We who preach the gospel must not think of ourselves as public relations agents sent to establish good will between Christ and the world. We must not imagine ourselves commissioned to make Christ acceptable to big business, the press, the world of sports or modern education. We are not diplomats but prophets, and our message is not a compromise but an ultimatum. A.W. Tozer
Therefore let God-inspired Scripture decide between us; and on whichever side be found doctrines in harmony with the word of God, in favor of that side will be cast the vote of truth. --Basil of Caesarea
Once you learn to discern, there's no going back. You will begin to spot the lie everywhere it appears.

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service. 1 Timothy 1:12

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Some Thoughts on Hymns

Of the hymns we sang in church this morning, two stood out for a couple reasons.

Grace Like Rain. This song takes a wonderful old hymn, Amazing Grace, puts it to a dirge-like tune, and then a chorus typical of contemporary Christian music. My big question is, WHY? Why take a well-known, traditional hymn and re-do it for modern tastes? And to top it off, the new version leaves out important verses! What is really disappointing is that this version has virtually replaced the original in the church.

I’m a firm believer that music should be congruent with the lyrics. For example, one certainly wouldn’t write lyrics for a love song and then put it to a Sousa march, nor would a military fighting song be put to a slow waltz. The traditional music for Amazing Grace reflects the testimony and praise behind the words. Grace Like Rain has music which is dirge-like, without any real melody, as if the singer isn’t very thrilled with the testimony - until the chorus of course. Can you imaging anyone asking for this version to be played at a funeral or other memorial ceremony? My bagpipes will only ever play the traditional version!

The other hymn we sang, which I want to mention, is one I also play on the bagpipes - The Love of God. The tune is really very congruent with the lyrics, and the lyrics are meaty. For that reason, I will close this commentary with the lyrics to this wonderful hymn.

The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell;
It goes beyond the highest star,
And reaches to the lowest hell;
The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
God gave His Son to win;
His erring child He reconciled,
And pardoned from his sin.

Oh, love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure—
The saints’ and angels’ song.

When hoary time shall pass away,
And earthly thrones and kingdoms fall,
When men who here refuse to pray,
On rocks and hills and mountains call,
God’s love so sure, shall still endure,
All measureless and strong;
Redeeming grace to Adam’s race—
The saints’ and angels’ song.

Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

To Train Up A Child?

This week I was asked what I knew about Mike & Debi Pearl, of “No Greater Joy” ministries. The outcome of this question led to my supplying a review of their book, To Train Up A Child, which I did several years back.

“No Greater Joy” is another one of those ministries which tend to divide churches due to legalism. The Pearls were one of the dividing issues in the last church we left, and they have a virtual cult following among home-schoolers. I will say right up front that they have some good teachings, but I can not recommend them.

So now I am going to give you my review of To Train Up A Child. The page numbers are from their 13th Printing, revised August 2000, so if you have a different edition, the page numbers may be different.

For the most part this book has some very good advice on raising children. I can’t recommend it though, because it also has many problems. One of the things that bothered me throughout the entire text was the attitude expressed: they are the experts to be consulted by all. They also project the philosophy that all children need to be spanked (for them it means use of a “switch”) which, from personal experience, is definitely not the case. There are also instances of Scripture-twisting and claiming to know the mind of God. The following are the areas I found problematic:

P. 1 SWITCH YOUR KIDS: "consistently rewarding every transgression with a switching" shows lack of compassion or common sense. Not every transgression warrants harsh punishment. There are many other corrective measures available.

P. 2 OBEDIENCE TRAINING: The book starts with bad philosophy by comparing child training with dog training. If you train a child the same way you train a dog, then you will end up with a child that is not much more than a pet.

P. 2 "TENNN-HUTT!!": Another philosophical problem. Children should not be trained like soldiers. Anyone who has ever watched the movie, The Sound Of Music, will see the problem of training children by military methods. You may get good soldiers, but not good children.

P. 4 TRAINING NOT TO TOUCH: The Pearls call this “training,” but it is more appropriately defined as "conditioning." I call it abuse to set up a scenario waiting for the child to disobey just so you can "switch" him.

P. 5 PLANT YOUR TREE IN THE MIDST OF THE GARDEN: There is no indication in the Bible that God put the tree in the Garden of Eden in order to "train the couple." Reading that purpose from the Scripture is eisegesis. The suggestion is to set some object out to entice the child into a "training session." This is a dishonest technique and can lead to distrust by the child. Why not wait for a real situation for the training? "Switching" the hand is excessive in my opinion; why not just smack the hand?

The next section continues this thought of "baiting for training," but then adds the idea that you want to have your child associate the word "no" with pain. This is not training; it is conditioning. I wouldn't want my child to associate any word with pain.

P. 6-7 OBEDIENCE TRAINING - BITING BABIES: The teaching is to inflict pain on the child who bites while nursing. My wife only responded with, "OW!", which startled the baby, causing cessation of the biting. If the baby bit again, she again said, "OW!" or "that hurt", which again would startle the baby. This method worked with both children and they never suffered any punishment or pain!

P. 7 COME WHEN I CALL YOU: The "booty camp." This is just plain ridiculous; it is a game that is dishonest to the child. Again, the use of real situations is better, because the child will learn the purpose is for protection rather than blind bullying.

P. 8 NEVER TOO YOUNG TO TRAIN: The claim is that a baby's crying is self-centered and manipulative. This is utter nonsense. A baby is in a new and scary world and needs comfort and security. NEVER abandon a child to cry.

P. 8 STEPS TO OBEDIENCE: "Switching" a 5-month-old child for anything is unconscionable. Block the stairs with a gate to protect the child. Punishment is for disobedience, and a 4-month-old doesn't understand the concept yet. If you want Pavlov's dog, then conditioning a 5-month-old is fine, but I prefer to treat the child as what he is; an innocent being exploring a new world.

P. 14-15 GOD-GIVEN SELF-CENTEREDNESS; TO BLAME OR NOT TO BLAME: This section starts with an unscriptural assumption: "For the purpose of moral development, God created us to exist in a constant state of need and dependence." There is no scriptural basis for this claim, so it then becomes a claim of knowing the mind of God! A baby is not really "self-centered" except for the fact that he only knows he has needs. Self-centeredness is a choice of sinful attitude, and that is not what a baby has.

P. 18 WHEN DRIVES BECOME SIN: Pearls say, "God will not condemn a child until he has grown into a state of accountability. However, during this transition, which occurs between the ages of about two and fourteen..." They should have said they believe God will do this, but the Scripture doesn't tell us. Being dogmatic here is claiming extra-biblical revelation. I also believe this to be true, but I certainly think two is an unreasonable age to suggest. I would think more in the line of seven or eight. Pearls then suggest that "responsibility for sin is not imputed unto him until his moral soul is fully functional." We just don't know this, and claiming it authoritatively is wrong.

P. 37 SUMMARY: Infants do not "falsely [represent their] needs to" "get [their] wants met as well." They can't reason in that fashion. What she calls false representation is nothing more than a felt need for security. The whole paragraph is full of this inane thinking.

P. 38-40 GUILT AND SELF-LOATHING; GUILT: Their theory of guilt is much like common psychobabble. It ascribes feelings to children that most likely are not there.

P. 40 THE POWER OF "ABSOLUTION": The assumption that spanking always takes away guilt is unfounded. In fact, there may be nothing wrong for still feeling guilt about something for which one is punished; it may help prevent a recurrence.

P. 42 THE CANE, NOT THE CORNER: This section is definitely only an opinion, with no factual basis. "Dark corners and dark closets breed darkness in the soul. An empty room and a pouting child incubate guilt and anger. Only the rod and reproof bring correction. Somehow children know the rod is their just due." So how were we able to train my children with very little use of the rod (actually, the hand)? We even used the corner and the empty room!

P. 43 TO DO MY DUTY: I think 5-10 swats with the "rod" is excessive. It doesn't take that much to get the point across.

P. 44 INSTRUMENTS OF LOVE: "under one-year-old" should NOT be spanked! Also, the hand is just fine for spanking; it is easier to tell that way how much pain is being inflicted.

P. 46 "Reproof without the rod is equally unbalanced, for it leaves the impression that the law has no teeth." The Pearls obviously have no imagination if they think the rod is the only way to show that the law has "teeth."

P. 48 "Use of the rod is not optional with a Bible believer." Can the Pearls back this up with Scripture? The rod has its place, but if the rod is not warranted, it IS optional.

P. 50 THE OLDER SISTER (begins on P.49): There is no biblical support for the contention that God put the tree in the garden as a temptation - to see what would happen. God knew what would happen.

P. 53-54 STRIKING OUT: Trading blows with a toddler is nonsense. The first time he hits, the object is to be removed from his hand as he is told "NO!" If he repeats the action he should be spanked then and there for the disobedience. Waiting until he has done it for 10 times is ludicrous. The Pearl's reasoning was that he wasn't being mean so it was "training" vs "discipline." Mean or not, the child was behaving in a wrong manner and must be stopped immediately; once he was told "no" it would be rebellion.

P. 56 THE PROPER RESPONSE (begins on p.55): Again the recommendation is 10 "licks". Why so many? The purpose can be accomplished without so much pain being inflicted. It would have to be an unusually stubborn child to need that much corrective action.

P. 57 A SWITCH AT NAP TIME SAVES MINE: Putting an infant down for a nap. The first question would have to be, how old is the "infant"? Babies should be held by Mom or Dad until they are asleep. They can also be carried in a frontal carrier so as to feel the security of the parent. A young child can be cuddled either in a bed or on a sofa while they fall asleep. Again, it is the sense of security and trust that is being inculcated; children need to be comforted even when they are tired.

P. 57 OBEDIENCE: A one-year-old child should never be spanked for not wanting to nap. Spanking should be reserved only for disobedience or rebellion. You can't order a child to sleep when he is not sleepy. Rather than "putting the child down" for a nap, sit with the child, cuddling him and maybe even reading or singing to him to help him get sleepy.

Chapter 10, SAFETY TRAINING: The guy sounds like an ex-drill sergeant. While his method will definitely work, it is unnecessary. Our training was done with real situations as they presented themselves, and it was just as effective.

Chapter 11, POTTY TRAINING: Their philosophy on potty training is, in my opinion, just plain stupid. Using "bathroom" words such as "pee pee" and "doo doo" is inane and unnecessary. We used the words "wet" and "bowel movement." If a child is not ready to be potty-trained it will be frustrating for both child and parent, and can often lead to the child "training" the parent! A three-week-old child, as implied in the one paragraph, is much too young to try potty-training; it is foolishness to suggest otherwise! Even 3-months old is too young. Hosing a child is inappropriate and abusive. I could think of much better ideas that would work just as well for a late-comer.

Our daughter was enticed to begin potty-training when she was about 2 years old because she wanted to wear pretty panties. Our son cared nothing about it until he was almost 3, and, if I remember correctly, he also wanted to wear underwear instead of diapers.

P. 75-76 THEY BETTER NOT MISTREAT MY BABY: This whole section is inane at best. The idea that if you defend your child you make him a "sissy" is utter nonsense. Protecting one's child gives that child security! It matters not that the world is unfair, Christians still must teach fairness because that's how we are to treat others. We do indeed deserve equality, and to teach otherwise is harmful.

P. 80 TOUGH TEENS: "When I was yet young I determined that I would rear no sissies." This tells a lot about the author's thought processes. The idea of ignoring children's falls and injuries to "toughen them up" is ludicrous. There is absolutely nothing wrong with comforting a child who is injured. Yes, teach the child the difference between a real and feigned injury, but the latter should not be a problem with a child who has been raised right to begin with. For example, when a child falls down, checking to see if he is okay gives him assurance that you care about his well-being, even if he is not injured. If he is crying from a minor fall, he can be examined, pronounced uninjured, and sent on his way. Crying at a young age is usually the result of being startled about the fall, and will cease once the child sees he is okay. Comforting a child that is injured teaches that child compassion. It appears that Mr. Pearl is a regular "Mr. Macho" and wants his kids to be the same. One doesn't have to be "Mr. Macho" to not be a "sissy."

Chapter 15: The claim that a pacifier or bottle for grumpiness is leading to obesity is downright silly. The whole of chapter 15 is pure psychobabble, with mainly cause and effect non sequiturs.

Chapter 19: To say, "Never even consider sending your children to private Christian schools" is irresponsible. Why not consider a good Christian school as an alternative to home schooling? Not everyone has the ability to teach at home, regardless of what the Pearls think. And not all home schooling is of good quality! Whether you consider public school would be based on many, many variables. I do believe that public school, in general, is no place for Christians, but I do know that there are rare instances of public schools that don't conform to the norm. This would be a consideration if home school is not an option. And what about states which make home-schooling virtually impossible?

Chapter 20. This chapter is actually very good. The problems with it are primarily in his attitude towards
education, such as saying it should be finished by age 12 or 13, and a few other comments. He is also very strict on eating likes/dislikes and the ownership of toys.

Well, there you have my analysis of the Pearl’s child training ideas. While my words may sometimes seem harsh (“ludicrous,” “inane,” “ridiculous,” “stupid,” “nonsense,”), I have very little patience with people who abuse children in the manner the Pearls teach, and justify it by their legalistic interpretation of Scripture. While they are not as bad as the Ezzos, I could never recommend such abusive treatment of children in the name of "training up a child."

UPDATE 12/20/10:  I have read an advertisement for this book in a Pearl publication, which says this book teaches "God's way of parenting."  Once you claim something is "God's way" and it isn't in the Bible, you've just claimed direct revelation from God and approval from God, and that if anyone disagrees with this book, they are therefore disagreeing with God.  This is very dangerous ground.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Galatians 1:8-9

We are not to be dazzled, as many people are, by the person, gifts or office of teachers in the church. They may come to us with great dignity, authority and scholarship. They may be bishops or archbishops, university professors or even the pope himself. But if they bring a gospel other than the gospel preached by the apostles and recorded in the New Testament, they are to be rejected. We judge them by the gospel; we do not judge the gospel by them. As Dr. Alan Cole expresses it, “The outward person of the messenger does not validate the message; rather, the nature of the message validates the messenger.” John Stott, Only One Way: The Message of Galatians, pp.27, 28.

Why is this so difficult to understand?

Friday, January 22, 2010

What About My Apologetics Qualifications?

Someone asked about my qualifications to be an apologist.  Please forgive the length of this post, and I will try not to bore you too much, but in order to explain 35 years of apologetics study it takes more than a couple pages!

After I was born-again in January 1974, I struggled often with the Mormon teachings coming back to mind, and I had to continually compare what they said with the Bible. I went to the base library and found some material about the Mormons, and someone in the Navigators got me a tape of Dr. Walter Martin teaching about them. I then began thinking that I should try to tell other Mormons of their error, and from then on I wanted to study as much as possible about the Mormons so as to reach those in the LDS, as well as prevent people from joining. That was my first thought about apologetics. (This eventually led to my acquiring a sizable collection of books and journals on the subject, and many official LDS publications, as well as their “Gospel Link” CD).

Time went by, but my first meeting with Mormons coming to our door wasn’t until 1979 in Aurora, IL. That same year we had Jehovah’s Witnesses come to our door, so I studied about them for future encounters. As the years went by I began slowly learning more and more about these two cults because I felt I could reach them. Books about these groups were some of the first in my library.

From the time I became a believer, I tried to read the Bible through at least once a year. But, as noted in my church history, I didn’t go to church (except with Jill’s parents on Easter and Christmas) until 1988. I studied the Bible and listened to Moody radio regularly, but it wasn’t until late 1986 that I began researching denominational doctrines compared to what the Bible said. Of course this meant I had to study the Bible even more thoroughly. And, as noted in my previous article, this was when I also spent a lot of time studying Roman Catholicism. When I decided the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod, was viable, I bought and studied their Book of Concord.

In the Spring of 1988 I bought the first of the many commentaries I‘ve acquired over the years. And while listening to Moody, I heard a program called Science Asks, God Answers, about evolution, and my interest was raised in this subject (I had learned the “Gap Theory” from the Navs, but that theory kept bugging me), so that required the purchase of books about creation.

I’m not positive, but I think it was in 1988, or that period, when the local TV station did a program on Willow Creek and their “market-driven” philosophy. As I watched the program, I was appalled that any church would see this as a way to bring in members. Little did I know then that this would be a major movement.

In the fall of 1988 we began worship at a Lutheran church in Batavia, IL. My wife and I became Sunday School teachers for elementary students (although I changed to high school after a year and a half).

When I was studying with the Navigators, we used the NAS Bible. But while at this Lutheran church I discovered the NIV and bought one (this was the first of a collection that now includes over two dozen English versions). In the church library I began to find more information on Mormons and JWs, and even more about the creation/evolution issue. I also found a copy of Kingdom of the Cults, then purchased my own and began studying apologetics as an interest.

Some of the church members knew I studied the Mormons and JWs, and I was frequently asked to come to their homes when they had these “missionaries” come to their doors. And of course we had our own visits. I acquired more books and, while studying the Mormons, I kept coming across references to a connection with Freemasonry. This lead me to buy and study books on that subject.

We arrived at our new Lutheran church in the fall of 1992 just in time for me to fill an opening for a teacher for their catechism classes. Jill and I again became Sunday School teachers almost immediately, with me again taking the high-schoolers, who hadn’t had Sunday School for years due to a lack of teaching volunteers. Some of my first classes were on cults, and I taught a lot about biblical worldview and how to apply one’s faith in daily living.

In September 1992, after I had been studying Water Martin’s Kingdom of the Cults, the local newspaper had an article about Christian Scientists, which built that faith up as a true Christian denomination. I had been a regular opinion page contributor on various social issues, but this time I wrote a letter exposing the teachings of Christian Science compared to orthodox Christianity. It was then I realized I could be doing this sort of thing regularly. From that point on, I began looking for every time someone misused Scripture in the newspaper, and I would write letters to correct the errors. Over the following years this would give me a lot of experience in researching and properly contending for the faith, and it has indeed been a learning experience! Looking back, I can see how the Lord used this to prepare me for future ministry.

In 1993 I discovered Hank Hanegraaff’s Christianity in Crisis, where I learned about Word of Faith teachings. It was shortly after this, in January 1994, that we began home schooling, and the local group we belonged to had some followers of the Word of Faith. It was as if God had prepared me to deal with this teaching. (Since then I have acquired more books on the subject.)

Meanwhile, over the next couple years, it seemed that there was always some other cult or aberrational teaching that was brought to my attention by friends, relatives or co-workers, and my library kept growing with various reference materials to be able to teach against such false teachers and doctrine, and to learn proper hermeneutics. And I also got more interested in worldview teachings, starting with Francis Schaeffer’s, How Should We Then Live?

Wanting to leave Lutheranism, for our first Sunday in the Cedar Rapids area in December 1995 we went to church with our realtor to River of Life. It was an eerie experience because they are what is known as a “signs and wonders“ church, but I learned some important apologetic information there, and the experience led me to find out what I could about their pastor, Francis Frangipane.

Our next church was a Bible Church. Here I learned that even Bible churches with good teaching can have a love affair with the world and aberrant teachings; they had many members involved in Strategic Level Spiritual Warfare, and the church itself became the major market-driven church in the area. So after six months we began searching until we found another Bible Church (although my son got involved with the Christian Service Brigade here for the next couple of years, and I was able to teach that group about cults and false teachings such as SLSW).

It seemed that the Lord kept bringing more false teachings to my attention, and it was during that first year in Iowa where I learned about the Jesus Seminar. Also during that first year, I took an interest in the field of psychology and counseling (a fellow employee gave me his college Psychology 101 textbook and I was appalled at what I read in it). What I didn’t realize was that this apparently was more preparation for a future ministry.

Well, we moved right into the thick of things at that new church. Their new pastor, who arrived the same time we did, wanted to bring in some strange teachings from the Toronto and Pensacola Revival, which I hadn’t heard of yet. But since so much of what he was teaching was similar to the Word of Faith, I began researching into the whole thing. The Lord obviously felt I needed to know about these “revivals” and “Promise Keepers” (which most of the men there seemed to be involved with). A lady in the congregation, learning of my meetings with the pastor, gave me a book on the “revival,” by Pastor Bill Randles. I went to meet Bill, who gave me more of his books and pointed me to Media Spotlight apologetics ministry for more information. Another member began giving me copies of his Berean Call monthly teaching letter until I subscribed to it.

My library began growing by leaps and bounds and I began doing much more with apologetics. I subscribed to the Christian Research Institute’s Journal, and began alerting people to aberrant teachings, while doing classes for high school Sunday School on cults and false teachings. I became very zealous for this and I wanted to get the truth to everyone who would be seeing false teachings.

The issue of the “revival” finally led to a church split in early 1997. I worked with the elders during this time to attempt to get the pastor (who was worshipping on Saturdays at River of Life) to change what he was bringing in, but he ended up resigning. Without a senior pastor, the elders took turns teaching and brought in guest pastors over the next year’s time. Even with this, the revival influence was bringing about dissent among the congregation and the elders didn’t want to address the situation. This left us looking for a place of worship in November of 1998. (This church has since called a new pastor who has been doing an excellent job of bringing in some stability and sound teachings.)

For the next six months we began church searching again, spending a few weeks at various places while hoping to find a place that wasn’t worldly or aberrant or following after every new fad. We found some that were pretty good, and were trying to decide where to choose when friends we had met in October suggested their church, a Plymouth Brethren Assembly. We began attending there the first Sunday of July 1999.

During our first Sunday, two gentlemen approached me about going to a Bill Gothard conference. I had previously heard the name and had seen some materials at home schooling conventions, but I didn’t know much about Gothard other that that he had some home school curriculum. I told them I wasn’t interested.

The couple who had invited us to this church later told me that Gothard had some very legalistic teachings, and they showed me some material they had gotten in the past. On the following Sunday I noticed the two men approaching another young man, and as the other young man claimed non-interest, they began pressuring him that it was something he really needed for his young family. At that point I stepped in and commented about what legalism I knew of, and suggested they not pressure anyone.

The high-pressure tactics reminded me of cults, so the next day I called Christian Research Institute and asked if they had any information on Bill Gothard. They had none, but knew of work Midwest Christian Outreach had done with him, and so sent me there. I then contacted MCO and they provided me with some good materials. Meanwhile, another individual from church, learning of my investigation, pulled an article off the Internet from Personal Freedom Outreach. I then contacted PFO, who sent me another packet. Both these organizations have excellent journals, to which I began subscribing.

My contact with these last two organizations finally made me realize that it was quite possible that the Lord was leading me into apologetics as a ministry. It was in the spring of 2000 that I asked Jill about starting an apologetics ministry, and, although she wasn’t as interested in apologetics as I was, she was always very supportive, and she readily agreed to the idea. So we commissioned “The Watchman Ministry,” with the name being based on the passages about the watchman in Ezekiel and wrote up a mission statement (at that time I thought I had a unique idea - so funny to find many other similar names in the apologetics field!).

Over the next two years at this church, I taught several evening classes on cults, and at the same time I began general apologetics studies through my connections with various ministries. I began learning more and more about how to properly teach and how to discern, and, more importantly, how to properly communicate the truth. I also got some very beneficial experience putting together sermons, since I had the opportunity to teach in the assembly on four occasions. The elders accepted my suggestion of how to keep the congregation alert to false teaching fads, and I was able to put out a “Spiritual Danger Alert” when something new came up (The Prayer of Jabez and The Alpha Course were my first two).

Unfortunately, this church began having some power struggles among the leadership, and the teaching was becoming “hit-or-miss.” Gothardism was very prevalent, and some of the members were pushing Ezzo’s Growing Kids God’s Way. Then there was the group who were following the Pearls, so there were many controversies. The leadership didn’t want to approach any of it because they didn’t want to cause offense. Finally, there was an issue needing church discipline which the leadership refused to deal with, leading a few families to leave the assembly, including me and my wife. In October 2001 we made the decision to go where we knew the leadership and teaching was good, and began worshiping 26 miles from home at an excellent Bible Church.

We attended our first 3-day apologetics conference in April 2002 in St. Louis, put on by Personal Freedom Outreach. We also attended a 2-day conference for Biblical (nouthetic) counselors that November, which taught us a lot about working with people. In April 2004 we returned to another PFO conference, and in February 2005 we attended another apologetics conference in Kansas City put on by another ministry at the Midwest Baptist Theological Seminary.

Shortly after the apologetics conference in February, I was asked by a friend attending seminary to team with him writing a paper on psychology versus the Christian faith. This was a very interesting research paper to do, proving the two fields to be incompatible.

For 14 weeks in the summer of 2005 I taught adult Sunday School on cults and false teachings. Later that year we attended another Biblical counselors’ conference.

We attended another PFO conference in April 2006, a Biblical counselors’ conference in April 2007, and then another PFO conference in 2008. We will be attending another PFO conference this coming April.

It was during the fall of 2007 that a pastor friend of mine told me that, since I had an apologetics ministry, I should do a blog. He is the one who helped me set it up.

My personal library now has over 1000 volumes, all of which I have studied. Subjects range from various cults and aberrant teachings, to commentaries, church leadership, church history, teachings of the early church “fathers,” psychology, nouthetic counseling, social issues, worldview teachings, systematic theology, marital counseling, humanism, many journals, devotionals, creation, Intelligent Design, etc.

Members of my church congregation who are looking for information about false teachings frequently come to me, especially after I taught the adult Sunday School class. Additionally, a local pastor uses me as his resource for all apologetics needs. My wife and I have done family counseling, pre-marital counseling, marital counseling and counseling with people going through divorce.

So the question on the table is, what qualifies me to teach apologetics - what training in this field do I have? As you can see from this narrative, my education has been an eclectic one of self-study and attending various conferences, and my experience with teaching the subject has been in various venues over many years, where I have been approved as an apologetics teacher by many church leaders.

I leave the question as to whether I am qualified for the apologetics ministry up to the reader of my blog.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Biblical Discernment

Charles Spurgeon once said, “Discernment is not knowing the difference between right and wrong. It is knowing the difference between right and almost right.”

This post is just going to be some Bible passages to make you think about rightly understanding God’s Word and defending it. There are many, many passages I could have chosen, but these are some of my favorites. May they be thought-provoking for you. (All are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.)

They read the book of the law of God, translating and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was read. Nehemiah 8:8

To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, there will be no dawn for them. Isaiah 8:20

The people here [Berea] were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, since they welcomed the message with eagerness and examined the Scriptures  daily to see if these things were so. Acts 17:11

Instead, we have renounced shameful secret things, not walking in deceit or distorting God’s message,  but in God’s sight we commend ourselves to every person’s conscience by an open display of the truth.  2 Corinthians 4:2

For although we are walking in the flesh, we do not wage war in a fleshly way, since the weapons of our warfare are not fleshly, but are powerful through God for the demolition of strongholds. We demolish arguments and every high-minded thing that is raised up against the knowledge of God, taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:3-5

Then we will no longer be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit. Ephesians 4:14

Be careful that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit based on human tradition, based on the elemental forces of the world, and not based on Christ. Colossians 2:8

Don’t despise prophecies, but test all things. Hold on to what is good. Stay away  from every form of evil.
1 Thessalonians 5:19-22

Now the Spirit explicitly says that in the latter times some will depart from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits  and the teachings of demons, through the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared.
1 Timothy 4:1

Be conscientious about yourself and your teaching; persevere in these things, for by doing this you will save  both yourself and your hearers. 1 Timothy 4:16

Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you, avoiding irreverent, empty speech and contradictions from the “knowledge” that falsely bears that name.  By professing it, some  people have deviated from the faith.
1 Timothy 6:20-21

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who doesn’t need to be ashamed, correctly teaching the word of truth. 2 Timothy 2:15

Proclaim the message; persist in it whether convenient or not; rebuke, correct, and encourage with great patience and teaching. For the time will come when they will not tolerate sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, will accumulate teachers for themselves because they have an itch to hear something new.  They will turn away from hearing the truth and will turn aside to myths. 2 Timothy 4:2-4

...always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason  for the hope that is in you.
1 Peter 3:15

I found it necessary to write and exhort you to contend for the faith that was delivered to the saints once for all. Jude 3

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to determine if they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 1 John 4:1

Always remember that apologetics is the handmaiden to the Gospel, and that discernment is the immune system of the church.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Train Up A Church In the Way It Should Go

I borrowed today’s title from a section of the introduction to Brannon Howse’s new book, Grave Influence. I just started this book last night and only finished the introduction, but Brannon had some profound thoughts which I want to share here with you. His introduction mentions much of what I have been observing and complaining about for years. Now listen to Brannon:

The church in America has had billions of dollars at its disposal in modern times. In theory, this money has been available to fulfill the Great Commission - making disciples of Jesus Christ. Training and equipping adults and students in apologetics and a Biblical worldview is how this is accomplished. Yet, with all of its monetary resources, the Church has largely failed. Untold billions have been spent on buildings and entertainment rather than establishing Christians in the faith.

... Most churches do not care to do this work of creating followers of Jesus Christ. They are too concerned about maintaining and growing a club complete with social activities, entertaining programs, and multi-million dollar buildings.

You may think I’m being too harsh, but in fact, I’m being reserved in my criticism. Yes, some churches are led by godly pastors. But from what I’ve seen of the congregations in America, these faithful churches represent merely a remnant.

How hard is it to train adults and youth pastors to teach apologetics and a Biblical Worldview? Not that hard. You simply have to want to train a church staff, Sunday School teachers, parents, and grandparents to do it. The typical evangelical church prefers, rather, to simply provide people with employment, to make those who show up on Sunday morning feel comfortable, and to provide activities for the kids so they stay out of trouble. Most evangelical churches do not have a comprehensive Biblical worldview curriculum for kindergarten through adult. There are no benchmarks, no tests, no building one year of training on the previous year. There is no interest in teaching “line upon line and precept upon precept.”

And herein lies one of our greatest areas of surrender. The Church may not be interested in instructing our kids, but many others “out there” salivate over the opportunity. Humanist and educator Charles Francis Potter, in his book, Humanism: A New Religion, understood the prospects for equipping students to know what they believe and why they believe it:

Education is the most powerful ally of Humanism [atheism], and every American public school is a school of Humanism. What can the theistic Sunday Schools, meeting for an hour once a week, and teaching only a fraction of the children, do to stem the tide of a five-day program of humanistic teaching?

“Ah,” you say, “but what about those students that attend a Christian school?” Numerous studies reveal that Christian school students have a worldview almost identical to those in the public school system. Why? Because the average private, Christian school in America is far more “private” than it is “Christian.” While there are a few Biblical worldview Christian schools, there aren’t many, and it is for essentially the same reason that we don’t have many solid Bible-teaching churches. Their goal is not Christian education, the leadership often lacks a comprehensive Biblical worldview, and the focus is more about how many people attend, whether or not the bills get paid, and how popular it is in the community. Christian schools put more effort into their sports programs than into their Bible curriculum. I attended a Christian school growing up and have spoken in enough of them to have seen this problem firsthand, over and over again.

Brannon, I whole-heartedly agree with everything you said! I am looking forward to reading the rest of this book.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

My Church Experience

In order to understand where I come from, I thought I’d give you a bit of my church history.  If nothing else, it will show some of the experiences I’ve had!

I was raised in an unbelieving family, but it was impossible in those days not to learn a little bit about God while attending the public schools. For whatever reason, Mom sent us kids to Vacation Bible School for four years (me age 8, 9, 10, 11).

Now, as with all Sunday School and VBS I've been familiar with as an adult, they taught us all the cute stories of the Bible: Adam and Eve, Noah and the ark, Moses, Jonah and the whale, David & Goliath, a shepherd named Jesus, and even a story about Paul being let down over the wall in a basket. I never did figure out why the stories from that book called the Bible were so important. There was never in my understanding a connection between the stories, or what it all meant to me. VBS apparently failed to tell the Gospel message among the cute stories.

When I was 12-years old my parents divorced and my brother and I were given to my father's custody, while my 3 sisters remained with my mother. My father, as I later learned, had some unusual ideas about religion. He was also a firm believer in reincarnation. When I was in the 7th grade my father became a Mormon. I had no idea what that meant except that he now went to a church sometimes.

When I was 15 my brother and I went to live with my mother. I went to church once while living with her; this was when my sister went to a Catholic church with her boyfriend. The service was mostly Latin and incomprehensible to me. I found it very intimidating and scary.

By the time I was a senior in high school, I had found Erich Von Daniken's book, Chariots of the Gods. The premise of this book was that God was a space man, and all the advanced civilizations of the past were that way with the help of space travelers. The book had as its root philosophy evolution, which public school had taught me as the truth. The author had a very convincing argument for many Bible passages that supposedly described space travelers' visits. The Ark of the Covenant was even identified as a radio transmitter for talking to the space-man god. I was thoroughly hooked on this theory of God and the Bible.

With this background, you can see how easy it was for me to be proselytized by a Mormon in October 1970, when I was 18 and in combat engineer training. With the Mormon doctrine of eternal progression, I learned that God indeed was living on another planet and that we were all his spirit children who came to earth to work our way to heaven by following his many laws and being a good person. I gave no thought to searching the scriptures - I just let the elders lead me to all the proof texts. The book of Mormon read just like the King James Bible, so it had to be the word of God. I became a very good Mormon.

On Christmas Eve I was on guard duty late at night. It was clear, and as I looked to the heavens I prayed to God that he would reveal himself to me as he did to Joseph Smith. I was truly seeking God, and I believe God honored that prayer. James 4:8 says, Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. (NAS) It just took a while for me to listen.

There is a progression of teaching in any cult wherein you are slowly led into the more esoteric doctrines. You only learn things as your brainwashing can tolerate the information. I was short-circuited in this process, obviously by God's doing. During the summer of 1971 I strolled into a Christian book store; after all, I was a Christian. I immediately found a tract titled something like, What do Mormons Believe? I picked up this tract and began reading the most shocking things I could imagine. Rather than telling you all I learned, I’ll just say that I took my concerns to the church, where I was basically told that I shouldn't worry about such distortions from “Gentiles,” and that I was to forget all about it. But I couldn't forget the stuff I read and over the next few months I checked things the tract said against my Gideons New Testament which I had received on entering active duty. I found things didn't make sense with the Mormon teaching. But I also didn't understand most of what I was reading, and just became angry that I had been duped.

I decided the Mormons had been right about God living on another planet because that's what I had believed before, so that's sort of how I left my faith; faith in a space man that could send me to Hell. It just didn't matter. All I knew was that I would no longer be a Mormon.

By the summer of 1973 I had taken several honors for leadership in various settings and had gotten a reputation as an excellent soldier among my unit of paratroopers. This landed me a job in headquarters company as an operations clerk. This also put me in an office with a Christian man named Dan Cook.

Sometime that fall Dan invited me to play soccer with him and a bunch of his friends. At the first game I learned there was something different because they opened with prayer. Soon I learned about this group known as The Navigators. By late November I began going to Bible study with them as they taught me the true Gospel of Jesus, and in January of 1974 I came to confess Him as my Lord and savior. From that point on, I attended weekly Bible study and attended chapel services.

An important side note is that on August 1st that same year, during my last leave, I met Jill, the girl who would become my wife two years later. Her family were Lutherans (LCMS).

I left the Army and my Navigator group at the end February 1975, and settled in Columbus, OH, where Jill was going to Ohio State. I didn't go to church because I was afraid of false teaching. Of course, beginning in April that year I had to work Sundays, so that kept me from even thinking about church. I married Jill in August 1976, and in September 1978 we left Columbus for a new job with the FAA in Aurora, IL. The new job still had me working most Sundays.

Although Jill and I would study the Bible together, and I read it all the way through several times, there was no real spiritual growth in our lives until we determined we needed to raise our children in the church. That was late 1986, and I began studying scripture, church doctrines, church history and anything that could help us decide what denomination would be best. A friend at work decided this was a good time to talk me into becoming a Roman Catholic, but all the stuff he taught me about the church just led me into deeper and deeper study to where I rejected Catholicism totally.

We moved several miles north to Geneva in May 1988. I began an even deeper relationship with the Lord through prayer, and studies, and I finally determined that the LCMS was indeed a church we could attend. So that fall we began worship at a Lutheran Church in Batavia.

When our pastor began teaching Big Bang from the pulpit, we spent the summer of 1992 looking for another place of worship. One of the places we visited a few times was a charismatic Lutheran church, in which were many displays of unbiblical “tongues.” We finally settled in at a Lutheran church in West Chicago.

Although for the most part I agreed with Lutheran doctrine, I was always unsettled by consubstantiation and baptismal regeneration. Also, their focus seemed to be much more on tradition than on Scripture, and even then they were heavy on law and light on grace. We had begun home schooling during this time and learned about non-denominational churches, and, had we stayed in Illinois we would have begun attending one. However, in September 1995 I was approved for a transfer to the Cedar Rapids, IA control tower effective December 1st, so we stayed at our church until moving.

For our first Sunday in the Cedar Rapids area, we went to church with our realtor to River of Life. It was an eerie experience because they are what is known as a “signs and wonders“ church, led by Francis Frangipane, who at that time I had never heard of. The next week a huge snowstorm kept us home.

For our third Sunday that December, we attended a Bible Church in Cedar Rapids. Their pastor was an excellent teacher, and the church was fundamental in doctrine. We stayed there for about six months, but by then we were seeing how much of Willow Creek’s “market-driven” programs were being brought in (they are now totally “seeker-sensitive”).

During the summer of 1996 we left “Willow Creek Cedar Rapids,” and decided to start “church shopping.” We attended other Bible churches, independent Baptist churches and an Evangelical Free Church. Some we’d visit for only the one day while others we’d attend for a few weeks. Finally, in December, we went back to one Bible church we had attended for a few weeks in the summer.

We started attending that Bible church just as they got a new pastor to replace the one who left for another ministry. This new guy wanted to bring in all sorts of charismania, and there was a faction in that church who wanted to bring in the current “Pensacola Revival.” We had made some friends there within the first few weeks, so I started meeting with the new pastor to talk to him about his unbiblical ideas. After two months the church split and another body was formed by many who couldn’t accept the new pastor. Others who didn’t want the new teachings decided they weren’t going to be forced out, and I found myself working with them to either change the pastor’s mind about his weird doctrine or force him to leave. The pastor was finally ousted in November 1997. Some of the more solid elders took over the leadership and teaching while a search for a new pastor was underway. We decided to stay and help where we could.

Over the next year there continued to be lots of infighting among the congregation, and I worked with the elders to try to establish a doctrinal statement, which they never had. So much strife was taking place that teaching suffered. I was nominated for the elder board, but by that time we had decided the majority wanted to go charismatic, so we left to church shop again at the end of November 1998.

By the end of January 1999 we had decided to try the spit-off group, and we stayed there for a few months. They had fair teachings, but leadership wasn’t coming together well, and they wanted more contemporary, rock-type music; we couldn’t live with that and went back to “shopping.”

We had met a family the previous October who attended a local Plymouth Brethren Assembly. They invited us to their church and we began attending there the first week of July 1999. I discovered that Plymouth Brethren have a good reputation for solid Bible teaching, although some assemblies are quite legalistic. This assembly was an “Open Brethren” assembly, which wasn’t too legalistic. It was a fair place to attend, and we liked their style of worship. However, this particular assembly had the local representative for Bill Gothard among them, and many members were followers. There was also a group who followed the Ezzos and another who followed the Pearls. The leadership in this particular assembly was weak and didn’t want to address any false teachings for fear of offending people. And the teaching was hit or miss. By the summer of 2001, we had decided we needed to find a place with better leadership and better teaching, but then in September there was an issue of sin in the assembly that the leadership didn’t want to address. This caused us and a few other families to leave.

Long before our departure, our next-door neighbors had invited us to their church, which was 35 minutes away. We always said it was too far to go (they had worshiped there before moving next to us). Over the many years since we came to Iowa, we had heard from many Christians that the Bible church our neighbors attended was well respected for it’s teachings and leadership, but the distance was always a reason to not consider it as an option for us. However, with this latest issue, we decided to take a chance and drive the distance. We began our attendance at our current church in October 2001, and can only wish we had gone there in December 1995!

My advice would be to never, ever worship at a church with poor leadership, no matter how good the teaching may be. Poor leadership will permit sin and false teachings to run rampant, which will destroy the assembly.

UPDATE 8/23/15:  The leadership in this assembly decided in the fall of 2014 that they wanted to be more "relevant" to the culture, to the point of being "market-driven lite."  They brought in a "worship pastor" who decided that a concert atmosphere would be the paradigm of the worship service, and much of the songs were from Hillsong and Vineyard, many with very questionable lyrics.  Protests to the leadership was to no avail.  So we left that assembly for another local body where the pastor was someone we knew was fundamental.  The moral of the story is that even solid churches nowadays seem to think they have to be "relevant," as they continue to forget their first love -- Christ and His Gospel.

UPDATE 7/24/21: The church we began attending in February 2015 was a Baptist church. Very good teaching but their music often included contemporary stuff, most of which was okay but often included Hillsong material. After speaking to their music leader about Hillsong problems that was the end of their music. However, the "band" volume kept getting louder and many older people would spend music time in the entry-ways and hallways. I spoke to the pastor and he told me I needed to talk to the "worship pastor" (music leader), which I did. And I did again. Volume never changed and with my hearing aids I couldn't take it any more and told the pastor we had to leave for quieter surroundings; we really liked him because he is a good teacher and shepherd, and I couldn't understand why he had no authority over the volume.

Meanwhile, the man who used to be the music leader at the church we were at for 13 years had been shopping for another church just like us. He and his wife visited the Baptist church but kept looking until they settled in at the PCA church in the town in which we live -- a 30 min drive for them. We had attended a couple Christmas Eve services there because our very good friends who left the Brethren church when we did were going there. We also discovered another family we knew from "Willow Creek Cedar Rapids."  This family weren't Calvinists nor were our good friends from the PB church. And certainly our friends (the previous church music leader) weren't Calvinists but they told of the excellent teaching and fundamental music so I was intrigued. Then I met the PCA pastor and told him I wasn't a Calvinist and he said many in his congregation weren't. So we began going off and on (while still attending the Baptist church on the first Sundays when they did communion and no band) beginning May of 2018 until early spring 2019 when we settled permanently at the PCA church. Yes Calvinism comes up now and then in a sermon or hymn, but we just shrug it off with giggles. Our good friends (the ex-music leader) will discuss those times with us, and the husband often leads the music at the PCA now.

The pastor was an excellent teacher and wonderful shepherd but for family and health reasons he had to relocate in a southern state, so we have an interim pastor, but he seems to be okay.

Friday, January 15, 2010

How Deep The Father's Love For Us

This is one of my favorite contemporary hymns, because it has some good "meat."

How deep the Father’s love for us, how vast beyond all measure;
that He should give His only Son to make a wretch His treasure.
How great the pain of searing loss, the Father turns His face away
as wounds which mar the Chosen One bring many sons to glory.

Behold the man upon a cross, my sin upon His shoulders.
Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice call out among the scoffers.
It was my sin that held Him there until it was accomplished.
His dying breath has brought me life. I know that it is finished.

I will not boast in anything - no gifts, no power, no wisdom.
But I will boast in Jesus Christ, His death and resurrection.
Why should I gain from His reward? I cannot give an answer.
But this I know with all my heart; His wounds have paid my ransom.

Stuart Townend.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Is the “Community of Christ” a Christian Church?

Because of an e-mail I received about my articles on Beth Moore, I was looking over the comments posted on the articles and came across one in which the author questioned why, in my response to another commenter, I called the Community of Christ a “cult.” I started wondering how many people think they are a Christian church and do not know they are actually a spin-off Mormon denomination.

In the April 2001 the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints officially changed their name to Community of Christ. The purpose of the new name was to eliminate confusion with the Utah church, but it also makes them appear as more orthodox in their teachings. Their cars will have the Christian fish logo, their churches will have crosses and their services will use mainline Christian songs and choruses. And they tend to refer to the Bible more than the Book of Mormon. But are they Christian?

I’m going to give a short (somewhat) history of the Community of Christ so you can see where they come from. Quotations in this article will be from Reorganized Latter Day Saint Church: Is It Christian? by Carol Hansen. Much of this history is also available on the church’s web site.

Joseph III was only 11 1/2 when his father, Joseph Smith, Jr., was killed, but he had already been appointed by his father as his successor. Brigham Young told Smith’s wife, Emma, that if it were known that Joseph III was to succeed, then his life would be in danger, so Young eventually took over control of the church through his presidency of the apostles.

During the split of 1844-45 numerous factions spread across the U.S., many of which rejected the polygamy doctrine. When the main body left for Utah in 1846, Emma stayed behind and remarried a “gentile.” She claimed that polygamy was brought in by Brigham Young and that Joseph had nothing to do with it, hence she taught her son Joseph III this lie.

“Beginning in late 1851 some leaders in these independent congregations began receiving spiritual messages indicating that…Joseph III would eventually become leader of the church.” The many groups held a conference in Beloit, WI to organize into a single body, the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (RLDS). Over the next few years they kept asking Joseph III to lead them, but he always refused. During this time he also received requests from the Utah church to join them, but he refused them because of polygamy.

In 1859 Joseph III began receiving spiritual manifestations telling him to take over the new body, so he went to their conference in April 1860 in Amboy, IL and accepted the presidency. Emma then joined the new organization.

Significantly, Emma and her new husband had the manuscript of Joseph, Jr’s translation of the Bible, which is still published as the Inspired Version. This version is not a translation, rather it is Joseph’s additions and “corrections” as he saw fit.

In 1866 the church headquartered in Plano, IL and then moved in 1881 to Lamoni, IA. Under Joseph III the RLDS established Graceland College in Lamoni.

The RLDS maintained for years that Joseph, Jr. had nothing to do with the polygamy revelation, blaming it instead on Brigham Young and John C. Bennet, but the evidence for Smith’s authorship is overwhelming. Joseph III spent much of his time trying to clear his father’s name of the polygamy revelation. (Only recently has the RLDS come to admit Joseph may have had some input.) The RLDS also disowned much of what happened in the Nauvoo period, including baptism for the dead, eternal progression, celestial marriage and other secret temple ceremonies. They claim that Joseph became a fallen prophet during this period.

As one of their tenets, the RLDS required prophet succession from Joseph III; Joseph III’s son, Frederick Madison Smith, took over the reigns of the presidency in 1915 when his father died. Frederick experimented with peyote, believing that “chemical ecstasy might play a role in reaching… heights of power and insight.” “He believed that the peyote experience first released, then enhanced the human mind toward creative expansion, and he encouraged others to use the drug.” Frederick urged the church to endorse its use and then wrote a book called The Higher Powers of Man, advocating peyote use even in the educational system. His book also expounded the use of hypnotism and occultic practices such as deep meditation and trances. His lead eventually brought the RLDS into many New Age practices that are currently in the church. In fact, in 1995 New Age author M. Scott Peck received the peace award in the RLDS temple in Independence.

Frederick was very dictatorial and not well liked. Tithing decreased and more than a third of the membership left active participation until he was dead. Under his leadership the headquarters was moved to Independence, MO, because that’s where Joseph, Jr said Zion would be.

In 1946 Joseph III’s son Israel became president of the RLDS at the age of 70. He brought the church back together and sent missionaries around the world, but he also laid groundwork to bring liberal teaching into the RLDS. Israel was killed in a car crash in 1958 and his brother W. Wallace Smith became president for 20 years until his retirement in 1978.

Under Wallace’s leadership a “reformation” took place. “Many in the RLDS hierarchy began attending St. Paul’s School of Theology, a Methodist seminary that opened in Kansas City, Missouri in 1959. This accelerated the church’s shift away from Joseph Smith’s restoration theology to a more liberal Protestant one.”

Wallace had some revelations to support his changes, of course. The first revelation “gave him the right to reinterpret previous revelations in order to make them relevant today.” “The second revelation was given in order to promote a ‘social gospel’ more in line with liberal Protestant churches. It reads, ‘You who are my disciples must be found continuing in the forefront of those organizations and movements which are recognizing the worth of persons.’… This revelation has been interpreted by the leadership to promote the social acceptance of questionable behaviors such as homosexuality.”

Wallace’s ambition was to expand RLDS into a global church, and he worked toward that end with missions and changes in the church teachings.

Wallace B. Smith took over his father’s position in 1978. Under him the building of the temple in Independence was started. He continued his father’s lead in removing some of the original restoration beliefs and became more liberal, which caused many factions. In 1984 the continued departure from original teachings led to Smith’s revelation of the acceptance of women into the priesthood. This caused a split in the church, with about 25,000 “Restorationists” breaking off, calling themselves RLDS in name but no longer attached to the mother church. The Restorationists are looking forward to a new prophet to lead them.

Meanwhile, the RLDS in 1996 made their first departure from a direct descendant of Joseph Smith leading the church when they ordained Grant McMurray as president when Wallace retired. McMurray calls himself a Restorationist and claims they have the one true church, however he also continues to promote the liberal drift. Under his leadership women have become apostles, religious pluralism is promoted, and they now have an official organization for homosexuals called “Gays and Lesbian Acceptance” (GALA).

In November of 2004 McMurray stepped down, citing personal and family issues as affecting his ability to function. In 2005 his successor, Stephen M. Veazey, was ordained as their 8th president-prophet.

The RLDS owns the Kirtland Temple in Ohio and much property in Nauvoo, all to the consternation of the LDS. Membership is about 250,000 compared to over 10 million LDS members. They have their own publisher for their books: Herald Publishing House in Independence, MO.

Now that you’ve had a wee bit of history, let’s look at their doctrine. All RLDS/Community of Christ doctrine is based on the assumption that God’s revelation to Joseph Smith, saying that all other churches were wrong, made the original LDS the only true church before the falling away of Joseph Smith. “The only valid church on earth in 1860 was the ‘New Organization,’ a collection of remnant groups from the original church established in 1830.” This is the claim of the current church. They also claim an “open canon” where their latest prophet may add scripture to the Doctrine & Covenants.

The following doctrines of the LDS are also claimed by the RLDS:

a. New Testament church went into apostasy shortly after the apostles died and then disappeared from the earth until 1830 when it was re-established by Joseph Smith.

b. Many “plain and precious parts” were removed from the Bible by the apostate church and were restored by Joseph Smith.

c. The Doctrine & Covenants are God’s continuing revelations (although RLDS has a slightly different version).

d. The authority of the priesthood began with Adam, was lost in the apostasy and was restored by Joseph Smith.

e. Zion, the Kingdom of God, must be established in Independence, MO before Jesus can return.

f. All mankind may be saved by obedience to the laws and ordinances of Joseph Smith’s restored gospel.

g. That heaven consists of three kingdoms, and only worthy LDS go to the highest but all people are saved from Hell.

h. Those who don’t hear Smith’s gospel in this life have a chance after death.

i. All churches existing in 1820 were wrong, with creeds abominable to God, and all their adherents are corrupt.

Other doctrinal issues:

a. They equivocate on the deity of Christ. Although they claim to accept a Trinitarian view, their teachings often become modalistic.

b. The Holy Spirit is “the living presence of both the Father and the Son.” He is their shared “mind” and the power emanating from them.

c. Children have no sin nature and only sin as they mature.

d. Salvation is a progression, beginning with baptism into the church and confirmation by the priesthood.

e. Those who refuse to believe Joseph Smith’s gospel are damned.

f. Complex priesthood system. Only RLDS priests have the authority to preach gospel and administer ordinances.

g. Eight ordinances: Blessing of babies, baptism, laying on of hands, Lord’s supper, marriage, administration for the sick, ordination, and evangelist's blessing.

h. Baptism is necessary for salvation.

So now we are back to the original question: is the Community of Christ a Christian Church? The answer has to be a resounding “NO.” Christians know that Christ and the Holy Spirit are both God, while the CofC does not. The Christian gospel is by faith alone in Christ alone, while the CofC includes works for salvation, and that salvation is progressive. They claim to be the only true church, which puts them securely in the “cult” class of churches.

Interestingly, the often subtle error of this church ends up steering people to the true Christ and true Gospel of salvation to the point they can become true Christians in spite of the church’s teachings. I have a friend at church who is a prime example of this anomaly: once he learned the truth he left the RLDS church but much of his family are still members and non-Christians.

Although the RLDS/Community of Christ is not a Christian church, they appear to be similar in many ways to other liberal churches today. Don’t let that fool you - they are still a cult by definition.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Beth Moore Followers - and other angry commenters

Today I received another comment from an angry follower of Beth Moore. Rather than steer you to the particular comment, I am going to give you a highlight:

“Maybe you should be spending more time on your relationship with God instead of cutting down and criticizing the relationship that others like Beth have with God.”

Of course the poster has no idea how much time I spend in my relationship with God (I tend to think my apologetics ministry is part of my relationship with God.) And she makes the poor logic of associating criticizing someone’s teaching with cutting them down and criticizing their relationship with God.

Then she said, “Who are you to criticize what God is saying to someone else?” My response was that if someone is claiming to have direct revelation from God, who I am is a Berean who searches the Scriptures to see if what she says is true!

Of all the commentaries I have posted over the past 2 ½ years, those in which I’ve addressed the false teachings of Beth Moore get the most angry comments. It is interesting that they always have ad hominem attacks while never addressing the issues I bring forth; no objective examination of my critiques to explain where I might be in error (and I am more than willing to be corrected if I am in error), just charges of what a mean and spiteful person I am. Here are some more examples from Beth Moore zealots:

“stop wasting your time putting other people down, and start leading people to Christ for crying out loud!! i hope that no unsaved people find this blog.”

“I forgive you for bitterness against other Christians and will pray in intercession for you.”

“You have stepped into very dangerous ground where you will be required to give an account to God Almighty for the persecution of His dear believers such as Beth Moore. I will pray for God's mercy for your Parasitical [sic] comments and heart.”

“I fear somewhere along the way you have been hurt by a Southern girl and that is why you can not stand Beth's appearance or the way she delivers her Bible study. I am sorry if you have been transferring these strong emotions toward her”

“How it must grieve the Father's heart when His children slander one another”

“Mr. Chatfield, from what I have read of your inaccurate rantings concerning Beth Moore- you are a very jealous and envious man…Your bitterness toward God speaking directly to Beth speaks volumes of your own broken communication with God due to your derogotory [sic] attitude. I think you have a problem with women in the ministry- especially SUCCESSFUL women in the ministry. Your negativity toward a fellow believer will keep you right where you are- an unknown, angry blogger. As long as you sit in the seat of the scornful- you will never be annointed [sic]….My focus was mainly on the venom you have for a fellow Christian…You are so legalistic in your thinking. You need to ask yourself how Jesus would write this blog. Would he sound like you, or would He respond with TRUTH in LOVE? Your words are tearing down, not building up.”

“As a person who has read a number of Beth Moore books and participated in a number of her Bible studies, I find the evaluation of her ministry/teachings extremely judgmental (not to mention inaccurate)”

“Maybe you have to be a woman, Southern, or speak in tongues to understand Beth”

“Look at how much time you have waisted [sic] criticizing.”

“I found your post to be demeaning and sarcastic...not at all objective.”

“I find your criticisms to be harsh, and wonder if a lot of it is just a male /female divide thing (we are made to be different and we think differently!)”

“Oh nothing like a hypocrite such as you. Have you actually read the bible?…I can simply skim your blog before getting a massive migraine and tell that you're 1. Jealous of Beth Moore 2. Have a long walk to go before you'll have a moment where you have any business writing an apologetic for high school students. … You are one of those people who send new Christians running because of your out and out hypocricy [sic].”

These are only quotes from the comments; you should see the angry e-mails I have gotten with all sorts of attacks against my person, and lots of filthy language. The interesting thing here is that this is the type of thing I get from members of cults: no addressing of the issues I raise, just name-calling and general statements of how wrong I am. What I am finding is that these Beth Moore’s followers are very much like cult members: they viciously defend their “prophet” against any attempts to examine their prophet’s teachings. They refuse to objectively examine their prophet’s teaching because he/she claims direct revelations from God, as does Beth.

There are articles on other subjects where someone didn’t agree with me and, like Moore’s followers, they don’t address the issues, but do attack me. I’ve been told I claim to be perfect (where? when?), that I judge people (I don’t - I judge their teachings), that I “bash” churches (examining their teachings in light of Scripture becomes “bashing”), I discredit the work of Christ, that I am boring and stuffy, that I think I’m better than anyone else (I certainly don’t), that my blog is nothing but negativity and condemnation, that I have no love, that I “talk trash,” that I am a “bigoted coward,” and, welllllll - you get the picture. Of course my blog is not the only one where this happens; virtually every blog I read, whether Christian or just conservative, has these types of comments.

It seems to me that too many people don’t want to discuss the merits of my - or anyone’s - arguments, but they would rather just throw tantrums and blindly follow their favorite teachers or philosophies without ever examining their teachings alongside Scripture.

Now, here is the new rule for posting comments on my blog. If you disagree with what I say, then demonstrate from Scripture or other data where I am in error and I will be more than willing to recant or correct the error. But if you include any personal attacks against me, your comment will not be posted. I have spent too much time correcting these sorts of comments and challenging commenters to explain the evidence for their personal attacks, and I don’t think it is a proper use of my time. Not only that, but why should I post someone behaving in an un-Christian manner?

Monday, January 4, 2010

Where is Pastoral Discernment?

Yesterday as I was reading my morning e-mail and eating breakfast, I received this interesting letter:

I want to thank you for posting about Beth Moore on your website. I live in a small town on the coast of British Columbia. I had been going to a Baptist church in town until the emergent movement teaching showed up there. I was very distressed about this and went in to share my concerns with the asst. Pastor and our Bible study leader. The response that I received was that they did not know what I was talking about. So, I left that church and began to go to a small sister church out here in the country where I live. The ladies’ Bible study there, led by the Pastor’s wife, was on Beth Moore’s video “Believing God.” At first I thought, well maybe this is ok, so I went a few times. I even shed some tears a few times over things that she said in the videos, but something deep inside troubled me a bit. I did not know what it was though. One time after the study I asked myself, is this really sound doctrine or is it a mix of truth and psychology? It also bothered me how often she would say, “God told me” this or that. I would think to myself, something is wrong, I do not believe God talks like that. There were about 12 sessions. I attended 4, missing the rest on purpose because I was so troubled. The ladies there are all pumped on Beth Moore, especially the Pastor’s wife. I was going to print out your reviews and bring them to the Pastor but I don’t think I have much clout compared to Beth Moore. I am still looking for a church here. Some are emergent, others are signs and wonders…. Why can’t so many Christians see? especially the leadership?

Well I responded to the young lady, and then I thought about doing a blog comment using her as an example, so I asked permission to use her comments (without her identity). In her response, granting me permission, she included this additional information:

I feel really heartsick but at the same time, pleased that the Lord opened my eyes a little at a time. Actually, I think He opened my eyes a bit at a time as I sought to know the truth. It sure did not come all at once and I am still learning much. Another thing they did was to make some crocheted blue bracelets that we were supposed to wear during the weeks of the study but, lol, I refused and tucked it into my notebook. Also, before each study we had to stand up and do that mantra thing with the sign language, “I believe God,” which I also refused to do. I am so very thankful to the Lord that He has been opening my eyes to all this stuff. … I was finding more stuff online about Beth Moore - wow, it’s not easy to find - and thinking about her teachings most of last night and now realize that she is very dangerous because she is leading people to open themselves up to and depend upon revelation instead of God’s word. I think that her teachings are just as dangerous as those of, for example, the Word of Faith Movement.

My first thoughts were, “What a discerning woman to see the problems with Beth Moore!” Then I looked back over her letter and was saddened by the lack of discernment by pastors she has encountered.

Look at the first one she mentioned: She identified that emergent teaching was coming into the church and when she talked to him, he had no idea what she was talking about. This is unconscionable; every shepherd out there should know about the emergent heresy so as to protect their flock from it.

The second pastor’s wife is teaching Beth Moore, apparently without her husband’s objection. Where is this pastor’s discernment? I find that a lot of pastors’ wives are indeed great fans of Beth Moore; where is the discernment of these husband-pastors who permit their wives to fill their minds, and the minds of other women, with the false teaching and pop-psychology presented in Beth’s “studies”?

This woman sent me a follow-up e-mail with some more thoughts about the study:

I realize now that a major factor that drew me to the Bible study at church was the longing for fellowship with other Christian women. I also noticed the emotional response of the women present after each video viewing. They seemed very emotionally charged and kept saying things like.. "Oh, I love the part were she said this" or 'Oh, I loved it when she talked about that, I never seen it that way!" … I am not sure which video it was, but it was the one where she was teaching about labels that people put on women. She had women on the stage with jackets and letters on their backs to represent labels that we wear. But, I noticed that repeatedly she kept saying, you need to do this or you need to do that. There was no mention of the fact that we cannot do anything outside of the grace of God operating in our lives. I was thinking as I listened, this is really sounding a lot like a combination of self help/new age/emergent/ psychology. She seems to me to be the female-good looking- well dressed-entertaining-charismatic-don’t have a clue about sound doctrine-version of Joel Osteen.

Now, there are a lot of problems in the “Believing God” series which this woman has astutely identified, yet pastors, the leaders of our flocks, don’t seem to have a clue about. Why is it that our church leaders completely lose objectivity about Beth Moore and turn a blind eye to the need for meat among their women members? Is it because she is popular and they don’t want to step on toes? I think that is a major factor.

What about the need for fellowship among women, which this lady identified? Should there not be mature, discerning women identified in the body who can disciple women properly without resorting to the shows put on by Moore?

With the popularity of Beth Moore, I think the most important thing for pastors to do is use the pulpit as a place to tell their whole congregations that she is not a good teacher, that she may have a lot of good things to say but that her teachings are laced with such error as to be a spiritual danger to those who follow her. Until our leaders have the courage to do this, Beth Moore will continue to fill the minds of our Christian sisters with false teachings.