“If the church would just _________, the world would flock to us.”
“The world is in the state it’s in because the church has fallen down on the job.”
Over the past few years, I’ve been hearing and reading statements like these more and more frequently. But are they true? Is the world really in such sad shape as a result of the failings of the church?
It is absolutely true that the visible church – everything that wears the label “church” or “Christian,” whether or not it’s biblical Christianity – has a lot to be ashamed of. Westboro. TBN. Homosexual church leaders and members. Pastors caught in adultery. Child molestation scandals. Female “pastors.” All manner of demonic behavior masquerading as “worship,” blasphemously attributed to the “Holy Spirit.”
Even churches with an orthodox statement of faith – which, to onlookers, seem to be doing fine, biblically – water down the gospel in the name of being seeker sensitive, use materials produced by false teachers, invite false teachers to speak at their conferences, fail to evangelize, place women in unbiblical positions of leadership, have pastors and teachers whose main form of teaching is eisegesis and pandering to felt needs, fail to provide for the needs of their members and their surrounding community, focus on fun and silliness in their youth and children’s ministries instead of Scripture and holiness, allow members to gossip, backbite, and exercise selfishness, fail to practice church discipline, make their worship services into irreverent entertainment-fests, have “pastors” who are little more than stand up comedians, and have largely biblically ignorant congregations.
Some churches are spiritually healthier than others, but nobody’s getting out of this one with clean hands. Even the healthiest church is doing something wrong in some little nook or cranny. And as Christ’s bride, it is incumbent upon us, whenever we discover those nooks and crannies, to repent, set things right, and do things biblically as we move forward.
Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. Ephesians 5:25b-27
That’s Christ’s vision of the church. A vision all churches fall woefully short of. And when the church fails in any area, it does contribute to the downhill slide of the world, because it is not being the city on the hill Christ wants it to be, and it is producing individual Christians (or false converts) who aren’t being the salt and light Christ wants them to be.
But is it fair to lay all the world’s woes and sinfulness at the doorstep of the church? Is it really true that if we would just clean up our act in this area or on that issue that we’d magically see an influx of pagans begging, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
No, it isn’t.
The world isn’t steeped in sin because of the failings of the church. The world is steeped in sin because of the Fall.
Look back over history. The world was vicious and depraved long before the church ever came on the scene. And, for that matter, long before God set apart and established Israel as His chosen people. (Hello? The ante-diluvian world? Sodom and Gomorrah? Ancient Egypt? Baal and Molech worship?)
Examine any era in the last two millenia when you think the church was doing a better job than it is now and take a look at the society that church was situated in. The New Testament church? It was surrounded by a world of war, oppression, torture, debauchery, sexual deviance, slavery, misogyny, poverty, famine, and child abuse.
The head of the church, Jesus Christ, spent over thirty years physically present on this earth. We know He conducted His ministry perfectly. Not once did He fail to preach the gospel or provide for people’s needs or fall short in any other way. He even went so far as to lay His life down for the sin of the world. And what impact did that have on His immediate society? Did all the Pharisees repent and temple worship was restored to godliness? No. Did Rome stop ruling the world with an iron fist? No. Did acts of sedition and perversion and persecution suddenly disappear? No. In fact, some of those things actually got worse during and after Jesus’ time.
Just like He prophesied.
You see, Jesus didn’t say, “Be more like Me and the world will come running,” or “The church can solve the ills of the world.” He said:
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 15:19
Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 2 Timothy 3:12-13
The more the church and individual Christians look and act like Christ, the more world will hate, persecute, and ostracize us.
The church is not going to fix all the evils of society. And it’s not fair to lay that burden of responsibility – one that even Jesus’ earthly ministry didn’t accomplish – on believers who genuinely love their Savior and want to serve Him. Holding out the stick and carrot of a utopian world to the church – if only we’ll get our act together – does nothing but breed hopelessness, despair, and futility in the pews.
Does the church have a lot of repenting to do? Yes. Are there right hands we need to chop off and right eyes we need to gouge out in order to facilitate obedience to Christ? You bet. Should we be exponentially more proactive and passionate about preaching the gospel and meeting the needs of a lost and dying world? Absolutely.
But we do not do those things because we’re failing the world. We do those things out of love for and faithfulness to Christ. Christ is our goal, not a changed world. Christ is the prize we’re to fix our eyes on, not a society that behaves itself. Christ is the finish line we press toward, not domestic tranquility and morality.
Because if it’s the church’s job to set the world right, we’re doomed. The world sins because the world is made up of sinners. And the world will continue to sin – even if every church on the planet suddenly becomes perfect – because the world is made up of sinners. But if the church’s highest attainment is love for Christ, faithfulness to Christ, and obedience to Christ, then we are successful in God’s eyes regardless of what the world around us looks like.
Let’s be faithful and trust God to handle changing the world.
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.
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 nottake 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.
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.
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.
An Analysis of Celebrate Recovery Addictions Program Part 1andPart 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.)
“Why can’t we just be taught a book of the Bible?” I heard this again today from a Christian woman hungry for her church to teach her the truth of God’s word. It’s a cry being raised by women from all over, scrounging through the dumpster of “Bible” teaching their church currently offers, searching for something – anything – that will nourish their hearts, minds, and souls with biblical truth so that they might actually be able to grow in Christ.
What’s going on here, church? Pastors? Women’s ministries? Why are godly women starving for the word of God at their own churches? This is a problem. And it’s not a small one. And it’s not going away. It’s getting worse.
My family is a one income family. My husband works hard to provide for us, and we’ve made a lot of (completely worthwhile) sacrifices so I can stay home and raise and home school our children. One of those sacrifices is that we rarely get to eat out, even at a fast food restaurant. That means I cook. A lot. Fortunately, I happen to enjoy cooking, but it does take several hours of work a week. And sometimes, at the end of a long day, I’m tired and not particularly in the mood to spend a couple of hours on my feet chopping and mixing and sautéeing and stirring and roasting. I’d much rather chuck it and have my husband pick up McDonald’s on his way home. In fact, if we could afford it, and I couldn’t cook, and I thought it was healthy, my family would probably eat fast food for supper three or four times a week. I like fast food. My kids LOVE fast food. And why do all that work if you don’t have to and there’s an easier option, right?
But that’s no way to feed a family. It makes people obese and can lead to all kinds of other physical problems like heart disease, hypertension, and digestive ailments because the majority of fast food is high in the bad stuff (cholesterol, sodium, fat) and low in the good stuff (fiber, vitamins, minerals). Not to mention that having other people do the work God has assigned me is the lazy way out.
Yet while it’s easy to see how detrimental and unhealthy it is to feed a family a regular fare of fast food in the physical realm, this is exactly what most churches are doing in the spiritual realm when it comes to their Bible study menu.
“My pastor asked me to teach a women’s Bible study class. What’s a good book to use?”
“Why don’t you just teach them a book of the Bible?”
“Oh, I don’t feel equipped to do that.”
“Our Sunday School class is looking for a new curriculum. Any suggestions?”
“How about just working through a book of the Bible?”
“Our teacher works a lot of hours and doesn’t really have the time to study and prepare like that.”
I hear this kind of thing over and over and over again. Churches aren’t even attempting to train people to properly teach the Bible, and Bible study “teachers,” (often through no fault of their own) either don’t know they need to be trained, or don’t have training available to them, or they’re unwilling or unable to put in the time and effort to be trained and to prepare lessons.
We have classes that need teachers, so we take whoever is available and willing, and we stick them in front of a group of people, hand them a take out bag of McBible Studies written by the celebrity Christian du jour and say, “Here. Feed the church family.”
That’s a problem in and of itself, first and foremost, because relying solely on pre-fab studies due to the fact that no one is trained to instruct the people of your church in the word of God isn’t biblical. The Bible says that pastors, elders, and teachers in the local church body should be “able to teach.” Not facilitate. Not read aloud what someone else wrote. Not “able to work a DVD player.” Teach.
But recruiting “teachers” who are unskilled in handling God’s word to lead a pre-packaged study often morphs into another dangerous problem, especially in the area of women’s Bible study: importing false doctrine into your church. Here’s a list of LifeWay’s top selling books for 2015. Every single non-fiction book on this list that’s likely to be used for a women’s group or individual Bible study (seven of the twelve by my count- which is a staggering proportion considering LifeWay also sells men’s studies, theology books, training manuals, “Christian living” books, and a wide variety of other non-fiction topics, but I digress) is written by a false teacher. Every. single.one.
In my research of women’s Bible study authors and teachers, I estimate that approximately ninety-five per cent of the the female authors and teachers on the shelves at your local Christian retailer are false teachers. That goes way beyond a biblical “diet” laden with cholesterol and fat. Now, we’re talking about spiritual food tainted with E.coli. If you’ve got a woman in your church who’s facilitating a class using materials by one of these false teachers because she’s not competent enough in God’s word to teach the Bible, how in the world is she going to be able to catch and correct the false doctrine these Christian celebrities are teaching her class?
The answer is: she’s not. In fact, her awareness of her own incompetence in Scripture and her assumption that the Christian celebrity knows what she’s talking about (Because, after all, she’s a celebrity and LifeWay sells her materials, so she must know what she’s talking about, right?) will have the exact opposite effect. She will downplay and keep quiet about any nagging doubts – assuming she knows her Bible well enough to even have those doubts – in her own mind that the Christian celebrity is teaching things contrary to sound doctrine, and she will affirm the false doctrine that’s being taught. Then, this harmful bacteria of false doctrine will spread from woman to woman and class to class, and discerning women, knowing that the kitchen is contaminated, will grow emaciated from a lack of clean cuisine to feed on. We end up with a church full of “Bible” study and Sunday School classes that teach fluff and false doctrine instead of the unadulterated word of God. To borrow from Coleridge: “Food, food, every where, nor any bite to eat.” We’ve got a famine of God’s word, right in His very own house.
Church, pastors, women’s ministries- we’ve got to put a stop to this. People teaching Sunday School, Bible study classes, and, particularly, women’s Bible study classes must be trained in basic hermeneutics, the competent handling of God’s word in context, and the ability to teach sound doctrine as well as to refute the false. Do we not believe Scripture, or somehow think our church is exempt from it, when it says:
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. 2 Timothy 2:15
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. James 3:1
Where is our fear of God and our obedience to His word? We would never think of letting an untrained, incompetent teacher teach our children math or science in school when all that’s at stake is their academic education. Why are we satisfied to let untrained people teach the Bible at church when people’s eternities are at stake?
It doesn’t take years of seminary training. I never went to culinary school, but I’m still able to cook and feed my family a healthy diet because of what I’ve learned from others. Pastors can train teachers. Skilled Bible teachers can train others to teach. There are even great materials (like this one that was used in a training session I participated in last year) that can help as you teach people how to teach the Bible.
A doctrinally sound book study can be a fun, interesting, or useful supplement to the regular, straight teaching of Scripture in a Bible study class, but even these shouldn’t be used in place of training teachers. The best theologian out there isn’t a living and active member of that class. He doesn’t know the strengths and weaknesses of the class’s theology. He can’t address their current struggles and questions. He doesn’t love them, care about them, pray for them, and labor in the Word for them.
Only real life, trained, biblically competent teachers can do those things. They are vital and they are irreplaceable.
So let’s quit shoving Happy Meals into the hands of women who are starving for the pure milk and meat of God’s word. Let’s offer some cooking classes and set the table so the members of our churches can sit down to a healthy, home cooked diet of nourishing food that will help them grow to spiritual maturity in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.
And, now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go start supper.
In the days leading up to Wednesday’s observance of Reformation Day, I directed your attention, in part, to the brave and godly women who played a part in the Protestant Reformation. A few days ago, I shared this post on my Facebook page…
Is the women’s Bible study you’re attending preparing you for something like this?
Of course, when I say, “something like this,” I don’t mean only being executed for your faith. I mean something hard. Life-shattering. Devastating. The loss of your spouse. A stillbirth. Your adult child choosing the prodigal life. A terminal diagnosis. Losing your business or your job because you won’t compromise on Scripture.
And it isn’t just the big, life-altering things, either. What about “smaller” issues like humility, serving without resentment, gratitude, glorifying God instead of self, submitting to your husband, patience, and prioritizing your time in a godly way? What about daily life in general?
Praise God, many women can truthfully answer, “Yes,” to my question. Their churches are training them in the Scriptures and discipling them well so that they can face big or small issues in a godly, biblical way.
But if the best sellers shelf at LifeWay is anything to go by, far more women would have to answer, “No.” Something is wrong in women’s discipleship in the vast majority of evangelical churches. I see the product it creates every day: women who run their lives by their feelings instead of the Word of God, women who believe their own opinions and experiences over Scripture, women who attend every study, every simulcast, every conference, every women’s ministry activity, yet whose lives are devoid of the Fruit of the Spirit.
Our churches have far too many weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. (2 Timothy 3:6b-7)
And if you’re consistently getting a defective product, you’ve got to trace the problem back down the manufacturing line to find out what’s wrong and fix it so your product won’t be defective any more.
So what’s going wrong on our discipleship assembly line, and what can we do to fix it?
1. We’re creating false converts instead of true Believers
This is the main reason we see women who can’t or won’t deal with life’s issues – big or small – in a biblical way. They can’t because they’ve never been truly saved, despite what they may claim. And the reason many of them think they’re saved – because they’ve prayed a prayer, walked an aisle, or made a commitment to…something – is that their churches have not taught them the biblical gospel.
The biblical gospel is not “Jesus is a nice accessory to add to your life to make it prettier, like a new purse or bracelet,” or “Jesus will heal you, give you the money you need, or do cool signs and wonders for you,” or “Jesus will help you accomplish your dreams,” or “You’re worthy. You’re enough. Jesus loves you.”
The biblical gospel is raw and startling and offensive: You’re not worthy because you’ve offended a holy God with your sin and rebellion. You deserve death and Hell for your crimes against the King, and there’s nothing you can do to assuage His wrath against you. It is right and good for you to feel guilty and hopeless about that. But because God is good, and worthy, and kind, and merciful, He, in the person of Jesus Christ, took the wrath and punishment you so richly deserve by suffering humiliation and dying on the cross. He endured all of that so you wouldn’t have to. Then He rose again to conquer death so you could live. So He could give you the gift of repentance and faith and credit His righteousness to your account to forgive your sin and make you right with God. You’re not enough. Jesus is enough. And praise God for that!
We need our pastors and teachers to fearlessly and unashamedly proclaim the hard edges of the gospel. We need to train church members to share the gospel correctly. We need to stop reassuring people living in unrepentant sin that they’re saved. If it walks like an unsaved duck and quacks like an unsaved duck, it’s most likely an unsaved duck. And that duck needs to examine herself against Scripture, maybe with the help of a mature sister in Christ, to find out where she stands with the Lord.
If you look out across the landscape of evangelicalism today, you’ll notice the dynamic between women’s ministry and Christian woman bears an eerie resemblance to the dynamic between drug dealer and addict.
Women are hurting or bored or discontent or unsaved, so they bounce from women’s Bible study to women’s ministry activity to women’s fellowship to women’s retreat to get their next hit of Christianese-laced dopamine so they’ll feel better and maybe get a little escape from their circumstances. And Christian retailers, conferences, and often even local churches are right there to peddle the latest designer drug to women who can’t get enough.
Now, don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing intrinsically bad about any of those activities. In fact, assuming they’re doctrinally sound, they can all be very good things! But if we’re using the emotional high we get from them as a substitute for biblical joy, or if we think those things are the source of joy because that’s the dime bag we’re being sold, that’s spiritually pathological.
Real, biblical, satiating joy doesn’t come from an outward activity. It comes from the inner working, shaping, and sanctification of the Holy Spirit – a concept we’ve got to get across to Christian women. Joy comes from gazing at Creation, the cross, the communion of the saints, and remembering – celebrating – all Christ has done, and will continue to do, for us and in us. Joy comes from repentance and forgiveness from sin. Joy comes from worshiping in spirit and in truth. Joy comes from unity with the brethren. Joy isn’t a temporary injection of happiness, it’s a congenital spiritual trait.
3. We’re parking women in evangelical daycare
instead of giving them spiritual mothers
In most churches, “women’s discipleship” means the church has purchased a divangelista’s DVD and workbook package, and provided a room set up with chairs, a DVD player and monitor, and a woman to “facilitate” the class. It’s the spiritual equivalent of glorified babysitting. The kids might have some fun, be entertained, and enjoy spending time with their friends, but it’s not the same thing as having a mom.
Mom tucks you in at night. Mom listens to your stories. Mom makes you eat your vegetables. Mom kisses your bo-bos. Mom disciplines you when you’ve disobeyed. Mom pours her life into you. Mom is there.
That Christian celebrity on the screen doesn’t even know the women of your church exist. She doesn’t know their names. She can’t comfort them when they’re sad or rejoice with them in their blessings or advise them when they need counsel. And yet, by continually feeding women a diet of celebrity studies, we teach them to idolize and become disciples of this woman they’ll never meet. They’ll never watch her serve in their church. They’ll never observe her walk through trials. They’ll never be able to pour their heart out to her over a cup of coffee or feel her arms in a warm embrace.
Christian women don’t need evangelical daycare, they need spiritual moms.
I know this is going to sound like a bombshell to a lot of people, but you can have a strong, healthy, thriving women’s discipleship ecology in your church without ever setting foot in a Christian bookstore. Without DVDs. Without curricula and workbooks. Because women’s discipleship isn’t about parking them in front of a TV and hoping they get something out of it.
What we need is older women who are trained to teach the Bible and show other women how to study it on their own. Real life, flesh and blood, in-your-own-church spiritual moms who don’t have perfect hair and makeup and designer clothes or sparkle with charisma. Women with a few miles on them who know what it’s like to be broke or have a rebellious child or battle cancer or fight for their marriage, and can walk day by day with other women through their trials. Women who are spiritually mature and can set an example for their spiritual daughters of repentance, evangelism, servanthood, humility, prayer, and kindness. You know, the kind of women Titus 2:3-5talks about?
4. We’re teaching idolatry of self
instead of slavery to Christ
“I don’t agree with that.” “That’s just your interpretation.” “That teacher you’re calling a heretic has helped me so much!” “I don’t care what the Bible says, I like/dislike ___.”
I, I, I. Me, me, me. Sometimes it’s because they’re false converts. Sometimes it’s because that’s what the divangelista on the DVD is teaching them. Often, it’s a combination of both. Somewhere down the assembly line, we’re ratcheting up women’s self-esteem with how wonderful they are, that they’re God’s masterpiece, His princess, the pinnacle of awesomeness. By making them disciples of the celebrity they’re watching on the screen, we teach them to value worldly success and fame rather than humility, suffering, and serving. We appeal to women’s fleshly emotions, coddle their self-centered feelings, and in a total misunderstanding of Christian unity, validate their unbiblical opinions and experiences to make sure there’s no controversy or hurt feelings. Is it any wonder we have an abundance of Christian women for whom self reigns supreme? Who think their truth is the truth?
It’s totally natural for self to sit on the throne of an unsaved woman’s heart. If that’s the cause of her self-idolatry, the only solution is the gospel and God opening her heart to receive it.
But we’re doing genuinely regenerated Christian women no favors when we inundate them with homages to self. We already love ourselves too much. We don’t need the church encouraging that, we need the church to help us fight that. And the number one way the church can do that is to stop being afraid.
Stop being afraid of controversy. Stop being afraid to call the names of false teachers who are harming women. Stop being afraid to call sin, sin. Stop being afraid of hurting women’s feelings with biblical truth. Stop being afraid to correct unbiblical theology and opinions. Stop being afraid of an unscriptural definition of disunity and learn what good Christian factions are. Stop being afraid. Fear is not a Fruit of the Spirit nor an appropriate attribute of the church.
Teach women the biblical construct of being slaves of Christ, their good, kind, and merciful Master. Teach them that they are not entitled to any opinions other than their Master’s. They may not hold beliefs contrary to their Master’s Word. They may not think, feel, speak, or act in ways that displease their Master. They are to obey all that their Master has commanded them in His Word. He is the Master. He calls the shots. We are the slaves. We obey.
There are so many ways we’re getting women’s discipleship wrong. These four points are just the tip of the proverbial ice berg. We’ve made women’s discipleship a pretty, pink tea party instead of the hard, bloody, call to die that it actually is.
Why aren’t supposedly Christian women prepared to die for Christ? We haven’t prepared them to live for Christ.
And yet…we can! There is hope! We can fearlessly teach women the whole gospel, the whole counsel of God. We can rehab spiritual euphoria addicts and reorient them to biblical joy. We can ditch the DVDs and divangelistas and give women the Christian mothers in their local churches whom they so desperately need. We can devalue self-idolatry and shape and sharpen slaves of Christ.
We can. And it’s guaranteed to work, too. All we have to do is start trusting and obeying God’s Word over man’s methods, and we’ll be getting women’s discipleship right.
If you are considering commenting or sending me an e-mail objecting to the fact that I warn against certain teachers, 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.
This article is what I call a “clearinghouse article”. It is a collection of articles written by others on the teacher, ministry, or unbiblical trend named below. Either I have not had the time to write a full blown article on it myself, or I felt that the articles listed did a fine job of explaining the biblical issues and there was no need to reinvent the wheel.
Disclaimer: I did not write most of the articles below, and I am not thoroughly familiar with all of the websites used in my clearinghouse articles. 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.
Here 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).
b) The pastor or teacher cannot currently and unrepentantly be partnering with 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 or ministry who 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 at the top of this page.
The Enneagram Not Recommended
Primary issues with the Enneagram: Occultic/mystical origins, false doctrine, undermines the sufficiency of Scripture by teaching adherents to rely on its analysis of their personality rather than the Bible’s assessment of their character and standing in Christ