Church, Discernment, Worship

Throwback Thursday ~ The Way We Wor(ship)

Originally published on May 22, 2013

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And you shall set limits for the people all around, saying, ‘Take care not to go up into the mountain or touch the edge of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death.  No hand shall touch him, but he shall be stoned or shot; whether beast or man, he shall not live.’ When the trumpet sounds a long blast, they shall come up to the mountain.”
Exodus 19:12-13

From Cain and Abel to the Israelites in the wilderness to Ananias and Sapphira, God sets limits on the way we may approach Him. He has always said “whosoever will” may come to Him, but He is just as exacting about the way in which we come to Him today as He was back then.

It’s no small matter that many people in the Bible were put to death for approaching God in anything less than an attitude of utmost awe, fear, and reverence for His holiness. Uzzah touched the Ark of the Covenant. Nadab and Abihu offered strange fire before the Lord. The Corinthians took the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner.

I recently heard Perry Noble, a well known leader of a seeker sensitive megachurch, who has done such things as having his church’s band play AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” on Easter Sunday, say, “I’m willing to offend the church people to reach people for Jesus.” When asked where he drew the line at what was too offensive in church, he went on to say, “I probably wouldn’t have a stripper on stage…” and continued to justify using worldly and irreverent antics in church in order to “bring people to Jesus.”

But Perry has missed the point. Worship isn’t about people and what they like or don’t like. It isn’t about entertaining people and making sure they have some sort of enjoyable or emotional experience. It isn’t about attracting the attention of people.

Worship is about God.

What does God think? How does He want to be worshiped? What does He find offensive?

God is not the God of “anything goes.” If you doubt that, go back to the Old Testament and read His precise instructions on constructing the tabernacle, offering sacrifices, the behavior and duties of priests and Levites, and so on. Anything goes? Far from it.

Christ should be the sun in our solar system of worship. Just as the sun’s gravity exerts just the right force on each planet, keeping them revolving around it in exactly the right path, so, when Christ is at the center of our worship, every song, every prayer, every word spoken will fall into exactly the right orbit around Him.

What about your church? The next time you attend a worship service, sit back and view it through the lens of discernment. Is it designed to make you happy? Comfortable? Entertained? Emotional? Or is every element of the service centered on Christ– His holiness, His sacrifice for sin, His love and grace — leading you to exalt Him and forget about yourself?

Pastors and worship leaders, one day you will answer to God for the way you led your church. Do you design worship services to attract and hold the attention of people, manipulate their emotions, and entertain them, or do you sit at your desk, pray, and consider what will please God, how you can best lift up the name of Christ, expose His glory, and keep things centered on Him? God has not called you to be a shock jock, stand up comedian, or motivational speaker. He has called you to preach Christ and Him crucified.

Let’s stop the silliness and stupidity, and repent. Worship is serious business.

Discernment, Speaking Engagements

Report Back & Video: Sister 2 Sister Meeting

Over the weekend, I had the pleasure of speaking live, via Zoom, to Church of the Open Door’s quarterly Sister 2 Sister women’s meeting, held in Fayetteville, North Carolina.

As this was sort of a “micro-conference,” I taught for about 30 minutes on the topic of Discernment, followed by about 30 minutes of Q&A with some super questions from the ladies in attendance.

If you’d like to watch the video,
please click here.

If you’d like to access the handout that goes with
the teaching session, please click here.

Articles / resources mentioned or touched on in the video:

What is the New Apostolic Reformation?

Is She a False Teacher? 7 Steps to Figuring it Out on Your Own

The Mailbag: Potpourri (…Heretical book disposal) (I think this is the article I was thinking of and mentioned in answer to the first Q&A question.)

Women Preaching: It’s Not a Secondary Doctrinal Issue

Learning from the Sins of Others: Ravi Zacharias

Recommended Bible Teachers

Answering the Opposition- Responses to the Most Frequently Raised Discernment Objections #3, 8

Popular False Teachers & Unbiblical Trends

Tony Evans

Why Our Church No Longer Plays Bethel or Hillsong Music (or Elevation or Jesus Culture), and Neither Should Yours

The Mailbag: False Doctrine in Contemporary Christian Music


If your church or organization is ever in need of a speaker for a women’s event, I’d love to come share with your ladies as well. Click here for more information.

Church, Discernment

Throwback Thursday ~ Build the Wall and Station a Guard: A Plea for Pastors to Protect 6 Areas of the Church Vulnerable to False Doctrine

Originally published August 5, 2016

The Great Wall of China

The Wailing Wall

The walls of Jericho

Walls. Sometimes they go up, and sometimes they come a tumblin’ down. When I was a kid it was, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Now it’s, “Elect me and I’ll build a wall between the United States and Mexico.”

There was a time in history when it was common practice for a city to have a wall built around its perimeter. Walls have historically been built for protection, to keep inhabitants safe from attacking marauders. When Israel returned to Jerusalem after Babylonian captivity, their first priority was to rebuild the altar – their focal point of worship. Next came the temple – to consecrate, or set apart, their worship. And, finally, the city wall – which protected everything, including their worship.

Today, when Christians plant a church, we start off with our focal point of worship, the author and finisher of our faith, Jesus Christ. He is the foundation of the church, the center of our worship, our rallying point.

As the church grows, we consecrate it, setting it apart from other organizations and gatherings by buying or constructing its own special building. It’s not a store or an office or a restaurant. It’s a church. It’s where believers gather to worship, fellowship, and be trained in God’s word.

But somehow we never get around to protecting our churches from enemy attack. Indeed, it hardly ever occurs to most pastors and church members that there’s a need for a wall.

But there is. A huge need. And for some churches, it’s already too late.

Pastor, I plead with you- it’s time to build a wall around your church. A “walls of Jericho”-high wall. A chariot races on top- thick wall. And an armed guard posted at the gate. Not to keep out visitors or people who might look or act differently from your congregation- God forbid! It’s to keep out the false doctrine that’s infiltrating and attacking the Body in so many ways. And some areas of your wall are going to need extra fortification because they’re protecting these six vulnerable areas.

1. The Preaching of the Word

Pastor, the buck starts and stops with you. Are you preaching the Word? In season and out of season? Are you rightly handling God’s word? Preaching sound doctrine and rebuking those who contradict it? Declaring the whole counsel of God? Or is your focus on preaching to entertain, to keep people happy, to encourage giving, or to keep from rocking the boat? Only you can answer these questions. Strong preaching is the first step in building a strong wall to protect your church.

2. The Teaching of the Word

How much do you know about how, and what, your Sunday School, Bible study, or other small group leaders teach? Have you ever observed, evaluated, or interviewed any of your teachers? Does your church have any formal qualifications for teachers? Are they required to go through any sort of training? Who are their spiritual influencers? Which celebrity pastors and authors are they recommending to their classes?

A teacher who is listening to or reading materials by false teachers during the week is going to have her theology shaped by those false teachers, and she’s going to bring that warped theology into the classroom where it will infect the students. A teacher whose main discussion questions are, “How do you feel about this verse?” or “What does this verse mean to you?” is not handling God’s word properly and, thus, not properly training her students. Find out what’s going on in your Sunday School classrooms, and strengthen your wall by strengthening your teachers.

3. Sunday School/Small Group Curricula

Because so few teachers are properly trained, churches tend to rely heavily on the Sunday School curricula to do the actual teaching. Have you examined your curricula lately? Are the lessons anchored in copious amounts of rightly exposited Scripture or are they mainly comprised of inspirational stories and illustrations? Are the discussion questions watered down pablum or do they challenge people to think and search the Scriptures for understanding? Does the curriculum recommend supplementary materials or music from doctrinally sound, or questionable, sources? Does the curriculum recommend “homework assignments” that include unbiblical practices such as contemplative prayer or yoga? Build a solid wall with solid curricula.

4. Women’s Bible Study

This is an area of your wall which needs major fortification. In many churches, it is the primary avenue through which false teaching infiltrates the Body. Is your women’s ministry using studies or materials by a best selling author like Beth Moore, Priscilla Shirer, Christine Caine, Joyce Meyer, Lysa TerKeurst (Proverbs 31), Jen Hatmaker, Lisa Harper, Lisa Bevere, Victoria Osteen, Jennie Allen, Rachel Held Evans, Ann Voskamp, Sheila Walsh, or anyone with “Jakes” in her name? Are they attending conferences, retreats, or simulcasts headlined by any of these people? Then the women of your church are being taught false doctrine. Your men’s Bible study curriculum also needs to be examined, but women’s Bible study is a major foothold of false doctrine.

5. Music

If your church uses KLOVE’s playlist to formulate its worship set, you’re probably importing false doctrine right into your worship service. You’ve got to vet both the lyrics (hymns don’t get a pass on this, by the way) and the artists for sound theology. When it comes to contemporary worship music, the most popular and common sources of false doctrine are Hillsong, Elevation, and Bethel/Jesus Culture. Here’s another good resource.

6. Ecumenism

Is your church partnering or fellowshipping with other local churches outside your own denomination? Are you thoroughly familiar with their beliefs and practices? Are those beliefs and practices biblical? Where do they stand on female pastors, elders, and teachers? Homosexuals as church members or leaders? Abortion? The inerrancy, infallibility, and supremacy of Scripture? Extra-biblical revelation? Signs and wonders? Works righteousness? Do they have a biblical statement of faith “on paper” but stray from it in practice? Not every organization that calls itself a Christian church actually is one by biblical standards, and we are not to partner or fellowship with those whose beliefs and practices do not line up with Scripture.

That’s a lot of vetting to do for a pastor who’s probably already overwhelmed and stretched thin. May I make a suggestion? Don’t try to do it alone. After all, those cities with protective walls hired soldiers to guard the gates. Is there an associate pastor who could take on vetting curricula and fellow churches and conference speakers? Is there a mature, discerning layman or woman you trust who would be willing to lend a hand with researching your music or women’s Bible study books? Do you have a “master teacher” capable of training your Sunday School and small group teachers? Ask your people for help. Use the able. Train the willing. Get that wall built to shut out false doctrine, and station your armed guards at the gates to check out everything that comes in.

The enemy is out there, dear pastor. Let’s make sure that’s where he stays.

Discernment, False Teachers

Throwback Thursday ~ The Perilous Parable of Dr. Shepherd and Dr. Tickle

Originally published January 27, 2013

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Once upon a time, there was a college student who was majoring in engineering. Let’s call her Brie. (Why? No particular reason except that I’m hungry and I happen to like cheese. But back to our story.)

One of the pre-requisite classes Brie had to take for her major was calculus. Brie had heard about the various calculus professors at her university. Some were tough. Some were boring. A few had a reputation for being easy.

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Brie knew she did not want to take calculus from Dr. Shepherd. Although she had some friends who had taken his class and really seemed to know their stuff, calculaically speaking, they had told her that he demanded excellence of his students, had a no qualms about flunking students who weren’t trying and didn’t know the material, and gave regular—and challenging— homework and tests.

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Brie was leaning more towards Dr. Tickle. Everybody said she was really nice and cared warmly for her students. She wasn’t a stickler about deadlines for assignments, taught in a funny and entertaining way, and –most importantly for Brie—didn’t believe in tests. Brie hated tests.

All of the sections of Dr. Tickle’s classes usually filled up quickly, so Brie wasted no time registering, and, happily, secured a spot. She knew she’d made the right choice when, on the first day of class, Dr. Tickle started the lesson off with a one woman skit. She filled the rest of the class period with jokes and inspiring personal stories about her own days as an engineering major. No formulas. No notes. They didn’t even crack the spines on their new text books. Brie felt completely at home and comfortable in Dr. Tickle’s class.

About half way through the semester, Brie was regaling her friend, Tess, with a joke Dr. Tickle had told in class that day. Tess giggled at the punch line, but then her brow furrowed.

“Wow, you’re really taking Dr. Tickle for calculus?” Tess asked.

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“Sure,” replied Brie, “I love her class. Why?”

“Well, I took her calculus class for a few weeks. Dr. Tickle didn’t really teach much actual math. And even when she did teach us a little bit about how to work some of the problems, I checked my notes against the book, and she had completely botched it. She had left out parts of the formulas, and some of the other things she taught us were the exact opposite of what the book said. If I had stayed in her class, I wouldn’t have a clue as to what’s going on in the upper level classes I’m taking now. In fact, I probably wouldn’t even be graduating. I’d really recommend that you drop Dr. Tickle’s class and take calculus from a good professor who knows what he’s doing. I took Dr. Shepherd’s class. He’s tough, but he’s a great teacher.”

“What?!?! How can you say that about Dr. Tickle? I leave her class every day feeling great about calculus! Not once has she ever made me feel uncomfortable or stressed about my calculations. She’s so understanding and kind, and I love the fun way she teaches. I thought you were my friend, Tess, and I thought you were a nice person, too. How could you say such mean things about Dr. Tickle?

“I am your friend, Brie! I want you to be able to understand calculus properly so you’ll do well in the tougher classes that come later. I want to see you graduate with high marks and become a great engineer. I’m trying to help you!”

“Well, I think Dr. Tickle is a great teacher, and I really enjoy her class,” Brie responded coolly, “We’ll just have to agree to disagree.”

There are Dr. Shepherds and Dr. Tickles on church campuses, too. God has not called pastors to stand in the pulpit and tickle your ears with jokes and stories. Nor has He called them to make the Bible and his sermons all about you and your self esteem, your dreams, your health, or your lust for material things. God has called pastors to:

preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
2 Timothy 4:2-5

If you have a Tess in your life who is warning you that a pastor, teacher, or author you’re following is a false teacher, don’t react like Brie did. What if your friend is right? Do you really want to follow a wolf in shepherd’s clothing, or do you want to follow a Dr. Shepherd who will give you the truth of God’s word even if it’s difficult? Check him out. Where? Here are some resources:

Clinging to the Golden Calf: 7 Godly Responses When Someone Says You’re Following a False Teacher

Popular False Teachers & Unbiblical Trends

Is She a False Teacher? 7 Steps to Figuring it Out on Your Own

Discernment

Celebrate Recovery

If you are considering commenting or sending me an e-mail objecting to the fact that I warn against certain teachers or ministries, please click here and read this article first. Your objection is most likely answered here. I won’t be publishing comments or answering emails that are answered by this article.


This article is kept continuously updated as needed.


I get lots of questions about particular authors, pastors, Bible teachers, ministries, and evangelical fads and trends, and whether or not I recommend them. Some of the best known can be found in the blue menu bar at the top of this page at my Popular False Teachers tab. The ministry below is one I’ve been asked about recently, so I’ve done a quick check (this is brief research, not exhaustive) on it.

Below are the biblical criteria I use when deciding whether or not to recommend a teacher, ministry, etc.

Generally speaking, in order for me to recommend a teacher, speaker, author, or ministry, he/she/it has to meet three criteria:

a) A female teacher cannot currently and unrepentantly preach to or teach men in violation of 1 Timothy 2:12. A male teacher or pastor cannot allow women to carry out this violation of Scripture in his ministry. The pastor or teacher cannot currently and unrepentantly be living in any other sin (for example, cohabiting with her boyfriend or living as a homosexual). A ministry or trend cannot allow or encourage any of these things.

b) The pastor, teacher, ministry, or trend cannot currently and unrepentantly be partnering with, yoked to, or frequently appearing with false teachers. This is a violation of Scripture.

c) The pastor, teacher, or ministry cannot currently and unrepentantly be teaching false doctrine.

I recommend against any teacher, ministry, or evangelical trend that violates one or more of these biblical tenets.

If you’d like to check out some pastors and teachers I heartily recommend, click the Recommended Bible Teachers tab in the blue menu bar at the top of this page.


Celebrate Recovery
Not Recommended

Celebrate Recovery (CR) was created by John Baker, a member of false teacher Rick Warren’s Saddleback “Church”. It was “born out of the heart of Saddleback Church” with Rick’s approval and under his oversight, and, as you might expect, is fraught with unbiblical issues at nearly every turn. In the U.S. and abroad, over 35,000 churches and many secular organizations and businesses now offer Celebrate Recovery programs, and over 5 million people have completed CRs “Step Study” program.

CR is open to professing Christians as well as the lost (in the CR program at Saddleback, non-Christians make up over 70% of CR participants – see below), and is modeled after secular 12 step programs (ex: Alcoholics Anonymous). Adapting worldly means and methods for use in the church (though characteristic of Saddleback) is not biblical. The biblical means for helping a lost person deal with addiction is to call him to repent and believe the gospel, and, if he gets saved, disciple him in obedience to God’s Word. The biblical means for helping a saved person who is committing the sin of drunkenness is to follow the steps of church discipline (beginning with a one on one call to repentance and restoration) commanded in Matthew 18, and if he repents, disciple him in obedience to God’s Word.

That CR adapts worldly means and methods is abundantly evident below in the video introduction to CR (found on the CR website’s What is Celebrate Recovery? page):

  • Notice Johnny Baker (son of founder John Baker) and his wife Jeni start with the typical AA introduction: Johnny: “Hi, I’m Johnny and (rather than “and I’m an alcoholic”) I struggle with…” Jeni: “Hi Johnny!”.
  • Rather than finding their identity in Christ who has graciously saved them out of their sin, they identity themselves by their pet sins and/or problems. This teaches people to see themselves (and presents them to others) as helpless and non-responsible victims rather than victors through Christ.
  • The terms they use to identify themselves are secular and psychologized (“addiction” “co-dependency” “adult child of family dysfunction”) rather than biblical (the sin of drunkenness, fear/idolatry of man, and sinful family relationships, bitterness, unforgiveness, or whatever “adult child of family dysfunction” actually means. Jeni defines this term at the 5:30 mark as growing up in a “dysfunctional family that caused hurt in your life…which I think we pretty much all have.” That definition doesn’t do much to clear things up).
  • In the caption “PastorS of Celebrate Recovery” there are two biblical issues: First, Celebrate Recovery is not a church, it’s a parachurch ministry (if it’s functioning as a church, that brings us to three biblical issues with this caption). Biblically, only churches have pastors. If what is meant by “pastors” is that they are “directors” of CR divisions (as the CR website’s Our Team page says) then that is what the caption should say rather than adulterating a biblical term which has a specific meaning.

    Second, Scripture expressly forbids women from serving as pastors.

    And all of that is in the first nine seconds of this 21 minute video.

Another issue made plain in the video is that Celebrate Recovery teaches a false gospel:

At 3:24ff, speaking to lost people, Johnny gives an incomplete (and partially false) presentation of the gospel as a means of differentiating secular recovery programs from CR. Notice the number of times he says “We believe…” instead of “the Bible says…” or simply stating the terms of the gospel as irrefutable fact. This leaves room for lost people to infer, “These are their beliefs, but they don’t have to be mine.”

The facts Johnny states about Jesus’ life and that He sent the Holy Spirit are technically correct, but what’s missing? Repentance and faith. No mention is made of personal repentance of sin or placing one’s faith in Christ – as the Bible defines it – anywhere in this video. In this particular segment, Johnny skips directly from “Jesus died as a sacrifice for our sin, rose again, and lives now,” to “He sent the Holy Spirit to live inside of us.” That is a false gospel. The indwelling Holy Spirit is a sign, seal, and guarantee of our salvation, and salvation does not take place without the repentance of sin and placing one’s faith in Christ.

Johnny goes on to say that “that [the indwelling Holy Spirit] is what gives us the power to find healing from our hurts, hang-ups, and habits”. But the lost people he’s talking to do not have the indwelling Holy Spirit to help them because they’re still lost, because CR’s “gospel” doesn’t call them to repent and believe.

Further evidence of CR’s false gospel can be found near the end of the video. At 20:11ff, Johnny quotes Romans 3:23, and then proceeds to define sin as “mistakes”. That’s unbiblical. A “mistake” is accidentally calling your son by your daughter’s name, or taking the wrong exit off the interstate, or forgetting to carry the one. Mistakes are, by definition, unintentional and usually morally neutral. Sin is always immoral and frequently intentional. We are born with a sinful nature, but we also choose to sin.

Johnny further describes sin as “hurting other people” and “other people hurting us,” and that’s partially true, but that’s where he stops. Again, this is unbiblical. Sin is primarily rebellion against God. God taught us this way back in Psalm 51 where David, repenting of his sin with Bathsheba said, “Against You [God], You only, have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight.” God is the first, last, and ultimate object of our sin.

You’ll probably also notice that even though Johnny uses the word “sin” a few times, he never speaks in biblical terms about everyone’s need to repent of their sin. Rather the terminology he uses is “hurts, hang-ups, and habits” (instead of “sin”) and “healing from your hurts” (instead of “repentance”). This likely stems from the idea in secular recovery groups like AA that alcoholism is a “disease” you need to “heal” and “recover” from like the flu or the chicken pox.

This medical model of sin is completely unbiblical because it removes personal culpability and responsibility for sin, i.e. you can’t help “catching” alcoholism (the sin of drunkenness) any more than you can help catching the flu. Nowhere does Scripture suggest that we need to “heal” and “recover” from sin. Jesus commands us to repent.

Sin is breaking God’s law and rebelling against the holy God of the universe. That’s not the same thing as a “mistake” or “hurting/being hurt by others” or “hurts, hang-ups, and habits”. And we don’t need to “heal” from our sin, we need to repent of it, forsake it, and mortify it.

Finally, Johnny (probably not even realizing he’s doing so) substitutes CR for the biblical gospel. Follow what he’s saying:

All have sinned >> sin = mistakes/hurting others/others hurting us >> we’ve all made mistakes/hurt others/others have hurt us >> “that means all of us qualify for Celebrate Recovery”

Whereas the Bible says:

All have sinned >> sin = rebellion against God >>
we all qualify for the gospel

Celebrate Recovery is not the gospel, nor a substitute for the gospel, for drunkards or drug addicts or anyone else. The gospel is the gospel. And the gospel is what we all need.

Another dangerous and unbiblical component of this concept of “sin is hurting others” is that the CR “gospel” conflates sinning against others with being sinned against under the banner of “hurts”. There is an enormous difference between a man getting drunk and beating his wife half to death and a wife who has been beaten half to death by her drunkard husband.

The Bible puts those two people in two different categories and addresses them discretely and justly. The man has sinned. The wife has been sinned against. The man needs to be brought to justice and repent. The wife needs to be cared for, helped to heal, and ultimately, to forgive.

CR throws both the husband and the wife into the same category because it doesn’t have a biblical definition of sin. The husband needs to “heal” and “recover” from his “addiction” and whatever “hurts” led him to “hurt someone else”. The wife needs to “heal” from being hurt by someone else. Treating the one who sinned and the one sinned against as though they’re the same by placing them in the same “recovery” program is damaging to both because it teaches the sinner he’s not responsible for his actions and has no need to repent, and it teaches the one sinned against that she’s no different from the one who sinned against her.

Now let’s take a look at some of the unbiblical 8 Principles and 12 Steps of the Celebrate Recovery program:

It’s a little confusing as to why CR has both 12 Steps and 8 Principles of recovery, but if I’m understanding it correctly, CR’s 12 Steps are designed to be sort of a bridge to assimilate people already familiar with the 12 steps of secular recovery groups (such as AA) into CR. CR’s 12 Steps are almost identical to the secular 12 steps. (The most noticeable difference is that the phrase “God, as we understand Him” has been changed to simply, “God”.)

The 8 Principles are CR’s own so-called “Christ centered” version of the secular 12 steps, supposedly based on the Beatitudes, and following the acrostic “R-E-C-O-V-E-R-Y”. But the ideas in the 8 Principles are very similar to the ideas in the secular 12 steps. So similar, in fact that each Principle is followed by a notation as to which of the 12 steps it corresponds to. For example, Principle 5 (“V” in the acrostic) corresponds to steps 6 and 7 of the secular 12 steps. And, although it should go without saying, the Beatitudes aren’t about hurts, addictions, or recovery.

So, on the macro-level, CR has taken a worldly philosophy and attempted to “Christianize” it slightly in order to appeal to the lost, which, again is typical of the way Saddleback – the original seeker driven “church” – tends to operate, and which, as I mentioned earlier, is unbiblical.

But what about the micro-level of the individual Principles?

Principle R1, the first half of V, and E2 aren’t bad. It would be better if CR actually cited and explained the Scriptures that teach these concepts and used biblical terminology, but overall these small snippets of the 8 principles are mostly aligned with Scripture. 2.5 principles. Out of 8.

Principle E1 is problematic:

Earnestly believe that God exists, that I matter to Him and that He has the power to help me recover.

Believing that God exists, that you matter to Him, and that He’s powerful is not the same thing as being born again by repentance and faith in Christ. Not by a long shot. The Egyptians at the Red Sea believed in God’s existence and power. The prophets of Baal all believed in God’s existence and power (right before Elijah slaughtered them all). And they definitely mattered to God, just not in a good way.

The issue here is that the unbeliever is not indwelt and empowered by the Holy Spirit to resist and flee from sin. It’s not that God isn’t powerful, it’s that as an unbeliever you don’t have access to, or a right to that power.

Principle C is another big nope:

Consciously choose to commit all my life and will
to Christ’s care and control.

Biblically, there’s no such animal. As an unbeliever, you cannot just make a fleshly decision of the will to commit all of your life and will to Christ’s care and control. It cannot be done without repentance, faith, and regeneration in response to the biblical gospel.

Principle O:

Openly examine and confess my faults to myself,
to God, and to someone I trust.

Sins. “Sins” is the word you’re looking for, not faults. Faults are not equivalent to sins. “Confess your sins to one another,” is what the Bible says. And while confession is a good thing, it’s not the same thing as repentance. A murderer can confess his crime, but feel completely justified in having done it, and be perfectly willing to do it again if given the chance. Repentance is grieving from the heart that you have sinned against a holy God, wishing you had never done it, and striving never to do it again. Also, look who comes first here in this line of confession – not God, but self.

The second half of principle V

Voluntarily submit to any and all changes God wants to make in my life and humbly ask Him to remove my character defects.

As I said above, the first half isn’t bad. The second half isn’t going to work for lost people because it doesn’t biblically identify their problem, which is sin, not “character defects”. And God is not going to remove their sin without repentance and faith in Christ. And if they’re trying to circumvent repentance, faith, and the biblical gospel in order to steal what they want from God, they’re not asking “humbly,” they’re asking pridefully.

Principle R2 is great if you’re saved, since all Christians are supposed to be doing these things anyway…

Reserve a daily time with God for self-examination, Bible reading, and prayer in order to know God and His will for my life and to gain the power to follow His will.

But not so great if you’re in the majority of CR participants who are lost. “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned,” 1 Corinthians 2:14 (emphasis, mine) tells us. And a lost person cannot “gain the power to follow His will” without the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Principle Y takes us back into false gospel territory:

Yield myself to God to be used to bring this Good News to others,
both by my example and my words.

Hold the phone, Henrietta. “This Good News” – capital G, capital N? What “Good News”? The “Good News” of Celebrate Recovery? That is out and out heresy. (And God doesn’t “use” people to bring heresy to others except as a judgment against them.) The only capital G, capital N “Good News” is the Good News of the biblical gospel, which CR has repeatedly failed to present and instead has substituted its own false gospel which is devoid of sin, faith, and repentance.

A final point to consider, and not a minor one, is the fact that Celebrate Recovery is embraced by the world. Contrary to what the powers that be at CR think, that is not a good thing. From the History of Celebrate Recovery page on the CR website:

“Celebrate Recovery is the number one outreach ministry at Saddleback Church, with over 70 percent of its members now coming from outside the church….Celebrate Recovery is not just growing in churches, but in recovery houses, rescue missions, universities, and prisons around the world. New Mexico was the first state to adopt Celebrate Recovery into its state prison system and now has Celebrate Recovery pods in all its state prisons. In August 2004, Celebrate Recovery was announced as California’s state-approved substance abuse program for prisons...We are part of a movement that God is blessing.”

God does not “bless” heresy and worldliness. And if we’re walking in obedience to Scripture and preaching and teaching the true biblical gospel the world will hate us, not love us. I’ll just let Scripture speak to those points:

If the world hates you, know that it has hated me [Jesus] before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. John 15:18-19

Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. 1 John 3:13

They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. 1 John 4:5

You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. James 4:4

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. Galatians 1:6-10

These findings barely scratch the surface of Celebrate Recovery’s means, methods, and philosophy, but I think Christians who value sound doctrine will agree that this information is more than sufficient to warn people away from this unbiblical “ministry”.

If you aren’t a Christian and you need help with any sort of addiction or other problem, let me give you step 1 of Jesus’ program for addressing that: Repent and believe the gospel. Once you’re saved (or if you’re already saved as you’re reading this), find a doctrinally sound church, make an appointment with your pastor, and ask him to point you to someone who can disciple you in obedience to God’s Word. (If you absolutely can’t find a doctrinally sound church in your area, you could seek out an ACBC certified biblical counselor.)

The question is not, “Does Celebrate Recovery ‘work’?”. That’s pragmatism. The question is, “Is Celebrate Recovery biblical?”. And the answer to that question is a resounding no. Celebrate Recovery’s very foundations are unbiblical, and Jesus stressed just how crucial biblical foundations are:

Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.

Matthew 7:24-27

Additional Resources

An Analysis of Celebrate Recovery Addictions Program Part 1 and Part 2 at The Cripplegate

I am not thoroughly familiar with the websites below. I do not endorse anything on these sites that deviates from Scripture or conflicts with my beliefs as outlined in the “Welcome” or “Statement of Faith” tabs in the blue menu bar at the top of this page.

A Way Which Seemeth Right at The Berean Call (This link is not a blanket endorsement of this blog or author, only this particular article.)

Is Celebrate Recovery Biblical? by Chad Prigmore