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.

Mailbag

The Mailbag: Second Degree Separation?

In your articles about false teachers you state as one of your reasons for recommending against a teacher: “The pastor or teacher cannot currently and unrepentantly be partnering with or frequently appearing with false teachers. This is a violation of Scripture.”

You seem to be advocating what our church calls, ‘Second Degree Separation’.  An example would be, “We separate from Joel Osteen because he is a false teacher and we separate from Bob because Bob often appears with Joel Osteen.” Are you advocating Second Degree Separation?

I’ve never received this question before, but I thought it was a really good one, not just for those who might be wondering the same thing, but to explain a doctrine the average Christian probably isn’t familiar with.

If you’re not familiar with “Secondary” or “Second Degree” separation, the person who asked the question gave a very clear example of the gist of it. Got Questions provides a similar example, goes into a little more detail, and makes some very good points. (We’re going to circle back to that article in just a minute.)

The short answer to the reader’s question is “No.” I neither subscribe to, nor apply, the law of secondary separation when considering whether or not to recommend a teacher. I do exactly what I’ve always encouraged all of you to do: compare a teacher’s teaching and behavior to rightly handled Scripture.

Here is why I recommend that you not follow “Bob” (teachers who yoke in ministry with false teachers like “Joel Osteen”):

1. When “Bob” yokes with people he knows or has been biblically warned are false teachers, he is willfully and unrepentantly disobeying Scripture. I would warn women not to follow any teacher who’s willfully and unrepentantly, despite biblical warning and correction from others, participating in any sin. If, for example, Joyce Meyer were 100% doctrinally sound and yoked with no other false teachers, but were living in unrepentant adultery or embezzling, I would still warn women away from her.

And, I’d like to emphasize regarding all the “Bobs” I recommend against:

  • Yoking with false teachers is not a one time “oopsie” for “Bob”. All of these “Bobs” frequently yoke with false teachers. (Alistair Begg spoke at a 2019 conference that Beth Moore also spoke at, either because he didn’t realize the depths of the issues with her, or he didn’t know she was going to be asked to speak at the time he agreed to speak, or because once he found out she was going to speak, he considered it too late to cancel. To my knowledge, he hasn’t done so since, and he’s on my list of recommended Bible teachers.) Doctrinally sound teachers make the occasional honest mistake. That’s not what we’re dealing with here. “Bob” doesn’t think yoking with these teachers is a mistake or a sin, and he keeps on doing it.
  • Even if “Bob” didn’t initially know “Joel Osteen” was a false teacher when he yoked with him the first time (which, as a responsible Bible teacher and Christian, he should have), he’s been informed, warned, and rebuked by multiple people. (When Alistair Begg decided to go through with speaking at the aforementioned conference, his followers came absolutely unglued, and he heard about it. I personally witnessed many people telling him he shouldn’t be appearing with her and why.)

2. On top of directly disobeying Scripture, habitually and unrepentantly yoking with false teachers demonstrates that “Bob” either does not understand Scripture and doctrine well enough, or does not care about Scripture and doctrine enough to be teaching it to anybody. Why? Because he either does not know or is ignoring the Scriptures that the false teachers he’s yoking with are violating. He is not doing his best to “present himself as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15), and he’s one of the “many” who should not become teachers because he can’t stand up to the stricter judgment James 3:1 talks about.

3. Particularly for pastors (but I see no biblical reason not to apply the same standard to other male and female Bible teachers), yoking with false teachers disqualifies him from the pastorate / eldership, and that’s not somebody I’m going to recommend that anyone follow. Titus 1:9, part of the biblical qualifications for pastors / elders, says: “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” When “Bob” partners with false teachers, he’s not rebuking those who contradict sound doctrine, he’s giving approval to them and their false teaching. He is committing pastoral malpractice and betraying the God-given duty of his office. That’s not the kind of person anybody should be looking up to, following, or receiving teaching from.

4. False teachers influence those who keep company with them. When “Bob” yokes with “Joel Osteen”, “Joel’s” false doctrine is influencing “Bob”: Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” 1 Corinthians 15:33 Birds of a feather flock together. When you lie down with the dogs, you get up with the fleas. I haven’t run across a single “Bob” who is doctrinally sound in all areas except for yoking with false teachers. All the “Bobs” I recommend against are biblically problematic in other areas of their theology as well.

And just to be clear, the “Bobs” I recommend against are not appearing at a conference with “Joel Osteen” or preaching at his “church” and rebuking him or correcting his false doctrine (see #3 above). “Bob” is either preaching basically the same thing as “Joel,” or his preaching is flying enough under the radar that “Joel” doesn’t think “Bob” is disagreeing with him. If “Joel” thought “Bob” was rebuking him, that would be the last time “Bob” was ever invited to speak at “Joel’s” conference or “church”.

And that’s what I want to circle back to in the Got Questions article linked above. The example of secondary separation they give is this:

Secondary separation works like this:
a) Mr. False is a heretic, teaching a false gospel.
b) We refuse to associate with Mr. False (and rightly so).
c) Mr. True, who is a sound, biblical teacher, speaks at a conference where Mr. False is also speaking.
d) We now refuse to associate with Mr. True, because of his association with Mr. False.

Point “c” is a false premise, because Secondary Separation assumes “Mr. True” is doctrinally sound. First of all, if “Mr. True” is known to be a doctrinally sound, Titus 1:9 preacher, he doesn’t get invited to speak at conferences that also invite heretics. Outside of debates (which are different from conferences), it just doesn’t happen. Second, I would challenge anyone to show me a “sound, biblical teacher” (“Mr. True”) who would knowingly (see #1 above) agree to speak at a conference with a heretic. Part of being a “sound, biblical teacher” is being discerning and obeying Titus 1:9 and all the other Scriptures that command us to rebuke, expose, and stay away from false teachers. In other words, if “Mr. True” is knowingly and non-rebukingly yoking with false teachers, he is, by definition, not a “sound, biblical teacher”.

5. Yoking with false teachers introduces “Bob’s” followers to those false teachers. When “Bob” yokes with “Joel Osteen,” his followers understand him to be saying, “I approve of Joel and agree (or at least don’t disagree much) with his teaching.”. “Bob” has just introduced his followers to a false teacher, and many of them will start following “Joel” and being deceived by him. This is one of the foundational reasons why Scripture tells us to stay away from false teachers – it’s confusing to others and can lead them astray.

So when I warn against “Bob” for yoking in ministry with “Joel,” I’m not making the statement, “I believe in and apply the law of Second Degree Separation.” It’s much more an issue of, “Is the type of person who habitually and unrepentantly yokes with false teachers really the type of person you should receive teaching from and be influenced by?”. I think the Bible’s answer to that question is a clear and resounding “No.”.

Additional Resources:

Popular False Teachers & Unbiblical Trends

Answering the Opposition- Responses to the Most Frequently Raised Discernment Objections

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


If you have a question about: 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.

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