Christian women, Heaven

Weak Women and the Idolatry of Personal Experience

I’m still out sick.
Please enjoy this selected article (April, 2015).
weak women

Well, here we go again. Another child claims to have taken another trip to Heaven complete with another face to face conversation with Jesus. Oh, and the child’s mother has written a book about it which prosperity pimp, T.D. Jakes, has optioned for his second unbiblical “I went to Heaven” movie. (Heaven is for Real was the first one.)

The gist of the story is that this sweet little girl, Annabel, was climbing a tree when a branch broke, causing her to fall head first, thirty feet into a hollow tree, where she was stuck for five hours. It’s unclear from the reports I’ve read whether this was actually a near death experience, the reports mentioning only that she was “unconscious” at some point (this is when she supposedly “went to Heaven”), and that she was rescued without injury. Additionally, Annabel had suffered for years with a very serious intenstinal disease, and after her accident, became asymptomatic.

These are nice people. Sincere people. The kind of people I’d probably be friends with if they went to my church.

And they have nicely, sincerely, and with the best of intentions fallen into what I think is the number one theological error facing Christian women today, namely, believing and trusting in human experience over God’s word.

Now, I don’t doubt the facts of this story: that Annabel had a dangerous and frightening accident, that she lost consciousness and had some sort of experience before awakening, that she had a serious intestinal disease, and that, in God’s perfect timing, He chose to heal Annabel shortly after this tree accident.

And the reason I don’t doubt any of that is that it is all based in verifiable fact (unless someone comes forward with documented evidence to the contrary) and none of it conflicts with God’s word.

But an actual “trip to Heaven”? That’s not based in verifiable fact and it does conflict with God’s word.

If you feel upset with me right now for saying that, I’d like to ask you to examine why that is. Why are you upset? On what do you base your belief that this child (or anyone else outside of documented cases in Scripture) has actually made a real trip to Heaven and come back to tell about it? Her say so? This child was nine years old when this happened. Nine. Colton Burpo (Heaven is for Real) was three. Alex Malarkey (The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven– which Alex has been recanting for years) was six.

Have you ever spent any time talking to a nine year old, a six year old, a three year old? A lot of them will tell you they believe in Santa Claus and the tooth fairy, or that they have an imaginary friend, or that they’re a super hero. They’re very sincere and they aren’t lying, but they’re also very wrong because their beliefs are not based in fact and are strongly influenced by their immaturity. So why are we so quick to believe, based solely on their own say so, that the experiences these children had while unconscious were actual trips to Heaven?

For the same reason we love chick flicks and fairy tales and Hallmark movies, ladies. These stories appeal to our emotions. They make us feel good just like a rich piece of chocolate on a stressful day. And when you slap the “God” label on a story of childlike wonder coming out of a nice Christian family, our belief not only makes us feel good, we also feel justified in believing the story.

And God’s word says that kind of mindset is not for strong, discerning, godly women, it’s for weak women.

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. 2 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, 4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. 6 For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, 7 always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.
2 Timothy 3:1-7

When we hold these “I went to Heaven” experiences (whether from children or adults) up to the light of Scripture, they crumble, from Hebrews 9:27, to the descriptions of God, Jesus, and Heaven that clearly contradict Scripture (and the descriptions from other people who supposedly went to Heaven and came back), to the sufficiency of Scripture, to the stark difference between Paul’s and John’s scripturally verified trips to Heaven and the trips being taken today (interestingly, Paul was stricken with a “thorn” after his trip to Heaven “to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations” while Annabel’s healing is being offered, in a whirlwind of publicity events, as proof that she went to Heaven), to the fact that the Bible doesn’t say anywhere that this kind of spiritual experience is valid or appropriate for Christians today.

The people who claim to have gone to Heaven had some sort of experience while unconscious, no doubt, but if they say that experience was an actual trip to Heaven, they are either mistaken or lying. It could have been a dream, a hallucination, an experience initiated by demons (let’s not forget that Satan was once an angel and continues to disguise himself as an angel of light), or a lie they’ve concocted, as was the case with Alex Malarkey. Yet, for some reason, Christian women, who, if asked point blank, would say that they believe the Bible is our ultimate authority for Christian belief, plunk down money for these books, movies, and other accessories, and eat these stories up with a spoon without ever engaging their brains and checking these supposed eyewitness accounts of Heaven against Scripture.

But “heavenly tourism” stories aren’t the only area in which we’re choosing to believe someone’s experience over Scripture.

Do you follow someone like Joyce Meyer, Beth Moore, Priscilla Shirer, Christine Caine, Lysa TerKeurst, or Paula White? These women all say that God “called” them to do what they do, which includes preaching to and instructing men in the church setting. Do you believe them when they say God “called” them? If so, you’re believing their supposed experience over the crystal clear word of God in 1 Timothy 2:12-14 (and plenty of other passages) which expressly forbids women from instructing men in the Scriptures or holding authority over men in the church.

And even putting aside the false and unbiblical doctrine these women teach, how many times have you heard one of them begin a sermon or teaching – not by reading God’s word and accurately teaching what the Bible says- but by telling a story about how God ostensibly “spoke” to them, acted in their lives in some way, or sent them a dream or a sign, and then basing their teaching on that experience rather than on God’s word? If you heed that kind of teaching, you’re believing their experience, not God’s word.

What about when it hits a little closer to home? You know God’s word says that homosexuality is a sin, but your 20 year old comes home and announces he’s marrying his boyfriend. So you just throw out that part of God’s word in favor of a happy experience with your son. You defend your right to swear like a sailor despite what God’s word says to the contrary. You “feel” that it was just fine for you to divorce your husband because you fell out of love with him, even though that’s not a biblically acceptable reason for divorce.

Ladies, if God’s word says it ain’t so, it ain’t so, no matter what you or I or anyone else experiences to the contrary. And it doesn’t matter how real or vivid or intense that experience was or how right or godly it seemed– God’s word, and God’s word alone defines reality, truth, existence, right and wrong. And we’d better get with the program and submit to its authority. If not, well, I guess we’ll prove the truth of what Paul said by choosing to be those women he talked about: weak, burdened with sins, led astray by our emotions, and always learning yet never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.

God doesn’t want you to be weak. He wants you to be a mighty woman of His word.

Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.
John 17:17

 

Additional Resources:

90 Minutes in Heaven on the Big Screen?

“The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven” Recants Story, Rebukes Christian Retailers

The Burpo-Malarkey Doctrine

Heaven Tourism

LifeWay Pulls Heaven Tourism for Good

Church, Throwback Thursday

Throwback Thursday ~ Dis. Grace: Responding Biblically to Church Scandal

Originally published June 30, 2015

scandal

It happened again last week. Another scandal. Another high profile pastor stepping down from the ministry in disgrace. Another family broken. Another church stunned and bereft.

And it’s not just the money grubbing televangelists anymore, either. This was one of the theological good guys. Sadly, pastors and Christian leaders – both those in the public eye and those right around the corner – seem to be dropping like flies these days. Adultery. Financial sin. Pornography. Abuse. Fraud. The list of sinful behavior goes on and on, leaving a wake of destruction in its path and giving Christ and His bride a black eye in the process.

So, what is the biblical response to scandals like these for Joe and Jane Christian? We view the situation through the lenses of Romans 8:28:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

How can God use this scandal, awful as it is, for my good and the good of my brothers and sisters in Christ? It’s an opportunity to learn, teach, and minister in so many ways:

Fully grasp the destructive power of sin…

Imagine the agony the pastor’s sin is creating in so many lives. What must his wife be going through? His children? His church? What about his own relationship with God? What about the lost people he was trying to win to Christ? What about the fact that his career may be over and he may lose his house?

It’s been said that sin destroys completely and completely destroys. It’s a good time to reflect on the fact that sin is not something to be trifled with. Count the cost. Would it be worth it to you to commit the same sin in your own life?

Realize your need for Christ…

“There, but for the grace of God, go I.” “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” (1 Corinthians 10:12) “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18)

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you’re better or holier than the person who sinned, therefore, you would never do what he did. Instead, let his sin push you towards the cross, realizing that you’re just as weak and susceptible to temptation as he is. Let it amp up your prayer life and drive you to cling to Christ and His word lest you fall into sin.

Dive into God’s word…

What does the Bible say about the sin in question? Learn what God’s word says. Apply it to your life, your work, or your marriage. Teach it to your children. Share it with those in your circle of influence. Build up your brothers and sisters in Christ so they might stand firm against temptation.

Implement safeguards…

People don’t just wake up one day and decide to commit adultery or embezzlement or whatever. Every sin starts with a wayward thought, which, when left unchecked (or entertained), snowballs into action. What could the scandalized pastor have done, practically, to prevent his sin? What are some concrete, proactive steps you can take to guard against sin in your life? Maybe your husband should hold the credit cards or you should cut ties with that certain male friend. Don’t wait for sin to find you. Build some walls before it arrives.

Use the scandal as a springboard for prayer…

Pray for those involved in the scandal. Ask God to protect you, your husband, and your loved ones from that particular sin. Realize that your own pastor and church staff are tempted to sin every day, pray for them regularly, and let them know you’re praying for them.

Practice the Golden Rule

What if you were the one who sinned? How would you want people to talk about and treat you and your family? Call a sin a sin, but let’s remember, when it comes to scandals, to watch our words and actions, and treat others the way we would want to be treated.

Use the scandal as an opportunity to share the gospel…

Inevitably, some lost people will see pastoral sin as one more candle in their “Christians are just a bunch of hypocrites” cake. Don’t be embarrassed if an unbeliever approaches you with this line of fire (and whatever you do, don’t try to make light of or justify the pastor’s sin). Own it. Admit it. “You’re right. This guy sinned. He needs to repent and be forgiven by Christ. He needs to make things right with the people around him. Just like me. Just like you. By the way, Christ was crucified for sinners like him and me and you. Have you ever repented of your own sin and trusted in Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection as the payment for your sin? Mind if I tell you how?”

Repent and Forgive…

It’s hurtful when someone you trust and look up to lets you down. But because we’re sinful humans living in a broken world, it’s going to happen. The pastor who sinned needs to repent. When he does, the people around him need to forgive, even though there will probably still be disciplinary consequences to his actions. Is there sin in your life that you need to repent of and face the consequences for? Is there someone who has sinned against you that you need to forgive? God extends the grace of forgiveness to repentant sinners and the grace to forgive to their victims. Repent. Forgive.

 

Scandals among Christian leaders are heartbreaking, disappointing, embarrassing. But the God who sent His only Son to the cross to turn sinners into saints has a wonderful way of taking offenses and turning them into opportunities for His kingdom.


THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED AT SATISFACTION THROUGH CHRIST.
Church

Servanthood

brush-629657_1280

When we think about “ministry” or “serving the church,” we often – sometimes exclusively – think about Paul’s preaching, and forget about things like Jesus washing the disciples’ feet, the seven men who served the widows (Acts 6:1-6), the generous givers in Corinth (2 Corinthians 9), the Shunamite who provided a room for Elisha (2 Kings 4:8-10).

Ministry and servanthood are often dirty and unglamorous jobs that nobody else wants to do, but they’re filling a need. When you clean up the church kitchen after a fellowship meal, you are doing ministry. When you sit with a church member at the hospital, you are doing ministry. When you take a turn in the nursery, you are doing ministry. When you pray for your church, you are doing ministry. When you mow the church grounds or fix the leaky baptistery or watch someone’s child so she can keep an appointment, you are doing ministry. You’re not going to be applauded for doing these things. Few, if any, will even notice that they’ve been done, and some of those folks will complain about the way you did it.

And that’s OK, because ultimately, we aren’t doing it for them. We’re serving Christ (Colossians 3:23-24).

Notice the kinds of ministry Jesus commends believers for at the final judgment (Matthew 25:31-40). Not teaching dozens or preaching to hundreds or singing to thousands (though those things are certainly needful and commendable when done biblically), but providing food, drink, and clothing to needy brothers and sisters in Christ, welcoming strangers into the church, visiting sick or imprisoned church members. It’s the little, personal, one on one, taking care of each other’s needs that Christ praises.

“Truly, I say to you,” our King will say, “as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:40)

May we all get out of the mindset that the spotlight is the only route to ministry, put on our grungy clothes, roll up our sleeves, get down on our hands and knees, and do the dirty, lowly work of servanthood.

Mailbag

The Mailbag: BSF (Bible Study Fellowship)

mailbag

 

What are your thoughts on BSF (Bible Study Fellowship)? Is it doctrinally sound? Is it a good way of studying the Bible?

According to the BSF web site, “BSF is an in-depth, interdenominational Bible study that helps people know God and equips them to effectively serve the Church throughout the world.” BSF Bible study groups are held in various local churches and are open to anyone.

I have never participated in BSF myself, but I am somewhat familiar with it through a couple of friends who have been very involved.

While I totally support the idea of delving deeply into the Scriptures with other women, there are a few of aspects of BSF that concern me. Let me start off by saying that every BSF group is different, so I’m sure these may or may not be issues with every group depending on the leaders and participants.

First, the amount of time required for BSF homework and other responsibilities may not be a fit for every participant. Some women have the hours required for these things and embrace it, but many do not. For the women who do not, this can become discouraging. They may come to view studying the Bible as a chore. They may sometimes neglect their husbands, children, homes, churches, friends, etc., in favor of completing the assignments. They may even give up on organized Bible study all together, assuming that all classes require the same investment of time as BSF. For these reasons alone, I would probably not recommend BSF for a new believer.

Next, BSF is limited to studies of only ten books/topics. I understand why BSF may have to do this from a logistics standpoint, but if BSF is a woman’s only form of personal or group Bible study, that’s leaving out a lot of the Bible. We need all of the Bible for all of life.

Concerns have also been raised by BSF participants and leaders that BSF may be headed in an Emergent and/or contemplative direction considering BSF’s recommendations of materials by authors who subscribe to these false teachings and BSF’s increasing use of The Message (a very shoddy paraphrase of Scripture) rather than a reliable translation.

Finally, my major concern with BSF is that it is ecumenical. It is my understanding that BSF is open to, and led by, people from all denominations (and non-denominations) that call themselves Christian. This is a problem because there are many churches and denominations which call themselves Christian but whose doctrine is not in compliance with Scripture (for example, Catholics, Oneness Pentecostals, Mormons, and New Apostolic Reformation).

BSF could be very helpful in this regard if it would require its leaders to hold to sound doctrine (our doctrine colors the way we teach Scripture) and would allow its leaders and members to discuss correct biblical doctrine, but the way it has been explained to me, “BSF doesn’t teach doctrine, it just teaches the Bible.” That statement, if an accurate representation of BSF’s stance, demonstrates a fundamental flaw in their view of Scripture and its regulation of the church. The Bible is doctrine. There is no way to teach the Bible without teaching doctrine.

What if, during a discussion of that day’s lesson, one of the Catholic members says, “This verse seems to say that praying to Mary would be wrong. Have I been sinning all these years?” or a Mormon says, “This passage indicates that we can be baptized for the dead. We should all be doing this.”? These are doctrinal issues, whether BSF sees them as such or not, and from a biblical standpoint these members need to be taught that praying to Mary and baptism for the dead are unscriptural and sinful. But, according to what I’ve been told, BSF will not correct people’s false doctrine in order to remain open to people of all “Christian” faiths. In fact, I’ve been told it’s against the rules for members/leaders to even disclose which church they belong to. Nor, for the same reason, can anyone recommend (or warn against) any pastor, author, or teacher, despite the fact that his/her materials might be very helpful (or harmful) to someone in the group. BSF leaders are also told not to use any Scripture other than what is being studied that day, which is most unhelpful, as one of the basic tenets of sound hermeneutics is that “Scripture interprets Scripture” and that unclear passages are to be understood in light of clear passages. Cross-referencing Scripture could help clear up doctrinal issues.

The Bible tells us that the job of a pastor (and by the extension of this principle, Bible teachers) is to “give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9b). It also says Christians are not to yoke ourselves together with unbelievers (2 Corinthians 6:14-18). Those who claim to be Christians yet deny the essentials of the faith (the Trinity, salvation by grace alone, etc.) are just as much unbelievers as atheists and agnostics (Matthew 7:21-23). It seems to me that there is something foundationally wrong with a Bible study in which genuine believers and false converts, people who hold to sound doctrine and people who hold to false doctrine, can sit side by side with neither being offended or corrected.

Mature, discerning believers can probably attend BSF without being swayed to believe any false doctrine (and, just to be clear, I’m certain it’s not BSF’s intention to teach false doctrine). However, I imagine that those mature, discerning believers would find it difficult to abide by the rules of keeping quiet on issues of sound doctrine as those issues arise.

Additional Resources

BSF Leader resigns; warns members about 2018 Study at Naomi’s Table

BSF, Jesus Calling and a plea from the heart at Berean Research

BSF as a “Vision-Casting” ministry? An open letter from a leader at Naomi’s Table


If you have a question about: a well known Christian author/leader, a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.


UPDATE: I’ve received numerous comments on this article. About half have disagreed with some or all of it and the other half have said it’s spot on. As mentioned in the article, “every BSF group is different, so I’m sure these may or may not be issues with every group depending on the leaders and participants.” Comments are now becoming redundant, and some of them downright ugly, so I’ve closed comments on this article. (Just to save you some time, please don’t go to another article’s comment section and attempt to comment on this article there. It won’t be published. I also will not be responding to e-mails/social media messages about this article.)

In Case You Were Wondering, Throwback Thursday

Throwback Thursday ~ In Case You Were Wondering: Wise Men, Astrology, and Horoscopes

Originally published June 25, 2015wise-men

I’ve heard that Christians shouldn’t read horoscopes or get involved with astrology, but weren’t the wise men who came to see Jesus astrologers? Maybe there’s something to astrology.

Well, if we were to say that, then we could also say maybe there’s something to stealing, too. Because, after all, that’s what got the thief on the cross to Jesus, and Jesus said that he would be with Him in Paradise that day. And maybe there’s something to persecuting and murdering Christians, too, because that’s how Paul came to encounter Jesus. But we don’t say those things because that’s not the way we rightly handle and apply Scripture.

There are two broad categories of Scripture: descriptive passages and prescriptive passages. Descriptive passages are descriptions of something that happened, like the story of the wise men visiting Jesus, or Noah and the ark, or David and Goliath. Prescriptive passages could also be called commands or direct instructions, “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots.”

When we have a question about whether or not it’s OK with God for us to do something, say, consulting horoscopes and astrologers, we look first at the relevant prescriptive passages, such as Deuteronomy 18:9-14:

When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord. And because of these abominations the Lord your God is driving them out before you. You shall be blameless before the Lord your God, for these nations, which you are about to dispossess, listen to fortune-tellers and to diviners. But as for you, the Lord your God has not allowed you to do this.

While this passage was obviously written as a command to Old Testament Israel, we can still draw out some applicable principles for today by asking ourselves why “the Lord your God has not allowed you to do this.” God calls these practices an “abomination” several times and links them to paganism. Verse 14 is reminiscent of 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 and 1 John 2:15-17, which tell us not to love or partner with the dark things of the world and to separate ourselves from such things.

This is a clear, prescriptive passage that answers our questions about following horoscopes and astrology, so this is where we get our instruction, not from a descriptive passage about someone who was an astrologer.

Additionally, there’s good reason to believe that the wise men who went to see Jesus were not astrologers in the same horoscope/tarot card/palm reading/fortune teller sense in which we use the word astrology today. The Greek word translated as “wise men” is magos (magi). Its primary meaning is “Oriental scientist,” a term which was also applied to teachers, priests, and physicians, among others. It would seem that the wise men were much more akin to astronomers than astrologers, and were learned in the Old Testament messianic prophecies as well.

If you’d like to read more about this topic, here are some good resources:

Should a Christian Consult Horoscopes?

Astrology and the Visit of the Wise Men

Were the Wise Men Astrologists?


THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED AT SATISFACTION THROUGH CHRIST.