a culture war theology, too many evangelicals tied their fate to a man who embodied neither their faith nor their vision of political character…   

For years we’ve been talking about a coming evangelical reckoning. A flood of books, articles and conferences — many of which I wrote and participated in — have warned of the approaching storm clouds for the evangelical movement.

This reckoning is here…three reasons why we have arrived at this point:

First, far too many tolerated egregious behavior. The past half-decade has offered near daily examples of people co-opting the Gospel for sinful ends. Racism, nationalism, sexism and a host of other sins have found purchase within the evangelical movement in both overt and subtle expressions. Many have been able to dismiss these examples as outliers that did not truly represent the evangelical movement. We have long since exhausted this excuse.

As evangelicals, we have to stop saying this isn’t who we are. This is who we are; these are our besetting sins. However, this isn’t who we have to be.

Second, far too many failed to live up to their promise of speaking truth to power. During the 2016 election, and at many points since, many evangelicals justified their full-throated support by promising to be a check on Trump’s character. What has become apparent is that this promise was hollow…

Watergate figure, and later evangelical leader, Chuck Colson once said: “When I served under President Nixon, one of my jobs was to work with special-interest groups, including religious leaders. We would invite them to the White House, wine and dine them, take them on cruises aboard the presidential yacht. … Ironically, few were more easily impressed than religious leaders. The very people who should have been immune to the worldly pomp seemed most vulnerable.”

That was us.

Finally, all of us have failed to foster healthy political discipleship. The foundation of our reckoning was laid far before Trump. Committed to reaching the world, the evangelical movement has emphasized the evangelistic and pietistic elements of the mission. However, it has failed to connect this mission to justice and politics.

Ahhhh. See, still stuck in the middle, straddling two worlds of spirituality and secular government.

Even the best intentioned evangelism efforts are marked by a departure from the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Basically, the church got rid of the use of the Law about a hundred years ago, and it has been propagated by some preachers today. People got the idea that somehow we need to change the message in order to appeal to people today, but that is just a misunderstanding of the function of the Law...Christians are no longer under the penalty of the Law. We are under the covering of grace. But the same standards of the Ten Commandments still are the standards by which non-Christians will be judged on the Day of Judgment. On the Day of Judgment, God still hates lying. He says that liars and thieves and adulterers and blasphemers will be cast into the Lake of Fire…In order for thieves and liars to understand that that is what they are and that they need a Savior, they need to be confronted with the standards that God will judge them by on that day. And that is what Jesus did throughout the Scripture…

If you can remember four simple points, it will help you get from the beginning to the end of a conversation and lead you through witnessing to somebody. Who do you know that is not saved? Do you have a good friend who is not saved who you have been trying to witness to? It is easy to call them up on the phone and say, ‘Hey, how is it going? How is your family? How is your job? What is going on?’ That is simple. But you are thinking, Man, how do I talk about his or her salvation? That is the hardest part. One of the things that we suggest is bring up the movie The Passion of The Christ, and then use that as a springboard to say something like, ‘That movie never would have made sense to me if I didn’t understand how exactly I had sinned against God,’…What do you think about the Ten Commandments? That is a pretty high standard. Do you think that you have kept it…?’

Get into the conversation any way you want and then the four stepping stones are WDJD, which stands for What Did Jesus Do — not What Would He do, but look in the Bible and see What He did do:

W — Would you consider yourself to be a good person?
D — Do you think that you have kept the Commandments?
J — Judgment. If God judged you according to those Commandments, would you be innocent or guilty?
D — Destiny. So, do you think you would go to heaven or to hell?

The short version of “getting saved” takes God’s sovereign judgment out of the action, allowing humans to mouth a profession of faith and continue to live in sin. And its preachers can point to scripture to justify easy believism.

Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth. 

  1. Compare: For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, That the man which doeth those things shall live by them.
  2. But the righteousness which is of faith speaketh…thou shalt be saved
    1. if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus,
    2. and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead.” (Romans 10:4-9)

But this passage is like an opening paragraph in a news reports. To get the full story we have to keep on reading the entire message to the Romans, or we can be misled.

This popular methodology and objective is selling fire insurance, but is it salvation from sin? Certainly not if the individual has not experienced the resurrected life through the Holy Spirit now.

There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. 

  1. Compare: For what the law [of Moses] could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh,
  2. God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk [the walk and not just talk the talk] not after the flesh, but after the Spirit…

For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.

But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, IF so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.

IF the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.

if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God…And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.

This passage, and many others, also disabuse the Jesus Movement‘s claim that the presence of the Holy Spirit is proved, not through the evidence of freedom from bondage to sin of all kinds, but through manifesting the gifts of the spirit. A frenzy of speaking in tongues, healing, and prophecy, even spread to the ponderous institution of the Roman Catholic Church.

And then there’s the ever popular prosperity gospel.

Hinn has been a leading proponent of prosperity gospel theology since the 1980s, teaching that God rewards active faith with health and wealth. But on September 2, during his 3-hour, 50-minute weekly broadcast, Hinn said he had changed.

“I am correcting my own theology and you need to all know it,” the televangelist told his studio audience and those watching online. “The blessings of God are not for sale. And miracles are not for sale. And prosperity is not for sale.”

Hinn said he now believes such give-to-get theology is offensive to God. He specifically repudiated the practice of asking for “seed money,” where televangelists tell people that God will bless them if they give a specific dollar amount. Hinn himself has done this numerous times, promising God will give material blessings in exchange for a gift of $1,000. On Monday, he said he wouldn’t do it anymore…

Some of the Christians who have watched him closest, however, viewed the apparent renunciation with skepticism…waiting for some evidence of his transformation…”we’ve been down this road before.”

Hinn rejected the prosperity gospel for the first time in the late 1980s and again in the early ’90s, and there were reports at the time that he had really changed. He went on to preach prosperity again…

He joined the Assemblies of God for a while, accepting the oversight of the Pentecostal denomination, but then separated and went back out on his own.

Hinn’s financial practices have also been investigated twice by the federal government. The US Senate launched an investigation of Hinn, along with Joyce Meyer, Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar, Paula White, and Eddie Long in 2007. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), then chair of the Senate Finance Committee, was shocked by the lavish lifestyles of American prosperity preachers, and expressed concern the IRS wasn’t doing its job enforcing existing rules against excessive compensation for leaders of religious nonprofits.

Hinn, according to some estimates, was receiving tens of millions of dollars in donations every year…An exact figure is unknown. Hinn’s televangelist organization is registered as a church, so it doesn’t report any financial information to the IRS.

The Senate investigation faced sharp criticism from a number of evangelical groups, including James Dobson’s Alliance Defense Fund (now the Alliance Defending Freedom), the National Religious Broadcasters, and Christianity Today.

The investigation ended in 2011 with no definitive findings…Grassley’s office said the investigation was successful…because Hinn was “instituting reforms without waiting for the committee to complete its review…” 

It is not clear whether there was any self-reform, though. Hinn’s ministry is not accountable to any outside group.

Hinn’s ministry came under investigation again in 2017. The IRS raided the televangelist’s headquarters in Grapevine, Texas. The agents had a search warrant saying there was probable cause to believe they would find evidence of tax evasion and “general fraud against the government” in the ministry’s offices.

A spokesman for the IRS told CT that the agency cannot legally confirm or deny whether that investigation is ongoing.

Neither Hinn nor his spokesman could be reached for comment on Friday.

Hinn’s nephew, Costi Hinn, who has been very critical of his uncle and of the prosperity gospel, said the big, splashy “renunciation” does fit a pattern.

“Over the years, he has consistently conceded to enough of a report or an accusation to gain enough trust—as if he’s admitting to it—to gain control over the narrative. He always wants to control the narrative,” Costi Hinn said.

It’s also not clear how thorough this renunciation is…

“I still believe in prosperity,” Hinn said. “The message of prosperity is in the Bible. We cannot deny that if we give, we will receive. That’s in the Bible. You can’t erase it. No way. God wants to bless his people way more than you want to receive that blessing. But you can’t put a price on it.”

Watching the recording of Monday’s statement, Costi couldn’t help but see a performance.

“It’s very sensational,” he told CT. “When we are repenting, we’re humble. We’re very low. We’re not being sensational when we repent. We’re being broken. We’re being contrite. There was a lot of showmanship in the statement.”

Costi Hinn said one thing he would hope to see is some measure of accountability. A board of outside overseers would go far, he said, towards ensuring this change is real.

Rusty Leonard, the founder of Ministry Watch, an independent evangelical group that advocates for financial accountability and transparency, agrees.

“Maybe it’s sincere. I’m hopeful,” Leonard said. “But right now there isn’t any corroboration. 

This is just one example of how the increasingly autonomous identification of one’s relationship with God phased out accountability to biblical faith and practice. In a local congregation this occurs naturally between the leaders and members.

“Am I am not an apostle…are not ye my work in the Lord? If I be not an apostle unto others, yet doubtless I am to you: for the seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord. Mine answer to them that do examine me is this.” (I Corinthians 9:1-3)

The self-defined relationship with Jesus Christ escalated synergistically – both sides feeding off each other – with the rise of televangelism, newly styled “non-denominational” churches, dropping a church’s denomination from its name, non-traditional churches and megachurches allowing an individual’s anonymity in the crowd, and a growth in parachurch organizations and community faith centers that blurred or eliminate doctrinal distinctive. And the result was the loss of a functional body of believers.

“unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ…And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 

  • For the perfecting of the saints,
  • for the work of the ministry,
  • for the edifying of the body of Christ: 

Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ…This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart: Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.But ye have not so learned Christ;

IF so be that ye HAVE heard him, and HAVE been taught by him, as / since the truth is in Jesus:” (Ephesians 4:7-21)

Most of all, one’s “personal relationship with Jesus Christ” eliminates the Bible, the sole foundation of saving faith.

Andy Stanley is a master communicator, and he communicates very well and very often...he quite regularly makes arguments that subvert the authority of Scripture and cast doubt upon biblical Christianity…

Earlier this year, Stanley brought controversy when he argued in a sermon that the Christian faith must be “unhitched” from the Old Testament. He claimed that “Peter, James, Paul elected to unhitch the Christian faith from their Jewish scriptures, and my friends, we must as well…”

In his view, the first century leadership of the church “unhitched the church from the worldview, value system, and regulations of the Jewish Scriptures…”

Stanley speaks of outgrowing a childhood belief about the Bible and coming to understand…that we must know that biblical references to the Scripture “did not mean the Bible.”

This is something I’m trying desperately to help people understand…There was no “The Bible” until the fourth century…such a thing did not exist until after Christianity became legal and scholars could come out of the shadows and actually put such a thing together…”

So…no one ever said in the early church, ‘the Bible says, the Bible teaches, the Bible says the Bible teaches,’ because there was no ‘The Bible…’ every time we see the phrase ‘the Scripture’ or ‘Scripture’ in the New Testament, as you know we have to stop and ask the question, what was this particular group of people referring to because there was no ‘The Bible’ and there was no book that contained all the Jewish Scripture because it was contained in synagogues and as you know virtually no one could read and write.”

Well, wait just a minute…it is not true that references to “the Scriptures” or “the Scripture” by Jesus and the Apostles are any mystery to us. They are plainly referring to what we know as the Old Testament. There are references to “Moses and the Prophets” (Luke 16:29) and to the “Law and the Prophets”(Luke 16:16), but faithful Jews in the first century would emphatically have known exactly what the Scriptures are…the Greek phrase, ta biblia, “the books” was “an expression Hellenistic Jews used to describe their sacred books several centuries before the time of Jesus.”

The fact…is that…Jesus and the Apostles did make their arguments “according to the Scriptures” (see, for example, Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4).

Consider Jesus preaching in the synagogue in Nazareth: (Luke 4:17-21)…

Jesus was powerfully arguing “the Bible says” in a way that his hearers in the synagogue clearly understood, and that pattern is found throughout the New Testament…

Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”(Matthew 5:17-19)

The pattern is promise and fulfillment, not rejection and repudiation. This is true even in the case of Acts 15, with the apostles citing the authority of Amos 9:11-12 and even citing the binding authority of Genesis 9:4 on the Gentile believers. Again, the pattern is promise and fulfillment. Andy Stanley argues that the Old Testament should not be cited as “the go-to source regarding any behavior in the church,” but the moral law of the Old Testament remains honored by the church and repeated (even intensified) in the New Testament.

Peter, James, and Paul did not “unhitch the Christian faith from their Jewish Scriptures,” nor can we.

We are looking here at the ancient heresy of Marcion…who lived about the years 85-160…The Old Testament deity was repugnant to Marcion, who argued that Christianity just make a clean break from Judaism. The Old Testament, he taught, reveals a vindictive law-giving creator deity who bears no resemblance to the merciful redeeming God revealed in Jesus Christ. As Irenaeus, one of the most significant church fathers argued, “Marcion himself divides God in two, saying that one is good, the other judicial, and in so doing takes God away from both.”

Marcion was embarrassed by the Old Testament, and so are many modern people. Andy Stanley, at the very least, seems to fear that embarrassment in others, even if he does not identify with it himself.

He spoke this way with Jonathan Merritt: “I’m convinced that we make a better case for Jesus if we leave the Old Testament or the old covenant out of the argument.” We can make a better case for Jesus than the case Jesus made for himself?

But the embarrassment comes through clearly in Andy Stanley’s comments in the interview. He spoke of people who have “lost their faith” because they read the Old Testament, and then said…

it’s time that we face the facts and unhitch our faith and our practice from some of these Old Testament values that we can appreciate in their original context, but we really don’t have any business dragging them into a modern context…'”

The church cannot “unhitch” from the Old Testament without unhitching from the gospel Jesus preached. Speaking of the Old Testament Scriptures, Jesus said “it is they that bear witness about me…” (John 5:39)

Stanley questions whether Jesus actually meant his own references to Old Testament narratives to be taken as historical. He said: “Then a person has to decide…Jesus references the Garden of Eden, or he references in the beginning when God created the first two people, he references Jonah. Then you have to decide when the Son of God references these people and these incidences and these prophets, what did he mean..?

It is very instructive to remember that the most influential theological liberal of the twentieth century, Adolf von Harnack, chose Marcion as his theological hero. Why? Because, like Marcion, he wanted to reduce Christianity to what he claimed to be its essence, the benevolent fatherhood of God. All the doctrines of orthodox Christianity, including the doctrines concerning the divinity of Christ, were dismissed as either Jewish or Greco-Roman encrustations…

the Christian identification of the Old Testament as the “Jewish Scriptures” has a dangerous pedigree…Adolf von Harnack must also be remembered as seeking to champion Marcion within German Protestantism just as anti-Semitism was rising once again with deadly power in Germany. As Alister McGrath notes, “Sadly, Marcionism is a heresy that seems to be revived with every resurgence of anti-Semitism.”

The issues actually reach deeper. In recent years, Andy Stanley has encouraged getting over “the Bible tells me so.” He actually claimed in 2016 that the church veered into “trouble” when it began to make its arguments on the basis of the Bible. He cited “deconversion” stories in which people told him that they lost their Christian faith when they lost confidence in the Bible. He said: “If the Bible is the foundation of your faith, here’s the problem: it’s all or nothing. Christianity becomes a fragile house of cards religion…”

key question is whether one can be a faithful Christian while denying the truthfulness of Scripture. Jesus himself makes the point that without the Old Testament as the Word of God, we really do not know who he is. Then what does it mean to be a Christian..?

In this latest interview, Andy Stanley also suggests that “Christianity ultimately and eventually created the Bible.” That is consistent with Roman Catholic theology, but not with evangelical Christianity. In the interview Stanley affirmed again that affirmation of the virgin birth is not necessary. He had earlier stated, “If someone can predict their own death and resurrection, I’m not all that concerned about how they got into the world.”

But the New Testament is very concerned about how Jesus got into the world, and if he was not conceived by the Holy Spirit, then he was conceived in some other way. Here we need to remember that the etymology of heresy is rooted in choice. A heretic denies a belief central and essential to Christianity. But heresy also takes the form of choice. You can choose to believe in the virgin birth or not, Stanley argues; he is not all that concerned about it.

Many cultural Christians think church is a good thing, but they are not committed.

They are not involved in any ministry.

They don’t sacrificially give.

They couldn’t tell you the last time they told someone about Jesus.

They come to church about once every couple months, because they are “just so busy…”

Ask any of these people if they are saved, and they will say “yes.” They will tell you about a time when they prayed a prayer and got baptized. But they don’t live their lives as if Jesus is Lord.

Aren’t these like the branches that God removed from Israel?

“Now if some of the branches were broken off, and you, though a wild olive branch, were grafted in among them and have come to share in the rich root of the cultivated olive tree, do not boast that you are better than those branches … they were broken off because of unbelief, but you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but beware, because if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.”

– Romans 11:17–21 CSB

The same transgressions that got Israel removed from the tree—compromise, taking their salvation for granted, giving lip-service to God, and going through religious motions without their hearts really belonging to him—are rampant within the church today.

I am especially concerned for children who grow up in church, are raised in Christian families, and live up to expectations by, at some point, “getting saved.” They avoid most major sins—at least, the ones they think are major. But in their heart of hearts, they know Jesus is not Lord.

If this is you, Paul says, “Wake up! If this is what God did to the sons and daughters of Abraham, it’s what he will do to you, too!”

Sometimes Christians will use a perverted version of the doctrine of eternal security to assure themselves they belong to God. This doctrine says, “once saved, always saved.” That is, once you are truly saved, you can never lose it.

Eternal security is a glorious and comforting truth. But notice what Paul says in Romans 11:20: You will be kept if you avoid the unbelief that overcame Israel and “stand by faith.”

If.

We have two seemingly contradictory truths: On the one hand, the Bible says that once God saves you, you’ll always be saved (e.g., John 10; Romans 8); on the other, it says that only if you endure to the end will you be saved (cf. Hebrews 3:12–14).

You have to put the two together. One of the essential marks of truly saving faith is that it endures to the end. The real doctrine of eternal security reads like this: Not only “once saved, always saved” but also “once saved, forever following.”

Having a faith that endures to the end is evidence that you possess the salvation you could never lose. Not enduring to the end is evidence you never had it to begin with.

Saving faith is staying faith.

You see, the evidence of saving faith is not the intensity of emotion at the beginning but its endurance over time. Think of it like a marriage: You don’t judge the sincerity of a marriage vow by the lavishness of the wedding ceremony but by the faithful commitment that follows it.

When it comes to God, a lot of Christians are all ceremony, no marriage.

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