The authoritative rule for Christian belief and practice is Scripture – pure and sound. It should be the church’s first say, only say, and final say. If the truth within Scripture is compromised, then by default, the new norm will become muddled thinking and false teaching. Such a compromise will transpire when biblical truths are subtly displaced by other ideas that perhaps on the surface appear innocuous, but with further consideration are found to be a diversion from truth.
Unfortunately, such a shift is happening today among evangelical circles at an increasing rate. A prime illustration is seen when a church has a statement of faith that includes something like, “We believe in the sole authority of Scripture for faith and practice,” yet they have practically abandoned that stance by allowing false teachings to enter in, whether deliberately or indirectly. If Scripture is really their authority, as they say, it should be in actuality, not just in statement. Sometimes it can be more telling to view a church’s list of current studies to know if they truly adhere to God’s Word.
Let’s turn our attention to a few specific examples of untrue teachings that have entered the visible church, making way for a foundational swing.
#1 Hearing God’s Voice
It is quite possible you have heard the phrase “hearing God’s voice,” whether from some teacher or in conversation. Upon hearing such an expression, we should ask ourselves what the person means. Are they saying they were reading the Bible and the Holy Spirit illuminated the truth meaning of the text to their minds? Perhaps that is what they mean. But generally when the phrase is used it means something quite different. Authors Henry and Richard Blackaby, as well as teachers Beth Moore and Priscilla Shirer, to name a few, typically use it to convey the concept that God’s voice is heard when one opens themselves up or learns through experience apart from and outside of Scripture. Keep in mind they might affirm that God’s voice is heard only in Scripture. However, in reality, usually the idea is that one should hear fresh inner promptings or whispers that are not found in the Bible. In fact, they suggest that to hear God’s voice immediately and directly is fresher and greater than simply reading and studying His Word.
Do you see why this teaching is so deceptive? It is not because of what is actually stated – to hear God’s voice, but because of what is not stated – how, when, and where to hear God’s voice. The truth is that Christians are commanded to read, study, memorize, believe, and obey God’s Word, not to listen for a voice. It is in the hearing and illumination of the Word that the Spirit then promises to be with us, guiding and empowering us, as we simply walk by faith.
#2 Experiencing God
“Experiencing God” is another commonly heard theme. The idea is associated with having fresh encounters with God. An example can be seen in the book Jesus Calling by Sarah Young. Young states, “I knew that God communicated with me through the Bible, but I yearned for more…” (p. xi) What is this “more” for which Young longs? Is it for more of the Bible? It is not presented that way. Implicit in her statement is the desire for a personal encounter or direct experience with the Living God that is beyond, or other than through, the Word of God.
Should Christians desire to personally encounter God based on their own devices or whims? Is this even attainable? Mystics would answer “yes.” They believe that direct knowledge of God, spiritual truth, or ultimate reality can be attained through subjective experience as intuition or insight. But the believers’ “experiencing” of God is a knowing of God through His means – the Word of God and the Spirit of God. The eternal invisible God is unknowable to fallen and rebellious sinners apart from His own provision for them. Unfortunately, when someone wishes to experience God directly they will be operating from worldly or sensual desires.
Let’s remember what one of the more prolific writers and theologians of the 20th century, Francis Schaeffer, said:
“We must stress that the basis for our faith is neither experience nor emotion, but the truth as God has given it: in verbalized, propositional form in the Scripture and which we first of all apprehend with our mind – though, of course, the whole man must act upon it.”
Benjamin Warfield, a professor at Princeton Theological Seminary, explained the difference between biblically “experiencing” God and mystical experience, in The Biblical Review, Volume 2, 1917:
“Evangelical Christianity interprets all religious experience by the normative revelation of God recorded for us in the Holy Scriptures, and guides, directs, and corrects it from these Scriptures, and thus molds it into harmony with what God in His revealed Word lays down as the normal Christian life. The mystic, on the other hand, tends to substitute his religious experience for the objective revelation of God recorded in the written Word, as the source from which he derives his knowledge of God, or at least to subordinate the expressly revealed Word as the less direct and convincing source of knowledge of God to his own religious experience. The result is that the external revelation is relatively depressed in value, if not totally set aside.”
One of the more prominent people who introduced experience-based emphases and techniques into the visible church was author Richard Foster. His book Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth took the church world by storm when first published in 1978 (from which the below quotes are taken). It is about the quest for spirituality based on the inner workings of the soul and spiritual techniques. Interestingly, Foster was raised a Quaker. They believe in the “inward light.” To give you a taste of Foster’s book the following quotes are given:
The inner world of meditation is most easily entered through the door of the imagination. (p. 22)
Another meditation aimed at centering oneself begins by concentrating on breathing…become silent outwardly and inwardly. Be attentive to the inward living Christ…then listen once again. (p.25)
You can see Foster believes that imagination, meditation, and the quest for the “inward Christ” are the new mediation before God. Of course that is absolutely not biblical, and is in contrast to the “outward” light who invaded our world of darkness in the person of Jesus Christ, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. He and His Word are the Light having come into our darkened lives. (You can read our review of Foster’s book to gain more insight.) Not long after Foster’s book, a new seminary category of study was born – spiritual formations. It is quite a conglomeration of teachings in most seminaries these days.
#3 The Cosmic Christ
Another false thought that has entered into evangelicalism is that of a Romantic and/or Cosmic Christ. It says God comes to us “in stuff” (like the creation) and that we need “spiritual eyes” to see Him there. But does Christ make Himself known personally through the creation? No, the true God reigns transcendent over His creation and made Himself personally known in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ as revealed in Scripture.
Yet many are flocking to such authors as Ann Voskamp who writes in her book One Thousand Gifts, “Do I have eyes to see His face in all things…” (p.112). This is a new-age concept in that there is an ever present deity in the creation. It is not talking of the real Jesus, the One who became flesh and dwelt among us and died and was raised again and is seated at the right hand of God the Father. If you want that Christ, you should stick with only the Scriptures. (For an excellent review of One Thousand Gifts, you can read Bob DeWaay’s Romantic Panentheism: A Review of One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp.)
#4 The End of this Present Evil Age
Unfortunately, the introduction of many false teachers and false doctrines as mentioned here has been “winked at” by most evangelical leaders. This is not ok. If we move even slightly off a biblical foundation, where does that take us? In Acts 20:17-38 we read of Paul’s ministry to the elders of Ephesus and his emphasis in that ministry. True shepherds warn the flock of such impending dangers just like Paul. In light of this, we must not overlook the very nature of the end of this present evil age. Remember what Paul says in 2 Thessalonians 2. He warns that there would be a falling away from the faith led by the man of sin. In the midst of the church at the end of the age a beast will arise and be the catalyst of a false church and the world’s final rebellion against the God of the Scriptures. The spirit of antichrist starts in the visible church and the final apostasy will be no exception. For saints who are alive, it will be very costly to maintain a faithful testimony to the Lord Jesus Christ in the environment of both the visible apostate church and the fallen world.
But our ultimate hope is eternal and will be revealed when the Lord Jesus Christ Himself returns on that glorious day of His revelation! Until then, we should be on guard even while sitting in a church pew and wait patiently with watchful eye and prayerful hearts.