The Christian Church is awash in heresies today. There is the “Word of Faith/Apostolic Reformation Movement” that teaches that there is a power and authority available to believers that exceeds even that of Jesus Christ. Bill Johnson, one of the chief proponents of this movement believes “that there will be a great end-time revival that will be initiated by an “Elijah generation” that shall transcend all other generations of Christians in regard to their ability to do great works of power.” (1) According to Ken Silva of Lighthouse Trails, a website dedicated to exposing false teaching, “Johnson is firmly against careful scholarship based on sound exegesis of Scripture. To him, such study is likely to bring one into bondage and spiritual death.” Best-selling Christian author Joyce Meyer also promotes this teaching. We just became aware that one of the missionary families we support is deeply involved in this movement. We recently told them we are discontinuing their support because they are spreading false doctrine.
There is the “Spiritual Formation Movement.” Dallas Willard, a popular advocate of this movement, says, “Spiritual formation is not all by the Holy Spirit …there’s always more involved. We have to recognize that spiritual formation in us is something that is also done to us by those around us, by ourselves, and by activities which we voluntarily undertake …There has to be method.”(2) Mr. Willard teaches something called “Soul Keeping,” a doctrine that is more mysticism than sound Biblical doctrine. We had to leave a small group that began incorporating his teaching into our meetings via a video series produced by a former megachurch pastor from Willow Creek Church named John Ortberg.
“Contemplative Spirituality,” also draws upon mystical practices to induce altered states of consciousness. Although its origins derive from from the ancient occult world, it is often wrapped in Christian terminology. It teaches that God is all (pantheistic) and at the same time is in all (panentheistic).“(3) Probably the most well-known advocate of contemplative spirituality is Sarah Young. Her book Jesus Calling is one of the best sellers of Thomas Nelson, a highly respected Christian publisher. Inspired by two English women who wrote a book called God Calling in 1930, Sarah Young began employing their techniques to record the voice she heard speaking to her during devotions. The problem was that the two English women were practitioners of the occult. God Calling is a collection of channeled messages presented in the form of a daily devotional. The words the authors heard were not from Jesus, but demons. Many of the words Sarah Young has recorded directly contradict the teaching of scripture.(6) Other well-known proponents of contemplative spirituality are Rick Warren, Brian McLaren, Tim Keller and Beth Moore.
Lectio Divina is a form of Contemplative Prayer that employs techniques used in Buddhist mantras to empty the mind of extraneous thought and center on one word from a Bible passage in order to produce an altered state of consciousness. Bill and Kristi Gaultiere, co-founders of Soul Shepherding, Inc. popularized this practice in their award-winning weekly Soul Talks Podcast and on their popular website SoulShepherding.org.
According to Lighthousetrails, “Lectio divina plays a significant role in leading people toward full blown meditative practices…by introducing a “presence” [that] is not God’s presence.” This same practice is also used in Ashtanga Yoga, part of the New Age Movement.
The “Emerging Church Movement” promotes a form of mysticism called “interspirituality,” or the uniting of all religions into one. Interspirituality denies that Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation (4). Donald Miller, author of Blue Like Jazz, which has sold over a million copies, says, “You cannot be a Christian without being a mystic.” He dismisses rigorous study of theology as “charting God on a grid,” and commends mantra meditation and Buddhism.
“Circle Making” is an occult practice based on a myth about a Jewish man named ‘Honi’ who was summoned by the elders of Jerusalem in the first century B.C. to pray for rain. As the story goes, he drew a circle around himself in the dirt and begged God to end a three year drought. At first only a few drops fell. Then, in response to more urgent pleadings, a torrential downpour washed over the earth. Finally, the downpour subsided to a steady rain that soaked the earth and filled the cisterns. Anne Graham Lotz employs this occult practice in her appeals for spiritual revival.(5)
False doctrine has been incorporated into the very discipleship ministries of many evangelical churches in the form of Alpha Courses. Nicky Gumbel, vicar of the Holy Trinity Church Brompton, the largest Anglican church in England, founded this program. His church was a center of the “Holy Laughter Movement” that originated in Toronto under Eleanor Mumford. When she “invited the Holy Spirit to come” at a home meeting in England that Gumbel attended in 1994, he had an experience “like massive electricity going through my body.” He immediately introduced the movement to Holy Trinity. There he prayed, “Lord, thank you so much for all you are doing, and we pray you’ll send your Spirit,” and one of those present fell to the floor and began laughing like a hyena.(7)
Even Bible Study Fellowship, a staple of evangelical Bible study, has been influenced by false teaching. Members report that leadership has resorted to the “there are no wrong answers” approach to Bible interpretation and that resources like the Jesus Calling Devotional have been added to the list of recommended readings.(8)
These are just some of the heresies that are being promulgated by some of the most well-known names in evangelical circles. Christian bookstores promote their products and small groups devour them. At the same time, it has become increasingly difficult to find orthodox Christian literature on the shelves of Christian bookstores. Ask for the section on Reformed Theology or works by John Calvin, Martin Luther, or any of the great Puritan preachers and you will be met with a puzzled look. I posed this question on a recent visit to a clerk at the local Family Christian Book Store. After a long pause she said, “Now isn’t that an interesting question. I don’t think I’ve ever been asked that before.” She then proceeded to check her computer and said that the books were available on the website but there were none in the store.
So what is it that drives the proliferation of false teachers and the sale of books that promote false doctrine? Many of these heresies spring from a desire for spiritual power and authority or for a sense of mystery and awe that people are not getting from reading the Bible. Sarah Young said it best when explaining why she was drawn to the practice of channeling, “I knew that God communicated with me through the Bible, but I yearned for more.”
God’s Word is Deeply Satisfying
In the Psalms, David expresses his absolute delight in God’s law:
“I long for your salvation, O Lord, and your law is my delight.” (Ps 119:174 )
“If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction.”(Ps 119:92 )
“Your testimonies are my delight; they are my counselors.“(Ps 119:24)
“but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.”(Ps 1:2)
“Let your mercy come to me, that I may live; for your law is my delight.”(Ps 119:77)
“I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.”(Ps 40:8)
“...their heart is unfeeling like fat, but I delight in your law.”(Ps 119:70 )
“Your testimonies are my heritage forever, for they are the joy of my heart.“(Ps 119:111)
“Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it.”(Ps 119:35 )
“Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.“(Ps 119:97 )
“In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches.”(Ps 119:14)
Why does David find such satisfaction in God’s Word? It starts with his habit of meditating on the law day and night and storing it in his heart (Ps 1:2; 40:8; 119:111; 119:97;). That produces a sensitivity to the voice of the Holy Spirit as it uses God’s Word to prompt him toward obedience (Ps 119:70;119:24;Ps 40:8;119:35). David’s obedience, in turn, gives him strength to endure hardship, patient longing for God’s salvation, indescribable joy as he experiences God’s intervention on his behalf, and a deeply satisfying life free from longing (Ps 119:92; 119:174; Ps 119:14).
In Psalm 19 David describes the blessings of obeying God’s law:
“The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.”(Ps 19:7-11)
God’s law revives the soul, imparts wisdom, gives joy, produces understanding, and warns against sin. For those reasons, it was David’s most precious treasure.
The Apostle Paul also found the fulfillment of his deepest longings in God’s Word. In Romans 11:33 he says, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!”
Paul devotes much of the book of Ephesians to describing the “mystery” of the gospel, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”(Eph 1:7-10)
Paul is grateful that he has been given the privilege “to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.”(Eph 3:8-10) And his prayer for the believers is “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe.” (Eph 1:17-19)
Missing Inspiration From The Holy Spirit
How could the Word of God be so exciting and mysterious and delightful to David and Paul and so uninspiring to many professing Christians that they feel compelled to seek mystery and power and authority by other means?
One answer is in Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians, “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him.” It is the Holy Spirit that provides the insight to understand the mystery of the gospel in all its glory. Those who pursue another gospel do so because they have never really been born again. They may have come forward at a rally or raised a hand at a revival meeting or said a prayer in answer to a gospel invitation, but they have never received the Holy Spirit because they have never repented of their sins. So they cannot comprehend the riches of God’s grace in providing forgiveness and redemption and adoption and sanctification. And they cannot thrill at the prospect of God uniting all things in heaven and earth under the authority of Christ because they do not know the wonder of his rule in their own hearts. They have never experienced release from bondage to sin or the freedom to pursue righteousness through the empowering of the Holy Spirit. They do not know how exciting it is to feel God’s favor, to be free from fear of judgment, to know that when they finally stand before God they will not have to face condemnation.
These people cannot comprehend the magnitude of God’s grace because they have never really sensed the magnitude of their own sins. Lacking a sense of remorse, they cannot know the inexpressible joy that comes from having the heavy burden of their sins lifted. If you have ever escaped a near fatal accident, you can understand to some degree the sense of relief and elation just to be spared to live another day. This is nothing compared to the joy that comes from knowing that Jesus Christ has borne God’s judgment against sin on our behalf. This is where the sense of mystery and awe begin. And it never ends because we will be in Christ’s debt for all of eternity.
Missing Inspiration From The Word of God
Both David and Paul loved God’s Word. They believed it, they trusted it, and they clung to it. They had no doubts as to its total veracity and reliability. Because they loved it, they spent time studying it and meditating upon it. Doubt as to the truthfulness of God’s Word robs it of its power. James says the one who doubts is like the waves of the sea tossed to and fro. That man will receive nothing from the Lord. “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (James 1:5-8). Jesus said, “ 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” (Mt 5:18-19).
There are many nominal Christians today who believe some parts of the Bible but not others. Others believe it all, but consider obedience optional in some cases. Still others distinguish between “salvation issues” and the rest of the Bible. Others are not willing to sacrifice their lifestyles to follow Christ. Many professing Christians have chosen to discount the very parts that provide the sense of awe and power and mystery that they seek elsewhere – the creation, the miracles and the coming return of Christ in power and glory. The Holy Spirit will not grant understanding to one who has reservations about the truth of God’s word or who fails to obey it. That person will never be able to comprehend “…what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe“(Eph 1:19).
There is no lack of awe and mystery in the pages of the Bible for those who believe it and obey it without reservation. They will be led by the Holy Spirit into an understanding of the riches of their glorious inheritance and the immeasurable greatness of God’s power that will satisfy their deepest longings. But those who discount parts of the Bible for their own selfish reasons will never find that sense of mystery and awe no matter how hard they try.