The Mailbag: Applying Twisted Scripture to Pseudo-“Christian” Events, Ideas, and Fads

The Asbury “revival”. Jesus Revolution. Bethel. The Enneagram. IF:Gathering...

Week after week, we see the ads, the social media posts, and the news stories of the latest, greatest “Christian” thing on the horizon.

Discerning Christians speak up in our churches, with our friends, and on our Facebook pages and rightly warn about the dangerous teachings and agendas these things push.

Other concerned Christians, genuinely fearing the “baby will be thrown out with the bathwater,” push back on those warnings. And sometimes, though they often have the best of intentions, they misapply Scripture or biblical principles to do so.

During the recent furor over the so-called Asbury “revival,” I saw, and was asked about, several of those misapplied Scriptures and principles employed in defense of the idea that we shouldn’t be so quick or so willing to publicly and confidently say something is not of God.

These Scriptures and principles could be applied to a myriad of things past and present, and will surely be employed again the next time a pseudo-“Christian” event, idea, or fad pops up, so let’s take a look at them and untangle them…

These Scriptures and principles will surely be employed again the next time a pseudo-“Christian” event, idea, or fad pops up, so let’s take a look at them and untangle them…

In response to doctrinally sound Christians decrying the Asbury event, one genuinely concerned lady asked:

What about Scripture that says “whoever is not against us is for us” in Mark 9:38-40? How do we apply this? Only God knows their heart, and I’m sure that people did come to know the Lord because of this.

There are several points in her question I’d like to address:

What about Scripture that says “whoever is not against us is for us” in Mark 9:38-40? How do we apply this?

John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us.

Mark 9:38-40

Because we know that God’s Word never contradicts itself, and Jesus never contradicted Himself or Scripture during His earthly ministry, we have to understand passages like Mark 9:38-40 within the context of the entirety of the New Testament. In this case, we understand it in light of…

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Matthew 7:21-23 (emphasis added)


“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?”

Luke 6:46 (emphasis added)

Notice Jesus is the speaker in all three of these passages. Again, Jesus did not contradict Himself during His earthly ministry.

We have to understand that there are a great many people out there who claim to be Christians and who, at first glance, look very much like Christians, but are not living in obedience to Christ, and/or are not teaching what accords with sound doctrine. Scripture calls those people liars and false teachers.

So when Jesus says in Mark 9:38-40 and other passages, that whoever is not against Him is for Him and vice versa, He’s defining “for Him” as someone who’s genuinely regenerated, obedient to Scripture, and teaching sound doctrine. Everybody else, regardless of what they might claim, is against Him according to Scripture.

You might think of it like this. When the disciples came to Jesus and said, “We tried to stop those guys because they aren’t part of our group,” and Jesus said, “Don’t. They’re still ‘with’ us,” it would have been similar to Him saying, “Don’t stop them. They’re doctrinally sound Presbyterians. We’re doctrinally sound Baptists. We preach the same gospel. We’re on the same team.”.

What He would not have been saying would have been something like, “It’s OK that they’re [Catholic, Mormon, prosperity gospel, New Apostolic Reformation, or any other heretical religion that claims to worship Jesus]. They say they love Me, so don’t stop them. Maybe some good will come out of this and a few people will get saved.”

Every week during his pastoral prayer, my pastor leads us to pray for a sister church in the area, and in his prayer, he always says, “Lord, we thank you that we are not the only expression of a Bible believing, God honoring, Christ exalting, Spirit filled church in this area.”

It’s kind of like that.

Only God knows their heart…

That’s not an excuse for failing to exercise discernment as Scripture commands us. God doesn’t require us to know other people’s hearts. He does require us to evaluate their observable behavior and teaching, compare it to Scripture, and stay away from it, warn others about it, and eradicate it from the church if it’s false.

“Only God knows their heart” is not an excuse for failing to exercise discernment as Scripture commands us.

…and I’m sure that people did come to know the Lord because of this.

1. That’s speculation on your part. Is it possible some people did get genuinely saved at this event? Yes, but we don’t have any proof of that. It’s an assumption.

2. The only way someone could have gotten saved at this event is if she heard the biblical gospel of law and grace, sin and repentance, and Jesus’ vicarious life, death, burial, and resurrection explicitly preached or explained. Here’s the biblical gospel. Was it proclaimed and explained at this event? If not, no salvations took place.

3. That idea is pragmatism. People come to Christ in all sorts of horrible situations and under all sorts of horrible teaching. People came to Christ in concentration camps, while they were still Muslims, in Catholic “churches,” while working as prostitutes, while practicing homosexuality, etc. The fact that people get saved while in those horrible situations or under that horrible teaching doesn’t magically make those situations and that teaching good. It means that God is so good and powerful and merciful that, through the power of His Word, He can save someone out of those situations and teaching.

But if even one person got saved, wasn’t it worth it?

Let me begin my answer to that question with another question.

Did you know that several medical procedures that have saved the lives of many people were discovered in World War II concentration camps by performing torturous experiments on inmates? Does the fact that those medical procedures have helped so many people justify the torture the Nazis inflicted on their victims?

Of course it doesn’t. Neither does one person (or even a bunch of people) getting saved excuse, nullify, justify, or make sin and false teaching “worth it”.

Stop and take a few moments to meditate on how high, and holy, and worthy of all honor, glory, majesty, praise, and reverence is God, the almighty King of the universe. Think about the excruciating pain Jesus went through on the cross, and the agony of having every drop of God’s wrath against sin poured out on Him. So that He might bear your sin and mine. So that we could be forgiven and free and saved from an eternity in Hell.

How could we ever say that the sewer slime of committing any sin against that God is “worth it,” no matter what the outcome might be?

No. A blasphemy-fest isn’t “worth it”. God doesn’t consider false teaching “worth it” if someone gets saved. He’s perfectly capable of saving everyone He means to save without such events.

You discerning Christians speaking out against this event should just back off like Gamaliel suggested in Acts 5 and let it play out. If it’s not of God, it will come to nothing.

So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!”

Acts 5:38-39

{Be sure to read that passage in its entirety (Acts 5:17-42), so you can get the context and all the details.}

Sisters, we’ve got to get it through our heads that the book of Acts is largely historical narrative like Genesis or Judges or Nehemiah. Not only that, it is also a historical narrative of transition from Old Testament Judaism to New Testament Christianity. Many of the things we read about in Acts are not to be understood as normative of, or instruction to the church today. (Those sorts of things are mainly in the pastoral epistles – 1&2 Timothy and Titus.)

Such is the case with the Gamaliel passage in Acts 5. This is a descriptive passage (it simply tells us what happened), not a prescriptive passage (instructions for us to follow). And be thankful for that, because the disciples get beaten a lot in Acts 5.

Nowhere in God’s didactic instruction to the New Testament church does He tell us to back off an event or teacher that claims to be “Christian” and just let things play out. Nowhere. Instead, we repeatedly see instruction throughout the New Testament (and even the Old Testament) to be wise and discerning, test the spirits, and have nothing to do with false teachers, either as individuals or the church.

We also have to take into account that Gamaliel was a Pharisee who was still hanging out with the rest of the Council. Know what that means? He wasn’t a Believer. You take Gamaliel’s advice, and you’re taking the advice of a lost person – over God’s instructions – about how to handle a situation in the church.

Gamaliel is not the hero of this story. If he were, he would have believed the gospel the disciples proclaimed, and prevented the Council from beating them and forbidding them to preach. And he probably would have suffered the same consequences the disciples suffered.

Gamaliel isn’t the hero of this story. If he were, he’d have believed the gospel the disciples proclaimed, and prevented them from being beaten & forbidden to preach. And he probably would have suffered the same fate as the disciples.

Finally, though Gamaliel, in his limited experience, could cite a couple of instances in which this rubric seemed to work, we have the advantage of looking back across much more history, over many more years, and in many more places, and we can see that his advice doesn’t always work. How long has Islam been hanging around? Hinduism? Mormonism? Buddhism? Catholicism? Certainly none of those religious movements are of God, and still, here they all are.

Don’t take Gamaliel’s advice in these situations, submit to God’s instructions to the church.

Be careful that you are not calling what is of God as not. Very serious thing to do.

It may not always be meant this way, but this kind of warning can come across as a veiled threat.

Be careful you are not calling something “of God” when it is not. That is also a very serious thing to do, especially if what you’re basing your conclusion on is your feelings, opinions, experiences, and out of context, misapplied Scripture, rather than on rightly handled, in context Scripture.

God can bring good out of anything!

Of course He can. God is out for His glory and the good of His people. But that doesn’t make the situation or false teaching itself good or excusable or that we shouldn’t warn against it if it’s bad. Scripture says the opposite.

When God sovereignly brings something good and holy out of a bad or sinful situation, it doesn’t mean that bad or sinful situation is good and holy. It means God is good and holy.

For example: A Mormon who studies her Bible and/or is evangelized can get genuinely saved while still in Mormonism. (And God will save her out of Mormonism.) That doesn’t make Mormonism Christian or good or biblical. That means God is good and merciful and kind.

When God sovereignly brings something good and holy out of a bad or sinful situation, it doesn’t mean that bad or sinful *situation* is good and holy. It means *God* is good and holy.

Be ready. The next “Christian” thing is just around the corner. Study your Bible and be prepared to correctly apply rightly handled Scripture as you carefully evaluate it according to God’s Word.

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.