I recently had a conversation with a friend of mine. We disagree on several Christian issues and I felt our conversation would benefit others. I’ve made it very generic because I’m not trying to dispute my friend publicly. The dialog just gave me the opportunity to answer some common questions, so I thought I would post them.
Before I do that, I’m sitting here wondering “WHY?” I bother with this topic. All it does is result in criticism and lost readers. But we shouldn’t base our opinion and Truth on popularity. Say it with conviction and let the chips fall where they may.
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Shouldn’t You Be More Careful About Calling Someone A False Teacher?
I do agree with being CAREFUL about who we state publicly or privately is a false teacher, heretic or non-Christian. Very careful, agreed.
On the other hand, Jesus, the Apostle Paul and Peter especially remind us that we are to call out and confront false teachers, and that everything we hear taught must be carefully evaluated and judged by Scripture. American Christians have no problem being “open” to things (fads and gimmicks and false teaching) that’s for sure. We easily accept the Hinn’s, Bentley’s and every new Christian fad that sweeps the Church with very little (if no) discernment (no effort to evaluate it Biblically).
To make matters worse, American Christianity has pretty much lost its backbone and ability to discern, rebuke and reject blatant false teachers, extra-Biblical metaphysical fairy tales, lying prophets, horrible prooftexting disguised as teaching and money-centric “faith” fable-tellers like Duplantis and Hinn. The Church is completely out of BALANCE between being “accepting” versus “discerning” primarily due to the rampant Biblical ignorance that now exists because solid teaching has been replaced for the most part with “therapeutic” teaching (how can God and Jesus improve my life?) and sensationalism.
Aren’t You Allowing Those People To Skew Your Opinion of What God CAN DO Today?
There is a huge difference between rejecting the false teaching and shameful antics of a Todd Bentley, AND allowing them to “dictate what God can do” in our lives today. To the contrary, the silly carnality and materialism of men like Steve Munsey or Mike Murdoch more clearly point me towards what God REALLY does rather than giving my attention to their self-promoting shenanigans (and “silly” really sums up much about them).
Those celebrity-Christians such as those mentioned are absolutely HORRIBLE Bible teachers, butchering Scripture to fit their “show” and the goals of their “ministry”. Of course that type of thing is not limited to “word faith” or charismatic teachers… just witness the Scriptural misuse (prooftexting; ripping verses out of context to support a point) that took place in “40 Days of Purpose”. No matter how well meaning and useful that book is, from a Bible teaching standpoint, Scripture was routinely jerked from the pages to fit the agenda of the book rather than having the book explain the in-context meaning of the Scripture (prooftexting). Any serious Bible reader should not find it hard to see the disgraceful use of Scripture people like Hinn and Bentley employ to further their personal aggrandizement.
As for ANY man dictating what I think God can do, I don’t view men to see what God can do. I view Scripture to see what God can do DESPITE men.
Does Your Disbelief in the Healing Ministry of a Benny Hinn Cause You To Think God Doesn’t Do Miracles?
I would not state anything so definitive as “God does not work miracles through a human” because the Bible simply does not declare that. However, the public actions, teaching and lives of many of these well know “faith healers” (especially the heretical teaching that denies the deity of Christ, ie. the “Jesus was born again in hell doctrine”) leave no doubt in my mind that that they are not being used by God (in the sweeping mass way they claim; God uses our sinfulness even to accomplish His plans), especially in a miraculous nature. They are a distraction to serious Christianity at best… false teachers and heretics at worst. Strong statement I know; I don’t make it lightly or without significant knowledge and many years of observation and study of their public ministries.
My rejection of someone like Bentley (rejection of his healing or miracles or fables about visiting heaven) have ZERO to do with my beliefs about miracles or spiritual gifts. ZERO. That would be like saying if John MacArthur decided prayer was no longer effective, it would dictate my opinion on how God used prayer. Again, I look towards NO MAN to determine what I think God does or doesn’t do. I go to the Word God delivered personally to us to find out those things.
Aren’t God’s Gifts Irrevocable?
I agree with your interpretation of Rom 11:28-32 (the gifts of God are irrevocable)… the question is whether someone had those gifts in the first place. The Bible is clear about the presence of deceivers, charlatans and tares (fakes).
However, even if a Christian has gifts from God, they can misuse them, or not use them. Only God knows if they ever truly had them. We all know people who exercise “gifts” in the flesh, drummed up with human effort… gifts that obviously they didn’t get from God. I believe people like Hinn and Bentley are such people simply because their fruit does not bear out authenticity. However, only God knows for sure.
If There is a Chance They God Gifts From God, Shouldn’t You Refrain From Rebuking or Rejecting Them?
If a person started with a gift and strayed, that doesn’t mean that we have to always AVOID publicly rebuking, correcting or rejecting those who shame our Lord through greed, false teaching and carnality. That would be ignoring clear Scripture too. It’s a balance for sure, and when we who are leaders or teachers do publicly denounce a person or a particular teaching, we have to know that we will give account to the Lord for that.
I am very aware of my duty and accountability as a public teacher of the Bible (“let not many of you teach”; James 3:1) and that I’ll be held accountable not only for my private life, but doubly accountable for everything I teach and my influence on others. So I don’t make controversial statements lightly without serious conviction behind it, knowing I’m going to be held accountable; nor do I make public statements about false teachers unless I’m thoroughly educated and convicted about them over a fairly significant period of time and feel led, with a clear conscience to take on the controversy with God’s blessing. I don’t like or want controversy. It’s easier to just go along and get along but God calls us all to different emphasis’s; some He calls and gifts to discernment and public defense of the Scripture, including speaking out publicly about false teaching.
The silly “touch not my anointed” (1Chron 16.22) is a gross abuse of Scripture as well as a complete rejection of many passage that tell us to evaluate and expose false teaching. I take very very very seriously any judgments I make about false teachers or false teaching (the former being a repeated pattern of ongoing false teaching by someone; the latter being maybe one point or one message). I know the difference between false teaching, aberrant teaching, a doctrinal mistake from a lack of understanding or study, a teaching I simply disagree with and downright heresy.
So Do You Believe Personal Accounts of Tongues, Miracles and Healing?
I don’t let my opinion of a Todd Bentley taint my view of what God does, I also don’t let that taint my opinion of those who differ in their beliefs on charismatic and miraculous gifts. It’s not even in the same ball park.
I don’t believe in tongues today but have plenty of Christian friends who do and I don’t think twice about it. However, when I personally witness at “word faith” churches the coercion to get someone to speak in tongue by publicly pressuring them to just start babbling whatever comes out of their mouth, I denounce that. Why? Because the Bible shows us clearly that tongues were spontaneous supernatural occurrence by the Holy Spirit. It was NEVER “taught”, coerced or pressured onto people in the Bible. When I personally witness groups systematically, repeatedly and predictably coercing every person to speak in tongues using a method and example we never find in Scripture… I have no problem publicly denouncing that version of “tongues” as unscriptural.
When my Christian friends read the Bible and come away believing in tongues, and believing they have experienced tongues, I don’t think twice about it, and don’t even really “disagree”… I simply think that is between them and God. I find no Scriptural mandate to go around convincing every single Christian to believe what I believe about charismatic gifts.
The Bible leaves enough room to disagree on issues like tongues and charismatic gifts (though I find many tongue-believers who won’t extend the same liberty to those who don’t see it their way). Likewise, just because I believe Todd Bentley is a “miracle huckster” doesn’t make me doubt my friend for even one second if he says God did a miracle for him, or that he has seen a miracle in another person. That’s between Him and God.
So You Draw A Distinction Between Public and Private?
The Bible draws a clear line between private and public in the sense that public false teachers, public false prophets and public heretics are to be called out, rebuked and rejected in the hopes they will repent and come back to the Truth. Person to person we are to confront in love, teach, rebuke, correct and gently bring other believers into line with Scripture using church discipline as a last resort for the clearly unrepentant. It is the duty of the spiritually mature and those who God gifts with counseling, teaching, exhortation and Shepherding to help Believers see and avoid false teaching and heresy.
My opinion about what is going on publicly with many of these Christian “celebrity Pastors” (like Hinn, Osteen, Copeland, Schuller, Bentley, Munsey, etc.) does not effect what I believe about God or what God can and does do privately in life of individual Believers, or local Churches, etc.
Because Osteen robs the Gospel of its true power with watered-down ear tickling sermonettes, that doesn’t dictate my understanding and belief in the power of the Gospel. Because Schuller teaches unadultered metaphysical heresy, that doesn’t dictate my belief in the positive nature and empowering aspects of the Christianity. Because Bentley is a false prophet (repeatedly), fable teller (incessant) and “miracle” charlatan… I don’t allow that to influence my belief in God’s power to heal, do miracles and act supernaturally.
Apostle Paul said “earnestly desire the greater gifts.” I don’t see any scriptural reason to believe that has changed between then and now. Do you?
Regardless of the true meaning of that verse (which I explain next), that cannot be taken as clear Scriptural declaration that gifts like tongues, healing or miracles have or have not ceased (or only operate in certain times or situations). If there gifts that God used for certain reasons in certain times and they served their purpose, then those would not be the “greater gifts” we would desire. They aren’t even then “greater” gifts as listed in 1Corinthians 12 (the verse referred to in the question). Again, like many issues, Christians take their CONCLUSIONS and make them “Scripture” rather than keeping them in the realm of liberty and room for interpretation.
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However, that is not the context of that passage or phrase (“earnestly desire the greater gifts”). I hear this phrase used by my Charismatic friends often in the same manner as above.
You’ll note that the context of 1Corinthians 12 is that all parts of the body (“gifts” ) are equally needed and none are to be considered of insignificant or inferior (verses 1-7). Verses 21-26 show us that we are to do away with any mentality of a caste system (rankings) within the Body. While our fleshly inclination is to see some parts as “lesser”, our new command is to see all parts of the Christian Body as equally valuable and necessary. The whole chapter is a rebuke against thinking and seeking “greater” gifts in the human sense of thinking something like “I want to be a Pastor because that is more valuable than the guy who gives out food to the poor” or “I want to perform miracles because that is more exciting and important that the one who prays in intercession privately”.
We are not to desire the prominent, powerful, public or sensational gifts because of what is does for us (attention, satisfaction, glory, etc). The final verses of chapter 12, TAKEN IN CONTEXT WITH THE REST OF THE CHAPTER and the very obvious point Paul was making, are asking a rolling rhetorical question. He states we are all the Body of Christ, made up of individual members. Pauls says “are all you Apostles? All of you Prophets? All of you speaking in tongues (which refutes many charismatics who declare you aren’t even a Christian if you don’t speak in tongues)? The rhetorical answer is clearly “NO!” because he just spent an entire chapter teaching there are many diverse parts.
Paul says in essence “but you’re all seeking after what you think is the GREATER gifts…” His final statement is “quit doing that, it’s wrong. I have shown you the more excellent way of love.” We know beyond doubt that phrase “earnestly desire the greater gifts” is not an imperative (a command to do something) because it would contradict completely the previous 30 verses. In context we know that it is more of an accusation, a rebuke of their behavior… “but all you are running around seeking what you think are the greater gifts…”
As a Bible teacher I must point out that in context of the entire chapter of 1Cor 12, that statement is actually a loving REBUKE of the Corinthians, a sensational carnal people who were inappropriately seeking the more prominent and sensational gifts. It is not a statement in support of seeking Charismatic gifts, the “greater gifts”.
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So It’s a Matter of Liberty?
Where the Bible is dogmatic, plain and definitive, we should be too. Where it is not, we should be patient and accepting of differences. For example, this verse leaves no room for liberty or interpretation: “For all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory” (Romans 3:23).
In the same manner, a verse simply does not exist in Scripture that says “all gifts of all types are in operation during all eras of God’s plan”… nor is there a verse that says “miraculous and charismatic gifts ceased entirely after the Church was established”. We are left to read what the Bible does say and wrestle our way to our own convictions on these things.
If there was a verse that plainly said either of those things, there wouldn’t be a controversy like this one. For Christians who honestly want to know the Truth, we accept where God is specific and plain. We believe it and don’t question it. Likewise, as mature Believers, we recognize that when the Bible is NOT definitive and dogmatic, we aren’t either; nor do we allow this to affect our fellowship and love for each other.
That’s why I don’t think “you have this wrong, therefore you are false teaching, and I should have anything to do with you.” Nope. I GREW UP thinking that way but have long since abandoned that legalistic Pharisee nonsense. Where the Bible gives room for different understanding, WE should generously give room. Now, if you pop up and said “oh, by the way, I don’t believe Jesus was God” or “I think people can be saved by other ways than Christ” then we would have a serious fellowship problem because the Bible is definitive and dogmatic on those issues.
So What’s The Problem?
Legalism and binding your personal convictions of liberty on others is a horrible problem in Christianity. That’s why we have 3000+ types of churches and Christian-labeled groups.
On the other hand, in the last 20 years an equally horrible problem has become the easy acceptance of every fad, false teaching and sensational trend that sweeps the Church; accepted without much question or thought by undiscerning Christians who neglect the Bible for latest fleshly “experience”. We have also lost the courage to make ANY judgment about false teachers and heretics lest there is a possibility, no matter how faint, that God MIGHT be using them (or maybe they even started out Godly and strayed). We’ve gotten very out of balance concerning defending the faith (2Tim 4:2; 1Pet 3:15), searching the Scripture (Acts 17:11) and engaging in correction and rebuke (2Tim 3:16-17).
Remember, there is a huge difference between judging the public teaching of someone as “false” or judging their claims as “fake” based on evidence and Scripture versus stating “I’ve looked into your heart and I judge your motives and state of salvation”. That’s God’s territory alone but God has made it our territory to judge the rightness of what is taught, and the Godliness of what is publicly displayed by Christian leaders who are supposed to be our examples and Shepherds (“imitate me as I imitate Christ” 1Cor 11:1).