Home > Brandenburg, The Word > Distortion of True Spirituality – part two

Distortion of True Spirituality – part two

Mormons have their burning in the bosom and Charismatics have their tongues and healings, their signs and wonders.  Is it possible that others—evangelicals, fundamentalists, independent Baptists—have their own editions of these?

I started pastoring in 1986 first as an interim pastor in Southeastern Wisconsin and then in 1987 in our new church in the San Francisco Bay Area.   After only a few years, I wrote a missions questionnaire for an initial screen for prospective missionaries—they were (and are) all multiple choice questions.  One question asked how someone would know the will of God.   Very few missionaries in the twenty plus years have circled the letter for the answer I was looking for on that questionnaire.

Many of the others that I referenced in my first paragraph have a very subjective approach or understanding to the will of God, and specifically the individual will of God.  For the sake of knowing where I’m coming from here, I believe that there are three aspects to the will of God.  There is the sovereign will of God, which is everything that ever happens.  God will cause or allow everything that happens.  If He didn’t want something to happen, He could or would stop it.  And if He wanted something to happen, He would make sure it did just like He wanted it.  If something “bad” happens, we can still say that it is the will of God, because God is sovereign.  He has some purpose in either causing or allowing it.

There is the moral will of God, which is essentially the Bible.  The moral will of God is what God desires for everyone to do, which is Scripture, since God’s Word is sufficient.  And then there is the individual will of God, which are those events or decisions or circumstances in our life which are unique to us as individuals, like who we will marry, where we will live, and what kind of vacuum we will purchase.  It is this third “will of God” that I’m talking about here.

I want to categorize here the abuses that I’ve witnessed.  Some readers may be able to expand or add, which is fine, but here are some of what I have seen and still often do.  I think these will be controversial, because I think there are people reading, who have depended upon these “burnings in the bosom,” perhaps Baptist edition.

“God Told Me”

A lot of damage has been done in the name of “God told me.”  A corollary to “God told me” is “the Holy Spirit told me.”  Do you believe that God tells you things?  Now if you’re talking about something you read in the Bible, I’m with you there, but if it is something extra-scriptural, I’m not with you on that one.  God isn’t “telling people” anything anymore outside of Scripture.  Everything we need is in the Bible.  That’s what God is still telling us.  How do I know that?  Because it is all over the Bible (Revelation 22:18-19; Jude 1:3).  And important passage to this is 2 Peter 1:19-21 where Peter exalts Scripture above his experience on the Mount of Transfiguration as a “more sure word of prophecy.”  The voice of God speaking to us is Scripture, and that alone.  Even if we are hearing from the Holy Spirit, the sword of the Spirit is the Word of God (Eph 6:17).

These evangelicals, many of them, use language that the Bible reserves for direct verbal revelation from God to apply to their normal Christian living.  They expect God to tell them what to do in their day to day lives like God at times told Abraham, Moses, and the apostles.  And when I say “tell them,” I mean very specific instructions on what to choose or do on an everyday basis.  They believe and practice this despite God pointing His people back to His Words that He already has given (Ps 19:7-11; 2 Tim 3:15-17).  These same people believe that the Bible is the primary way God speaks to His people, but not the only way that He does.

Were the intertestamental periods actually silent years?  Or did God keep up a regular chatter with His people?  Was God still directly revealing anything between Malachi and Matthew?  Or did He continue to expect His people to follow His Word like we read, well, everywhere in the Old Testament (Deut 4:5-8; Joshua 1:8; 1 Kings 2:3; Ps 119:11, 24).  God did have His periods of direct, special revelation.  This is not one of them.  The last one ended in the first century.  There hasn’t been one since.

Often in these experiences, these same people struggle to hear God’s voice, sometimes going through some type of sacrifice to get the direction they need from God—praying through, fasting, really wanting it earnestly.  If they really are supposed to be hearing God tell them something like we read in the Bible, then there shouldn’t be any kind of struggle at all.  When we see God speak in Scripture, it is always clear and understandable, not dependent on any lifting from the recipient.

If God is really talking to us and like what we see in the Bible, because that’s where we got that idea, then how is that any different than what occurred with either a prophet or apostle?  Why would the Bible carefully lay out the qualifications of the prophet in Deuteronomy and the apostle in Acts if there wasn’t anything unique to the prophetic or apostolic experience?   God did speak to Moses and Samuel and Peter and Paul. He isn’t speaking to us today.  He completed all that with the last verse of the book of Revelation.

I think this “God spoke to me” thing is another version of continuationism—much more subtle and perhaps more dangerous than the Charismatic edition, because of that.  A whole lot of both false teaching that “God gave” and horrible practice or behavior gets excused by “God told me.”  There is a lot more I”d like to say here, but this is only a blog post.  So next.

“God Is Really Blessing”

This second one or some version of it often accompanies the first one.  Usually it comes after “God told me.”  First “God told me,” then “I did it,” and third “God is really blessing.”  “God is really blessing” validates “God told me.”  Sometimes “God really blesses” false doctrine and practice, like 1-2-3 pray with me “evangelism.”  The same kind of proof is offered for shows of Divine power, numbers of folks who ‘walked the aisle,’ how many decisions were made, and the “sweet spirit we felt there.”  The sweet spirit was witnessed in the shouting, the hand or hanky waving, and the tears, among other excitements.   Sometimes after “God told” someone something, he had explosive numeric growth that validated the following of what “God told” him.

“God is really blessing” our bus because “we had over 100 on our bus.”  “God is really blessing” our bus ministry because we ran over 1000 during our special promotion.  “God is really blessing” our Sunday School campaign because we’ve had over 100 kids “get saved.”  “God is really blessing” the carnival we held for the grand opening of our new building because of all the people who showed up for the sno-cones and jumpers.  “God really blessed” those promotions.

If you were to criticize “God is really blessing,” you might be a “tool of Satan.” You might be Sanballat and Tobiah (the guys who opposed Nehemiah in that book).  You might be touching God’s anointed like David understood not to do with Saul.   You might say that you don’t think that “God told” is a legitimate means of determining the will of God, but the answer could be, “how do you explain what happened with me then?”  Almost always some experience is the validation of “God told me.”  When we built, then they came.  They came and they came like the rain on Noah’s ark.  I was talking to a man who went to a Benny Hinn meeting, and now he can’t or won’t listen to Scripture because Benny Hinn cured him of his stuttering.

Sometimes the question might be asked, “Why aren’t we seeing anything happen?”   By “anything happen” is meant lots of decisions, many new converts, or explosive growth.  Why not?  The assumption is often that you are missing out on some spiritual resource as a Christian or that you aren’t trying hard enough, praying enough, or reading your Bible enough, which results in not having the things that you need.  God withholds them from those who won’t pay the price.  Instead of one week meetings, go to two week meetings and by the time you get to the second week, then “God starts to break things open.”   If you don’t get it in two weeks, why not go to three?  If you won’t go to four, maybe you don’t want to pay the price.

Christians won’t experience the blessing of God when they live in disobedience to the Word of God.  However, they actually have every blessing in Christ (Eph 1:3) and the moment they were saved by grace, they no longer lacked in any gift from God (1 Cor 1:7).  Everyone who obeys Scripture is pinning the needle on God’s blessing even if their brook runs dry.   The Bible tells us why church growth sometimes doesn’t occur.  It can be because of disobedience, but the most common explanation from Jesus is the condition of the hearts of the hearers.  You have nothing to do with that.  And ultimately, you are irrelevant to more happening, because it’s God Who gives the increase (1 Cor 3:6).

The people who “God is really blessing” are often manipulating the results. It’s an election equivalent of stuffing the ballot box.  And why not?  It isn’t those who are careful with the Word who get attention in this system.   In evangelicalism, fundamentalism, and young Calvinism, people want to hear from those whom “God is really blessing.”   Even if you get to where you are through some combination of compromise, talent, or technique, you will most often be rewarded in some tangible way because God must be really blessing you.  There is no better cologne than victory.  And if you don’t agree, it’s probably because God isn’t really blessing you.

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  1. Josh
    December 1, 2010 at 8:26 pm

    Very good post! I believe you hit the nail right on the head. I have seen this kind of thing far too often in Baptist Churches nowdays, and it seems people don’t think God is blessing them unless they can see “visible results.”

  2. d4v34x
    December 1, 2010 at 9:05 pm

    Amen.

  3. Buddy Woolbright
    December 2, 2010 at 11:03 am

    Dear Bro. B, In your first paragraph of “God Told Me” I think you meant to cite 2 Peter 1:19-21 rather than 1 Peter. Also in the 3d paragraph under “God is Blessing” you intended …not trying hard enough… instead of …had enough…
    The article is really Biblical and needed in this day. It is really sad how good men of God sometimes blame so many things on the leadership of the Holy Spirit just because some thought/idea entered their mind. As you teach, if that thought/idea does not line up completely with the Word of God then it didn’t come from God. One of the most flagrant, in my mind, is when a preacher stands to preach and says something like, “I had another message which I planned to preach but God told me not to preach that one but preach another one.” If seems as if he is saying that God told him to study and prepare for one message and then changed His own mind for some reason or the other. As if some circumstance that God had not anticipated came up and required a different message.
    I sincerely hope that you have yet another lesson on how we should differentiate between scriptural actions which we as believers need to do. Are open doors a sound way to follow His direction? Is the greatness of the need, as best we can determine, the way to go? Share some thoughts with us about how to determine God’s specific direction for our lives and ministries.
    Thx in Him, bw 2 Timoteo 1:9

    • December 2, 2010 at 2:31 pm

      Buddy, I made the edits to the post. I wanted to give this reply so that future readers would know you weren’t crazy :)

  4. December 2, 2010 at 11:44 am

    I appreciated this post. Thanks

  5. Buddy Woolbright
    December 2, 2010 at 5:25 pm

    I would be interested in reading the comments offered on this article.

  6. December 3, 2010 at 1:28 am

    Buddy and Jeff,

    Thanks for the corrections. It’s nice to get edited in that way.

    You’re welcome, Jim.

  7. December 3, 2010 at 7:54 am

    I posted as a filing on S/I

    here

  8. December 3, 2010 at 8:13 am

    I just watched a video on YouTube from Lancaster Baptist Church. This video clip was a remembrance of Curtis Hutson where he sang the song “On the Winning Side.” This video clip, IMHO, is a great example of both the worst and the best of that era of “Fundamentalism.”

    In the clip, Bro. Hutson sings the song with feeling (I have no reason to believe the feelings were not genuine, nor do I believe they were “put on.”) During the song several of the younger hero worshipers are jumping on the chairs and hooping and hollering and raising their Bibles in the air, hankies are being twirled, etc. There was also what appeared to be genuine feeling of gratitude for the salvation wrought in Christ from some of the ones in the “audience.”

    After the clip is shown, Brother Chappell criticizes anyone who would criticize the histrionic behavior of the “whoops” and such. He says he has no time for this kind of “non-soulwinning nonsense.” He then goes on the say that the “sliding” slides him closer to Jesus.

    As a 52-year old preacher who was raised in an IFB pastor’s house, I don’t know what all that meant. I believe there were true emotions being shown in this service, along with stupid antics. Yes, I said stupid. That is the whole problem. Emotions are by nature subjective. The show of “emotions” can be either real or staged.

    I have been “caught up” a time or two in excitement at a meeting or during a song, but being “caught up” emotionally is not necessarily the same thing as being “led by the Spirit.” Well, actually it isn’t that at all.

    I wish I loved the Lord more, and I would like to “see” more results in my own life and my church members’ lives. I just want to see the change that takes place by each of us obeying God and walking in His Word.

    Great two articles, Brother Kent!

  9. December 3, 2010 at 10:55 am

    I would ever so slightly dissagree with Buddy Woolbright’s assertion about a preaching changing his message while claiming that it was the Lord who told him to do so.

    I think the Pastor has the responsibility to change IF, and only IF indeed the Lord had impressed upon him to do so. I would think it to be rare that God would do such a thing, but I can’t say that He would not do so. I would think that that is part of shepherding God’s flock. I will say, that a guest speaker perhaps ought to know the message he is to bring forth, but the Pastor is a different bird of sorts. If my pastor says, I am taking a break from a series of messages, and switching to something else…then I say, Preach on! preacher! He is God’s man, and has God’s message. THAT is for the Pastor. A guest speaker I wouldn’t know what to think.

    I am not for extemporaneous jibber-jabber, shooting-at-the-hip-pop-corn-preaching, laziness (which is sin), zero genuine laboring in the word and in prayer kind of preaching. Of course, I don’t think anyone here would be for that either. I do agree with Pastor Brandenburg’s points. If I am wrong, then please correct me. I am always open to Biblical instructions.

  10. December 3, 2010 at 2:25 pm

    Thanks Art and interesting story there too.

    Bill,

    I think we want to reevaluate the statement “the Lord told me.” I think someone can preach a different message than what he was going to preach. I’ve sat on a platform with two messages, not sure which one to preach. The means by which I chose one or the other is related to the Lord speaking, but it is an evaluation of which passage is more needed at the time for that particular group. The Lord speaking was the passage that he spoke and my knowledge of its meaning and purpose. I would not say that the Lord told me to preach one instead of another, because that language should be reserved for verbal, authoritative revelation from God.

    This actually occurred in Sacramento on Sunday afternoon in our meeting there. I’m not preaching from notes there, but I was choosing between Galatians 5:1-4 and Hebrews 6:1-8. I preached the latter because I thought that the crowd in front of me should hear the latter. It was more important that week. Why? I am doing spiritual warfare and the Hebrews 6 dealt with the greater stronghold in those people’s minds. I could pull down that stronghold with Hebrews 6 better than Galatians 5. Did the Holy Spirit help me with that? Yes.

  11. December 6, 2010 at 3:26 pm

    Thanks Pastor B. –

    Your article here is very penetrating – very convicting and insightful. Many times in my life I’ve been told that God is ‘in’ or ‘not in’ some choice based on some results or life circumstances. I remember once, as a young guy, when facing a tough decision, being guided by well-meaning, but misinformed elder gentleman on where to steer my life based on what he perceived as God’s ‘opening a door’ – all this was based on trying to ‘read the signs’ of things happening in my life, as it were. I don’t doubt God moves in peoples lives in special ways – I’ve seen that first hand; but to treat God’s Will as a sort of cosmic ‘Easter egg’ hunt, where every circumstance in ones life should be analyzed to see whether it is ‘from God’ or some false clue – turns the Providence of God (and His Revealed Will), into a sort of a superstition. Every clue in one’s life not properly discerned could cause one to miss God’s blessing or miss a door of opportunity.

    Reading God’s Word and prayer and church attendance are not performed in thankful obedience to His loving command in this type of view, but rather as means to polish the magic genie lamp in order to be granted 3 wishes.

    We shouldn’t look for signs and proofs from God, we should live in humble obedience to His Word and trust His providence for what happens to us.

  12. jg
    December 7, 2010 at 4:05 pm

    God told me…

    …to be thankful for this article.

    I Thess. 5:18, for you doubters.

    • jg
      December 7, 2010 at 4:06 pm

      Huh.

      God told me to be thankful that I inadvertently posted that as a reply to the comment, rather than to the article itself. Because that makes me look dumb, which keeps me humble, and God told me humility is good. :)

  13. December 8, 2010 at 4:33 pm

    Kent,

    You said,
    “There is the sovereign will of God, which is everything that ever happens. God will cause or allow everything that happens. If He didn’t want something to happen, He could or would stop it. And if He wanted something to happen, He would make sure it did just like He wanted it. If something “bad” happens, we can still say that it is the will of God, because God is sovereign. He has some purpose in either causing or allowing it.”

    I am curious from where you gathered this definition of “sovereign will of God.”

    Isn’t this statement an example of the OP of your article?

    • December 9, 2010 at 3:41 am

      Kent,

      The article in the link below is lengthy and detailed. Please read it all.
      http://www.disciplemakerministries.org/Pages/Dispensationalism/Sovereignty.htm

      The reason I said your definition of “sovereignty” is an example of your OP is that it appears to be based on deductive logic rather than exegesis.

      That does not mean I disagree with your article. I do not. The other day I had a Baptist pastor tell me that he was sitting in his study reading a book and God told him to put the book down and God would teach him from now on. He said he has never read any other book than the Bible since then and claimed that no one else should read other books either. He said his way was the “spiritual” way.

      The substance of what you are dealing with in this article and the next article are greatly needed today. The practical application of Pneumatology has been almost completely lost today.

      I appreciate you Brother.

      • December 9, 2010 at 10:47 am

        Lance,

        Thanks. I will read your article and I do like reading them. I read the separation one that someone linked at SI and appreciated it. Lots of good stuff.

        As far as this not being “just Bible,” I do think that the will of God part comes out of usage. I preached a 6 part series a few years ago on the will of God and I looked at every usage in the NT and I believe the three flesh themselves out in biblical usage. The titles could be changed, but they are the essence of what I have read to help people see it.

  14. December 8, 2010 at 7:21 pm

    Hi Lance,

    I didn’t get that definition from anywhere in particular, but the three—sovereign, moral, and individual—is how I understand the will of God as I sort it out in Scripture. I think many, when something “bad” happens, look at this as a “sign” that things aren’t going so well in their life, God isn’t blessing them. I don’t believe that can or should be assumed. I don’t see how the above definition is the opposite of my overall point, but I would be happy for you to tell me what your thoughts are about it.

    I don’t believe God causes sin, but He allows it and then He in His sovereignty works everything out for His glory.

  15. December 9, 2010 at 12:22 pm

    I am formatting a new book right now entitled The Unsearchable Riches of Grace: Expositional Studies In Practical Pneumatology. I have been working on this new book for about 2 years now.

    It will be 72 chapters long and about 250,000 words. I think I am going to make it available free/donations in an E-book format.

    I do not get a lot of comments on my blog because I do not allow anonymous comments. Thanks for letting me know about the link at SI. I never go there any more.

    God bless!

  16. December 9, 2010 at 10:33 pm

    Lance,

    I’ll look forward to purchasing/reading your book. Thanks for the heads up and the work.

  17. Ron Muzzi
    December 16, 2010 at 12:31 pm

    “God isn’t “telling people” anything anymore outside of Scripture. Everything we need is in the Bible.”

    I agree that your basic thesis that saying or thinking, “God told me,” is often a deception that is not honoring to God is an important problem we need to warn people about. And we all know of examples where individuals have foolishly said this! But does that mean that there is no subjective communication from God to his believers today? No, not something equivalent to God’s Word, but something essential to a spiritual life walking with the Lord?

    John 14:26 and 1 John 2:27 tells of the Holy Spirit teaching us. Eph 4:21 says, “If so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus:” Psalm 23 tells of His leading in our lives. 1 Cor 10:13 tells of God making a way for us to escape every temptation. Does He not then in each temptation we face daily subjectively direct us into that specific way of escape for our individual circumstances? 1 John 1:3 tells us that we can have fellowship with Him. James 4:8a says, “Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you.” What is drawing nigh to God if not a subjective personal relationship with Him? Could it really be that God has left us only with the Bible, gone back to heaven, and left us on our own to work out the Christian life?

    The Word of God is infallible. We are not. So we will at times, and perhaps even often, get wrong the subjective leading of the Lord. My point is that we ought to consider why we have misunderstood His subjective leading rather than come to the wrong conclusion that the Lord doesn’t lead subjectively!

    He’s our Father, and we’re His children. It’s a wonderful relationship!

  18. Jerry Bouey
    January 8, 2011 at 2:12 pm

    I have personally had times where I believe God has led me to cover a message different than the one I had originally planned or believe was led to preach. Though from what I can remember, those were passages/themes I was already studying out as well – on my own, but not necessarily in preparation for the upcoming message. So it wasn’t so much a last minute switch, but a shifting of focus – that met the spiritual needs of the listeners more than what I was originally planning.

    For example, I was preaching through a series on the I Ams in the Gospel of John, had my planned order, but somehow that week, the Holy Spirit strongly impressed me to cover John 11 (I Am the Resurrection and the Life) instead of whatever other I Am I had planned. My Mom died that week – and my studying of the different passage developed into the Eulogy which I preached at my Mom’s memorial. I have experienced (for lack of a better word) other occasions like this where what I preached was exactly what the listeners needed from the Word of God, though it wasn’t what I had planned to preach – perhaps my audience was different, a speial group came through, something happened at the Mission on my days off that I was unaware of – and the “redirected” sermon was exactly what the people there at the Mission needed to deal with that situation. Hope that made sense.

    Yes, i do believe God knows all things, guides in the preparation of each sermon, and to us may seem to switch gears – but He is just guiding more clearly as the time to preach that message comes closer. If someone was preparing all week for a particular sermon, studying out a certain theme or passage (without tracing out other themes or passages too), and suddenly just before it came time to preach “the Holy Spirit” just directed the preacher to preach on something unrelated and not studied out, I would have some serious concerns and questions as to who was guiding the preaching of that sermon!

  19. Buddy Woolbright
    January 9, 2011 at 3:29 pm

    To the brethren who disagreed with my post on preachers saying God told me to change this message. In almost 50 years of preaching, I too, have beed led to and changed messages but I never was led to make a big deal about it as if I had a personal talk with the Lord and He specifically singled me out for a supernatural message. Maybe I’m just not as spiritual as some, well, not maybe, I know I’m not the most spiritual among us. But anyhow …
    In Him and for His glory, bw

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