Tag Archives: Theology

Cracker Jack Theology With a New Surprise in Every Package!

ImageToday I listened to yet another bible teacher lead countless thousands down a path lined with empty promises of prosperity, which have nothing to do with the biblical gospel, and which sadly continue to appeal to the greedy nature of millions that profess faith in Christ. Although he may have been quite sincere and convinced of the message he preached (The mimshach Anointing), sincerity and shouting are not the barometer for truth. His message was carefully crafted and craftily delivered. Seeing how there was no biblical support for nearly anything he said, he did not cite scripture. Instead, he turned to the aid of theatrics to convince the unsuspecting that the same anointing God had given to Lucifer was on Jesus and, is offered to us in the church today. This mimshach anointing is, according to this pastor in question, “intended to expand whatever we do until our success and prosperity reaches foreign lands and people are talking about us. Once understood and applied, this anointing will guarantee us success and we will become number one. Repeat after me, I will be number one!”

Those were his words, and I emphasize his, for they are so far removed from the biblical landscape that they could not be reached with a lunar probe. Does his sound like the biblical message to you? That we are to be number one? That others should be talking about us? That our kingdom should expand beyond foreign borders? Or how about just the fact that we have the anointing of Lucifer? That alone should be enough to raise the hair on the back of your neck. But instead of being disturbed as the pastor bounced up and down as if he were on an invisible pogo stick shouting, “I will be number one!” the crowd was overcome from head to toe with goose bumps of excitement at the idea of actually becoming a big shot in this world.

Now think hard before answering this question, how awkward would this pastor’s words sound if put into the mouth of Jesus, or the Apostles? Do you have difficulty imagining it? If you do, that’s good. If you don’t, then you need to start reading your bible a little more and listening to these preachers a little less. Wouldn’t a Christian want others to talk about Jesus, rather than herself, and Jesus to be number one rather than herself, and that God’s kingdom expand rather than her pocketbook? Where is Jesus glorified in this and to what faith, exactly, are people being called?

Anointing in Scripture is always connected to the task God has given to His servant in order to carry out His sovereign will in a particular task or role, and never for the servant’s self-gratification. And we had better well understand the limitations of our “anointing,” for when Saul overstepped his it cost him not just his kingdom but eventually his life also (1 Samuel 13:11-14). Even the Holy Spirit never takes the glory or promotes Himself or puts the attention on himself but always and exclusively exalts and promotes the Son of God (Jn 16:14).

Throwing in a Hebrew word like mimshach (meaning to anoint or spread oil on an object) may seem to add some authenticity to his message about expanding our kingdoms, a message swallowed only by those lacking the tools or the intention (or both) necessary to “test all things,” but in the end this careless misuse and abuse of Biblical words only confirmed the error of the preacher’s Cracker Jack theology. Simply reading Scripture in its context (which these fellows seldom seem to do) would remove all doubt as to the fallacy.

It is amazing to me that there should be any believer who, while having the gift of the Holy Spirit, at the same time would lack the accompanying discernment to see the falsity of these men (their sincerity granted) and their tantalizing doctrines within the prosperity movement. On the other hand, I (we) should not be entirely surprised, for the danger of deception and the reality of false teachers leading believers astray is repeatedly announced in the New Testament from Jesus through the apostles (Mt 7:13-20; Mt 24:4-5, 11, 24; Lk 21:8; Rom 16:18, 1 Cor 15:33; 2 Cor 11:3-13; Gal 2-3; Eph 5:6; 2 Thess 2:3-9; 1 Tim 1:3, 3:6-13; Tit 1:10; 2 Pt 2:1-15; 1 Jn 2:26; 4:1; 2 Jn 7). And seeing how man’s nature tends to go beyond mere survival instinct to outright self-centered covetousness, we might expect that the unbiblical message of the prosperity doctrine would appeal to millions. After all, their call to the multitudes is not one of repentance from sin and self-indulgence, but to turn away from failure and poverty so that we can be prosperous and boisterous. They do not preach the narrow road to life that few find and even fewer are willing to follow (Matt 7:13-14), but the ever widening road to riches which only the uninformed Christian could happily stumble upon and blindly follow.

We do not see Jesus or the Apostles in anyway teaching, or giving the example of a life style that believed the church had an anointing for prosperity. And no one in the early church practiced this ideology or even understood prosperity to be promised to those who are in Christ. On the contrary, the Christian hope has always been anchored in eternity and not in the shifting sand of this passing world (1 Jn 2:15-18). The teaching of Jesus and all of the New Testament is clear and replete with exhortation to a life of simplicity, suffering, self-sacrifice and self-denial.  We are told to deny ourselves, pick up our crosses and follow Jesus (Matt 16:24), not to promote ourselves in self-proclaimed exaltation like pastor Chris tells us. Consider these words of Paul to Timothy, and examine the message of these prosperity preachers in light of them, in particular v.v.6-10:

1Tim. 6:3 If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, 4 he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, 5 and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. 6 But godliness with contentment is great gain, 7 for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. 8 But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. 9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.

I could go on and on with Scripture that speaks against both the teachers of such a doctrine and the need for correction to those of an unhealthy attitude towards finances. Please understand that I am not here making an appeal for poverty or stating that material blessing should never happen, or that wealth is inherently evil. But I am saying that God blesses whom he choses with what he chooses, there is no “formula,” and the prosperity doctrine is unbiblical, unsafe and unacceptable. It is abuse of the precious Word of God, and because of this kind of “fleecing of the flock” and shameful disregard for God’s message, the way of truth is maligned exactly as the Apostle Peter said (2 Peter 2). Be sure to read Peter’s words on this, you’ll be shocked at the accuracy of his description to many of today’s tele evangelists. I have much more to say about this subject, but I’ll save it for a future post.  For now, if you are still unconvinced there is anything wrong with the prosperity movement, leave your answers to these following questions in a comment on this blog:

  1. Where in Scripture do we see Jesus either teaching, or living anything remotely close to the prosperity doctrine?
  2. Where in Scripture do we see any prophet or apostle teaching or living anything remotely close to the prosperity doctrine?
  3. Where in Scripture do we see any Christian in the early church teaching, encouraging or living anything remotely close to the prosperity doctrine?

Friends, beware of Cracker Jack theology. Test the spirits to see if they are from God (1 Jn 4:1). Test everything and hold fast what is good (1 Thess 5:21).

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Why does the Bible seem to teach opposing doctrines?

We all are well aware of the negative effects of tension. It causes headaches,  called tension headaches, because of the sensation of a ‘tight band’ squeezing around the crown of the head. We try to avoid tension in relationships and, generally speaking, in most areas of life. Except of course where tension is necessary, such as a tension bridge. Remove the tension there and disaster will follow. But there is another area in which tension is good and necessary, and that is in the doctrines of the Biblical revelation.

Tension is inherently ‘tense’, and therefore requires our careful attention. Theologically (a convenient way to refer to the study of God), tension is a key element that holds together some of the core Biblical doctrines, while at the same time leaves us scratching our heads in wonder. And for those of us who are Bible teachers, we need to take what we first of all learn as students (a true Bible teacher is a lifelong Bible student), and present it to our listeners in a way that they can digest it.

But this is no small task when dealing with the subject of an infinite God and a finite creation. Why is this so challenging? When two natures, such as God’s and man’s, coexist throughout the written pages of Biblical revelation, you will inevitably face what I call a Biblical dichotomy, the tension between two seemingly incompatible truths. This tension is at the core of major Biblical themes and is absolutely God’s design.

Take for instance God’s sovereignty (Rom 9:15-23; 1 Tim 6:15-16; Rev 4:11) and man’s free will (John 3:14-18; Matt 11:28). We see both in these and many other verses, whether implicitly or explicitly, therefore we must accept both and we had better teach both. How they work together, I do not know. But God does know and we don’t have to understand exactly how they coexist. The fact that they do compels us to be humble before God and responsible for our actions. We accept both truths with all the tension that accompanies them. Hold a preference towards either direction of God’s sovereignty or man’s freewill, and our view will be become imbalanced biblically. The theological bridge will collapse.

Or  how about Christ’s two natures in one person? He was human, having entered our time-space continuum at a certain point in history, (Luke 1:30-31) yet he also existed prior as the eternally divine Son (John 1:1-4; John 17:5). Scripture clearly declares both. This is a great mystery indeed, and has been the subject of debate and the catalyst for many heretical movements. The movements themselves were the result of man’s attempt to remove the tension from one side or the other. So much so that the council at Chalcedon (AD 451) had to address and clarify the church’s position on Christ’s nature and person. And even though the creed that was established at that council continues today to help us talk about Jesus correctly, it does not demystify the incarnation in any way. We are still perplexed in our finite intellect and understanding. Here again, we can only concur with the apostle Paul when he said,

And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness:

God was manifested in the flesh,

Justified in the Spirit,

Seen by angels,

Preached among the Gentiles,

Believed on in the world,

Received up in glory.” (1Tim. 3:16 NKJV)

One final example of this dichotomy is found in the subject of the kingdom of heaven. It is both present spiritually, and yet to come physically (Matt 16:28; Matt 26:29). The kingdom consists of God’s people now, all true believers everywhere in whom Christ dwells and rules as King (Luke 17:20-21; Col 1:27), but a time also will come when he will establish his kingdom on earth, bringing with him in his glory those very same believers (Matt 24:30; 2 Peter 3:13, 1 Thess 4:15-17).

There are many other examples of seemingly incompatible truths, and in such cases we do our best with the help of the Holy Spirit and the reasoning faculties of our God-given minds. But when still we fail intellectually to reconcile two truths, we must steer away from the temptation to downsize one or overrun the other. For doing so will be to forfeit the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27), and weaken the tension which God has purposefully given in the Biblical accounts (2 Peter 3:15-18) .

At the end of the day, let’s remember we are finite creatures that have received a revelation of, and from, our infinite creator. Some things just need to be left in a balanced tension. The dichotomy cannot be eliminated so long as we have two perspectives and two natures throughout the revelation of the Scripture, God’s and man’s. Indeed, the author of Hebrews seems to acknowledge the presence of this dual-natured fact when he says,

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Heb. 4:12 ESV)

Do you notice there is a dividing that takes place as the Word of God cuts into the whole of our being, distinguishing between the physical and spiritual aspects? Therefore, we must be content to lay aside our intellectual pride and put on humility in the garment of faith. With this I do not mean that some revelation goes against reason and therefore we blindly acknowledge it by faith at the cost of reason, but rather that some things transcend reason. And transcending is a different story altogether.

Paul the apostle was perhaps the most generously inspired biblical writer when it comes to giving us the mysteries of God. He himself said,

“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”

(1Cor. 13:12 ESV)

If Paul, the messenger of the mysteries, only knew in part, I think we ought to concede that we also only know in part. And until we are in glory, this wont change. Lastly, John the apostle similarly acknowledged his limited knowledge regarding our glorified state when he said,

“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” (1John 3:2 ESV)

In summary, God, who is Spirit, has revealed certain truths to mankind, who is physical. And he has done so the only way we possibly could understand that revelation: through man in human language. Therefore, we need to be careful and resist the temptation of squeezing our theology into a neat system that appeals to our finite intellect alone. We must remember that God and his revelation will by nature transcend our best thinking.

And along these lines, we need to avoid division among the body of Christ over the nonessentials. Countless well-intended men and women have tried to ‘figure it all out’, and consequently been divided over their intellectual conclusions. As a result today, we have many many denominations that take varying positions on certain Biblical doctrines. And worse still, an ever-increasing number of cults. Their very presence is testimony of our inability to package God’s Word in such an airtight system that there is no longer any dispute over any one particular subject. Although this really isn’t the topic of this post, it does help illustration the point I want to make.

Scripture, while its primary message can be aprehended by a child, will always leave the best of scholars standing dumbfounded halfway across the theological ‘tension’ bridge. I don’t know about you, but when I find myself there, rather than trying to take down the bridge, I prefer to stop and enjoy the view.

Seminary or Cemetery?

Academically inspired death

A pastoral thought to my fellow servant leaders in ministry. In the past I have often heard (and even poked fun myself), the play on words between seminary and cemetery. This is as if to say that seminaries are nothing more than breeding ground for dead orthodoxy, whose occupants cannot be but lifeless theologians. But can we fairly criticize anyone for committing ones life to deeper study of Scripture, and more effective ministry? Unfortunately, we belittle them while simultaneously contradicting ourselves and becoming hypocritical in our practice. Before you become pharisaical and seek to stone me for my words, read on.

I can understand why we might have an aversion towards the academic world. After all, many liberal theologians, and indeed secular institutions, have done great damage to the hearts and minds of countless believers. With the undue emphasis in some denominations on formal education, and their criteria for ministry, even some of the first-church Apostles would be disqualified for ministry. This couldn’t be more erroneous.

But let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater. For here is an enigma that I feel compelled to bring up. Although we often ridicule those in the academic field of theology, whether tongue-in-cheek or veraciously, time and time again we turn to their written works. Resources such as dictionaries, commentaries, lexicons, atlases, archeological journals and so on, become our friends and helpers to aid us in our study. So while we criticize the approach of today’s theologians and their predecessors, we at the same time by our actions acknowledge their work and the benefit they have brought to the body of Christ. Their diligent efforts of study in a specialized area of Christianity occupy the majority of real estate on our bookshelves, and for some of us, in our Bible software.

So then, are we not being unfair, and dare I say, hypocritical if we let them do the hard work for us, while we reap the rewards of their labor and then call them theological corpses? To help shed some light on what I mean, take a look at this truncated list of theologically educated saints who, through their speaking and writing ministries, have helped myriads of believers “grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ” (2 Pet 3:18). It is likely that you also turn frequently to these for Biblical insights:

• H.A. Ironside • William MacDonald • John F. Walvoord • Roy B. Zuck • D. A. Carson • R. Kent Hughes • James Montgomery Boice • Griffith Thomas • M. R. DeHaan • Irving Jensen • Warran Wiersbe • J. Vernon McGee

These are just a handful from my shelf, for this blog would be unnecessarily long otherwise. And the list is miles-long in the history of Christendom.

Now, we don’t have to agree with everything coming out of seminaries. Surely, I don’t! But personally, I am grateful to the Lord and to his servants who continue to make it possible to access invaluable information that would have otherwise taken me a lifetime to gather. In the end, we Bible students, and especially Bible teachers, are better for it.

I view seminarians, those who are genuine brothers and sisters in Christ, differently now. They are a part of the body without whom we pastors, teachers and leaders, would be hard-pressed to function well. Do I think that seminary is required for ministry? Definitely not! But can it help us in our service to God and his people? Well, just take a look at some of the fruit residing on your bookshelves. Mine is full of men and women God has used to bless me, to enrich my walk with Christ, and to help equip me for the ministry to which I have been called.

In closing, this might be a good time to recognize the roles some seminaries and their students have played in the church as an invaluable part of the body. And instead of despising them, to thank God that he has put them in the body. I think Paul sums up the godly attitude we seek after, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.'” (1 Cor 12:21)