Archive for the 'Downgrade/False teaching' Category

The Internet: A great place to promote false doctrine

Sunday, August 7th, 2016

Wolf in Sheep's clothing

(image courtesy ChristArt)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

A talking cross is acceptable, but the homosexual proposition concerning Lot and his virgin daughters in Genesis 19 was disgusting. This is how my dialogue with this bloke developed online:

A.  Almost everyone is a heretic

Bob:[1] Almost everyone is a ‘heretic’ to someone.

With a few exceptions who (like myself) think outside the ‘box’, and consequently are occasionally regarded as ‘heretics’ to almost everyone.

Most ‘forumites’ belong to one group or another, who regard everyone who believes differently from themselves as ‘heretics’.

Generally the worst examples of ‘forum’ membership know better, but are unable to apply their knowledge.

Such is religion……the seedbed of confrontation, insular bigotry, hatred, persecution, and even torture and murder.

Even Calvin, who so many rever (sic), fell foul to torture and murder of one of his dissidents.

Now …… how’s about another ‘biggie’ regarding the historical accuracy of my source of information re Calvin.[2]

Oz: Seems as though you are pointing the finger at yourself as well! clip_image002[3]

B. Who decides on books for the canon of Scripture?

Scarlet Scripture Button

Bob: If, by scripture, you include the canonised addition of a selection of the apostolic writings then yes, there probably are elements of truth….[4]

Oz: Are you the one who determines what is truth in the canon of Scripture?[5]

Bob: When it comes to making any determination “for oneself” who on earth, other than a mindless wimp, can make such a determination other than oneself?[6]

Oz: One does not make a determination ‘for oneself’ as to what is in the canon of Scripture. The church has already made that decision in the early centuries. Or, are you reading the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Peter, the Gospel of the Hebrews, and the Gospel of the Laodiceans as equal with the books of the canon of the NT?

If ‘for oneself’ determines canonicity, it leads to anything goes. Why place any limit on the canon? Is that your view?[7]

Bob: My view is that it was not God’s intention that, centuries after ‘Christ’, post apostolic men should extend the OT scriptures to form a new Religious Text Book.

The New Covenant moves us up a rung from ‘Religion’ to ‘Faith’ and Paul battled hard and long to prevent a reversion (see “who hath bewitched you etc.) in his letter to the Galatians.

My view is that ALL of the apostolic writings should have been separately preserved, and differently regarded.

I refer to them, and quote from them, with regularity.[8] Being opposed to dogmatic theology places me at the opposite end of the spectrum to yourself (as distinct from being yet another “I am right and you are wrong” merchant).

Good heavens I even ‘allow’ for the possibility that the likes of you MIGHT be ‘right’.[9]

C. Should Gospel of Peter be in the canon of Scripture?

File:Gospel of Peter.jpg

(Gospel of Peter image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Oz: So is it OK with you that Christians should be reading, imbibing and treating as sacred writings, the Gospel of Peter which states:

And so those soldiers, having seen, awakened the centurion and the elders (for they too were present, safeguarding). [39] And while they were relating what they had seen, again they see three males who have come out from they sepulcher, with the two supporting the other one, and a cross following them, [40] and the head of the two reaching unto heaven, but that of the one being led out by a hand by them going beyond the heavens. [41] And they were hearing a voice from the heavens saying, ‘Have you made proclamation to the fallen-asleep?’ [42] And an obeisance was heard from the cross, ‘Yes.’ [43]

So a talking cross is suitable for you as the norm for biblical Christianity?[10]

Now note his response:

Bob: A darned sight more palatable than the following, which doubtless you endorse.

“And there came two angels to Sodom at even; and Lot sat in the gate of Sodom: and Lot seeing them rose up to meet them; and he bowed himself with his face toward the ground; and he said, Behold now, my lords, turn in, I pray you, into your servant’s house, and tarry all night, and wash your feet, and ye shall rise up early, and go on your ways. And they said, Nay; but we will abide in the street all night.

And Lot pressed upon them greatly; and they turned in unto him, and entered into his house; and he made them a feast, and did bake unleavened bread, and they did eat.

But before they lay down, the men of the city, even the men of Sodom, compassed the house round, both old and young, all the people from every quarter: And they called unto Lot, and said unto him, Where are the men which came in to thee this night? Bring them out unto us, that we may know them.

And Lot went out at the door unto them, and shut the door after him, and said, I pray you, brethren, do not so wickedly.

Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known a man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do ye to them as is good in your eyes: only unto these men do nothing” [Genesis 19:1-8 KJV].[11]

Oz: Your response demonstrates you can’t discern the difference between the fantasy of the Gospel of Peter and the sinful reality that is expressed in Genesis 19.[12]

Bob: Good heavens, would you ‘die’ if you were not able to have the final ‘winning word’ in a verbal conflict.

You’re right in respect of all that you say of me ….. there now, does that save you from ‘dieing’?[13]

D. Prevent promotion of false doctrine

Brute Teacher

(image courtesy ChristArt)

Oz: Can’t you engage in constructive dialogue with me without making the false accusation against me of a ‘final “winning word”‘?

I’m not planning on ‘dieing’ but I will be ‘dying’ one day.

I am not saying anything of you personally. However, you are promoting some strange doctrines on this forum and I will investigate – even challenge – you on these points. Why? Because the Scriptures have asked me to do so in 1 John 4:1-3 (NLT):

Dear friends, do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit. You must test them to see if the spirit they have comes from God. For there are many false prophets in the world. 2 This is how we know if they have the Spirit of God: If a person claiming to be a prophet acknowledges that Jesus Christ came in a real body, that person has the Spirit of God. 3 But if someone claims to be a prophet and does not acknowledge the truth about Jesus, that person is not from God. Such a person has the spirit of the Antichrist, which you heard is coming into the world and indeed is already here.

You have provided too much teaching to demonstrate that I need to ‘test’ your teaching as it compares with the Scriptures. So far, I’ve found a number of points of contention. This is my biblical responsibility before God: ‘Test everything; hold fast what is good’ (1 Thess 5:21 ESV). ‘For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear’ (2 Tim 4:3 NLT).

That’s why I will not let you get away with teaching falsehood on this forum. The Scripture requires that I be vigilant in warning people of false teaching when I see it happening.

The Internet is a great place to propagate such false teaching.

I have nothing against you, but sound doctrine is what the Bible calls me to be as a Bible teacher. This requires refutation of false doctrine.

I have not the slightest interest in ‘winning’ a discussion. I DO HAVE a profound interest in keeping the faith and warning people about others who are promoting false doctrine – like you do.[14]

Bob: I too have a divine commission, and mine is to deflate insular bigots who think that they have access to truth that is so reliable that what they believe can be used as an infallible yardstick giving them the authority to pronounce everyone who believes differently as being promoters of false doctrine.
I’ve cross (sic) swords with you over many forums and many years and never once have you admitted that you could be less than absolutely correct in respect of any aspect of Christian doctrine.[15]

Oz: Where is your divine commission to ‘deflate insular bigots’ found in Scripture? Please show me.

It is not true that you have crossed swords with me ‘over many forums and many years’. I have met you once on a small UK forum and I was only there for a short period of time. Please inform me in a PM of these ‘many forums’. Could this be hyperbole by you?

The issue is still your false doctrine, which you don’t want to admit. Here it is false doctrine regarding the canon of Scripture and its content.[16]

E. Embarrassment: A criterion of historicity

10 Blushing Emoticon Free Cliparts That You Can Download To YouBob objected to this story:

“And there came two angels to Sodom at even; and Lot sat in the gate of Sodom: and Lot seeing them rose up to meet them; and he bowed himself with his face toward the ground; and he said, Behold now, my lords, turn in, I pray you, into your servant’s house, and tarry all night, and wash your feet, and ye shall rise up early, and go on your ways. And they said, Nay; but we will abide in the street all night.

And Lot pressed upon them greatly; and they turned in unto him, and entered into his house; and he made them a feast, and did bake unleavened bread, and they did eat.

But before they lay down, the men of the city, even the men of Sodom, compassed the house round, both old and young, all the people from every quarter: And they called unto Lot, and said unto him, Where are the men which came in to thee this night? Bring them out unto us, that we may know them.

And Lot went out at the door unto them, and shut the door after him, and said, I pray you, brethren, do not so wickedly.

Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known a man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do ye to them as is good in your eyes: only unto these men do nothing” [Genesis 19:1-8 KJV].

One of the criteria used by historians to support the historicity of a document is embarrassment. It needs to be used in conjunction with other criteria such as discontinuity/dissimilarity, multiple attestation, coherence, plausibility, etc. When I wrote my PhD dissertation for the University of Pretoria, South Africa (graduating in 2015), my doctoral supervisor said that he used coherence as a strong indicator of historicity. I find coherence to be too subjective a criterion as it deals with the how the various criteria of historicity fit together or cohere.

Evans (2007:51) sees a potential problem with this index of coherence because an assumption that something that is attributed to Jesus that is not supported by one or more of the above criteria, does not necessarily make the statement inauthentic.[17]

Apply the criterion of embarrassment to Genesis 19:1-8 and this horrible event of Lot offering his two virgin daughters to those seeking homosexual liaisons. Like Bob, I find this story abhorrent as it describes the wicked, sinful actions of Lot and those seeking homosexual liaisons. This is an incident that could hardly be acceptable to the Hebrew community. It should have embarrassed even the most experienced sinner. The fact that it is included and not censored from the account of the Genesis 19 narrative is a strong statement about the reliability of its history.

F. Why is Bob such an antagonist to evangelical Christianity?

Bob has made his intent clear in his personal statement of faith on Christianity Board. It reads:

Personal Statement of Faith

I major on what I call ‘circumstantial deference’ based on the fact that none can see other through a darkened glass until we finally see Christ face to face and know even as we are known.

I believe that ‘scripture’ was inspired to a degree of which we cannot be certain, but I stop short of the extreme of ‘absolute’ verbal inerrancy. I also reject the view that ‘canonisation’, centuries after ‘Christ’, was a faultless operation. For me ‘The Word of God’ is that which God “writes on the fleshy table of my heart”, using media of which scripture is a vital part, but not the only part (I am not an advocate of ‘sola scriptura’).
I am the originator and sole member of my particular creedless, non-denominational, denomination, which offers fellowship to every person who might conceivably be a member of the ‘Body of Christ’ by virtue of efficacious faith in Christ’s substitutionary sacrificial death in atonement for sin. I would prefer to err on the side of offering fellowship to someone who’s faith (like mine) is somewhat less than ‘mainstream’, rather than erring on the side of rejecting some such person who God might regard as being part of the ‘Body of Christ”.[18]

Note these emphases:

  • ‘Circumstantial deference’ means that he defers to any given circumstance to allow it to decide on his doctrinal conclusions.
  • He is uncertain about the extent of scriptural authority. He most certainly does not believe in inerrancy of Scripture, which he describes as an ‘extreme of “absolute” of verbal inerrancy’.
  • He rejects the idea of the canon of Scripture determined centuries after Christ because it was not a faultless operation.
  • The Word of God is what is written on the heart and Scripture is only one medium for this evidence.
  • He does not support ‘sola scriptura’.
  • His creed (not his language) is a creedless, non-denominational, denomination.
  • People are welcome to join his denomination as long as they are members of the body of Christ, membership obtained through faith in Christ’s substitutionary atonement for sin. Question: Why would he accept this orthodox position when he is so unorthodox in many of his other statements of faith? He is unpredictably unique or idiosyncratic in his beliefs.
  • He agrees his faith is less than mainstream.
  • He errs on the side of compromise for the sake of fellowship with people.

He told me in one of his posts that he was unable to find a church near him in northern England. I’m pleased about that as he would lead most Bible-believing church leaders to ask him to leave the church because of his contrary nature and unorthodox beliefs. He is aged 81.

G. Conclusion

Landmine Doctrine

(image courtesy ChristArt)

I encountered a fellow from England on a Christian forum who did not enjoy challenges from me concerning his unorthodox doctrines he promoted on the forum. The above dialogue demonstrated that:

  • He considered many regard those who don’t believe their theology as heretics.
  • Scripture is not limited to the canon of the Councils in the 4th century who decided on the books of the canon. Anyone should be encouraged to read what the apostles wrote. I challenged him on the Gospel of Peter’s content of a talking cross and he preferred that to the horrible, sinful action of Lot offering his virgin daughters to the men seeking homosexuals (Genesis 19:1-8).
  • I declared my responsibility to discern those who promote false doctrine and expose them on the forum. He is one such person. His response was that he had a divine commission to ‘deflate insular bigots’ – referring to me as such an example.
  • I explained the criterion of embarrassment as one of the criteria of historicity and Genesis 19:1-8 fitted into that category. Israelites would not be ready to accept such a corrupt and sinful story. It’s veracity is hence affirmed by this criterion.
  • Bob is an antagonist of evangelical, orthodox Christianity that has a high view of Scripture because of his personal, unorthodox statement of faith. He is practising what he preaches – unbiblical Christianity.

I did not encounter many on this forum who were prepared to challenge Bob’s false doctrines. Why? Many may not have the biblical knowledge and bravery to take him on. I found him to be a stubborn old man in the promotion of his false doctrine.

H. Works consulted

Blomberg, C L 1992. Form criticism, in Green, J B, McKnight, S & Marshall, I H (eds), Dictionary of Jesus and the gospels, 243-250. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Evans, C A 2007. Fabricating Jesus: How modern scholars distort the Gospels. Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press.

Meier, J P 1994. A marginal Jew: Mentor, message, and miracles, vol 2 (The Anchor Bible Reference Library). New York: Doubleday.

I.  Notes


[1] Bob is a pseudonym.

[2] Christianity Board 2016. Statement of Faith – Christian Board Christian Forum, Oneoff#166. Available at: http://www.christianityboard.com/topic/17009-statement-of-faith-christian-board-christian-forum/page-6 (Accessed 6 August 2016).

[3] Ibid., OzSpen#167. I, Spencer Gear, am this person.

[4] Ibid., Oneoff#172.

[5] Ibid., OzSpen#177.

[6] Ibid., Oneoff#183.

[7] Ibid., OzSpen#186.

[8] Ibid., Oneoff#188.

[9] Ibid., Oneoff#189.

[10] Ibid., OzSpen#193.

[11] Ibid., Oneoff#195.

[12] Ibid., OzSpen#199.

[13] Ibid., Oneoff#208.

[14] Ibid., OzSpen#210.

[15] Ibid., Oneoff#214.

[16] Ibid., OzSpen#215.

[17] Craig Blomberg (1992:249) finds coherence to be ‘a very subjective concept’. He presumes that in the minds of the Evangelists, ‘all of the Gospel material cohered’. He asked the legitimate question, ‘How is any modern scholar to say that apparent inconsistencies are sharp enough to call into question the truthfulness of accounts?’. The validity of the criterion of coherence will depend on the degree to which researchers have reached an accurate picture of Jesus by using the other criteria.

[18] Christianity Board 2016. Personal profile of Oneoff. Available at: http://www.christianityboard.com/user/6145-oneoff/ (Accessed 7 August 2016).

 

Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 7 August 2016.

False Christian teaching on Internet forums

Monday, August 17th, 2015

Net Neutrality by openclipart

(courtesy openclipart)

By Spencer D Gear

‘Walking away from forums’ is the title of a thread started on an Internet forum.[1] One replied with this provocative comment:

3d-red-star-small ‘That’s the whole problem, its (sic) the bible that is argued about, not necessarily scripture’.[2] My reply to this was: ‘That’s part of the issue that drives me away from forums, your quibbling over Bible being different from Scripture. They are one and the same. It’s only your invented difference’.[3]

3d-red-star-small Another response was: ‘Seems you folks are a bit arrogant…. the forums should be considered a learning experience, getting another persons’ (sic) opinion, and quotes from the Bible, and conveying your own opinion. It is not about winning or losing, it is about sharing knowledge and information, especially about the Bible’.[4] My response was: ‘I think you have a point. I don’t think it’s a matter of arrogance but of seeing little being achieved. Perhaps we should look at Christian forums this way: ‘As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.’ (Prov 27:17 NIV). But it too often turns into a battlefield of one wanting to defeat the other’.[5]

A. Mature comment by the owner

The owner of Christianity Board forum had some perceptive observations to make. He didn’t see any ‘real’ disconnect between the forum and the world though on forums, there could be more overt in rudeness mixed with being more open than in face-to-face interaction.

He admitted to getting frustrated with people regularly and has thought of walking away from forums as he did with Facebook, but he regretted that decision because of memory of great discussions he has had with people. He tried to use the medium to point people to Christ but he admits to being too political and wanting to score points at times. The better view, he claimed, was that of Andy Stanley who thought for the long-term and the desire to make a difference.

He pointed to the need for maturity in forums to realize people needed a Damascus Road experience like Paul and there are so many who can be reached through forums that, like Jesus’ use of the parable of the seeds, germination may come later, in God’s time.

He wanted to develop the wisdom to know that beyond disagreement, people are made in God’s image and are fallen human beings just as we are. That’s the hard part in dealing with people. He admitted that too often his opinion of the Bible is used to trump anyone else’s and that leads to squabbling and name-calling, just as it does in real life where Christians have been known to shoot their wounded.[6]

I commended him for such a mature response:

That’s an exceedingly mature observation and I commend you for such penetrating observations.

I find the forum to be a place where considered views can be expressed that are not possible with instant conversation. Research is possible for the forum but not in person-to-person. Many are not able to give off the cuff comments about: (1) Why there are objections to Pauline authorship of the Pastoral Epistles; (2) Why didn’t Jesus say more about homosexuality? (3) What kind of national health scheme is best for the country? etc.[7]

B. A bit arrogant

To the earlier comment that some folks in this thread were a bit arrogant, someone replied: ‘That’s what I thought, too…. Very few people seem to be here to discuss.  Almost everyone fancies him/herself to be a teacher…the “Ultimate Authority” on all things Christian. That idea that what we are doing here is “arguing about Scripture” seems pretty prevalent here’.[8]

C. A bigger issue

#

openclipart

 

My response to this perspective was:[9]

In any forum, we are dealing with several issues that Paul addressed in his letter of 2 Timothy:

1.    ‘Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth’ (2 Tim 2:15 NIV).

This is a challenge to all workers (Christians?) to be people who ’cut straight’ (i.e. rightly handles), a metaphor that probably means doing something correctly (but there has been considerable discussion over its exact meaning). The call is for those who deal with the Word of truth to do it in a correct manner.

2.    ‘Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. 24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. 25 Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will’ (2 Tim 2:23-26 NIV).

Gently dealing with arguments and controversy is critical for any discussion on the ‘Word of truth’ but opponents of the truth, nevertheless, need teaching, and to be ‘gently instructed’ so that they come ‘to a knowledge of the truth’ and not slip into ‘the trap of the devil’. It is serious business in teaching God’s people ‘the word of truth’ whether in a church or here on Christianity Board.

3.    ‘Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 3 For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths’ (2 Tim 4:2-4 NIV).

These are ominous verses for the Internet gives unlimited opportunities to ‘preach the word’ but such preaching requires people who will ‘correct, rebuke and encourage’ but ‘with great patience and careful instruction’. This is a difficult calling. Many on the Internet do not like this kind of correction.

In fact, the time is coming when ‘sound doctrine’ may be prevented from being aired on the Internet. Could a time be coming when some Christian leaders may have to establish orthodox Christian forums because of the lack of sound doctrine being perpetrated on other forums? I’m not suggesting that is happening here.

There is an awesome responsibility for forum owners and moderators to maintain vigilance in upholding biblical orthodoxy in doctrines on forums.

D.  Conclusion

Honestly, I’ve encountered some trite and heretical responses on 6 different Christian forums over the last 10 years. I think that these forums are places for interacting over biblical issues and may be used as outreach. However, it is hard to see how that can happen with so much ‘fighting’ over doctrines.

I see my place in forums as to present the case for evangelical Christianity while correcting some false doctrine. Even today, I’ve been interacting on another forum on the topic, ‘Why do some believers of Christ feel the bible is without error?’[10] The topic I’ve been dealing with has been the denial of the authorship of the pastoral epistles by Paul.[11] The view presented was that of theological liberalism and its denial of Pauline authorship. Another view needed to be presented and nobody seemed to be doing it so I put up my hand.

Notes:


[1] ATP started the thread, ‘Walking away from forums’, on 15 August 2015 at: http://www.christianityboard.com/topic/21806-walking-away-from-forums/#entry257399. However, his original post is no longer on the thread, except as answered at #2. He is no longer participating in the thread (Accessed 17 August 2015).

[2] Ibid., mjrhealth#4.

[3] Ibid., OzSpen#10.

[4] Ibid., heretoeternity#7.

[5] Ibid., OzSpen#11.

[6] Ibid., Hammerstone#17.

[7] Ibid., OzSpen#18.

[8] Ibid., The Barrd#19.

[9] Ibid., OzSpen#22.

[10] Christian Forums.com, fatboys#1, 6 August 2015, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/threads/why-do-some-believers-of-christ-feel-the-bible-is-withou-error.7901181/ (Accessed 17 August 2015). Fatboys stated that he is a Mormon.

[11] See ibid., OzSpen#183, OzSpen#185, OzSpen#189, OzSpen#192, OzSpen#197.

 

Copyright © 2015 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 21 November 2015.

The fake and the genuine mixed in some churches: A dangerous concoction!

Monday, May 20th, 2013

Landmine Doctrine

(image courtesy ChristArt)

By Spencer D Gear

I’ve been interacting with a missionary friend in a foreign country who wrote of a person from the Bethel Church who feeds 10,000 children, has established churches, and has a humble ministry of bringing healing to the black children of Africa. A film has been made about this person raising people from the dead. This person gains no money from the actions and aches as she sits in the dust with African children, preaching Christ. But she is part of the Bethel Church, Redding, CA, USA.

The question the missionary asked of me: ‘How can this person be misguided and as far from Christ as the church leaders of Bethel church’?

What does the Bethel Church teach?

Bethel Church, Redding CA

Courtesy Wikipedia

The Bethel Church, Redding, California has this teaching on YouTube where there is alleged gold dust falling. See: ‘Gold dust rains during worship at Bethel!

See also:

blue-satin-arrow-smallBethel testimonies’;

blue-satin-arrow-smallJeremy Riddle – Our Father PART 1/2 (Gold dust in the room)’;

blue-satin-arrow-smallGlory Cloud & Gold Dust at Bethel Church’;

blue-satin-arrow-smallBethel’s ‘signs and wonders’ include angel feathers, gold dust and diamonds’.

Critiques of the Bethel Church movement

Empty Words

(image courtesy ChristArt )

What are the issues with Bethel Church, Redding, California, and its teachings? There are many links to assessment of the heresy of Bill Johnson of Bethel Church in Apostasy Watch:

blue-arrow-smallWarning – Bill Johnson and Bethel Church’;

blue-arrow-smallSound advice for Bethel Church Pastor Bill Johnson’;

blue-arrow-smallBob Dewaay: Bill Johnson, IHOP [IHOP], & Ancient Heresy Reborn’;

blue-arrow-smallThe dangers of the International House of Prayer’, CARM;

blue-arrow-smallBill Johnson and Bethel – Report from Redding Record Searchlight’;

blue-arrow-smallBill Johnson / Bethel Church, Redding, California’ (links to other criticisms built into the article);

blue-arrow-smallBirds of a Feather Flock Together: Strange Manifestations in ‘Christian’ Circles – from God or not? Feathers in Church? Bill Johnson of Bethel Church, Redding California’;

Let me say up front that we cannot discern a heart before God of any person, whether associated with a church teaching false doctrine or one teaching the truth. That discernment is in God’s hands. But the Scriptures give some strong indicators of what can happen.

What did Jesus say about the mixture of the fake with the genuine?

When I turn to Jesus, this is the truth that he proclaims:

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matt 7:21-23 NIV)

Only Jesus knows the truth of the human heart and the eternal destiny of people. It is evident from these Scriptures in Matthew 7 that Jesus did not regard good deeds and supernatural miracles to be guarantees that a person is a Christian who will enter the kingdom of heaven. It is evident that people can do many good works, perform miracles, and not do the will of the heavenly Father. It sounds strange to us, but God knows this is so. In fact, God calls these kinds of people, ‘evildoers’ (NIV) or ‘workers of lawlessness’ (ESV). So, these people are false prophets, even though they perform mighty works.

Evangelical commentator, William Hendriksen, wrote of this passage:

‘Does not all of this point to the possibility that also the demon expulsions and other mighty works of which the false prophets of Matt. 7:22 boast had been nothing but sham? Have not investigations proved again and again that among false prophets illusions, trickery, sleight of hand, etc., abound, and that what is presented as genuine is very often nothing but deception?’ (Hendriksen 1973:376).

Matthew 7:23 indicates a very high Christology. Jesus decides who will enter the Kingdom on the last day and he also decides who will be banished from his presence. That he never knew these people is because they falsely claimed him as Lord.

I find it interesting how the writer of The Didache, after the close of the New Testament, puts it this way, ‘But not everyone who speaks in a spirit is a prophet, except he have the behavior of the Lord. From his behavior, then, the false prophet and the true prophet shall be known’ (Didache 11.8). This is a good summary. One can use the word, ‘Lord’, of Jesus, allege to be a prophet and perform mighty works, and still be a fraud before Christ.

Therefore, the application to the Bethel Church is that a person can perform miracles, do other good works, but engage in false teaching and still not be a Christian who will enter the Kingdom. This does not mean that there are no genuine Christians associated with this church. That discernment is in Jesus’ control. However, ‘I never knew you’ are tragic words when they think that they are doing it for Jesus. Let’s understand that who enters the kingdom will be decided by Jesus. But here in Matt 7 there are strong indicators that good works and miracles can be associated with those who claim Jesus as Lord, but he is not their Lord. These are the penetrating words of Jesus.

I understand that we would like to think that there are those who perform wonderful deeds towards the needy, are used in supernatural miracles, but proclaim false doctrine, are misled but are truly Christian. But that’s not how Jesus sees it according to Matt. 7. I have to be true to Jesus and his teaching. It will sound harsh, but I have to answer at the end of my life to the Lord for my accuracy or otherwise with my biblical teaching. I hope people understand this. There is an attack on the truth of Scripture in the contemporary world.

Mark 9:39 states, ‘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’ (ESV). Those who proclaim false doctrine are speaking evil of the Lord as what they proclaim is not true.

I do not believe that miracles ceased with the original 12 apostles. See my article, ‘Can cessationism be supported by Scripture and church history?

Worm and Lace

(image courtesy ChristArt)

Which Jesus?

There is the problem we face in the twenty-first century that was also there in the first century: Which Jesus are they/we serving? Is He the one who mixes falsehood with truth, or is he the one who is ‘the way, the truth and the life’ ALWAYS?

Consider these sources of falsehood and truth. We have warnings and affirmations in Scripture:

matte-red-arrow-small ‘But test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil’ (1 Thess 5:21-22 ESV).

matte-red-arrow-small‘Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world’ (1 John 4:1 ESV).

They were there in the first century. They are here n the twenty-first century. There will be the fake performed alongside the genuine. To the human eye they may look similar, but to Jesus he is the one who discerns those who knew him and those who didn’t. This we know from his teaching: Genuine good works, genuine miracles, and false teaching do not go together. They are often mixed and Christians are to be people of biblical and spiritual discernment. Too often we are not!

Therefore, the Lord calls all true believers to be people committed to the ministry of discernment:

matte-red-arrow-small ‘But test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil’ (1 Thess 5:21-22 ESV).

matte-red-arrow-small‘Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world’ (1 John 4:1 ESV).

The challenge

Here is the challenge that you and I face, whether in an overseas country or here in my country of Australia. We are to be these kinds of Christians: ‘So that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes’ (Eph 4:14 ESV). It is tempting to see those who are doing massive good deeds mixed with fake miracles, to be seen as genuine. But the false and the truth cannot be mixed and come out as genuine. That’s according to Jesus and the Scriptures.

Why don’t you take a read of this article about the teaching of Bill Johnson and the Bethel Church, ‘An Invasion of Error: A Review of Bill Johnson—When Heaven Invades Earth

Part of the problem we face in the contemporary church is that teaching the truth through sound doctrine from the pulpit and in small groups is on such a low level in many evangelical churches. Many are too interested in their contemporary worship, topical sermons, and Gospel light, to be pursuing the need to teach true doctrine and refute false doctrine.

My wife and I had an experience of that in the last 18 months when we moved to a new suburb in northern Brisbane and sought an evangelical church that proclaimed sound theology in both teaching and song. We visited 8 different churches before we found one that came close to sound teaching (expository preaching from books of the Bible) and solid lyrics in the songs they sang. Most were into rock ‘n roll Christianity in their music and songs, and light sermon content.

I emailed one pastor whom I had never met as he wasn’t there and preaching when my wife and I visited his church on one occasion. I had enquired about going to one of his cell groups locally. His response was that a cell group at his church would not be suitable for me as it was ‘more contemporary than the church service’. I had not mentioned a word to him about ‘contemporary’ anything. Obviously the one person we spoke to after the service conveyed to the pastor some of the comments we made about the service. As for solid teaching in the evangelical churches, we did not find it – except for one. But the problem with this one, which we currently attend, is that it is super-traditional in all that happens in the services. However, the pastor is a sound expositor of Scripture who is not afraid to exegete the Scriptures and provide careful interpretations of the meaning.

See my articles:

silver-arrow-smallFive ingredients of a healthy church: Colossians 4:7-18‘;

silver-arrow-smallDouble faults and no aces: Margaret Court’;

silver-arrow-smallAre the dead raised today?

silver-arrow-smallSeventh Day Adventist atonement doctrine’.

T

(image courtesy ChristArt)

References

Hendriksen, W 1973. New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the Gospel according to Matthew. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic.

 

Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 15 April 2016.

How bad is the downgrade in your evangelical church?

Friday, August 24th, 2012

Image result for downgrade clip art public domain
(publicdomainhut.com)

By Spencer D Gear

‘I know you are aware of the contemporary nature of [our church], and this nature flows through all areas of our life, and most definitely home groups’.

A pastor’s response

What is a downgrade? Dictionary.com provides these definitions:

down·grade

[doun-greyd]Show IPA noun, adjective, adverb, verb, down·grad·ed, down·grad·ing.

noun

1. a downward slope, especially of a road.

adjective, adverb

2. downhill.

verb (used with object)

3. to assign to a lower status with a smaller salary.

4. to minimize the importance of; denigrate: She tried to downgrade the findings of the investigation.

5. to assign a lower security classification to (information, a document, etc.).

Idiom

6. on the downgrade, in a decline toward an inferior state or position: His career has been on the downgrade.

Downgrade in content at church

It has been particularly applied to the downgrade theological controversy, particularly in England. C H Spurgeon was particularly involved in what was happening in England. Erroll Hulse wrote in, “Charles Haddon Spurgeon and the Downgrade Controversy’, that

he last five years of Spurgeon’s life, 1887-1892 were troubled and saddened by the Downgrade Controversy. Spurgeon carried an enormous workload. He possessed neither the time nor the energy to pursue and remedy the widespread doctrinal decline in the B U (Baptist Union)….

The Downgrade controversy broke out when Spurgeon observed aggressive promotion of the ‘new thought’ and blatant denials of evangelical belief affecting the Baptist denomination. Calvinism, which had been the theology of both Congregationalists and Baptists, had faded away. It remained embedded in their confessional statements and in the trust deeds of hundreds of churches but not in the hearts and minds of the ministers and people. The old truths were not being attacked. They were simply ignored….

An essential part of orthodox doctrine is the truth that the impenitent will be subjected to the eternal punishment of God. With the lack of clarity this truth was undermined in three ways: 1. The teaching of conditional immortality, 2. The idea of a future probation, and 3. The universal salvation of all creation.

What is evangelical Christianity?

Here it is stated, accurately, that they are ‘the people of the Book: To know the only true God, honor and obey him, and to make him known’. It’s important to realise that ‘the original meaning of the word evangelical applied to Protestant true believers, distinguishing them from Protestant liberals and traditionalists. It had nothing to do with a specific denomination’. However, ‘it is sad to say that ‘today the word “evangelical” is losing its original meaning and does not necessarily refer to a true believer who holds to the inerrancy, authority and sufficiency of the Scriptures’.

However, I’m using the term ‘evangelical’ to mean born-again believers who are committed to the authority of Scriptures (inerrant in the originals) who who want to know the one and only Almighty God, honour Him, obey Him, and make Him known through proclamation of the Gospel and discipleship. These evangelicals will build Christ-honouring churches where the teaching of Scripture (preferably expositionally with illustration and application) is a central tenet of church practice.

I would consider that the following are core doctrines of the evangelical faith in which a born-again Christian should believe:[1]

The downgrade in Australia

This is a personal reflection. Here I reveal how pervasive this downgrade is within evangelical Christianity in Australia in 2011-2012. Even though I knew it was there when living in regional Queensland (visit one of the local seeker-sensitive churches and that becomes self-evident), I became acutely aware of it in mid 2011. My wife and I moved from a regional area to a northern Brisbane suburb to be nearer our children. Our married daughter has a significant disability and needs support and assistance as her husband works full time and I am now retired from employment.[2]

This is what we found when we went searching for an evangelical church that believed what I’ve briefly mentioned above.

Finding an evangelical church

Settling into a new area comes with its own challenges. We were praying that a church family would help us settle more easily into city life. However, finding an evangelical church in this region that does not preach and sing Bible-lite – Christianity on the downhill march – has been extremely difficult. We visited 8 churches before we came to one (North Pine Presbyterian Church, Petrie) that has Bible content in the hymns and preaching. However, the services are very conservative, tending towards dry traditionalism – but that’s another story. At least it is better than what we experienced elsewhere.

Highlighting this problem was a comment I received from a fellow who went to theological college with us in the early 1970s. We met up with him at a recent funeral of a dear friend. He asked where we went to church. When I mentioned a Presbyterian Church, his response was immediate, ‘You go to a church where at least they read the Bible’. What a statement about where the evangelical church is going in this region! He and his wife attend an evangelical church where the Bible is often not even opened in the service. My assessment is that it won’t remain evangelical for very long. Spurgeon’s experience is not new and the downgrade situation is happening right before our eyes. What can we do to stop it? I was hoping that I would become a voice for maturity in a local church’s house fellowship. But that won’t happen with the pastor’s refusal to give me the names of the two home group leaders and their contact details.

Please remember that these were churches whose reputation was that of being ‘evangelical’. These were not those who promote open theological liberalism.

At one of the churches we visited in our suburb, the songs and preaching (not by the pastor) were so contemporary-lite that I mentioned it to a person in a discussion we had as we were leaving the service. Since then I have emailed the pastor to see if we could join a home group in our suburb as we live in this suburb but worship in another. Here is most of the response I received (23 August 2012) in an email:

“I do remember you attending, and so I know you are aware of the contemporary nature of [our church], and this nature flows through all areas of our life, and most definitely home groups. And so if our Sunday worship service was not helpful to you in your journey with Christ, to be honest I don’t imagine our home groups would be either. Its great to see you proactively seeking fellowship outside of a Sunday and I encourage you to find yourself a group in which both yourself and [your wife] are comfortable

Blessings and peace!!”.

I did not speak to the pastor so how could he remember our attending? Somebody has blown the whistle to him about the content of our conversation at the close of the service. But this is an evangelical church in a denomination with a national reputation but the downgrade of biblical Christianity is so pervasive that it is invading the whole church milieu, including the home groups. It was rock music (I’m a former rock DJ) and the music was unsingable for me, a very average singer. The content of the lyrics could be described as nothing more than trite. They were unmemorable and, difficult to sing, and the biblical content was minimal.

However, this is the kind of church content we were exposed to, in 7 different churches in a row. They represent 2 evangelical denominations in and surrounding our suburb in northern Brisbane.

The sadness in the response of the local pastor is that his contemporary philosophy seems to have blinded him from seeing the reality of the content of the songs, the remainder of the service, and the content of the sermon. In that church service, which had music and songs that were akin to a rock concert, the songs were so unmemorable and unsingable that I can’t remember one of them. But I do remember that the Scriptures were not read in that service, not even to go with the sermon.

I expect A. W. Tozer would have a biblical heartache

Could you imagine what a person like A. W. Tozer would think of what is happening in churches of today? He died in 1963 and in his prophetic message he addressed the issues of his day, but it is just as applicable today.

clip_image002

Photo of A. W. Tozer, courtesy Wikipedia

In his introduction to The Best of A. W. Tozer, Warren W. Wiersbe (The Moody Church, Chicago, Illinois) wrote:

I once heard Dr. Tozer at an Evangelical Press Association conference taking to task editors who practiced what he called “super-market journalism-two columns of advertising and one aisle of reading material.” He was an exacting writer and was as hard on himself as he was on others….

What is there about A. W. Tozer’s writings that gets hold of us and will not let us go? Tozer did not enjoy the privilege of a university or seminary training, or even a Bible School education for that matter; yet he has left us a shelf of books that will be mined for their spiritual wealth until the Lord returns.

For one thing, A. W. Tozer wrote with conviction. He was not interested in tickling the ears of the shallow Athenian Christians who were looking for some new thing. Tozer redug the old wells and called us back to the old paths, and he passionately believed and practiced the truths that he taught. He once told a friend of mine, “I have preached myself off of every Bible Conference platform in the country!” The popular crowds do not rush to hear a man whose convictions make them uncomfortable.

Tozer was a mystic-an evangelical mystic-in an age that is pragmatic and materialistic. He still calls us to see that real world of the spiritual that lies beyond the physical world that so ensnares us. He begs us to please God and forget the crowd. He implores us to worship God that we might become more like Him. How desperately we need that message today!

A. W. Tozer had the gift of taking a spiritual truth and holding it up to the light so that, like a diamond, every facet was seen and admired. He was not lost in homiletical swamps; the wind of the Spirit blew and dead bones came to life. His essays are like fine cameos whose value is not determined by their size. His preaching was characterized by an intensity-spiritual intensity-that penetrated one’s heart and helped him to see God. Happy is the Christian who has a Tozer book handy when his soul is parched and he feeIs God is far away.

This leads to what I think is the greatest contribution A. W. Tozer makes in his writings: he so excites you about truth that you forget Tozer and reach for your Bible. He himself often said that the best book is the one that makes you want to put it down and think for yourself. Rarely do I read Tozer without reaching for my notebook to jot down some truth that later can be developed into a message. Tozer is like a prism that gathers the light and then reveals its beauty.[3]

What can be done?

These biblical teachings apply to today’s church:

1. Jesus warned us, ‘At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people’ (Matt 24:10-11 NIV). Some will want to make this apply only to the time of the Fall of Jerusalem, but it has broader application, as he was teaching his disciples on the Mount of Olives in this context: ‘Watch out that no one deceives you’ (24:4 NIV). We have similar warnings in 1 Tim 4:1; 2 Tim 4:3-4 and Titus 1:10-16 (see an article HERE).

2. We must speak up against false teachers, as 1 Tim. 4:6 states, ‘If you point these things out to the brothers and sisters, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, nourished on the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed’ (NIV).

3. When churches reduce or downplay the content of Scripture in sermons and songs, they are engaging in a downgrade of biblical content. While this may not be specifically promoting false teaching, it is like calling a diseased pineapple a true, genuine pineapple that is suitable for human consumption. Diseased pineapples are sick pineapples. Thus, sick, Bible-lite churches are diseased churches and they need to be called back to their biblical base in all of life.

4. Bill Hybels has admitted what his seeker-sensitive approach has done to the churches that have adopted his philosophy. Hybels stated in 2007 that his experiment had become a failure:

We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become ‘self feeders.’ We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their bible between services, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own.[4]

Michael Craven’s comment on the Willow Creek survey of its people was:

The shortcoming of this approach is made apparent in the fact that the “most dissatisfied” group within the church, according to the survey, was those considered to be the most spiritually mature. Their chief complaints? “They desire much more challenge and depth from the services” and “60 percent would like to see more in-depth Bible teaching”—the very things that the seeker-sensitive model diminishes.[5]

But, has this confession made any difference to Bill Hybels? Is he repentant of his past seeker-sensitive mistakes? Not at all! This report stated:

It is no new thing that Willow Creek wishes to “transform the planet.” They are part of the emerging spirituality that includes Rick Warren and many other major Christian leaders who believe the church will usher in the kingdom of God on earth before Christ returns. This dominionist, kingdom-now theology is literally permeating the lecture halls of many Christian seminaries and churches, and mysticism is the propeller that keeps its momentum. If Willow Creek hopes to transform the planet, they won’t be able to get rid of the focus on the mystical (i.e., contemplative). Their new Fall 2007 Catalog gives a clear picture of where their heart lies, with resources offered by New Age proponent Rob Bell, contemplative author Keri Wyatt Kent, and the Ancient Future Conference with emerging leaders Scot McKnight and Alan Hirsch as well as resources by Ruth Haley Barton and John Ortberg. Time will tell what Willow Creek intends to do about strengthening its focus on “spiritual practices” and “transform[ing] the planet.”[6]

Southern Baptist, James T Draper wrote in 2006,

The desire to be overly seeker-sensitive is pulling us away from proclaiming the hard truth of the Gospel. The Gospel is an offense! A righteous man was nailed to a cross. There was a beating involved, and blood shed. We must not water that down. We cannot compromise the reality of the Gospel under the guise of relevancy. Relevancy is earned when churches – Christians – acting as the hands of Christ, touch the wounded hearts and souls of those around them. When Christians act like Jesus, bear the burdens of others like Jesus, suffer with others like Jesus, then we will be more effective in verbally sharing the pointed truths of the Gospel with them like Jesus. What’s more, the lost will drink in the message like a thirsty man wandering in a desert drinks in cool, clean water.[7]

5. The key is that concerned Christians cannot continue to sit silent in the pews and let the dumbing down of biblical Christianity to continue in their churches. You need to speak up, based on 1 Timothy 4:6. To be able to do this in a strong, courteous way and remain strong in your Christian walk, you need at least one other Christian to pray with you before, during and after this action. You will become a target of the enemy of your soul, so be prepared: Ephesians 6:10-20 (NIV)

Notes:


[1] Some of these were suggested on the ‘People of the Book’ website, available at: http://www.thepeopleofthebook.org/MeaningOfEvangelical.html (Accessed 24 August 2012). However, I’ve reframed the points – mainly!

[2] I became a full-time student, working on a PhD in New Testament, in 2011 as a means to sharpen the ‘iron’ of my mind and to be of help in a local church or teaching institution.

[3] The Best of A. W. Tozer (online). Available at: http://www.churchinmarlboro.org/christdigest/Classical%20Writings/A-W-Tozer-Best-of-a-W-Tozer.pdf (Accessed 24 August 2012). It was not stated which edition of ‘The Best of A. W. Tozer’ is intended. However, the Wikipedia article on Tozer stated that three volumes of ‘The Best of….’ Series have been published. These were in 1979, 1991 and 1995. Amazon.com’s online edition of the book indicates this quote is from Vol. 1 of the ‘Best of’ Series.

[4] Bob Burney 2007. A shocking “confession” from Willow Creek Community Church, Crosswalk.com, 30 October. Available at: http://www.crosswalk.com/11558438/ (Accessed 24 August 2012).

[5] S. Michael Craven 2007, Willow Creek’s confession, Christian Foundations, available at: http://www.christianity.com/11560219/ (Accessed 24 August 2012).

[6] Willow Creek and the new contemplative/emerging spirituality, Lighthouse Trails Research Project, available at: http://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/willowcreek.htm (Accessed 24 August 2012).

[7] James T. Draper Jr. 2006. Will Southern Baptists keep their eyes on the ball? Baptist Banner, 19(3), March. Available at: http://www.baptistbanner.org/Subarchive_3/306%20Will%20Southern%20Baptists%20keep%20their%20eyes%20on%20the%20ball.htm (Accessed 24 August 2012).
Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 29 October 2015.

Spong’s deadly Christianity

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

Bishop John Shelby Spong portrait 2006.png

J S Spong 2006 (courtesy Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear

I read the article, “An Evening with John Shelby Spong,” in the Uniting Church of Queensland’s, Journey magazine, online (28 September 2007). Then, I read the positive letter towards Spong’s Christianity by Noel Preston.

1. Dear editor

I wrote this letter-to-the-editor of Journey:[1]

Letters to the editor,
Journey
Sent 27 Oct 2007 to:
journey@ucaqld.com.au

Dear Editor,

It is with sadness that I must disagree profoundly with Noel Preston’s assessment of  Bishop Spong as having “the positive impact . . . on behalf of Christian faith” (Journey, Letters, Nov. 07).    While Spong was Bishop of Newark, NJ, the Episcopalians voted with their feet.  Membership dropped by more than 40%.  That redefines “positive impact.”

Spong throws out core Christian beliefs such as the atonement, calling it an “offensive idea.”  He denies the bodily resurrection of Christ, yet still wants to say: “I am a Christian. I believe that God is real. I call Jesus my Lord. Yet I do not define God as a supernatural being. I believe passionately in God. This God is not identified with doctrines, creeds, and traditions” (A New Christianity for a New World, pp. 3, 10, 64, 74).

Luke T. Johnson, a scholar of NT & Christian origins, states that “having a bishop [Spong] with opinions like these is a bit like hiring a plumber who wants to ‘rethink pipes.’  Spong imagines that he has escaped his own fundamentalist past, but he has not.  He remains defined by the literalism he so doggedly battles” (The Real Jesus, p. 33).

Anglican Bishop of Durham, England, and former Oxford scholar, N. T. Wright, takes Spong’s view to task in, Who Was Jesus?

Another has described Spong as “Mr. I-am-a-bishop-who-believes-nothing-of-the-Gospel”.[2]

Yet, Rev. Preston wants to link Spong to professing “his allegiance to Jesus Christ despite challenging certain questionable beliefs.”  Which Jesus?

Spong’s denial of central Christian beliefs makes him heterodox in his theology.  To call his ministry “prophetic” is an abuse of the word.  Spong’s Jesus is no more than regurgitated 19th century liberalism.

“Didn’t it happen to Jesus of Nazareth?” Rev. Preston asks?  Yes it did, but not for an anaemic Christ stripped of his essence by bishops like Spong.  Spongian “christianity” is deadly to church life.

Sincerely,
Spencer Gear,
Hervey Bay

2. The pro-Spong letter

This is the Noel Preston letter to which I was referring:

Spong again[3]

I write to commend you for the October Journey.

I was especially appreciative of the three commentaries on Bishop Spong’s public meeting in Brisbane.

I do not dissent from the impressions reported and share with Bruce Johnson a measure of disappointment that the address I heard from Jack Spong was short on the detail of “a new approach” to theology, though I have great admiration for the positive impact the Bishop has had on behalf of Christian faith throughout a courageous ministry lasting decades.

Your editorial on the subject mused over what it is that causes such a reaction by many to the 78 year old Bishop.

I suspect its intensity has something to do with his determination to profess his allegiance to Jesus Christ despite challenging certain questionable beliefs, moral codes and institutional norms which have been dubiously confused with the essence of the Gospel.

Perhaps his detractors might opine: “If he could just stop pretending to be a disciple it would be easier to tolerate him!”

This is not an unusual story.

As some of your readers would recognise, attempts to be prophetic from within a religious tradition often bring forth a vehement reaction.

Didn’t it happen to Jesus of Nazareth?

Noel Preston
Auchenflower

3. The edited letter

If you have written letters to editors of newspapers and magazines, you will know that an original letter can be edited to eliminate some of the original material. This is what happened with my letter.

This is how my letter appeared in Journey, December 2007, p. 19.

Spong again

It is with sadness that I must disagree profoundly with Noel Preston’s assessment of Bishop Spong as having “the positive impact on behalf of Christian faith” (November Journey).

While Spong was Bishop of Newark, the Episcopalians voted with their feet. Membership dropped by more than 40%. That redefines “positive impact”.

Spong throws out core Christian beliefs such as the atonement, calling it an “offensive idea”.

He denies the bodily resurrection of Christ, yet still wants to say: “I am a Christian. I believe that God is real. I call Jesus my Lord. Yet I do not define God as a supernatural being” (A New Christianity for a New World).

Luke T. Johnson, a scholar of New Testament and Christian origins, states that “having a bishop [Spong] with opinions like these is a bit like hiring a plumber who wants to ‘rethink pipes’.

Spong imagines that he has escaped his own fundamentalist past, but he has not.

To call his ministry ‘prophetic’ is an abuse of the word.

Spong’s Jesus is no more than regurgitated 19th century liberalism.

“Didn’t it happen to Jesus of Nazareth?” Rev Preston asks.

Yes it did, but not for an anaemic Christ stripped of his essence by bishops like Spong.

Spongian ‘Christianity’ is deadly to church life.

Spencer Gear, Hervey Bay

a. Please note what was edited from my letter

blue-satin-arrow-small The page reference numbers for Spong’s A New Christianity for a New World (Spong 2001) were eliminated. Not including these prevents others from checking out my quotes with ease. But that is inconsequential compared with other more substantive issues that were edited out.

blue-satin-arrow-small  This is what I stated about Luke Johnson, ‘Luke T. Johnson, a scholar of NT & Christian origins, states that “having a bishop [Spong] with opinions like these is a bit like hiring a plumber who wants to ‘rethink pipes’.  Spong imagines that he has escaped his own fundamentalist past, but he has not.  He remains defined by the literalism he so doggedly battles’ (The Real Jesus, p. 33). How was it edited in my published letter?

Luke T. Johnson, a scholar of New Testament and Christian origins, states that “having a bishop [Spong] with opinions like these is a bit like hiring a plumber who wants to ‘rethink pipes’.

Spong imagines that he has escaped his own fundamentalist past, but he has not.

The Journey publication of my letter reads as though I wrote the last sentence. That sentence was not created by me. It is a quote from Luke T Johnson (1996:33). This is unacceptable editing when I am made to say something another author wrote. It makes it look like plagiarism when that is not the way I presented it in my letter.

blue-satin-arrow-small What I stated from Anglican scholar, N T Wright, was excised. I wrote: ‘Anglican Bishop of Durham, England, and former Oxford scholar, N. T. Wright, takes Spong’s view to task in, Who Was Jesus?

It was important to note that Wright provided a refutation of Spong in Wright’s book, Who Was Jesus? (1993). This is because both Spong and Wright are Anglicans but reach radically different conclusions concerning Jesus. Wright’s scholarship is regarded by many scholars as more substantive than Spong’s, and there are reasons for this.

Wright challenged Spong:

In particular, talk of ‘my Christ’ is the kind of thing that, as Spong must realize, leaves him wide open to the charge of sheer subjectivism – especially when it is combined with a continual downplaying of historical truth. How do we know that Spong’s ‘Christ’ is the real Christ?…

Spong has, in short, cut himself off from serious historical study. The world that he has opened up is a world which he himself calls midrash, however inaccurately. It is a world where the modern exegete can reconstruct a fantasy-history in the interests of a current ideology (Wright 1993:67, 91).

4.  A theologian’s critique of Spong

Gerald O’Collins, Professor of fundamental theology, Gregorian University, Rome, reviewed Spong’s book, Resurrection: Myth or reality (1994). In the first paragraph of his review, O’Collins stated that Spong ‘seems a caring, prayerful person. But a kindly heart and lots of fine rhetoric cannot make up for the lack of scholarship and critical judgement shown throughout this book’ (O’Collins 2000:112).

He wrote of Spong’s inaccuracy as a scholar:

What is said about a key verb St Paul uses in Gal. i:15f. shows that the bishop has forgotten any Greek he ever knew….

Raymond Brown and Joseph Fitzmyer are listed among those unfortunates who have “found themselves removed, silenced, harassed, or compromised in some way”. This is news to me. Fr Brown has been and Fr Fitzmyer is a member of the papal biblical commission. Is this a Machiavellian way of compromising them?

Later in the book both turn up again in company with 15 other “New Testament scholars”, who all allegedly join with the bishop in “rejecting

the literal narratives about the Resurrection” as no more than “Christian legends”.

They and some others on that list might well consider bringing a legal action against the bishop and/or his publishers for professional defamation.

Brown and Fitzmyer have repeatedly gone on record as accepting the historicity of the burial by Joseph of Arimathea, Jesus’s post-Resurrection appearances and the discovery of his empty tomb – all of which Spong rejects.

In a curious fashion the bishop talks of his seventeen “New Testament scholars” in the present tense: “we who are convinced”, “we who reject”, and so forth.

Half of them (like William Albright, Rudolf Bultmann, C. H . Dodd, E. C. Hoskyns and Karl Rahner) are long dead and have no chance of dissociating themselves from Spong and his views.

Some of them, such as Karl Rahner, Hans Kung and Edward Schillebeeckx, cannot be classified as New Testament scholars in the proper sense of the term. Does the bishop really care about accuracy and truth? Or is all this part of what he calls floating with him “on a sea of timelessness”? (O’Collins 2000:112).

So what is O’Collins estimate of Crossan’s scholarship?

His work simply does not belong to the world of international scholarship. No genuine scholars will be taken in by this book. But ordinary readers who are not too familiar with modern biblical studies could easily be impressed by Spong’s title of “bishop” and his pretended scholarship (O’Collins 2000:113).

5.  Spong’s shoddy Greek knowledge

Wphthe vs. apokalupsa

What was O’Collins’ complaint about Spong’s use of Greek in relation to Galatians 1:15? He did not present details in his review but it becomes obvious with an examination of what Spong wrote, if one has a introductory knowledge of NT Greek.

Galatians 1:15-16 states, ‘But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and had called me through his grace, 16 was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with flesh and blood’ (RSV). The RSV was the version used in Spong (1994).

Spong stated of Gal 1:15-16a,

The word for ‘reveal’ in this text is ?phth?, the same word used in the Greek Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Scriptures to describe the appearances of God (theophanies) or angels of God (angelophanies). The Septuagint uses ?phth? to describe a theophany to Abraham: ‘then the Lord appeared [?phth?] to Abram, and said, “To your descendants I will give this land”’ (Gen 12:7. What was the nature of the theophany? Was it really ‘physical’? What was the means of hearing God’s voice speak? Was it audible to any ear? Was it capable of being recorded or objectified?…

?phth? means to have one’s eyes opened to see dimensions beyond the physical. It means to have a revelatory encounter with the holy. It relates to the nature of visions, but not so much subjective hallucinations as seeing into that which is ultimately real, into God or God’s inbreaking future.

Luke used this same word when he had the disciples say Jesus ‘has appeared to Simon’ (Luke 24:34) [Spong 1994:53-54].

Spong’s shoddy understanding of Greek comes to the fore here. He is completely wrong with the verb he names and then expounds in Gal 1:16a. The word used in this verse is not ?phth?, but apokalupsai, which is the present tense, middle voice, subjunctive mood verb of apokalupt?.

Spong named the wrong Greek verb and set about expounding a wrong verb in Gal 1:16a that did not exist in that verse. This accounts for O’Collins’ sarcastic comment ‘that the bishop has forgotten any Greek he ever knew’. So what Spong said about the verb for ‘reveal’ in Gal 1:15-16a was wrong because that was not the verb used for ‘reveal’ in Gal 1:16a. How could an author, published with a major publisher, make such a basic error I his knowledge of NT Greek?

6.  Further objections to the edited letter

  • The letter that I sent to Journey, stated: ‘Another has described Spong as “Mr. I-am-a-bishop-who-believes-nothing-of-the-Gospel”’. This was eliminated from the published letter, but this is only a minor point of editorial deletion.
  • However, this statement by me was a signification deletion in my published letter: ‘Yet, Rev. Preston wants to link Spong to professing “his allegiance to Jesus Christ despite challenging certain questionable beliefs.”  Which Jesus?’ Why not publish this statement? I was challenging Rev Dr Noel Preston’s positive support for Spong’s unorthodox teaching. Spong’s Jesus is not the Jesus revealed in the New Testament. So to ask, ‘Which Jesus?’ is a valid inquiry. Spong’s view of Jesus versus that revealed in Scripture should be exposed, whether in a letter or in an article.

These articles discuss the demise of liberal Christianity:

7.  Conclusion

John Shelby Spong is promoting a radical agenda of ‘another Jesus’ who is not revealed in Scripture. Spong’s Jesus is that of liberal, historical-critical Christianity that has proceeded to empty churches for more than a century.

It is important to review the content of a letter-to-the-editor published when compared with the original. Take opportunities to write again to that newspaper or journal to take up the editorial censorship/deletions by the editor of letters. If this second letter is not published by way of correction, use online facilities to correct it – as I’ve attempted to do here.

For my other exposes of Spong’s unorthodox (heretical) teachings, see my articles:

Works consulted

Johnson, L T 1996. The real Jesus: The misguided quest for the historical Jesus and the truth of the traditional Gospels. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco.

O’Collins, G 2000. What of the Spong song? “Resurrection: Myth or reality”, A bishop’s search for the origins of Christianity; Review by Gerald O’Collins (online), [4]112-113. Apologia: The journal of the Wellington Christian Apologetics Society (Inc.), vol 7(2/3). Available at: http://www.christian-apologetics.org/pdf/SpongRev20Web.pdf (Accessed 21 November 2013).

Spong, J S 1994. Resurrection: Myth or reality? A bishop’s search for the origins of Christianity. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco.

Spong, J. S. 2001. A new Christianity for a new world. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco.

Wright, N T 1993. Who Was Jesus? Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.[5]

Notes:


[1] This letter was published in ‘Letters’, Journey, December 2007, p. 19, available at: http://www.journeyonline.com.au/download.php?pdfId=66.

[2] Amazon review by ‘matt’ of N T Wright’s, Who was Jesus? (1993, Eerdmans), available at: http://www.amazon.com/Who-Was-Jesus-Wright/product-reviews/0802806945 (Accessed 21 November 2013).

[3] The following letter is in “Letters,” Journey, November 2007, p. 15. Journey is published by the Uniting Church in Australia, Queensland Synod. This is available online at: http://www.journeyonline.com.au/download.php?pdfId=65 (Accessed 21 November 2013). However, on 1 December 2015 it was no longer available online.

[4] This republishing of the article stated that it was ‘First published in the Tablet (London) (10 September, 1994). Republished in Welcome (September 1994, No. 101)’ [O’Collins 2000:112].

[5] This was first published by SPCK, London, in 1992.

 

Copyright © 2007 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 14 October 2015..