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.