Monthly Archives: November 2014

Love: Love as a Feeling

This is part of a series of posts on the doctrine of Love. Click here to see the entire series.


The major problem in dealing with the doctrine of love is the fact that biblical Greek uses four different words that are translated as “love” in our English translations. Each of the four words conveys a very different concept. Much is lost in the translation by translating each of the words with the same English word. We would be far better off if we consistently used a different English word for each of the Greek words. There are also some compound words in the Greek language that can be translated into the English word “love”. For my purposes here I will stick with the four words described by Lewis: Eros/Erotic love, Phileo/Friendship love, Storge/Affection love, and Agape/(no equivalent in English and best simply transliterated).

Eros, phileo and storge are all natural human emotions. All human beings throughout all of human history have experienced these natural emotions. Greek philosophers, especially Aristotle, devoted great amounts of mental energy to describing the nature of each of these emotions. As natural human emotions these three feelings have several things in common:

  1. The origination of these emotions is beyond the ability of the individual to control. In other words, these emotions simply appear on the emotional radar screen of an individual without being summoned or self-consciously produced. Philosophers have disagreed as to the source of the different emotions (debating the various merits of bodily and soulish sources for them) but there is practically universal agreement that they simply come into existence because of some externality that creates them. I do not simply wake up one morning and find myself in eros. I find myself in eros because I saw a beautiful woman and had a physio/chemical reaction within my body/soul to what I saw. Furthermore, I did not decide to create the eros. It created itself as a result of the externality that came into my life.
  2. Although it is impossible to control the origination of these love emotions, it is possible to control the expression of them. I might feel tremendous eros towards my co-worker in the office. However, I value my job and make the decision to suppress my expression of that emotion to her in order to retain my job. I may suffer the effects of “lovesickness” by virtue of the fact that I am suppressing the emotion, but I prefer to suffer some lovesickness rather than suffer unemployment and poverty. So I conclude that some externality triggers the existence of an emotion and then I have the ability to either express or suppress that emotion. I recognize that many men and women, who desire to live like brutes rather than men and women, talk and act as if suppressing emotion is impossible. I will ignore their protestations since they are little more than an expression of juvenile desires to have their own way at all times.
  3. The choice to express or suppress my emotions is a moral choice. Sometimes expressing an emotion is immoral (behaving erotically towards my married co-worker). Sometimes expressing an emotion is moral (telling a family member that I storge him). Sometimes repressing an emotion is immoral (withholding affection from a new born child). Sometimes repressing an emotion is moral (deciding to not commit adultery). A Christian is required by the Scriptures to exercise emotional self-control. Therefore, for each emotion that a believer encounters, the origination of which is impossible to control, the believer must decide what it is and whether to express or suppress it. Expressing and suppressing emotions consistent with the revealed will of God in the Bible is a mark of a mature Christian individual.

Agape is different from all of the other Greek love emotions in that it is not an emotion at all. In fact, agape is described as a behavior. I Corinthians 13 is the “love chapter” that most believers are very familiar with. It is striking that as love (agape) is described there, there is not a single reference to an emotion. Indeed, every characteristic of agape is a behavior. Look at the list. Love is: longsuffering, kind, not jealous, not boastful, not proud, not rude, not self-seeking, and not easily provoked. Furthermore, love does not keep a list of wrongs suffered and does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth. Each of these descriptions of agape actually describes a behavior by a human moral agent. A person loves (agape) properly when he behaves properly. This is of vital importance in the doctrine of love and is usually lost in practical evangelical theology today.

Several things follow from what has been said above. First, whenever we talk about the biblical doctrine of love we must be very careful we know which love we are talking about. Because there is such a great difference between the emotional loves and because one of the loves (agape) is not an emotion at all, it is vitally important that we be clear which word is being used. John 21: 15-17 serves as a good example of how confusing it can be to interpret a passage when we do not know which Greek word for love is being used.

This passage deals with the restoration and forgiveness of Peter after his denial of Christ during the passion week. You all know the story where Jesus asks Peter three times if he “loves“ Him? The standard interpretation of this passage is that Jesus asks Peter this question three times in order to make up for the three times that Peter denied Jesus. That interpretation, however, really misses the point of what is going on in the dialogue between Peter and Jesus. Here are the questions and answers as they are in the Greek:

Question # 1: Peter, do you agape (as evidenced by your behavior) Me more than the other apostles?
Answer # 1: Yes Lord, You know that I love You as a friend (phileo).
Question # 2: Peter, do you agape (as evidenced by your behavior) Me?
Answer # 2: Yes Lord, You know that I love You as a friend (phileo).
Question # 3: Peter, do you love Me as a friend (phileo)?
Answer # 3: You know that I love you as a friend (phileo).

John records that Peter “was hurt” when Jesus asked him the third time if he loved Him. Why was he hurt? The standard interpretation is that he was upset that Jesus kept asking him the same question but that he realized Jesus had to ask him the question as often as he had denied Jesus. However, when the actual words are examined, we see that something entirely different is taking place.

Jesus asks Peter three different questions. His first question was if Peter agaped Him more than the others. That clearly is a reference to Peter’s earlier statement that even if all others deserted Him, he would not. Peter, no doubt embarrassed and ashamed of his earlier bravado, did not answer the question; he simply asserted his friendship love for Jesus. Jesus then scaled down the question and asked him if he simply agaped Him at all? Peter also did not answer that question. How could he? His behavior clearly indicated that he did not agape Jesus. If he did agape Jesus he would never have deserted Him! Finally Jesus scales the question down to the level that a humbled Peter found himself in. Jesus simply wants to know if Peter loves Him as a friend. Peter is hurt because he has already told Jesus two times that he does! At last, here is a love that he can declare for Jesus with genuine enthusiasm. Peter reasserts his friendship for Jesus the third time and Jesus drops the issue. However, Peter has undoubtedly figured out the point of Jesus’ mild rebuke. All of this is missed in the English translations of the passage.

The second thing that follows from the different Greek conceptions of love is that God does not command His people to “love” someone or something that requires the self-production of an emotion (eros, phileo, or storge). For example, God does not command that I fall in love (eros) with Betty Sue. How could He? It is beyond my control as to whether I will fall in love with Betty Sue or not. However, if I do fall in love (eros) with Betty Sue, I am responsible for how I deal with that emotion and God most certainly has issued many commands related to my behavior with respect to that emotion. It should not surprise us that when God commands His people to “love” (both Himself, others, and our enemies), He uses the word agape. Clearly God is not commanding us to produce some sort of emotion or feelings towards Him or others, including our enemies. Equally as clear, He is commanding us to behave in a certain way towards Him and others, including our enemies. This is a vital point that is utterly lost in the evangelical doctrine of love.

Agape is by far the most common word for love in the Bible and it almost universally describes the nature of our relationship with God and others. When God commands us to love Him, others, and our enemies, He is commanding us to agape them. That means that He is commanding us to behave in a certain way towards them. He is not commanding us to try and conjure up some warm feelings that we can then toss in the general direction of others. By this point you should be realizing that you could be free from the evangelical dread, and its associated spiritual depression, of continually being incapable of producing warm feelings for people that you despise. How you might feel towards another person is irrelevant. What matters is how you behave towards them. Do you agape them? Are you patient and kind? Do you seek your own way with them? Do you keep a mental list of the wrong things they have done to you? Your behavior determines whether you love them or not. A Christian should never suffer from an anguished soul because he finds unpleasant and immoral emotions in himself for others. The question is, what do you do with those unpleasant and immoral emotions? One who loves (agape) makes the moral decision to suppress immoral emotions. The person who hates expresses immoral emotions and feelings. Behavior determines love.

Love: Introduction

This is the first of a series of posts on the doctrine of Love. Click here to see the entire series.


Evangelicals speak of love perhaps more than any other doctrine. No doubt it is true that, when compared to any other doctrine, love is the main theme in sermons preached by evangelical pastors. Books are written, seminars are conducted, and songs are sung extolling the virtues of love. All Evangelicals know that “God is love”. They also know that “God so loved the world….” They also know that “…the greatest of these is love.” Sadly, they don’t know what love is.

False conceptions about the nature of love have resulted in ruined lives, immoral behavior, and a denigration of the character of the God of the Bible. I believe that it is not an exaggeration to assert that the current erroneous doctrine of love has done more to harm the missionary efforts of the Church than any other false doctrine currently held by Evangelicals. The evangelical Church has been extraordinarily successful in convincing the citizens of the world that God loves them “just the way they are”. As a result, many members of the world are happy to remain just the way they are, and yet claim that they are loved and saved by God.

The evangelical doctrine of love can be summarized as follows:

  1. Love cannot be precisely defined. Rather, it is best understood as a warm feeling or emotion that brings about a general feeling of contentedness with the circumstances of life and the world.
  2. God loves everybody in the universe and desperately wants to enter into a relationship with each and every individual. However, He is either unwilling or unable to override human free will so He waits patiently to see who might be willing to exercise his free will and engage Him in relationship. He is hurt when men ignore Him and He is happy when men engage Him.
  3. If we want to have happy lives we need to exercise our free will and make a decision to accept Jesus into our hearts. Then we can enter into loving relationship with Him. This relationship with Him is characterized by lots of warm feelings about Him, especially when we think of His warms feelings toward us.
  4. Our relationships with others are to be characterized by warm feelings held by us and conveyed towards them. This is true even for those who are our enemies. Jesus clearly stated, in the Sermon on the Mount, that we have a moral duty to love (have warm feelings for) our enemies. One of the great struggles in the Christian life is the struggle to produce warm feelings for those that we do not like. Christians who are highly sanctified are able to do this on a regular basis. Regular Christians struggle with this all their lives.
  5. God’s love is unconditional and ours must be as well. We are required to love (have warm feelings and wish good things for) everybody that we meet, without attaching any conditions to our love. God, we are told, loves all human beings because it is His nature to do so. He could no more cease to love men than He could cease to exist. We are to be like Him so we must love all men unconditionally as well.
  6. Following in the footsteps of the Marcionite heresy, the God of the Old Testament revealed the wrath of God upon some men, but the God of the New Testament reveals the superior love of God for all men. Although this doctrine is almost never clearly described, most all Evangelicals hold to a form of Marcionism in that they believe that the God of the Old Testament has changed into the God of the New Testament. As a result, the hateful and destructive behaviors of the Old Testament God no longer take place. Instead, the unconditionally loving God of the New Testament has replaced Him. The Old Testament God killed His enemies. The New Testament God, as an act of loving His enemies, desperately desires for them to exercise their free will and come into relationship with Him so He can do nice things and have nice thoughts for them.

There are other elements in the evangelical doctrine of love that will come out as we move forward. However, I believe the above six points are a good synopsis of the current evangelical doctrine of love. Every one of the above points is horribly wrong and results in spiritual damage to any who hold them, as well as doing spiritual harm to the people with whom they have contact.

In this essay I will be examining the nature of love in both the Old and New Testaments. To come to an understanding about the nature of love, an examination into the characteristics of human feelings and emotions is necessary. I will also spend some time discussing the doctrine of hate, often considered by Evangelicals to be the antithesis of love. I will look at some of the most famous passages used by Evangelicals to develop their erroneous doctrine of love and attempt to interpret them in their proper context. Additionally, I will look at love in relationship to the Law, forgiveness, evangelism and marriage. Also, I will deal with the elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about. How are we to deal with the apparent contradiction between the passages in the Bible that exhort us to hate and to love at the same time, without resorting to the Marcionite heresy?

Before going any further I believe it is important to mention an important prerequisite for this essay. All readers should be familiar with C.S. Lewis’ “The Four Loves”. If you have not read that book you should take the time now to do so. I presuppose much that is in that book and the reader might find some of this discussion confusing without the intellectual background that Lewis provides.

Evangelical Heresies: Dispensationalism Part 4 and Conclusion

This is part of a series of posts on Evangelical Heresies. Click here to see the entire series.


Not the Chosen People:

Ask any Evangelical who God’s “chosen people” are and you will always get the same answer. The Jews. The reason for this belief is found in the dispensational doctrine of two redemptive plans for the world. Prior to the advent of Dispensationalism the Church universally believed that God judged the Jews in 70 AD for their execution of His Son. Although it is still possible for individuals of Jewish descent to be saved by grace through faith in the Messiah, no Jew has any inside track to God simply because of his Jewishness. Quite the contrary, the Jews have been divorced and cut off from their status as covenant people. God does not have two plans of salvation and He is not going to come back to His “first love” at some point in the future and save all of national Israel. The reestablishment of national Israel in 1946 is totally irrelevant to a biblical eschatological system.

God’s chosen people are found in His Church:

“Even so Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith that are sons of Abraham.” (Galatians 3: 6-7)

“For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” (Galatians 3: 26-29)

Romans 11 speaks of the remnant of faithful Jews that would be grafted into the new covenant people, the Church:

“I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin…. In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God’s gracious choice…. You will say then, ‘Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.’ Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, and you stand only by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; for if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will He spare you…. And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in.”

The covenant people of God have changed. Under the Old Testament, national Israel was God’s covenant people. Under the New Testament, the Church is God’s covenant people. The Church is God’s glorious, mysterious plan for history. The Church is the Bride of Christ that will enter into the Marriage Supper of the Lamb in order to initiate the eternal state. The Church is the pinnacle of God’s redemptive plan. To suggest that the Church will be raptured out of the way in order to allow God to go back to national Israel in an alternative redemptive plan is heretical.

Judaizers and the Millennial Kingdom:

According to Dispensationalism, Jesus will return at the end of the seven-year period of great tribulation to establish an earthly kingdom in Jerusalem. At that time Satan and the anti-Christ will be crushed and thrown into the pit. All of the Old Testament prophecies about the future golden age for national Israel (which are interpreted by everyone else as referring to the Church) will come literally true during the 1000-year period of that Kingdom. All Jews (never ethnically defined as to exactly what percentage of Jewish blood must be coursing through the veins in order to qualify) who have survived the tribulation will be automatically saved.

During this millennial kingdom the temple will be rebuilt and the Old Testament law will be reinstated. All faithful Jews (and any Gentile proselytes) will engage in the practice of the Old Testament sacrificial system as a memorial to the previous sacrifice of Jesus. If this sounds a lot like the Church of Rome, it is. Just as the Catholic church re-crucifies Jesus once a week in the mass, the millennial worship will be continually re-crucifying Jesus on a daily basis in the system of animal sacrifices. The simple assertion that the animal sacrifice system will be looking back to Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice does not change the heretical nature of what is being done.

Paul had some pretty harsh words for those who wanted to return to the Old Testament sacrificial system after joining the Church. He said:

“But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1: 8-9. It is important to note that Paul is specifically referring to the Judaizers in this text.)

“Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Galatians 2: 3. Paul is here writing about their return to the OT sacrificial system as a way of life.)

“Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you.” (Galatians 5: 2)

“Would that those who are troubling you would even mutilate themselves.” (Galatians 5: 12. Paul did not think very highly of those who required true believers to practice the OT ceremonial law.)

Hebrews:

The book of Hebrews is not very popular with Dispensationalists. You could spend an entire life in a strong dispensationalist church and never hear a sermon from Hebrews. The reason is obvious. The book of Hebrews was written to show the superiority of the New Covenant. The author of Hebrews makes absolutely no mention about some future millennial kingdom where the superior new covenant will be replaced by the inferior old covenant.

Hebrews 8: 6-7 says, “But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second.” The question that every Dispensationalist must answer is, how can you go back to an inferior covenant in the millennial kingdom?

Hebrews 9: 11-12 says, “But when Christ appeared as high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.” It is hard to see how to square this passage with a belief in the rebuilding of the temple and the reinstitution of animal sacrifice during the millennial kingdom.

The entire message of Hebrews is contrary to the doctrines of Dispensationalism. The Old Covenant is inferior, not superior. Animal sacrifices are to be stopped, not reinstated. There is no glory in returning to the sacrificial system within the law when the ultimate sacrifice has already been made. The millennial kingdom of Dispensationalism is not glorious. On the contrary, just like the Catholic mass, it would be a mockery of what Jesus has done.

A Combination of Heresies:

Dispensationalism draws upon the historical roots of the heresy of continuing revelation through mystical experience. It builds its theological system upon the heresies of Marcionism (God is mutable in that He had to change His plan when the Jews crucified Jesus) and Pelagianism (God is bound by the free will decisions of the Jews and unable or unwilling to override them). It builds through the heretical ideas of the rapture of the church and the separate redemptive plans of God for separate peoples and culminates in the apostate practice of the Judaizers who return to the OT ceremonial law in the millennial kingdom. Everything about this system is wrong. Dispensationalists need to repent.

Conclusion

The heart and soul of evangelical theology is the doctrine of the free will of man. That is heresy. The evangelical doctrine of love (to be discussed in a later essay) demands that God be mutable. Hence, the ancient heresy of Marcionism is adopted. Pietism requires God to speak to each individual so this combination of extreme forms of Montanism and Gnosticism come together to create the charismatic heresy of continuing revelation. All of these heresies come together in the high point of evangelical theology with the doctrines of Dispensationalism. It is a rotten house, built with rotten wood on a thoroughly rotten foundation.

It is not possible to worship a god that does not exist and be saved. As a result of the combination of the five heresies discussed in this essay, I believe that most Evangelicals now worship a god that does not exist. As a result, most Evangelicals are not saved. What is to be done? Evangelicals must repent!

Evangelical Heresies: Dispensationalism Part 3

This is part of a series of posts on Evangelical Heresies. Click here to see the entire series.


The Rapture:

I believe it is fair to say that the doctrine of the rapture is the single most popular and widely believed doctrine in Evangelicalism. Furthermore, I believe it is fair to say that belief in the doctrine of the rapture has become the litmus test for orthodoxy among Evangelicals. To believe in the Rapture makes one Evangelical. To not believe in the rapture makes one unbiblical and theologically liberal. In our generation, no other doctrine has aroused the passionate interest found associated with the doctrine of the rapture.

It is very strange that the doctrine of the rapture should have such prominence among Evangelicals given the historical fact that the doctrine did not even exist for the first 18 centuries of Church history. It is also strange that the rapture should be so crucial in Dispensationalist theology given the biblical fact that the word does not even appear in the Bible and given the exegetical fact that the entire doctrine is based upon one passage of Scripture: I Thessalonians 4:17, which says, “Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord.”

Dispensationalists believe that the Church is raptured (physically removed) from the fact of the earth just prior to the seven-year period known as the Great Tribulation. This rapture of the Church pertains to all true believers on earth and it signifies the beginning of the seventieth week prophesied in Daniel 9. Notwithstanding the fact that Dispensationalists practice their nonsensical hermeneutic and rip Daniel 9 from its historical context and shove it forward to some future time, the rapture of the Church is alleged to be the great event that starts the final time clock for the earth. After all the true believers are removed, the world begins to experience serious moral decline, culminating in the rise of the Anti-Christ at the mid-way point in the seven-year period. The Anti-Christ terrorizes the earth for the remaining 3.5 years, which comes to an end when Jesus returns to earth to establish a kingdom that will last for 1000 years. This doctrine is known as the “pre-tribulational rapture” and is the most common view among Dispensationalists. Other views (held dear enough by Dispensationalists to split their churches but not discussed here) include the “mid-tribulational rapture” and the “post-tribulational rapture”.

If the doctrine of the rapture were simply the strange belief that God is going to take all of His true believers off the earth at some point prior to the final judgment, it would be a curiosity, but it would not be worthy of much discussion. However, the reason for the rapture is where Dispensationalists fall into heresy. The reason the Church has to be removed from the earth is because it is “in the way” of God’s initial plan to save all of national Israel. It is important to remember that Dispensational theology believes that God was “taken by surprise” when the Jews exercised their free will and executed the Messiah. The crucifixion of Jesus by the Jews was a huge problem for God and His plan to save all of national Israel. While He was trying to figure out what to do, He created the Church. The Church was never intended to be a long-term organization. The Church, according to Dispensational theology, was created to fill in the time between the crucifixion of Jesus and the time God goes back to His original plan to save all of national Israel. Therefore, when God gets back to His original plan of salvation for Israel (which takes place during the seventieth week of Daniel 9, now at least 2000 years separated from the sixty ninth week), He needs to remove the Church and all things associated with it.

Evangelical Dispensationalists rarely emphasize this understanding that the rapture needs to take place to remove the Church and get back to God’s original plan of salvation. The popularity of the doctrine of the rapture is not due to its belief that the Church is a parenthetical thought in the mind of God. The popularity of the doctrine of the rapture among Evangelicals is due to the fact that it gives them a hope for a quick escaped from a hard life at some point in the future. Many Evangelicals hold on to the doctrine of the rapture because it give them the hope that someday they will not have to continue living with their rebellious children or pay off their onerous financial obligations. Rarely do Evangelicals consider that their belief in the rapture also requires them to believe in two plans of salvation: one for Gentiles and one for national Israel.

Israel and the Church:

In 1946, when national Israel was established by government decree, Dispensationalism went into a frenzy. Suddenly, we were being told that we were on the cusp of the rapture, the great tribulation, and the anti-Christ. Hal Lindsey (in his book Late, Great Planet Earth) stated that the time clock for all of the final events of human history was started when the Allied forces decided to solve the “Jewish Problem” by dispossessing native Palestinians and created a State of Israel. Why was the creation of the nation of Israel so important for Dispensationalists?

Unlike any other theological system that has existed in the theological history of the Church, Dispensationalism believes that God has two separate and distinct plans of salvation. Plan A was to redeem all Jews and national Israel. That plan was momentarily suspended when the Jews crucified Jesus. Plan B was to redeem the Church, and then rapture them away so He can get back to plan A. Plan A, part II, is to initiate the 70th week of Daniel, the tribulation and the anti-Christ; all of which will cause all Jews and national Israel to exercise their free will and repent of their sins and turn, in faith, to the Messiah.

Nobody in the theological history of the Church has ever believed anything but that the Church is the New Testament fulfillment of Old Testament Israel. Historic Premillennialism, Amillennialism, and Postmillennialism all agree that the Church is the fulfillment of OT Israel. Dispensationalists are unique in their belief that the Church and Israel are two entirely separate and distinct peoples of God and that they have two separate and distinct plans for redemption. This, of course, is heresy.

Paul, writing to the church at Ephesus, had some different things to say. Here are just a couple of the things he wrote to the Ephesians:

“He made known to use the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things upon the earth.” (1:9-10)

“…which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church.” (1:20-22)

“But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, that in Himself He might make the two into one new man,… and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross.” (2: 13-15)

“…for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household.” (2: 18-19)

“There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.” (4: 4-6)

The dispensational doctrine that God has two separate plans of redemption is contrary to both Scripture and theological history. This doctrine is rarely discussed, even by Dispensationalists. However, this doctrine gets to the heart of the heresy of Dispensationalism.

Evangelical Heresies: Dispensationalism Part 2

This is part of a series of posts on Evangelical Heresies. Click here to see the entire series.


Historic Premillennialism:

The doctrine of the millennium comes from one passage in the entire Bible. Revelation 20 says, “And I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years…. so that he should not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were completed; And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded…and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed…. And when the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison.” This passage is immediately followed by the passage describing the “great white throne” judgment of Jesus of the nations at the end of human history.

John’s description of a thousand year period caused immediate confusion in the minds of the next generation of theologians. The crucial question was how did the physical return of Jesus to the earth relate to the timing of the millennial time period? Three views rapidly developed. The pre-millennialist (the “historic premillennial doctrine discussed here) declared that Jesus returns to earth prior to the establishment of an earthly millennial Kingdom that will last a literal thousand years. The A-millennialist (the hyphenated spelling here is incorrect, I am exaggerating the word in order to show the differences between the three views) believes that the thousand-year period is not supposed to be interpreted as a literal thousand years. Rather, it is a symbolic reference to the entire age of the Church, however long that might be. The Post-millennialist asserted that Jesus would return at the end of a literal (it should be noted that not all postmillennialists believe that the thousand year period is to be taken literally) thousand year period of prosperity that would be ushered in by the successful preaching of the Gospel to the nations that would result in the conversion of the vast majority of humankind.

All three of the above views were present in the early Church. All three of the above views had orthodox proponents. All three of the above views have continued down to today (although historic premillennialism is very hard to find). All three of the above views have orthodox proponents. None of the above views contain the heretical doctrines found in modern Dispensationalism. Any attempt to appeal to historic premillennialism as the root of modern Dispensationalism is fruitless. Let’s move on to the specific heretical doctrines of Dispensationalism.

The Dispensations:

Firmly grounded in the Pelagian heresy, the Dispensationalist claims that God has actually dealt with humankind in seven different fashions throughout history. These seven different dispensations are allegedly recorded in the letters to the seven churches in the first three chapters of Revelation. Despite the fact that dispensationalists usually demand that Revelation be interpreted literally, they completely ignore that requirement when it comes to the letters to the churches. Rather than seeing the seven churches as seven real churches, they see the seven churches as seven periods of time that encompass all of the history of the Church down to the present time.

Each time God tries to save man in one way, He is forced to adopt another method because of the overriding power of man’s sovereign free will. God’s plans for mankind are continually being frustrated by the free moral (or, immoral) acts of men. Dispensationalists quibble and argue over the exact timing of each of the dispensations. That is not important here. What is important here is that God is seen as being of a different nature and character in each of the dispensations. God is continually reinventing Himself in vain and futile attempts to reach the mankind that He loves so much, or so we are told. The old Marcionite heresy is taken to new heights with seven, rather than two, manifestations of God’s character and nature throughout time. There is almost universal agreement that we are now living in the period of the Laodicean church, which happens to be the last of the seven churches. Hence, we are living in the last times. Obviously, this doctrine of seven dispensations is the origin for the popular name Dispensationalism. Dispensationalism only exists because it presupposes that man has sovereign free will. In the absence of the Pelagian heresy, there would be no need for the doctrines of Dispensationalism.

A New Hermeneutic:

As I mentioned above, Dispensationalists insist upon what they call the “literal” hermeneutic. According to the principles of literal interpretation, the whole of the Bible is to be interpreted literally, even if the style of literature under consideration is not generally interpreted literally by those in other theological circles. Dispensationalists make a very big deal out of their literal interpretation rule. Anybody who does not agree with their principle of literal interpretation is immediately deemed to be a liberal and an unbeliever. Read any of the popular dispensational writings about this principle of literal interpretation and it can be quickly seen that the “grammatical/historical method” of interpretation (used by the Church for hundreds of years) is considered to be an example of apostate, liberal theology. With respect to their hermeneutic, you are either for them or against them. There is no middle ground.

There are two huge problems with their literal interpretation doctrine. First, they themselves are not consistent in applying their literal interpretative method. This causes them to derive interpretational absurdities when they approach various texts. Second, the abandonment of the grammatical/historical method leads to gross interpretative error by pulling biblical passages completely out of their historical context and fast-forwarding them to the 21st century. Let’s look at some examples of these two errors.

Revelation 7: 2-4 says, “And I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, having the seal of the living God; and he cried out with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea, saying, ‘Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the bond-servants of our God on their foreheads.’ And I heard the number of those who were sealed, one hundred and forth-four thousand sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel.” Dispensationalists say that this passage should be interpreted literally. The usual interpretation of this passage is that it applies to the future period of tribulation (the seven year period of Great Tribulation) and it describes God’s sealing of 144,000 Jewish evangelists who have a literal sign placed upon their foreheads. They then go on to preach throughout the period of tribulation and end up bringing all Jews to salvation.

For my purposes here I will ignore the fact that the Book of Revelation is an example of apocalyptic literature and that apocalyptic literature was never intended to be interpreted literally. I will ignore that the number 144,000 is obviously highly symbolic (12 X 12 X 1000) and not to be taken literally. I will ignore the fact that Dispensationalists rip this passage entirely from the historical context of John and assume that it only has specific application in a time that is yet future. I am only using this passage as an example of how Dispensationalists insist that all of the Bible, and especially the prophetic/apocalyptic passages, is to be interpreted literally.

Revelation 1:1 begins by saying, “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His bond-servants, the things which must shortly take place; and He sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant John.” Revelation 22:6 concludes by saying, “And he said to me, ‘These words are faithful and true’; and the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent His angel to show His bond-servants the things which must shortly take place.” If these passages are to be taken literally, why do Dispensationalists believe that none of the things recorded in Revelation (other than the dispensations of the first three chapters) have taken place?

Dispensationalists believe in a literal, personal anti-Christ. Revelation 13:1 is one of many passages that describe the “Beast”. It says, “And he stood on the sand of the seashore. And I saw a beast coming up out of the sea, having ten horns and seven heads, and on his horns were ten diadems, and on his heads were blasphemous names.” The “Beast” is understood to be the anti-Christ by Dispensationalists. Later in this chapter (vs. 5) he is described as having authority to act for 42 months. That is understood by Dispensationalists as the last 3.5 years of the Great Tribulation period. Obviously this reference is to the personal anti-Christ. Yet, no Dispensationalist believes that he will have seven heads and ten horns. Why, if everything is to be interpreted literally, is this passage interpreted symbolically?

Many dispensationalists see references to a future nuclear war in the many phrases in Revelation that speak about things like the moon turning to blood and the stars falling from the sky. However, if these passages are to be taken literally, as Dispensationalists insist, why are they interpreted symbolically as a reference to nuclear war?

The list of inconsistencies could go on for hundreds of examples. Dispensationalists are not consistent with their own principle of literal interpretation. This truth would not be particularly significant if it was not also true that they hold out the principle of literal interpretation as necessary for orthodoxy. Dispensationalists arrogantly dismiss amillennialists and postmillennialists as liberal heretics because they do not agree with their hermeneutical principle of the literal interpretation of apocalyptic passages, a principle that they also routinely violate. Their inconsistency is nothing more than an example of hypocrisy and spiritual pride.

The early church largely adopted a method of interpretation known as the allegorical hermeneutic. Based upon Galatians 4:24 they believed it was possible to find thousands of allegories in the plain words of the Bible. Tremendous amounts of time and energy were expended in finding spiritual truth through allegory. As time went on theologians began to realize that they were losing touch with the simple historical truth of the Scriptures. Augustine in particular waged a war to establish the grammatical/historical method of interpretation as the most reasonable to attain an understanding of the Bible. The allegorical method was set aside and the grammatical/historical method reigned supreme in orthodoxy down to the present time. Indeed, the first real challenge (from those who at least profess to be orthodox) to the grammatical/historical method comes from the Dispensationalists.

The grammatical/historical method is exactly what it sounds like. According to this style of biblical interpretation, the Bible is to be understood in terms of its own grammatical construction and in terms of the historical context in which it was written. The primary goal of the exegete using this method is to first determine what the writings meant to the original recipients of the text and then to seek out applications of those specific truths to his present situation. Perhaps the most damaging error of the literal method of interpretation is that it entirely ignores history.

The Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24 and 25) begins with a simple question, “And as He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, ‘Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?'” The question that the disciples asked of Jesus was in the context of the statement He had just made while passing by the Temple. He had said, “Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here shall be left upon another, which will not be torn down.” Jesus had just prophesied the destruction of the Temple, which was supposed to be eternal, and the disciples wanted to know when that would happen. Since they believed that the Temple was to be eternal they also assumed that if it was to be destroyed, that destruction must be associated with the end of human history. Dispensationalists, when compared to orthodox theologians, interpret the Olivet Discourse completely differently.

Following their literal interpretation principle and with total disregard for the history of the Temple, they proudly proclaim that Matthew 24:15 (which says, “Therefore when you see the Abomination of Desolation which was spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place…”) teaches that the personal anti-Christ will march into the Temple during the period of the Great Tribulation and pronounce himself to be god. All of this is to take place at some still undetermined future time. The fact that the “abomination of desolation” spoken of by Daniel is universally understood by orthodox theologians as a reference to Antiochus Epiphanes, who had lived hundreds of years prior to the question from the disciples, does not bother the Dispensationalist. Antiochus had indeed pronounced himself to be god as well as having desecrated the Temple, just as Daniel had predicted. The average Dispensationalist does not have the slightest idea who Antiochus was, nor does he care.

Less than one generation after Jesus told His disciples that the Temple would be destroyed (in AD 70), invading Roman armies destroyed the Temple. Not one stone was left upon another. All had been torn down. The conquering Roman general had entered and desecrated the holy place inside the Temple (in another fulfillment of the original prophecy from Daniel about the “abomination of desolation”), just as Jesus had predicted. In fact, Jesus (in verse 24:34) had said that this destruction of the Temple would take place within a particular time frame. He said, “Truly I say to you, this generation shall not pass away until all these things take place.” At this point the Dispensationalist ignores his belief in the literal interpretation of every passage. According to the Dispensationalist, that generation did pass away and absolutely nothing that Jesus talked about in the Olivet Discourse had taken place. The entire Olivet Discourse is ripped from its historical context and placed at some point in the future. Everything that Jesus said to His disciples would have no impact upon their lives. Everything, according to the Dispensationalist, that Jesus said would have no impact upon any Christian for at least 2,000 years!

Dispensationalists do not practice what they preach. They do not follow their own hermeneutical principles on many occasions. Even worse, they completely ignore the historical context of practically all prophetic passages of Scripture, forcing everything into the future millennial kingdom. Most heinous of all, they declare anyone who does not agree with these practices a liberal and an unbeliever. Dispensationalists need to repent!

Evangelical Heresies: Dispensationalism Part 1

This is part of a series of posts on Evangelical Heresies. Click here to see the entire series.


What do you get when you combine the heresy of authoritative revelation through mystical experience and Pelagianism? The answer is Dispensationalism. Dispensationalism is an eschatological heresy. As such, it deals with things that are associated with the end of human history. Dispensationalism is a relatively new doctrine that is less than 200 years old but has nevertheless come to dominate evangelical thinking. It is scarcely possible to find an Evangelical who is not dispensational. In fact, dispensationalism so dominates Evangelical thinking that those who are not dispensational are generally considered to be heretics. Are you a dispensationalist? Answer this question: do you believe in the rapture? If you do, you are a dispensationalist heretic.

Dispensationalism finds its roots in the ecstatic/mystical experiences of Edwin Irving in the 1830s. Like most groups in which ecstatic/mystical behavior was the norm, Mr. Irving was greatly concerned about the apostate nature of the Church in his time. He was also fascinated with end times. Mr. Irving was not a systematic thinker and he made no attempt to put together a new doctrine of the end times. He simply had a series of mystical experiences about what might be happening at the time of the end. Nevertheless, many of the elements found in Dispensationalism today find their roots in the words and experiences of Irving.

The Englishman John Darby picked up on the teachings of Irving circa 1850. Unlike Irving, Darby was a systematizer. He was attempting to make sense of the apostate nature of the Church in light of the words of Scripture. He could not understand how the Church could be so unfaithful to the calling of God and be so filled with disobedient members while at the same time be the beautiful Bride promised in Scripture at the time of the end of human history.

Unfortunately, Darby was Pelagian. His Pelagianism led him to a doctrine of the Church that was corrupt and heretical. His doctrine of the Church became the foundation of the modern doctrine of Dispensationalism. According to Darby, when the Jews exercised their free will (the Pelagian heresy) to reject Jesus as their Messiah, God was forced to scramble and come up with a Plan B. It was God’s intention and desire for the Jews to accept Jesus as Messiah. When they refused to do so by killing Him on the cross, God suddenly found that His plan for redemption had been thwarted by the free will of man (God is not sovereign, man is.).

God’s Plan B was to momentarily set aside His plan for His chosen people and buy some time with a diversion. That diversion was to be the Church. After Jesus had been killed, God set His plan into action by using the Apostles to create this new institution called the Church. The Church, according to dispensational doctrine, never was God’s original plan. The Church only exists because the first plan went awry. By establishing the Church God was able to buy Himself some time to come up with another way to try and convince and persuade His chosen people to believe in Him. That plan is made up by all the fine details of dispensational theology and includes such famous doctrines as the rapture, the personal anti-christ, the great tribulation, and the wholesale salvation of national Israel.

Darby’s doctrines rapidly spread throughout England. In addition, Darby made seven trips to the United States between the years of 1862 and 1877. While in the United States, Darby met up with Dwight Moody in Chicago. Although there is some debate among historians as to whether Moody fully believed the doctrines being propounded by Darby, there is almost universal agreement that Moody gave Darby’s doctrines a platform through which they could reach some of America’s best and brightest believers.

Dwight Moody was a man who believed the heresy of the co-authority of mystical experience with the Bible. He was fully committed to the holiness movement and a strong believer in the doctrine of the second work of grace by the “baptism of the Holy Spirit”. After the second work of grace had taken place in the life of the believer, he would be equipped to make progress in his sanctification. The first work of grace, justification, was taken care of by the Holy Spirit in the heart of the believer at the time he exercised his free will (Pelagian heresy) to “accept Jesus into his heart”.

Moody pushed these heretical doctrines further than anyone before him and came up with the now popular and famous doctrine of the “carnal Christian”. This doctrine asserts that it is possible for a person to be saved but to show no evidence of that salvation with good works. Moody was perplexed by the fact that thousands were coming forward to “accept Christ” at his crusades and yet, almost nobody was going on to join local churches and make progress in sanctification within the confines of the local church. To solve this problem he posited the belief that men can exercise their free will to make a decision for Christ and become born again, thus guaranteeing their salvation. This is known as the first work of grace and was sufficient to get a person into Heaven.

The second work of grace, the baptism of the Holy Spirit (which later becomes associated with “speaking in tongues”), is an optional work of grace that is necessary for any believer who desires to make progress in holiness. Although it was certainly desirable to make progress in holiness, it was by no means required for salvation. Hence, the doctrine of the carnal Christian is born. The carnal Christian is the one who has accepted Jesus but has no desire for the second work of grace that will allow him to make progress in sanctification. Eventually he will go to Heaven, but today he will live like Hell. Needless to say, this doctrine dominates the minds of Evangelicals today. Sadly, it is one of the chief comforts for many parents with disobedient children who cling to the hope/belief that because their child “confessed Christ” at some tender age, it is certain that the child is saved today, although the child shows no evidence of salvation.

Moody had a massive public relations platform for communicating with the citizens of this country. He gave free and unfettered access to his communication platform to the proponents of Dispensationalism. They took full advantage of it and in a very short time practically all the holiness movements were converted to the doctrines of Dispensationalism. There seemed to be a natural affinity between the ecstatic experiences of the holiness movements and the almost otherworldly prophecies of the Dispensationalists. The heresy of the co-authority of revelation received through ecstatic experience with Scripture was in full force within both of these groups.

One of the high points for the successful domination of Dispensationalism over all other orthodox eschatological doctrines took place in 1909 with the publication of the Scofield Reference Bible. The audacity of Scofield was seen in his willingness to publish his dispensationalist commentary within the very texts of Scripture itself. As far as I am aware, this technique had never been used previously. The impact was enormous. It is still possible to find people who can quote Scofield’s dispensational commentary in the same way they can quote the Scripture. In the minds of many, the two were one and the same. The average Joe Christian would do his daily devotions with a Bible that found dispensationalist doctrines in thousands of passages of the Bible that had nothing to do with the doctrine of the end times. A better way to convert the masses to the doctrines of Dispensationalism has never been found.

The Scofield Reference Bible was immensely popular and, in 1924, Lewis Sperry Chafer established Dallas Theological Seminary to capitalize on the popularity of Scofield and Dispensationalism. In a short time it grew to be the largest theological seminary in the country. Hundreds, and later thousands, of graduates were being sent out to teach and preach the doctrines of Dispensationalism. By the time of World War II, the takeover was complete within fundamentalist churches.

After World War II, when the Allied powers were gather together to divide up the spoils of the war, the decision was made to deal with the “Jewish problem” by designating a piece of land in the Middle East as the new state of Israel. The people who were living there were to be removed (the Palestinians) and all Jews were to be encouraged to return to their “homeland” in order to escape persecution. This creation of the new state of Israel sent dispensational theologians into a tizzy. They interpreted this event (read Hal Lindsey’s “Late, Great Planet Earth” for the details) as the starting point for the final eschatological countdown. From 1946 onward, we were living in the “last times”.

1946 marked the beginning of the political/religious movement known as Zionism. With Zionism we find an strange amalgamation of Jewish nationalists, politically conservatives, and dispensationalists. The cultural and historical setting was ripe for Dispensationalism to adopt, in wholesale fashion, the beliefs of Zionism. Zionism as modified by dispensational doctrine says that national Israel now represents God’s chosen people (This, of course, is from the perspective of the Dispensationalist. A Jewish national would vehemently dispute that belief since he would not believe that Jesus is the Messiah. When Dispensationalists assert that the Jews who survive the Great Tribulation will all be saved, they assume that they will all turn to Jesus in faith. That belief is anathema to a Jew.). It is the duty of all Christians, everywhere in the world, to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem”. In addition, it is the duty of all peace loving sovereign nations to support Israel, economically and militarily, in her struggle for survival against the Muslin heathen who surround her. On a personal level, the most serious and dedicated Dispensationalist have begun to adopt some of the practices of the Old Testament ceremonial law (never, interestingly, the civil law, since that would conflict with the laws of the State) in their daily lives. This association with Israel is believed to bring blessing into their lives since they are seeking to support God’s original plan of salvation through the Jews.

This is a short summary of the very brief history of Dispensationalism. Nevertheless, we can see how the fruits of previous heresies have come together to give birth to a gigantic heresy that now completely controls the minds of most Evangelicals in the United States. Man’s free will, continuing revelation through mystical experience, and the resulting corrupt doctrine of the Church has come together to create this beast. When confronted with the fact that Dispensationalism has existed for less than 200 years (which should be a serious problem in the mind of anyone who professes to believe this stuff), many Dispensationalists argue that they have theological and historical roots that go back to the very foundation of the Church. They appeal to the doctrines of the historical premillenarians to support this view.

Evangelical Heresies: Continuing Revelation Part 4

This is part of a series of posts on Evangelical Heresies. Click here to see the entire series.


Denial of the Sufficiency of Scripture:

I am not going to quote verses that I have quoted previously to prove that the Bible is sufficient for all matters of faith and practice. At this point I simply want to show two significant problems that come up for the charismatic and the mystic when he denies that Scripture is sufficient for all matters of faith and practice.

What is a charismatic to do when he receives new revelation? If God is really giving new and original revelation to His saints in our day, is it not incumbent upon them to write it down and share it with the rest of the Church? Today’s mystics rarely even consider this question. They are far too focused on their own individualistic pietism to think about the bigger issues such as the general health and welfare of the Church. When they are forced to consider it the answer that is usually given is that the revelations that are given to them are too personal and specific to their lives to be of value to others and, therefore, need not and should not be written down and distributed to the Church. Clearly, however, that is not a biblical answer to the question.

The book of Third John is essentially a personal letter written by the apostle John to the elder Gaius in which he talks about things such as Gaius’ health, the people he (John) has recently spoken with, a man named Diotrephes who was disturbing the local church, and his plans for future travels. Second John is a letter from John to a woman that he knew. In this letter he talks about things such as his love for the lady, personal matters about her children, how she should deal with traveling preachers who would come to her house, and some doctrinal issues about the antichrist. Certainly if matters as mundane as the things contained in these two letters are to be a part of the Bible, then it must be the case that other such mundane matters as often come up in charismatic and mystical experiences should be as well. How is the recipient of a revelation to judge what should be included in the Bible and what should not? Is it not the duty of all recipients of revelation to write down what God is telling them and distribute them to others so all might prosper? I do not see any way to escape the conclusion that all continuing revelation should be written down and distributed to the Church as an addendum to the Bible. This, however, creates some problems.

Most theologians believe that the book of Revelation was the last of the New Testament books to be written. One of the final sentences of the final chapter of the final book of the Bible has this to say about continuing revelation, “I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God shall add to him the plagues which are written in this book…” I understand that it is possible to interpret this passage as referring exclusively to the book of Revelation. In that case, it would still be acceptable to receive continuing revelation from God and add it, as an addendum, to the Bible. Personally I am not sure that I would want to take the chance that the above quotation applies exclusively to Revelation. Should the passage apply to the entire Bible, a person receiving a new revelation would be subjecting himself to all of the plagues contained in the book of Revelation. Would it not be prudent to err on the side of caution?

I Corinthians 13: 8-10 says, “Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect (teleion, in Greek) comes, the partial will be done away.” The proper interpretation of this passage is hotly debated and I am not going to enter into that debate here. The majority view in historic orthodox circles, based upon a prior understanding of the cessation of charismatic activity at the close of the Canon, is that the word ‘perfect’ refers to the Bible. This is not the view of most modern theologians who have lost all sense of historical theology. This understanding of the word ‘perfect’ has been largely lost today due to the corrupt doctrinal influences of pentecostal theologians.

Paul is writing to a church where the practice of the charismatic gifts has run amok. In an attempt to prove to them that the charismatic gifts were not nearly so important as they believed them to be, he enters into a discourse on the doctrine of love (agape). After defining what love is, he moves on to argue that love, unlike the charismatic gifts, would “never fail”. By logical implication, argues Paul, the charismatic gifts are going to “fail”, or come to an end.

Paul lists three gifts in his example of the cessation of the charismata. Those gifts are prophecy, speaking in tongues, and what is generally call the “word of knowledge” by today’s charismatics. Paul explicitly states that these three revelatory gifts will “be done away” and “cease”. The question is, when will this happen? The answer to that question is “when the perfect comes”.

The “perfect” is a form of the Greek word teleios, which literally means that which is full, mature, or complete. It should be clear to anybody without major presuppositions in regard to this text, that the “perfect” must be a reference to some sort of revelation. The entire question at hand is in regard to the means and modes of revelation. Paul is specifically addressing the question of when the charismatic gifts, which bring new revelation, will end. He flatly states that when the extant body of revelation is full, mature or complete, the existing means and modes of revelation will come to an end. Orthodox Christianity has always been united in the belief that the extant body of revelation became full, mature, and complete with the close of the Canon and the establishment of our current text of the Bible. Therefore there is no other conclusion that can be made other than the charismatic gifts came to an end with the death of the apostles and the apostolic delegates (again the majority view of historic, orthodox Christianity and the minority view today).

Based upon the doctrinal view that the Bible is the “perfect”, it makes perfect sense to also advance the orthodox doctrinal view that the Bible is sufficient for all matters of faith and practice. No additional revelation is required, either for justification or sanctification. Today’s charismatics and mystics strongly deny that Scripture is sufficient for all matters of faith and practice. They also deny that the Bible is the “perfect” and they also deny that charismatic gifts have ceased. However, they can’t have it both ways. If the Bible is sufficient, then stop having charismatic, revelatory experiences. If the Bible is not sufficient, then start writing down the new revelation that is being received and add it to the insufficient words of the Bible.

All of these aberrant theological beliefs are only the foundation for the heresy that today’s mystics and charismatics are guilty of. Starting from these inferior doctrinal stances, they quickly arrive at the heretical conclusion that their personal revelations are at least equal to (generally greater than) Scripture.

The Heresy:

The evangelical heresy that is committed by practically all charismatics and mystics today is the belief that their personal revelations are equal to or greater than the Bible with respect to authority. That statement sounds like a sweeping generalization that would, no doubt, be vehemently denied by most charismatics and mystics. We, however, must not pay attention to their vocal denials. Rather, we must look to the fruits of their beliefs and practices to arrive at an understanding of what they truly believe.

We have seen that the heresy of evangelical Marcionism has a catch phrase. That phrase is “That’s the Old Testament!”. In a similar fashion, the heresy we are discussing here also has a catch phrase. That phrase is, “I have a peace about it.” Mystics and charismatics, who are almost always horribly ignorant of the moral requirements of the Bible, to justify everything they want to do, including sin, routinely use the phrase, “I have a peace about it”

Your average Evangelical is a very lazy person when it comes to Bible study. Most Bibles in evangelical homes gather dust from Sunday to Sunday. Even on Sunday, thanks to the vacuous nature of most evangelical preaching, it is reasonably assured that the Bible will not be approached as a book that contains God’s will for our sanctification. Indeed, since Evangelicals are almost universally united in their belief that “we are not under law”, it is practically guaranteed that they will have no clue what God expects of them with respect to moral obedience to His law. Although Evangelicals love to drone on and on about the doctrine of love, it somehow escapes them that God said, “…he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law” (Romans 13:8), “And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments.” (II John 6), and “Therefore whatever you want others to do for you, do so for them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12).

The easy way out for an Evangelical with respect to his own sanctification is to jettison the Bible, and the accompanying hard work of studying it, and adopt charismatic or mystical experiences as the key to holiness. Charismatic and mystical experiences require little or no work and are entirely non-falsifiable. This is of tremendous benefit to the Evangelical. The fact that little work is required is an obvious benefit. A second benefit is that the more mystical and charismatic experiences an individual can have, the more he rises in spiritual status in the evangelical community. Perhaps the greatest benefit is that all personal revelations are non-falsifiable, that is, they cannot be proven to be incorrect!

We all know that the business of studying the Bible is hard work. Furthermore, we all know that after all the hard work of studying the Bible has been completed, it is very likely that many people will disagree with the conclusions you have come to and the entire process of refining the position will take more hard work. This process is simply too exhausting for today’s believer. The solution is fast food, spiritual style. The road to the spiritual McDonalds is via the golden arches of charismatic and mystical experience. At the end of that road the charismatic pilgrim will find the holy hamburger of a piece of personal revelation that must, of necessity, be true. For indeed, if God has said it, how could it possibly be wrong? After the bit of personal revelation has been consumed, the satisfied charismatic customer sits back and pronounces himself full of peace.

In the real world, having a “peace” about something should generally be a huge red flag warning that the position is in error. The Bible says that the heart of man is wicked and deceitful above all things. The Bible warns us to not be deceived by the deceitfulness of sin. The Bible exhorts us to be continually checking our motives in light of the reality that when we confront a difficulty, we generally want to take the easy route. In addition, the Bible also tells us that the easy route, which is also usually the popular route, ends in destruction. It is the definition of foolishness to base one’s spiritual life upon a series of holy hunches that bring one a sense of personal peace. Having a “peace” about something probably means that the individual expressing that position is wrong and headed down a very dangerous path. In the real world, being committed to the path of following the truth of God revealed in the Bible will bring a man many things, but most of them will not be very peaceful nor will they often result in a sense of personal peace. Jesus said it best when He said, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matt 10:34)

I have heard the “I have a peace about it” argument used to defend the decision to not become a member of a local church (in direct disobedience to the biblical requirement to be under the authority of a group of elders), to obtain a divorce (in direct disobedience to the biblical requirements for a divorce), to not tithe to the local church (in direct disobedience to God’s commandment to tithe to the work of His Church), to pursue an erotic relationship with another person who was not a believer (in direct disobedience to God’s command to not be unequally yoked and in direct disobedience to God’s command to not pursue erotic relationships outside of marriage), to not exercise pastoral discipline over those directly under his authority (in direct disobedience to God’s command to His elders to shepherd His sheep), and to leave one local church and go to another because of some alleged fault with the first church without the permission and approval of the elders (in direct disobedience to God’s commandment to fulfill a membership vow). The list is endless. If I was willing to take the time and dredge up all of these unpleasant memories, I could go on for pages. It is sufficient to say that the charismatic mystic routinely makes the decision to pursue a particular path in life with complete and utter disregard for the words of the Bible.

We have now arrived at the heresy of the charismatic and the mystic. By refusing to do the hard work of Bible study to determine the will of God for his sanctification, he opts for the easy route of special revelation through experience. Once this gnostic pathway is opened, it does not take long for the holy unctions that he perceives to become the authoritative source of information about God’s will for him. Once the pattern of having a “peace” about something becomes established as the defining characteristic of the revelation of the truth of God, it is only a short jump to adopting those mystical intuitions as equal to the words of Scripture. Once the charismatic utterances have been elevated to the authoritative level of Scripture, it is only a matter of time before they supplant Scripture, either by ignorance or design. We are now in the throes of a full-blown heresy. It is not possible to be a true believer and live life this way.

Evangelical Heresies: Continuing Revelation Part 3

This is part of a series of posts on Evangelical Heresies. Click here to see the entire series.


Gnosticism as the Historical Source of the Mystics:

Not all Evangelicals are charismatic in their doctrine and practice. Nevertheless, the doctrines of the charismatic movement have had a tremendous impact upon Evangelicalism. Nowhere is that move evident than in the way Evangelicals talk about “hearing” from God. Evangelical leaders as famous as James Dobson have asserted the doctrine of mystical intuition of the will of God. Mr. Dobson frequently says that God “told” him one thing or another. Evangelicals have eliminated the pentecostal need for a doctrine of the baptism of the Holy Spirit and have moved directly to mystical experience as their source of revelation about God and His will for their lives. God is now alleged to “speak” to believers in a way that nobody can describe but everybody understands when it happens to them. This belief finds its roots in the historic heresy known as Gnosticism.

The Gnostic heresy began almost immediately in the history of the Church. Many theologians believe that the Apostle John took an active part in combating the early Gnostics. Gnosticism was based upon the common Greek philosophical idea that matter is inherently evil. If Jesus really was the Son of God (which Gnostics acknowledged) and if matter is evil, then it necessarily follows that Jesus could not have had a real body. His body must have been some sort of phantom. This denial of the real body of Jesus is the heart of the Gnostic heresy.

Gnosticism had other elements within it that contributed to its heretical nature. The word itself comes from the Greek word ginosko, which means, “to know”. According to Colin Brown’s Dictionary of New Testament Theology, gnostic theology believed that “man is plagued by a vague, hopeless longing to leave the world…. The process of salvation begins when the hopeless and vague longing is replaced by instruction about the unknown God out there…. all this is an illumination which comes to man as an external revelation…. All this led to a characteristic gnostic attitude to life which…expressed itself in a feeling of superiority over all non-gnostics.” This Gnostic doctrine of salvation by means of special mystical knowledge as opposed to repentance from sin according to the terms of the Gospel was clearly heretical and was immediately condemned by the Church.

The sense of superiority that is experienced by Gnostics is very similar to the sense of superiority that is experienced by modern day Gnostics/mystics. There is something very intoxicating about receiving direct special revelation from God. There is something very empowering about believing that God has given you specific knowledge about His secret will. This sense of personal preference in the Kingdom of God often leads modern mystics into a form of spiritual competition where each party is attempting to outdo the other in the scope of his own personal mystical experiences. One man might say that God had just told him some specific bit of information and the next man is now frantically seeking some “word from the Lord” that will be even more significant than the first word. It is almost comical to watch mystics as they attempt to outdo one another in spiritual talk and the utterance of God words.

This condition evolves from the reality that it is impossible to falsify any statement made by a mystic. It is impossible to prove that God did not give the mystic that bit of information and it is impossible to prove that the information is in error, especially if it is acknowledge that God was the source of it. Hence, debates between mystics about doctrinal or behavior matters no longer revolve around the principle of non-contradiction and logically necessary conclusions drawn from biblical propositions. Rather, the debates end up taking the form of who had the latest and greatest mystical experience with God.

Following the pattern of the ancient Gnostic, the modern Gnostic also confuses the biblical distinction between the revealed and the secret will of God. Deuteronomy 29:29 says, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law.” Orthodox theologians have consistently realized that God has revealed all that we need for life and practice in the words of Scripture. Anything that is not contained in the Bible, or by logically necessary deduction from it, is not necessary for us to know and is a part of the secret will of God. Please note, the secret will of God is, by definition, secret! It is not our business to know the things about our lives that God has not revealed in the Bible.

The temptation to know personal items about our lives is very strong. Even Tertullian admitted that the early Montanists were seeking knowledge about the specific personal items in their lives. They wanted to know how to conduct the minute details of their everyday lives when involved in matters such as church discipline. In the same way today, modern mystics want to know God’s will for their lives with respect to things like choice of spouse, career, and the location of their home. However, beyond general principles (like don’t marry an unbeliever), the Bible does not answer these questions. The mystic wants to rise to a higher level of spirituality by obtaining specific information about personal details in his life. This gives him a great sense of superiority and personal importance.

The theological underpinnings of the charismatics and mystics are very suspect. Although the primary heresy associated with these branches of Evangelicalism is the heresy of the belief that their personal revelations are co-authoritative with the Bible, there are supporting doctrines that give rise to the full heresy. Two of those supporting beliefs are a denial of the doctrine of Sola Scriptura and a denial of the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture.

Denial of Sola Scriptura:

The orthodox doctrine of Sola Scriptura asserts that believers have all the information they require for their faith and practice in the pages of Scripture. A more precise theological way to make that same assertion is to say that believers have all they need for their justification (faith) and sanctification (practice) in the pages of Scripture. An even more precise way to state the doctrine is to say that the Bible, and the Bible alone, contains everything that a Christian requires to become converted, justified, sanctified, and glorified. In short, the Bible, and the Bible alone, contains everything that must be known for salvation.

Although the history of the Christian Church has always contained fringe groups of people who believed in the validity of continuing revelation, either through charismatic utterance or mystical experience, a unique wedding of doctrines has occurred in our generation that mandates the denial of the doctrine of Sola Scriptura. Previous versions of mystics and charismatics could enjoy their personal experiences and still believe in the doctrine of Sola Scriptura. In our generation, however, that is no longer a theological possibility. Thanks to the poor theological understanding of the Pentecostals, we find that the doctrine of sanctification has now been inextricably linked to the doctrine of continuing revelation. When the Pentecostals developed the theory that a second work of grace was required in the life of a believer, and that the second work of grace was to be known as the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” and evidenced by “speaking in tongues”, and that “entire sanctification” was possible as a result of this second work of grace, the door was opened for the denial of Sola Scriptura.

Charismatics and mystics are united with orthodox theologians on the view that justification is by grace through faith. Further, they are united in the position that the Bible contains all the information that is required to learn about that justification. So far, so good, however, when it comes to answering the question, “How shall we then live?”, the mystics and charismatics jettison the doctrine of Sola Scriptura and assert that to live truly obedient lives it is necessary to obtain additional revelation from God by means of charismatic utterances or mystical experiences. It is important to recognize that they do not deny that the Bible contains information that is helpful for sanctification. They just deny that the Bible contains sufficient information for entire sanctification (more on that in a moment). Those who wish to be truly sanctified and move on to higher levels of spirituality must necessarily have a mystical or charismatic experience.

By making this additional theological assertion about sanctification, charismatics and mystics are, in fact, also denying the orthodox doctrine of illumination. The orthodox doctrine of illumination, almost entirely ignored or forgotten by Evangelicals, simply states that one of the primary activities of the Holy Spirit is to act in the life of a believer to “illuminate” the specific words of Scripture. More precisely, the doctrine of illumination asserts that the Holy Spirit illuminates the words of the Bible, and nothing else. Orthodox theology maintains that the work of the Holy Spirit in inspiring men to write new Scripture ceased at the close of the Canon and the end of the apostolic age. Since that point in time the Holy Spirit has primarily been involved in taking the existing words of the Bible and making them come alive in the hearts and minds of God’s elect. Charismatics and mystics specifically deny the doctrine of illumination when they assert that the Holy Spirit finds Himself unequipped with merely the words of the Bible to do His work of sanctification in the life of a believer. They believe that He must necessarily bring additional bits of revelation to the individual believer in order to bring about a higher level of sanctification and obedience. Obviously, for the charismatic and mystic, Scripture is not sufficient for sanctification.

The biblical argument for the doctrine of illumination is found in two parallel passages in Ephesians 5:18-20 and Colossians 3:16-17. The two passages are quoted below. Note the obvious similarities. Also note the one glaring difference between the two passages.

“…but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with our heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father;” (Ephesians 5)

“Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do in world or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.” (Colossians 3)

Both of these passages are immediately followed by Paul’s instructions to husbands and wives about harmonious marital relations. It is obvious that Paul is practically repeating himself, word for word, to the two different churches. What is amazing is that, in Paul’s mind at least, the phrases “be filled with the Spirit” and “let the word of Christ richly dwell within you” are synonymous. In other words, a person is “filled with the Spirit” when that person is full of the Word of God, the Bible. Being filled with the Spirit does not mean that the person is receiving extra-biblical revelation. Nor does it mean that the person is experiencing mystical or ecstatic emotional states. Being filled with the Spirit means that the person is steeped in the existing revelation of Scripture as the Holy Spirit illuminates it to him. If a believer wants to obey the command to “be filled with the Spirit”, then he should devote himself to serious study of the Bible. The reason the Holy Spirit does not need to bring additional revelation to us today is because Scripture is sufficient for all matters of faith and practice.

Evangelical Heresies: Continuing Revelation Part 2

This is part of a series of posts on Evangelical Heresies. Click here to see the entire series.


The Charismatic Gifts Throughout History:

An important question for the charismatic deals with the continuing nature of the charismatic gifts. We have seen that as early as the time of the Montanists, there seemed to be a general agreement that those gifts had ceased operation. In fact, that is what made Montanism stick out and created a separate doctrinal and behavioral movement within the Church. The charismatic gifts are those that are associated with miraculous activities. Charismatics also believe in the continuing nature of other miraculous gifts such as the gift of healing. Those beliefs are not the subject of this discussion. For our purposes I will (1) focus on the revelatory charismatic gifts: tongues (both xeno and glosso), (2) interpretation of tongues, and (3) the word of knowledge.

Origen (254) stated that tongues (glosso) did not exist as a biblical expression and that tongues (xeno) had ceased with the death of the apostles and their delegates. Chrysostom (407) professed to have no knowledge or experience of tongues (xeno) in his time. Augustine (420) wrote that the gift of tongues, which he interpreted as real human languages, had existed exclusively in apostolic times to act as a bridge between cultures for the propagation of the Gospel. In fact, it is fair to say that by the fifth century the gift of tongues, interpretation of tongues, and the word of knowledge had all been assigned to the apostolic period alone. In addition, tongues almost always was a reference to a real human language. Only rarely was tongues ever described as the unintelligible speech so popular with today’s charismatic.

Thomas Aquinas (1247), arguably the greatest medieval theologian, stated that the gift of tongues (xeno) was only for the apostles and their delegates. Furthermore, he believed that he was practicing a form of tongues when he would translate the Scriptures from their original languages into the vernacular.

The Reformers essentially adopted the views of the Church fathers with respect to the charismatic gifts. Luther claimed that there were no valid charismatic gifts operating in his time and that tongues (xeno) were for a sign in apostolic times but were no longer needed due to the translation of the Bible into native languages around the known world. Calvin also denied the continuing presence of the charismatic gifts and said that the original gift was designed to be a sign to the Gentiles, to bring them into the Church. Zwingli, adopting a bit more liberal view, said that tongues are real human languages and that the gift was exercised in his time whenever he would read the Scriptures in the original Greek and Hebrew. However, he still denied the doctrine of continuing revelation through the charismatic gifts.

Orthodox Christianity had consistently disavowed the validity of the charismatic gifts within the Church. This does not mean, however, that fringe groups did not continue to practice those gifts throughout Church history. Joachim of Fiore, Hildegard of Bingen, Saint Dominic (all 13th century) all professed to practice the charismatic gifts. During the Reformation the Zwickau Prophets and Munsterites practiced the charismatic gifts. In the post-Reformation period the continuation of the charismata was alleged by the Moravian Brethren, the Quakers, the Shakers, and the followers of Edwin Irving in the 1830s.

It is historically fair to conclude that charismatic activity is neither absent nor normative throughout the history of the Church. The main body of orthodox theologians consistently declare that charismatic activity should be relegated to the times of the apostles and their delegates. On the other hand, there is almost always some fringe group that professes to be active in continuing the charismatic gifts. This historic reality does not help or harm either party in the debate today. Anti-charismatics can claim that the bulk of Church history is on their side; and they would be correct. Charismatics simply point to that fact as evidence that the truth has been suppressed and is only now coming out for all to see. History does not decide the point. Before moving on to the Gnostic roots of today’s evangelical mystic, it is worth taking a moment to examine the doctrinal fruits of the Montanist/Charismatic movement.

The Assembly of God Doctrinal Statement:

The Declarations of Faith of the Assembly of God denomination contains many interesting doctrinal assertions. There is a biblical principle known as “by their fruits you shall know them”. According to this principle, it is oftentimes possible to discover error in thought by examining the end product, or fruits, of that thought. Montanists and modern charismatics begin with the belief in the continuing nature of revelation through the ecstatic expression of the charismatic gifts. That belief has led to a unique amalgam of doctrines that I present here with some comments indicated by “ed”. Simply read them and ask yourself if this fruit is consistent with biblical truth. Take note how many of the doctrines that are the fruit of Montanism are related to either other heresies we have looked at or modern corruptions of the Gospel by televangelists out seeking a quick buck.

1. Section 1, The Apostolic Faith Movement: “The Baptism with the Holy Ghost is a gift of power (charismata, ed) upon the sanctified life; so when we get it (Are they referring to the Holy Spirit as an “it”? ed.), we have the same evidence as the Disciples received on the Day of Pentecost, in speaking in new tongues.”

2. Section 7, The Promise of the Father: “All believers are entitled to, and should ardently expect, and earnestly seek, the promise of the Father, the Baptism in the Holy Ghost and fire, according to the command of our Lord Jesus Christ. This was the normal experience of all in the early Christian Church (We have seen that this statement is not true, ed.) With it comes the enduement of power for life and service, the bestowment of the gifts and their use in the work of the ministry. This wonderful experience is distinct from and subsequent to the experience of the new birth.” (This concept of a second work of grace, distinct from the work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration, is new and unique to the Pentecostals. It never existed in the history of the Church previously, ed.)

3. Section 8, The Evidence of the Baptism of the Holy Ghost: “The Baptism of believers in the Holy Ghost is witnessed by the initial physical sign of speaking with other tongues as the Spirit of God gives them utterance. ” (This doctrinal assertion is what makes the modern charismatic movement different from all that have preceded in Church history. Never before had speaking in tongues been linked with a specific doctrine known as the “baptism of the Holy Spirit”. Even the Montanists did not make this connection, ed.)

4. Section 9, Entire Sanctification: “The Scriptures teach a life of holiness without which no man shall see the Lord. By the power of the Holy Ghost we are able to obey the command, ‘Be ye holy, for I am holy.’ Entire sanctification is the will of God for all believers, and should be earnestly pursued by walking in obedience to God’s Word.” (This is a solid elucidation of the doctrine known as “perfectionism” wherein it is alleged that moral perfection is possible in this life. BB Warfield waged a crusade against this doctrine. This is the same doctrine of perfectionism that we saw in the Pelagian heresy where a man could exercise his free will and become perfect via perfect obedience, ed.)

5. Section 12, Divine Healing: “Deliverance from sickness is provided for in the atonement, and is the privilege of all believers.” (The birth of the modern charismatic healing ministry is to be found here, ed.)

6. Section 14, The Millennial Reign of Jesus: “The revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ from heaven, the salvation of national Israel, and the millennial reign of Christ on earth is the Scriptural promise and the world’s hope.” (One of the fruits of the charismatic movement is the belief that national Israel is destined for salvation, or Zionism. That will be addressed in the next heresy, ed.)