God has not left men without a basis for discerning true spirituality. 1 John 4:1 indicates that genuine Christians can test “the spirits whether they are of God.” At the same time, most people have been deceived in this area. The road is broad that leads to destruction (Mt 7:13-14). As a means of validating their condition, men seek after signs (1 Corinthians 1:22) that very often are counterfeits that lure men into a false sense of spiritual security. From the teaching of Jesus (Mt 7:21-23), we know that at the judgment seat, their tragic deception will be exposed with no future opportunity for correction. Men can be fooled into trusting in fraudulent indicators of their spiritual states.
In the first chapter of his epistle, James says men deceive themselves with the faulty notion that God accepts the mere hearing of His Word. This reveals the nature of people’s deceit. They can rationalize a tolerance of their own disobedience to what God said. Satan is a deceiver and liar, who would have men mislead by their own unreliable measurements of spirituality. And the Devil majors on spiritual subterfuge in particular—it’s his domain of activity (Eph 6:12).
On the other hand, the Word of God is sufficient (2 Tim 3:15-17). We don’t have to be deceived. We have the truth, which sets us apart from spiritual error (John 17:17).
Who Is Spiritual?
Sometimes you might hear someone say, “He’s a spiritual person.” Based on a scriptural evaluation, that would be the same as saying, “He’s a saved person.” Every saved person is a spiritual person, because at the point of his justification by faith, he has received the gift of the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:9, 1 Cor 6:19-20, 1 John 3:9). Only believers are spiritual. No unbeliever is spiritual, even if he says he’s “a spiritual person.”
No believer is any more spiritual than any other person. The Holy Spirit is a Person. When someone receives the Holy Spirit, he has all the Holy Spirit that he will ever get. He doesn’t need any fresh outpouring or anointing. The concept of “more spiritual” isn’t in the Bible. God does command believers to be filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18), which is to be controlled by the Spirit (Rom 6). When a believer is controlled by the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit will manifest Himself in various ways described in the New Testament.
How Does the Holy Spirit Manifest Himself?
The New Testament indicates several different ways that we can discern true spirituality. We should expect all of these of someone who is spiritual. Because everyone has equal spiritual resources (Eph 1:3; 2 Pet 1:1-4; 1 Cor 1:7), everyone also has equal opportunity for manifesting true spirituality. In other words, no one is breathing any kind of pure spiritual air that sets him apart from any other believer.
God isn’t responsible for spiritual lack. When a man is tempted, he is drawn away of his own lusts (James 1:14). The Holy Spirit will show Himself through a believer, but more than any one thing, self gets in the way. Humbling self is an important first step to revealing true spirituality.
First, a person who is filled with the Spirit is letting the Word of Christ dwell in him richly. Ephesians 5:18 and Colossians 3:16 are parallel passages. Someone who is controlled by the Holy Spirit is also controlled by God’s Word. When we disobey Scripture, either in thought, word, or deed, at that moment we are also either resisting or quenching the Holy Spirit. True spirituality manifests itself in obedience to the Bible. A Christian life obedient to the Spirit will look like Scripture.
Second, the Holy Spirit will show Himself through the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). I don’t think the emphasis of “fruit” is in the nature of bananas, apples, or oranges. Fruit is production. The Holy Spirit will produce a certain type of attitude that will result in a right kind of behavior. That disposition is seen in the fruit of the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit isn’t something you work on, but a work that the Holy Spirit does in and through you. And that fruit will show up because the believer submits to the Holy Spirit. The fruit is all or nothing. He either is manifesting the Holy Spirit or he isn’t. If he is, then all of the fruit will show up. Others will see the Holy Spirit and not self when the Christian is filled with the Spirit.
Third, when the Holy Spirit is in charge in someone’s life, this will show up in God-honoring music (Eph 5:19) and perpetual thanksgiving (Eph 5:20). The Holy Spirit directs the Spirit controlled person toward praise and thanks, both pointing toward God and away from self.
Fourth, the Holy Spirit will transform the relationships of those who are controlled by Him (Eph 5:21-6:8). This is how the Holy Spirit fulfills the law through love. The Christian is directed by the Spirit to meet other’s needs, which are all different by Divine design. A child has a different need from a parent, an employer from an employee, and a husband from a wife.
Fifth, the particular spiritual giftedness of the Spirit-filled person will show up in His church (1 Cor 12). The Holy Spirit divides to a church as He wills, providing it His own unique blend depending on its needs. When the Christian submits to the Spirit, he will fulfill his part in the body. The whole church is more important than his part in it. Jesus will be glorified by being manifested by the Spirit through the church in the world.
Sixth, he will preach the Word of God with boldness (Acts 4:31). No believer has any more power than any other believer. He can be more bold, however, depending upon his submission to the Holy Spirit. If he’s bold, the Holy Spirit will work through the Word of God unto the salvation of souls. There is no unique power for evangelism. The power rests in the Scripture through the Spirit. Boldness will look, well, bold. Some may confuse this for pride, because proclamation of truth lacks the nuance that some expect of a fake humility.
We have these six means for detecting true spirituality. They could be faked for a period of time, but not for long. However, we should content ourselves with what God’s Word reveals as genuine indicators. The replacement gauges of spirituality provide people with false positives, fooling them into a dangerous spiritual ease.
How Does the Holy Spirit Lead?
Part of discerning true spirituality revolves around the discernment of the will of God. How does the Holy Spirit lead? We’ll approach this question next time.
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.
At this LINK you can find the audio for the 2010 Word of Truth Conference at Bethel Baptist Church, El Sobrante, CA. Two of the Jackhammers participated. Enjoy.
Two evangelical or fundamentalist churches could be nearly identical in their doctrinal statements but still be quite different, as much distinct in their view of spirituality as are the disparate understandings of “belief in Christ” terminology for a Mormon and a conservative evangelical. Yes, I believe there’s that much noncomformity. This undiscriminating approach to spirituality, I believe, may be the most damaging, though ignored, situation in the church today. One finds its reality in varying degrees of subjective experience, while the other looks to an objective faith, yet both, again, with the same theological creed. The similarity of the latter provides cover for the contrast of the former, the diversity explained as a matter of preference or taste.
Church members, professing believers, wish for an authentic spiritual experience in their church attendance. They judge authenticity by excitement and emotion, even enthusiasm, which might manifest itself in several varied ways. It’s not that feelings would be their chief criteria if they were asked to mark a box on a checklist. These same people don’t believe they are being guided by their feelings or that their emotions are being swayed by external factors to produce a false sense of spirituality. Their feelings, however, are what are telling them that their experience is authentic, especially in their “worship.”
Scripture shows that true spirituality is judged by God’s Word, by the truth. The two types of churches I’m talking about would both agree with that. However, that is not how the individuals often judge whether spirituality has been attained. They might ascertain the spiritual condition by means of release of emotion, shouting, tears, swaying, giddiness, head bobbing, jumping, toe-tapping, or hand waving, all possible indications of something happening in the realm of genuine spirituality. It also might show up with signs of power, that is, hands raised or movement toward the front at an invitation. What might not be considered is that all or some of these spiritual barometers might be caused or initiated by human manipulation of some kind, either through the rhythm of the music, the rise and fall of someone’s voice, a story, the lighting, clapping, or by the suggestion of the speaker to a wanting audience. The shared experience of the crowd further validates the authenticity. Something good must have happened.
Certain symptoms of legitimacy accompany the concoction of fraudulent spirituality—tightly closed eyes, head tilted heavenward, certain hushed tones, or the Clintonesque biting of the bottom lip. This is assembly line authenticity, Andy Warhol Campbell Soup Can realism. A trembling, purposefully scratchy voice, cries out a plaintiff wail with all the gusto that fake authenticity can muster.
The shared emotions of a church galvanize the people like some chant in the pregame ritual of a football team. This does have a sort of power. Many may think of this as heavenly power as they undergo its effects, persuaded that they must have connected with God. They may even mistake it for love between one another because of the shared warmth. It has the power to succeed at attracting or keeping people who wish for something more or different than faith. Churches not aligning themselves with these ways feel a pressure to use the same methods of provocation.
Many who choreograph these types of experiences, that replace true spirituality with the fake, know what they are doing. They know what certain rhythms do. They want the lighting in the building and the cadence of the speaking and the chords and the speed of the music to have their effect on a crowd. They manufacture the feelings with fleshly means and then call it spirituality. Some of the purveyors of these schemes are modern Calvinists, who, while trumpeting the sovereignty of God and bewailing the new measures of Arminianism, whip their own brand of religious ecstacy.
The faux spirituality conforms to a perverted view of Divine immanence, God’s relatedness, stemming from a post-enlightenment evacuation of Divine transcendence. The new emphasis on God’s immanence corresponds to a cultural shift in focus from God to man. Sin is less a concern in its offense of God as its psychological implications for men. The spirit engendered in a church service has the power to overcome a broken relationship or downcast countenance, providing the desired therapy.
Church music, and even all music, reflects the new view of spirituality. Man’s taste has become preeminent in musical composition and performance, both style and words. I believe the music has had a more detiorating effect on the perversion of spirituality than even the substance of the lyrics in church hymnody. Professing Christians have watered down the doctrinal content of hymns, but that has followed the use of popular tunes, which are popular because they lure where luring occurs—the flesh. Man’s flesh isn’t drawn away by his spirit, but by his flesh, and enticed.
Not only have churches been fooled in this particular false spirituality, but also an imposter in the realm of something perhaps even more wicked, that is, mysticism, a secret spirituality found in eastern religions and felt in the their music and worship. They produce natural, whispery, repetitious sounds that our culture has now accepted as something in touch with God. It sometimes takes on the calmness of the surface of a mountain lake or the lapping of the waves on the seashore. The connection isn’t with the God, Almighty God, the Lord of Hosts, but the god of this world, who is also the god of pantheism. These rhythms and sounds are now incorporated into modern worship music, again fooling people with a counterfeit spirituality.
In the 1960s, the Jesus movement portrayed itself as authentic Christianity, tapping into the counter-culture sweeping the United States and then the world. The emotions and even rebellion young people felt in their relations to traditional family and government structure and authority was revealed through their music. These feelings were real. The music itself became, to them, an expression of their inner yearnings. The people involved put on no airs—in their dress, with their hair, with their physical touch. They didn’t hold back, just let it hang loose, elucidating the kind of liberty they felt in Christ. They also talked “like so sincere.” The Jesus people took that music and incorporated it into Christian worship. The music itself became associated with authenticity and genuine spirituality. Other forms were stilted, repressive, and against the feeling of the movement. The music not only reflected the emotions, but produced or proliferated them. They were accepted as evidence of spirituality. This movement has bridged the gap for all forms of the world’s music as true expressions of man’s relationship with God.
Not every church takes the tactics to their furthest end. Don’t think that because someone is worse than you that you get a pass on these techniques and this warping of true spirituality. Many churches have stirred up their own unique stew of varied strengths and styles.
This attack on the meaning of spirituality is an attack on the truth. There is true spirituality defined by Scripture. Genuine spirituality is sanctified by God’s Word, not by people’s feelings.
I think that what we have here is equal to the perversion of false doctrine. We have dumbed down or altered spirituality and then many other theological concepts necessary for true worship and obedience to God, including love and the nature of God Himself. God does not receive the affection of which He is worthy. And many men through this deceit are further tangled in a web of pseudo-spirituality from which for many there is no escape.
The New Testament several times lists the people who will not enter into heaven (1 Cor 6:9-10; Gal 5:19-21; Eph 5:5; Rev 21:8, 27; 22:15) . Since these lists are all different, they are not each intended to be comprehensive, but representative. Whether someone makes it to heaven or not, lives forever in the New Jerusalem, enters through the gates of that eternal city, is a gospel issue. Many evangelicals and fundamentalists today say that they separate over the gospel. God excludes the people on these lists from salvation, so they are gospel related practices. People who practice them are not saved and will not be saved. You’ve got to repent from these sins, resulting in them not being your practice any more. That’s what the lists say.
One of these exclusion passages is Revelation 21:8, which reads:
But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.
Later in Revelation 21:27, you read this:
And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
Those are very serious sounding verses in the Bible. One is not more caring who does not take these types of verses seriously. I want to draw your attention to just one of the ones in the lists, and that is “the abominable.” “The abominable . . . shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone.” Wow. I sure wouldn’t want to be one of these “abominable” ones. I wonder who they are. I mean, who are they? Who are “the abominable”? And then in the next verse, v. 27, we see that those who work abomination will not enter into the gates of the eternal city. I should look at Scripture to see who these people are, that is, let the Bible define for me who they are. The abominable would be who the Bible says are abominable. This really isn’t a matter of opinion. So a good thing to do would be to look this up in God’s Word. These “abominable” ones, these people who work “abomination,” are found right in these lists, excluding them from eternal life and heaven. The fact that they are included in these lists would say that these are practices that really have God’s attention. He despises them.
Separation forever from God is the ultimate in separation. God will not have an abominable one, one committing abominations, in His presence for all eternity. This looks like God’s kind of separation over the gospel. Someone could not be said to believe the gospel, but also to believe that abominations are permissible, could he?
I could start with the English word “abomination” to find what is uniquely an abomination, or what makes the people an abomination. I could also look at the Greek word translated “abomination” or “abominable” to find out who they are. The New Testament, that’s right, the New Testament, says that those people who are an abomination will have their part in the lake of fire. Now where does the Bible say that a person is an abomination to God? What would a person do that is an abomination to God? We would need to look at the Bible to find out who that person is. OK, so let’s look.
The Greek word for “abomination” is bdelugma. That Greek word, or forms of it, is found 6 times in the New Testament, two of which are in Revelation 21:8 and 27. The Hebrew word is to-ay-baw. That Hebrew word is found 117 times in the Old Testament in 112 verses. “Abomination” is mainly an Old Testament concept, but it is still in play as offensive to God as seen in the two verses in Revelation. We get our idea of what an abomination is from the Old Testament, however.
If you look at every single one of the verses where these words are used, only one verse says a practice that makes a person an abomination. Only one. People do abominations. They commit abominations. But only in one verse does the person himself or herself become an abomination to God. In certain verses, we see that someone can become an abomination to other people, but in only one does a person become an abomination to God. Which is that verse?
So I see this very serious verse that says that the abominable will go to the lake of fire and then I go to find out who the abominable is and I for sure see in the Bible that person in Deuteronomy 22:5. And what makes the person abominable, an abomination to God? Let’s read the verse.
The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God.
“All that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God.” Who is an abomination to God? Who is abominable? First, the woman who wears the item specifically designated for a man, that distinguishes him as a man. Second, the man who puts on a woman’s garment.
Do you want to be an abomination to God? I wouldn’t think so, especially in light of Revelation 21:8 and 27.
Is someone being an abomination a gospel issue according to Revelation 21:8 and 21:27? I see it as such. God separates himself from the abominable. Should we separate ourselves from the abominable?
What is the male garment? What is the female garment? What item of clothing distinguishes a man from a woman and woman from a man, honoring God’s design? For many centuries, cultures that looked to the Bible in these matters distinguished pants as the male item and the skirt or dress as the female item. As feminism and unisex thinking took hold in a post-enlightenment, rationalistic, evolutionary United States, women began wearing pants in contradiction to the male role and male headship. In certain cases, women began to wear them out of sheer convenience with little thought about the symbolism of God’s designed roles. God’s people would not go along with pagan culture, but like in so many other areas, churches began to compromise with the world. Today in most evangelical and fundamentalist churches, women wearing pants is acceptable. Even further, in most instances, the women who continue to wear only female garments are ridiculed or looked upon as odd. The churches who take the historic Christian position are scorned and marginalized.
But Revelation 21:8 and 21:27 are both still in the Bible. And Deuteronomy 22:5 is still the only verse that says a person becomes an abomination for a particular practice. And women in dresses or skirts and men in pants is the historic way that Christians have followed Deuteronomy 22:5.
Is an abomination a non-essential? Does God say that an abomination is a non-essential? Of course not. Who is anyone to say that an abomination is a non-essential? And yet today evangelicals and fundamentalists would say that an abomination is a non-essential.
Just because a fundamentalist says it is a non-essential doesn’t mean that God is saying that it is a non-essential. You won’t be able to say to God that you would have known, except that a fundamentalist told you that this wasn’t essential and you believed him. You’ll have to base what you believe and do on what God said. If fundamentalists don’t say the same thing, that can’t really matter.
Think about it.
As you are thinking about it, I want to make a preemptive strike. Someone is going to say, “So are you saying that women who wear pants are an abomination and so are going to hell?” That will be the most likely argument to come along to this. It is a jr. high type of argumentation that shouldn’t get any respect. I’m asking you to think about the verses in the Bible. Be serious about them. They are very serious verses.
The other response will most likely be ridicule. Men will scoff at this position. They will not likely offer you an alternative for the practice of Deuteronomy 22:5. They might say that all that really matters is that women look like women and men look like men. That’s not what the verse says, however. It says don’t put on certain items or garments. Don’t have them on. Just because fundamentalists say that there are no such items of clothing today does not make it true.
So again, think about it.
I just finished a series in Revelation and that is what got me thinking about this post. It is normal for me to ask, “Who is abominable? Who would that be?” And if you look it up, you get to Deuteronomy 22:5. But what also crossed my mind is a new attack, I believe, on the Lordship of Christ in which those claiming to elevate the gospel to its rightful place, say that by talking about something like “pants on women,” men like myself are diminishing the gospel, which is, according to them, to be first in importance. By giving the gospel this so-called “back seat,” men like myself, according to these “gospel first” guys, are doing damage to the gospel. This type of idea is being pushed in conservative evangelicalism and fundamentalism. Revelation 21:8, 27, and 22:15 would indicate the opposite. If you love the gospel, you are going to warn about these types of practices in people’s lives. When we left all to follow Christ, we certainly left abomination. So when we confront abomination, and connect that to the gospel, we are doing the right thing related to Christ as Lord. There would be no practicers of abomination, who also follow Him. Abomination isn’t in that path of following Christ. The freedom that Christ gives us through the gospel is not freedom to be abominable, but freedom from abomination.
If someone who brings up an abomination in a gospel conversation is guilty of somehow dismissing the gospel, then the Apostle John was doing that when he mentioned abomination in Revelation 21. Jesus Himself brought up loving your neighbor in a gospel conversation in Luke 10 and covetousness in Matthew 19. What we have with these evangelicals and fundamentalists, I’m afraid, is something of turning the grace of God into lasciviousness that Jude wrote about, and using grace as an occasion to the flesh that the Apostle Paul mentioned in Galatians.
Another point. People want “abomination” to be non-New Testament. Since it’s not New Testament, it doesn’t matter. But it is New Testament. Not being an abomination continues to be an issue in the New Testament. But it obviously points back to practices in the Old Testament. This does great harm to that particular excuse in this.
One more point. Shouldn’t being an abomination give us pause? Shouldn’t we want to make sure we aren’t one? Why mess around with whether we’re being one or not? Especially in light of Revelation 21:8, 27?
Last point. I believe that people just block this one out. They just choose not to think about it. They put their head in the sand in so many ways. They aren’t dealing seriously with the text itself. Until I preached a series through Deuteronomy several years ago, I wasn’t either. Once I came face to face with what it said, I had to make a decision. The decision hasn’t made me more popular. To be honest with the text, I had to take the position I take. When I looked at commentaries from before 1930, they were unanimous in what this text meant. The popularity of alternative positions came later. People hang on to those alternatives. I believe they spread abomination. That doesn’t sound like a good thing to do. But it is what they are doing. They attempt to take comfort in the reality that most professing Christians don’t follow this path any more. If so many other Christians go the way they go, then they must be safe. It couldn’t be true that so many people, who are such good people, could all be doing wrong. You’ll hear the same argumentation used by Charismatics. I heard the same used by a Mormon this last Sunday when I was out evangelizing in Sacramento.
You’ve probably noticed regular new labels and terms popping up. One of these, I’ve seen, is “cultural conservative.” I don’t know when that terminology was first used, but I know it differentiates certain conservatives from the “fiscal conservatives.” Whether you would have the “cultural conservative” label or the “fiscal conservative” one probably depends on why you vote for who you do. The latter would vote with his so-called “pocketbook.” Fiscal concerns may bring people together that do not see eye-to-eye on the culture. The two terms, culture and fiscal, divide conservatism.
What Is Cultural Fundamentalism
I believe that this division in conservatism between cultural and fiscal has now become the basis for a new division that I have read only in the last few years, that is, the cultural fundamentalists and the theological or doctrinal fundamentalists. With just a little looking, I have found that “cultural fundamentalism” has been around for awhile as a technical terminology for something entirely different than how Christian fundamentalists have used it. “Cultural fundamentalism” has referred to a usually violent antipathy to a change of culture. That label is often hung on the jihad of Islamic countries who desire one Islamic culture. So “cultural fundamentalism” has been around for awhile, but only recently has it been used, mainly as a pejorative, to color a certain brand of Christian fundamentalism.
In 1999 a professor at the University of Wisconsin, William P. Tishler, referred to “cultural fundamentalism” existing in the U. S. in the 1920s. He described it like this:
The 1920s was a time when many adherents of “Cultural Fundamentalism” attempted to ensure that all Americans followed the right patterns of thought: quest for certainty and predictability in social relationships; an order in human affairs that was at once familiar, comfortable, and unthreatening; and nostalgia for the idealized, non-industrial society of their parents.
Tishler’s syllabus reads like sheer propaganda, assigning motives to people without evidence. David G. Bromley in his 1984 book, New Christian Politics, calls the “new religious right” (NRR) “cultural fundamentalism.” He, like Tishler, would say that “cultural fundamentalism” supports things like right to life and male headship.
The first “cultural fundamentalism” struck me as an identifiable label was when I read what Tim Jordan said at the latest GARBC national conference. He warned:
If we produce ‘biblical’ reasons for cultural fundamentalism, they [the young Fundamentalists] know you are lying. And why do they know you are lying? It’s because you are!
So you see his usage of “cultural fundamentalism,” differentiating himself from that. I started looking for other usages and I read this from Bob Bixby on his blog in January 2008:
These first-generation Calvinists embrace Calvinism in order to embrace what they really want: contemporary worship, a swig of beer, or the sheer pride of life that gratifies the egos of those who, embittered because of everything they could not have in cultural fundamentalism on the basis of dumb argumentation, now have an indisputably better biblical argument for anything they want.
I don’t know exactly who Ben Wright is talking about at 9 Marks in Mar-April 2008 when he says cultural fundamentalists are atheological fundamentalists. He writes:
In addition, the theological Fundamentalism of Bauder and Doran represents a matured strain of Fundamentalism that intends to expose and disassociate from the atheological (sometimes called cultural) Fundamentalism that has dominated many segments of separatist Fundamentalism in recent decades.
Here’s how someone named Charlie defined “cultural fundamentalism” at SharperIron:
I have heard the term “cultural Fundamentalism” applied to those described as hyper-Fundamentalists. I like this term at least somewhat better, because it communicates that the real areas of controversy are not “doctrinal” in the sense of disputes about systematic categories (which some cultural Fundamentalists wouldn’t even be able to explicate), but rather cultural in the sense of affecting the look, feel, and function of church life. For example, you can sing vapid songs, but not CCM songs. You can murder the meaning of a Bible passage, but you have to have the correct initials on the binding. You can preach all sorts of bizarre allegory, but you need to be in coat and tie when you do it.
Kevin Bauder dealt with this way back in 2005 in his essay “A Fundamentalism Worth Saving,” especially in these two paragraphs:
This, I think, highlights the limited usefulness of a distinction between “historic” and “cultural” fundamentalism. Biblical obedience is never acultural for the simple reason that human beings are never acultural. We must always obey God at a particular time, in a particular place, situated in a particular culture. We do not really care whether George Carlin’s words were obscenities in 1560, nor whether their cognates are obscene in German or Norwegian. We care about what they mean in English at the beginning of the 21st Century.
In short, the only way to be a historic, biblical fundamentalist is to be a cultural fundamentalist. The only alternatives are, first, to say that cultures are beyond the Bible’s ability to critique and correct, or second, to argue that fundamentalism is concerned only with doctrine and not with obedience. I doubt that any of us really wants to take either of those steps.
It’s interesting to consider that Ben Wright says that Bauder is not a cultural fundamentalist, and wants to distinguish him from one, when Bauder himself says that a historic fundamentalist must be a cultural fundamentalist. I think I’ll go with what Bauder says about himself rather than what Wright says about Bauder to help his article along. It would do Ben well to also check out a certain paper produced by Mark Snoeberger, who teaches at Detroit, Doran’s seminary, and his words about cultural fundamentalism:
It is often suggested that there are two kinds of fundamentalism—doctrinal fundamentalism and cultural fundamentalism. The former is to be embraced as a defense of the orthodox core; the latter to be eschewed as a counter-cultural set of archaic, arcane, and even pharisaical traditions some of which are downright silly. There is some validity to this distinction. At the same time, since theology always informs our view of culture, it is impossible to completely divorce the two.
We have already noted above that in the specific issue of evangelism, fundamentalists have typically eschewed both the ―Christ of culture‖ approach (practiced broadly by liberalism and new evangelicalism) and also the holistic ―Christ transforming culture‖ approach (practiced in Kuyperian Reformed circles). I would suggest that this understanding has extended beyond evangelism to a whole plethora of cultural issues.
Snoeberger says you can’t divorce the theological fundamentalism from the cultural.
Why are doctrinal and cultural fundamentalism being divided? I believe there are those who want to hang on to the doctrine of separation. They think it’s in the Bible. But they only want to separate over certain theological issues. They want to allow much more room to maneuver on the so-called cultural issues. Therefore, if there exists doctrinal fundamentalism, they can still be a fundamentalist without associating with the fundamentalists who disassociate over violations of the right cultural practices.
Why I’m Not a Cultural Fundamentalist
I really do identify with these people who don’t mind being and being called “cultural fundamentalists.” But I’m not one. Most would make me a poster boy for cultural fundamentalism. I refuse it. I reject it. Don’t lay that label on me. However, I also don’t like that this division is occurring in fundamentalism. I see what it is, and it’s not good for fundamentalism in my opinion, really for the same reasons Bauder states in his “Fundamentalism Worth Saving” article.
But again, I’m not a cultural fundamentalist because, first, I’m not a fundamentalist. Fundamentalism is a movement that gets along and gets together based upon agreement on a short list of doctrines. I don’t see that as scriptural unity or biblical separation. To obey the Bible, I can’t be a fundamentalist.
I add to the above first reason that I’m not a cultural fundamentalist because I don’t separate based upon culture. I don’t unify based on culture. I refuse that designation by others. I will not allow that to stick. The name “cultural fundamentalist” is just being used to discredit a biblical belief and practice. It is sliding that scriptural doctrine and practice to something that is just cultural, really only opinion. That isn’t the case. I don’t believe and practice opinions. I am sanctified by the truth. My church will be sanctified by God’s Word to every good work.
Male headship isn’t cultural. It is biblical. Heterosexuality isn’t cultural. It’s scriptural. Gender designed distinctions in appearance isn’t cultural. They are biblical. Modesty isn’t cultural. It’s in God’s Word. Complementarianism isn’t cultural. It’s in the Bible. Spiritual, sacred worship isn’t cultural. It is scriptural. Dress that is distinct from the world isn’t cultural. It’s biblical. Patriarchy isn’t cultural. It is Scripture. I’m to preach the whole counsel of God’s Word. I’m to teach the saints whatever God has said in His Word. I’m not going to have those teachings diminished for the convenience of those who prefer to fit into an unbiblical way of life. Take the world, but give me Jesus.
The Bible is lived in the real world. The Bible reacts to culture. The Bible guides how we will live. The Bible tells us what is the right music, the right art, the right marriage, the right fashion, and the right family.
This last week I was out evangelizing with quite a few others from our church and I came to the door of the jr-high pastor of one of the local Rick-Warren-Purpose-Driven types of churches. I was with two teenagers. The man’s wife answered the door-bell and she seemed happy we were there once she knew we were out preaching the gospel (not JWs). She said her husband was the jr-high pastor at that particular church, which I know well. A first thought for me was what does a jr. high pastor do all day, but I refrained from asking that question, although I was really curious. I considered the oiling of the skateboard wheels and the proper wrinkling of the urban chic t-shirts. But I digress. I talked to her for awhile about the gospel to find out what they believed the gospel was. I had about finished with her thinking, which wasn’t quite developed enough for me to conclude, when her husband arrived. I spotted her husband before she did. As much as people stereotype fundamentalists, evangelicals might be easier to identify in their desperate desire to blend. Information: stop trying so hard. You blend like a Chinese tourist at Dollywood. Next.
The wife had to leave, so jr. high man and I talked first about the gospel. I was a little surprised to hear that he was a Calvinist. The senior pastor is a Dallas graduate. He didn’t disagree with most of what I said there on the basics, although I’m hard pressed to have even an LDS contradict me up to a certain point. It’s become all how you define the terms. Maybe that’s always been it. A big one is: Who is Jesus? A lot of different viewpoints there all under the banner of Jesus. But I moved on to worship. I kinda see that as the next thing. In a certain sense, I see the gospel and worship categorically as the same (see John 4:23-24). My question is: do you worship God in your church? Just because worship is happening doesn’t mean that it is actually happening. What people think is worship relates to Who they think God is. I already knew that at this church the worship was a matter of one’s taste. Those were almost the exact words I heard from their senior pastor when I had a previous conversation with him. I will say that talking to the jr. high pastor was a little like talking to a jr. higher. The arguments were similar to jr. high ones. I made a note that he needed to get out of the jr. high department a little more—pooled ignorance was happening.
Jr. high guy asked what music was appropriate for worship. I’m fine answering that question, and I knew it was a trap to offer the name of a particular style, but I did name some I did not believe were acceptable to God for worship, namely rap, hip-hop, grunge, and rock, among others. Upon listing those, his eyes lit up and he fired off a derogatory question as an answer: “So you’re saying that God can’t take rap music and redeem it for his worship?” The answer to that question is, of course, “N0,” but that is not how you answer. The key word in his question, I believe, was “redeem.” How he used that word says a lot about his view of the world and his understanding of God, of Christ, of worship, and of the Incarnation.
I believe this man’s concept of “redeeming the culture” is quite popular today. It is also new. It is not a historic understanding of either “redemption” or “culture.” The phraseology is an invention, designed to justify worldliness. What is most diabolical is that the phrase, “redeeming the culture,” is used to categorize a wicked activity into some sort of sanctified one. You should be able to conclude what damage this would do to the cause of biblical discernment.
Earlier I said the man carried on a jr. high type of approach. What did I mean? He used questions as a form of mockery. For instance, he asked, “So you’re saying that individual notes are evil or something?” He also leaned on the time-honored, “So any kind of song that is upbeat, I guess, is wrong then?” Who said anything about “individual notes being evil” or “upbeat songs being wrong”? No one. And he asked them with a kind of accusatory and incredulous tone, as if he was shocked.
To get the right idea of what God will redeem, we should consider 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, which says that our body is the temple of the Holy Ghost and that we can glorify God with our body. The body itself is not evil, despite what the Gnostics might say. It is how one uses the body. Paul explains that in Romans 6 when he says that the body can either be used for righteousness or unrighteousness depending upon what it serves. Letters and notes are about the same. They can be either used for evil or for good. Cloth is the same way. The material that turns into immodest clothing is not itself evil. What is evil is what the cloth is turned into, how it is used. Letters can be turned into foul language. Paint can become wicked or profane art. Notes can be formed into godless, pagan music, just like they can be made into sacred music.
However, someone can’t take pornography and redeem it for God. I explained this obvious point to jr. high man. I illustrated it by asking if naked women on the streets of a Marine base could be redeemed by handing out tracts. The Marines would show more interest. More tracts would be taken. The contents of the tracts was holy. Does the message justify the medium? Of course, he said no. The beauty of the illustration is that it makes it simple even for a jr. higher.
At a root level, this wrong idea about redemption relates to a perversion of Christ’s incarnation. It is very much a Gnostic understanding of the Incarnation. The logic of it goes like the following. Jesus became a man. Men are sinful. Jesus became a man so that He could relate with sinners. This takes His condescension right into the sewer. Jesus was a man, but He was a sinless, righteous man. He was tempted like men were, but without sin. Jesus didn’t relate to men. There was nothing wrong about the body. A body isn’t wrong. Jesus took a body. That wasn’t wrong. Jesus wasn’t redeeming the thing of having a body. He didn’t take a body to relate with what sinful men do with their bodies. He took on a body to die for us. That’s how Jesus redeemed. Jesus didn’t take a body to be like men; He took a body so that men could be like Him. These “redeeming the culture” people turn this right around. We Christians are not to take on the characteristics of the world, become like the world. That isn’t incarnational. We should be turning the world upside down, not the world turning us upside down.
To go a little further, we can also see an attack on the atonement in this idea. Jesus redeemed by dying in His body, and shedding real, physical blood in His body. He did not redeem the whole thing of sinful men having sinful bodies by taking a body Himself. This borders on a moral example theory of atonement, as if Jesus showed to sinful men how to have a body through his moral example in and with His body.
Here’s what the “redeeming the culture” people take out of this. If Jesus could take a body to do His work, then we can take rock music to do our worship. Just like Jesus accomplished what He did with a body, we can accomplish what we need to with modern art. This is incarnational to them, redeeming like Jesus redeemed. We redeem these things, making good use of them, sanctifying them, like Jesus made good use of a body.
What should be sad to anyone reading this, and really anyone period, is how that this brand of so-called Christianity destroys scriptural concepts and just about makes it impossible to follow Jesus for these people. The people of their churches think that their feelings, that are really orchestrated by sensual passions, are actually love. They are convinced of it. They are told that it is true, and in so doing, they are deceived. And now the most conservative of evangelicals and most fundamentalists would say that we can’t judge that to be wrong. Sure we can. Those feelings are not love. They are not love for God. Ironically, they are love for self, fooling someone into thinking they are love for God. Rather than redeem anything, they have taken something already redeemed, love, and have perverted it as a result. And God requires His own to love Him. You can see what this does to Christianity.
Professing Christians should just stop using the “redeeming the culture” language. They have it all wrong. They’re just excusing their love for the world and their desire to fit in with the world. You don’t take a profane or sinful activity and “redeem it.” The letters can be used for God. The notes can be used for God. A body can be used for God. But a wrong use of letters, notes, a body, or cloth is not redeemable. Whether any of those will be used for God will depend on what to which they are yielded. If they are yielded to God based upon biblical principles, therefore, acceptable to God, then culture is being redeemed. And only then is culture being redeemed.
Culture is a way of life. If one’s way of life smacks of this world system, the spirit of this age, it is not redeemed. Only a way of life surrendered to the way of God will God redeem.