3 Principles on Spiritual Conflict

Spiritual conflict (or “warfare”) is a subject that often succumbs to two extremes. First, there are people who blame the devil for everything — even things that are their fault. Second, there are those who dismiss demonic activity altogether; lumping it into a mystical-mindset best relegated to the extreme corners of fringe charismatic groups. Both of these views are anemic. The fact is, spiritual conflict is real and leaders do well to maintain a balanced understanding of this subject for the purpose of their own lives and counseling those they serve. The first chapter of Mark’s Gospel provides a splendid backdrop for valuable principles on spiritual conflict. These can be used to walk people through the delicate balance of discerning what spiritual warfare is, and isn’t.

The Devil is in the Business of Temptation

Right of the bat, Mark records Jesus’ encounter with the Devil in the wilderness (Mark 1:13) in which Satan tempts the Lord. Even Jesus was tempted! Spiritual conflict is very often synonymous with temptation. Think about your own life for a moment. Have you ever noticed that whenever you commit to walking in obedience, temptation comes knocking on your door? Plenty of longtime Christians will tell you that their greatest moments of weakness come after making big commitments to the Lord. Jesus modeled perfection in the face of temptation (Hebrews 4:15) and dealt with it by sticking to the word of God (Luke 4:4,8,12). And remember, Satan doesn’t show up at the foot of your bed with a red tail and pitchfork claiming, “Here I am to tempt and deceive you!” We often think spiritual warfare looks like a Hollywood scene. It doesn’t. Temptation is part of “enemy tactics” so don’t be blind. Turn to God’s word and remember that God has given us a way of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13). Win the battle by first refusing to live denial. Admit that temptation is real. You are not immune. Then, turn to God’s word and resist the Devil and he will flee (James 4:7).

Christ Has Power Over Demons

Mark records a powerful moment in which an evil spirit that was possessing a man (could have been many evil spirits because they say “us”) declares that Jesus is the Holy Son of God! (Mark 1:24). Jesus, with a mere command, takes authority over the unclean spirit and casts it out instantly. No sweat, no screaming repetitious phrases, no three-hour exorcism. There are numerous people claiming power of demons today who go around putting olive oil on people and shouting superstitious — mostly repetitious — phrases. But is this the model for modern ministry? Even the archangel Michael did not take “authority” over the Devil in Jude by saying, “I rebuke you, Satan!” Michael, knowing where true power came from said, “The Lord rebuke you” (Jude 9). Our best bet in spiritual conflict is to stick close to Christ. Where He reigns, demons cannot. Where He resides, demons cannot. If someone believes they are experiencing demonization of any kind, the first thing we ought to encourage them to do is to get on their knees, confess their sin, and surrender their will to Christ.

Truth Transforms

In Mark 1:38 Jesus leaves one region and goes elsewhere saying his purpose was “…so that I may preach there also, for that is what I came for.” Jesus did not come to put on an endless show of exorcisms and mystical wonderings. His primary goal was to preach His kingdom come! The truth transforms so we must proclaim the truth. It also stirs up and drives out evil.

I once had a counseling session with a man I knew very well. He was in charge of an area of our ministry. Within ten minutes of our session, his eyes were moving in different directions and his face was contorting in disturbing fashion. I could see something was off so I chose to counsel him by reading a certain passage of Scripture out loud. Suddenly, I looked up and realized he was staring intensely at me. Then, without warning, he attacked me physically. His eyes grew large, his voice changed, and he tried to subdue me. After sitting on him and eventually getting him over to our main office I called other pastors in to pray. It became very obvious that this man was experiencing some level of demonization. He was cursing at us, calling us false prophets, and calling the church pulpit “weak.” At one point he looked at me, claiming to be the Devil himself, and said, “I own your uncle and I own you! You’re ours!” I remember wondering how someone who was sitting under the faithful preaching of God’s word each week could experience such bondage. Turns out, he wasn’t. One of our elders discovered that this man had stopped coming into the sanctuary and was hiding in the corner of the courtyard avoiding the preaching portion of service every week. Whatever was at the root of this man’s oppression did not want him hearing the preaching of the word. The truth always cuts through the core of people’s hearts. Want to know the best way to stay spiritual safe in the midst of spiritual war? If you’re a pastor, preach the word. Saturate your life with it. If you’re a church member, cement yourself under sound preaching and supporting the ministry of the word. Saturate your life with it. Truth is the best antidote in spiritual conflict.

In just one chapter of Mark, we quickly see a framework for spiritual conflict and can apply it to our lives. Spiritual warfare is real. Jesus is victorious. His truth protects our lives.

How to Heal from Theological Abuse

It’s not uncommon for me to receive communication from people who God has graciously saved out from extreme charismatic abuses, prosperity gospel exploiters, and cultish movements like the New Apostolic Reformation. I find myself both overjoyed and heart-broken at the same time because on one hand it’s the beginning of the rest of their new life in Christ. Sadly, on the other hand, it’s often the beginning of a very painful journey through loneliness, despair, and confusion.

People saved out of deception don’t know where to start. Imagine being in their shoes and having everything you ever believed and most everyone you ever trusted turn out to be predominantly false. Now, go even further. Your friends, social circles, and even family members ostracize you when you try to explain the truth to them. You get labeled as “rebellious” or “hateful,” are threatened with divine judgment, and anyone associating with you is warned not to join you in “touching the Lord’s anointed.” Few people understand what many theologically abused exiles say feels a lot like PTSD.

One of most common series of questions looks something like this: What can I do to heal and move on from the abusive theology and actions I have been a part of? What do you think my next step is? How to I get over this? How do I get stable after being so confused?

Before any of those questions can be answered effectively, it’s important we echo the words of Martin Luther when he was asked how the Reformation happened. He said, “The Word did it all.” Friend, whenever “reformation” happens in our lives it is a “word-centered” process. That is what the Holy Spirit uses to illuminate our dark souls.

I’ve put this list in emails to people time and time again so I thought it best to compile a blog in case this may help more people get answers. Think of this list as a “plagiarize and customize” kind of thing. Use what you think is helpful and toss out what you don’t.

If you have some helpful tips, add them in the comments here or on social media. My guess is that over time, we’ll continue to see people share their stories and provide practical steps towards recovery from their own experiences as well.

Here are several next steps:

1. Cling to a (BIBLICAL) church, your pastors, and wise mentors — In my case, I was fortunate to be saved at the same time that our church was shedding shallow methods (and some bad theology) and embracing sound doctrine. We received a lot of help from seminary professors, selfless pastor-theologians, and retired pastors. Our pastors and elders (thankfully) were open to learning and growing! They wanted truth. Had they not, my wife and I were ready to pack our bags. God was gracious — we didn’t need to leave and so we all grew together. Older, wiser, and spiritual balanced mentors will always be used by God to play a key role in helping abused and confused sheep recover. Overall, run from error and abuse, find a biblically minded church with leaders who shepherd people, then stick to it like velcro! That’s the takeaway here. Don’t go rogue. Don’t do “online church” because you refuse to trust anyone. Don’t wander aimlessly. Find a Biblical church and plant yourself there.

2. Get into counseling — Depending on your church size and pastor’s schedule, you may need to seek counseling outside your church. In order to keep progressing, I recommend seeing a biblical counselor. I remember a very fruitful season of growth because at various points over a period of three years I met with biblical counselors. I poured my heart out, told them everything I’d been through, asked questions, received wisdom from the word, and put truth into practice as soon as possible after each session. Counseling is huge for recovering. Don’t hold back. Get your trust issues out on the table.

3. Saturated your life with sound teaching — For all the time our society spends binging on Netflix, wounded sheep do well to put that energy into soaking up sound doctrine. I’ve heard story after story of people who were saved out of deception and subsequently spent Sundays under their pastor’s teaching, then spent 5 nights a week reading solid blog articles, devouring theological books, and watching John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, Steven Lawson, and Paul Washer sermons — taking notes as though they were in the front row at church until their eyes couldn’t stay open. Get serious about sound doctrine. God will use it to strengthen you.

4. Journal what you’re learning —This may not be your first thought, but writing can be very useful for processing thoughts, emotions, and the wisdom you’re learning. Make T-charts of “true teachings vs. false ones,” write out verses that debunk your old beliefs, write your testimony in 500 words, 250 words, and a 50-word elevator speech. Consider making prayer lists and spending substantial amounts of time on your knees with the Lord. In short, putting things on paper helps bring clarity to otherwise sporadic thoughts and emotions.

5. Continue your education – Seminary education may not be your thing but continuing education should be. This could be an online learning program, or a Bible Certificate from a seminary or Christian University, or starting some classes at your local church’s bible institute. Doctrinal training puts “meat” on the bones of your new beliefs. Many churches have excellent (free) resources for training lay people (find one of those kind of churches). If you’re church isn’t there yet, consider an online learning tool like Ligonier Connect.

6. Wash, Rinse, Repeat – Never stop doing the steps listed above. Even if school ends, or you’re counseling is complete, continue saturating your life with the Word. Stay plugged into the local church, keep accountability close by, seek out wise counsel, and prioritize your devotion to Christ. What you’re experiencing now is the Christian life. We get saved, and then the fun begins — even if the “fun” takes hard work. Remember, God is the one working in you and through you, but your hands need to stay on the plow. The road to recovery is more like running a marathon, not using a microwave. Salvation is instant, sanctification is a process. Trust the Lord and stay the course.

Is the Old Testament Law Useful Today?

Few genres of Scripture cause more confusion in the church today than the Law. Perhaps one could reasonably argue that the book of Revelation outdoes the Law in crossing the Christian’s eyes, but beyond that, there isn’t much debate here. We’re left asking, “What is the role of the Old Testament Law in the life of the Church?” or “How in the world do we interpret passages from books like Deuteronomy or Leviticus?”

Consistent interpretive wisdom on this topic is in short supply. For example, read the following laws and notice the significant conundrum that arises if we try to apply them directly to our life in 2019:

  • A man who has lost his hair and is bald is clean (Leviticus 13:40)
  • Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material (Leviticus 19:19)
  • Do not eat pigs or touch their carcasses (Deuteronomy 14:8)
  • Stand up in the presence of the aged (Leviticus 19:32)
  • No tattoos allowed (Leviticus 19:28)
  • Lethal force is acceptable at night; not in the daytime (Exodus 22:2-3)

Unarmed with faithful methods of interpretation we’re left playing an unfortunate game of hermeneutical roulette. If we take several of these at face value, we’re in trouble. Apparently if you’ve ever eaten a Honey Baked Ham, worn a shirt with cotton and polyester, tattooed your favorite Bible verse or sports team on your bicep, or failed to stand next to grandmas chair all Christmas evening, you’ve sinned against God! But if you’re bald, you’re good. Based on that conclusion, you might say the role of the OT Law in the life of the Church today is to confuse us! But that’s not true.

Certain principles help us see the Law for what it is, and what it’s not. A resource will be recommended at the conclusion of this post for further study. To get you started, here are some basic principles that can help in a variety of ways including, protecting you from false teachers who twist the Old Testament, and helping with the difficulty of applying your morning reading from Exodus:

  1. The Law teaches us about God’s covenant with Israel

Israel receives the Law in the context of God’s covenant with them­­—usually called the “Mosaic Covenant.” He essentially says, “If you obey me and keep my commands, I will bless you.” This covenant was conditional, limited to Israel, and not something you or I should apply directly to ourselves today. It had a purpose.

  1. The Law teaches us about God’s nature—especially His holiness

Sometimes we miss one of the most important purposes of the Law in the Church today when we mistakenly attempt to read ourselves into aspects of the Old Testament Law. Often, the Law serves to point to a simple truth: God is holy and expects His people to be set apart. This timeless truth carries to the New Testament when Peter calls the Church to obedience and holiness under the New Covenant in Christ (1 Peter 1:14-16).

  1. The Law teaches us about man’s nature—especially his depravity

If you think humanity is intrinsically good, the Law can help shed light here. For example, Israel cycled through decades of crying out to God, receiving help from God, complaining again to God, sinning when they grew impatient with God, then crying out to God when their sin got them in trouble with God. Does this need further explanation? Just read 1 Corinthians 10. We aren’t literal “Israel” in the Church today, but we sure act like Israel don’t we? We need divine intervention in our lives. Thank God for Christ.

  1. The Law teaches us to appreciate what Christ has accomplished

Have you ever driven by someone renovating a terribly kept yard on your way home to your own freshly manicured lawn? Imagine yourself driving by for a moment. Picture the type of long grass that clogs a lawnmower, weeds that break through the concrete and break your back, mold growing up the siding, and bushes so overgrown you’d sooner sell the house than deal with them. When we look at Israel underthe Law compared to our lives inChrist, a deep appreciation develops; causing us to run into the arms of Christ like the undeserving leper crying, “Jesus, thank you.”

  1. The Law teaches us principles that can be applied today

Some schools of interpretive thought ignore the Law altogether—presuming it to be useless in light of Church-Age literature. This is a slippery slope—no actually, a dangerous cliff. Jesus Himself used the Law in many teaching moments, including with the Rich Young Ruler (Matt. 19:18-21). Furthermore, He escalates certain Laws like adultery from being committed through sinful actions to being committed through sinful thoughts (Matt. 5:27-28). Paul himself said, “All Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Even though we are not under the Law, it still proves useful in teaching us today.

Much more can be said on this topic but these principles can help you foster an ongoing appreciation for the role of the Old Testament Law in the Church today.

For further study, the following resource is excellent for lay ministers to seminary students:

Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays, Grasping God’s Word: A Hands-On to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012).

Ten Theological Topics for Parents of Modern Teens

I get dozens of emails each month from parents whose teens are leaving the church or being swept away by a false version of Jesus and the gospel. Most of these parents seem to be well-intentioned believers who are baffled at the outcome of their teenager’s faith. In many cases, their teen was a standout church kid–complete with AWANA pins and VBS nametags from years of outstanding work!

So What Happens?

There are so many variables when teenage faith gets shipwrecked (ultimately, God knows the one in each case) but overall, the parents I talk to all say the same thing: We were definitely “doing” church, but I’m not sure my teen was ready to stand for Christ on their own two feet. It happens in the church like it happens in the car all those years. Kids ride in the backseat of the car while parents drive them around, and, the same goes for their faith. They follow mom and dad, obey all the rules, but don’t end up developed much further. Once the teen is on their own with decision-making, the parents find out the hard way that their beloved son or daughter has little clue about how to make it theologically on their own. Sure, they know enough Sunday school answers to get by, but they don’t know how to put theology into practice. Like a lioness who never teaches her cubs how to hunt for themselves, many parents spoon-feed their teens for six years without ever challenging them to skin their own meat–theologically, of course.

So Where Do I Start?

In this list I’ve compiled ten critical topics for the modern teen. It presumes you will address essentials, including (but not limited to) the gospel, so don’t miss that. Also, here’s fair warning that reading is required if you want to gain wisdom here. I’ll have recommended resources at the end of each listed topic. Do your family a favor and start a theological library if you haven’t already.

  1. How to identify a biblical church?

Does your teen know how what a biblical ecclesiology looks like? You may be thinking, “too many big words…” Well those are words you need to know about. Ecclesiology is basically how the church is supposed to structured according to the Bible. Like shopping for a used car, if your teenager doesn’t know what to look for, they’re likely to get swindled by some deceptive salesmanship. Choose either 9 Marks of a Healthy Church by Mark Dever or The Master’s Plan for the Church by John MacArthur. Challenge your teen by asking them: Can you name at least five priorities of a biblical church?

  1. How to identify a biblical church leader?

Abusive leaders are everywhere–that’s obvious today. Study 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and discuss it at the dinner table for the week. Ask questions like why does it matter for a pastor to be those things? What are some dangers things that can occur if a pastor doesn’t match that list?Both books above will nail this one for you, but just in case, try Biblical Eldership by Alexander Strauch. Read Part One (the first six chapters). It could save your teenager’s life.

  1. Christological heresies & other dangers in modern music movements

Music isn’t just about music these days. It’s a gateway to the famous teachers and personalities who lead movements. Bethel Music, Jesus Culture, and other Third Wave celebrity bands are all teaching things that no biblically-minded parent would want their teens to believe. These bands started under (and continue to submit to) the leadership and influence of false teachers such as Bill Johnson, Kris Valloton, Lou Engle, Shawn Bolz, Heidi Baker, and many others. They teach kenotic theology which holds diminished views on the deity of Christ. This includes the belief that Jesus did His miracles as just a man in right relationship to God…not as God. Based on that, they teach a long list of other dangerous doctrines. They also charge a hefty tuition to their schools that “teach” people how to work the gift of miracles. This movement makes itself sound amazing and attractive, but it’s theological poison. Try a short book called, Defining Deception by myself and Anthony Wood. It has enough truth to arm you for the battle ahead and enough footnotes to keep you up at night watching the dangerous practices these teachers will put your teenager through if they get their hands on them.

  1. False gospels to avoid

It’s important to major in what is true, but sharpening for the growing teen to know why other gospels are false. Kids like to ask “why” when they’re young. I think we still do as adults. Get your teen educated on why the prosperity gospel is a sham even if it looks like the way to live like LeBron James in the church-world. Show them why other “versions” of Christianity are not actually Christian. Analyze the basic beliefs of Word of Faith, New Apostolic Reformation, Mormonism, and Catholicism. Watch the DVD, Clouds Without Water II by Justin Peters. Also, James White should be helpful here. Listening to his shows or messages that center on apologetics is good for training.

  1. The assault on marriage, gender, and biblical manhood and womanhood

Every parent wants their teen to marry the right person but too many are not well-versed on what that looks like. Teens should be provided with a roadmap for understanding why gender is binary and why we can be firm in our theology while still flexible with people. Loving them doesn’t mean we sacrifice truth. For parents serious about gaining wisdom to guide their teen, this may mean that instead of watching Netflix you’re reading books five nights a week for two years. Small price to pay for a lifelong investment. Teach them about gender roles and God’s design for husbands and wives. Many adults are confused because they were not taught at teens. You get one chance to guide them. Try any of these: Recovering Biblical Manhood and Woman by Wayne Grudem and John Piper; The Grand Design by Owen Strachan and Gavin Peacock; Not Yet Married: The Pursuit of Joy in Singleness & Dating; Disciplines of a Godly Young Man by Kent Hughes and W. Carey Hughes; Disciplines of a Godly Woman by Barbara Hughes; Ethics for a Brave New World by John S. Feinberg and Paul D. Feinberg.

  1. The sufficiency of Scripture

Teens are in a process of discovery and questioning things. They may hear a friend or famous teacher say things like, “God spoke to me” or “God spoke to my heart” or “I feel like God said.” This can be confusing for a teen. Help them know confidently that if God told someone something, they wouldn’t “feel” like He did, they’d know He did. Teenagers need help to understand why the Bible is enough for knowing God’s voice. They must be equipped to know God’s word is God’s will. Those who learn this at a younger age are ahead of the curve in today’s church world. Read Just Do Something by Kevin DeYoung; Found: God’s Will (short book) by John MacArthur; Our Sufficiency in Christ by John MacArthur.

  1. The holiness of God

God is holy, not a homeboy. He isn’t some “it” in the sky or a casual deity who lets everybody into heaven because they donated to the Salvation Army at Christmas. Teenagers should be taught why God is holy, what that means, and how they should live in light of that truth. Study The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul. That will give you talking points.

  1. The sovereignty of God

Rebel hearts need training. Learning and applying truths about the sovereignty of God teaches that I am not in control, the world is not in control, and even parents are not in ultimate control! God is. Calm and assertive Christian teens are that way because they know God is sovereign. They go about their business, trusting and obeying. When fears come, they know who hold the future. Choose a book like The Sovereignty of God by A.W. Pink or The Invisible Hand by R.C. Sproul.

  1. The depravity of man

When our hearts get help on this topic, a humility comes over us that crushes pride and creates a dependency on God. Help your teen understand their sin and inability to satisfy the wrath of God outside of Christ. They are a sinner and hopeless without Him. Teach them how to admit deficiency and declare dependency! Make sure you’re doing this yourself too. Read A Small Book About a Big Problem: Meditations on Anger, Patience, and Peace by Edward T. Welch; The Vanishing Conscience by John MacArthur.

  1. Cultivating an eternal perspective

A 5-inch screen is all the perspective most teens end up with by age 15. Most don’t know a lot about biblical money management, missions, or making their lives count. If you want your teenager to have the tools they need to live with an eternal perspective, nurture their perspective on eternal things! They need to be taught about things like global missions, local church ministry, generosity, taking risks for God, and the importance of carrying on what faithful men and women started long before us. Several books can be helpful here such as Don’t Waste Your Life by John PiperManaging God’s Money by Randy Alcorn; The Daring Mission of William Tyndale by Steven J. Lawson.

What is the most essential ingredient not on the list? Your life. Teenagers can smell a fake from 100 miles away. It may be wise to tackle this list yourself while you’re at it. And remember, a list like this doesn’t guarantee your teen will not struggle in the world today or even go prodigal. Prayer will always be your #1 weapon. When paired with your own faithful witness, you can trust God knowing you’ve done your best.

Deep Worship or Shallow Ritual?

Throughout the prophetic books in the Old Testament, we see a pattern in which Israel continuously disobeys the commands God has given to them, is threatened with divine judgment, then repents and cycles into the same pattern again and again. God then uses His prophets to warn His people, and makes promises of future restoration despite their obstinate ways.

One particularly dangerous pattern that Israel falls into is allowing their religious worship practices that were meant to deepen their relationship with God to become shallow routines. While sacrifices, fasting, and following the Law were all good things that contributed to their thriving in relationship with God and pleasing Him, these things also worked against them. How so? When the heart behind their actions grew cold. They were an idolatrous people yet they fasted and made sacrifices. Despite their external efforts, God saw the internal motives. In Micah 6:7-8, the prophet declared the word of the Lord for Israel to love their God, and love others. God had become unimpressed with their religious routines because He saw through to their hearts:

Does the Lord take delight in thousands of rams,
In ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I present my firstborn for my rebellious acts,
The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God?

As those now living in the Church Age, we have New Testament prescriptions for worship that can contribute to our joy in relationship with God. The overflow of our devotion to God certainly leads to at least several worship practices that can be especially helpful for our spiritual growth and vitality. That is, when our motives center around devotion to God. As J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays remind us in their book, Grasping God’s Word, “God desires relationship over ritual. Rituals have validity only in that they assist in developing the relationship.”

We are not under the Old Covenant, and I don’t believe we are the nation of Israel, but are there certain things in the New Testament church that we do as a routine or ritual to nurture our relationship with God that if not motivated by love for God can mislead us into false spirituality?

It’s early in 2019, and you’ve likely hit the ground running with resolutions for a better year! Spiritual disciplines often make everybody’s list and that’s a good thing. Still, take some time and review these six worship practices and ask yourself, Am I motivated by a deeper relationship with Christ or something else?

Church Attendance: Going to gather with other believers can be one of the best ways to grow. It’s certainly where sound doctrine is proclaimed, sheep are drawn to Christ, saints are edified, corporate worship explodes, spiritual gifts used, missional efforts funded and mobilized, and more. But church attendance, while a commendable goal, can quickly become an idol erected that symbolized our salvation. In other words, we begin to think we’re saved because we go to church. Or, that going to church in 2019 is going to make us a Christian. If church attendance is not motivated by a deep desire to grow closer to Christ and His people through worship and the word, you may be wading in a shallow pool of ritualism.

Daily Bible Reading: Reading plans and daily quiet times in the word can be a tremendous blessing to our relationship with Christ. But they can quickly become checklists that we “X” off so we can get to the real agenda like email, social media, texting, and the morning rush. Unless we check our hearts and renew our motives with new morning mercies, daily Bible reading can become a little golden calf that gives us false assurance.

Serving or Volunteerism: As backwards as it may seem, serving and volunteerism can go from being a healthy habit of Christian love, to an idolatrous act meant to fill us with religious pride. God doesn’t want our hands in service without our hearts of surrender. Many times we lose the motive of why we serve and it becomes a badge of honor we wear to show others, “Look! I am spiritual.” The problem is, God is not impressed, even if others are.

Giving: Another practice that rides on the coattails of serving is giving. This can be a wonderful way to express gratitude to God. It can also be a means by which people “tip” God to satisfy Him; assuming they’re in His good graces because they paid for it. Giving, as a habit of Christian generosity is a beautiful way to participate in Christ’s work. The Macedonian churches (like Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea) embodied the kind of eagerness to meet needs that we should all have (2 Corinthians 8:1). So when does giving go from pleasing God to problematic? When we begin to lose sight of “why” we give. We don’t give money to cross it off our checklist, get a tax write-off, or get our name on a plaque. We give out of a joyful and generous heart because we’re overflowing with love for God.

The Lord’s Table (Communion): There is a wide range of methodologies within the church when it comes to communion. I don’t necessarily agree with all of them, but others may not agree with our church’s either. One thing is certain, a flippant run through communion without genuine reflection on the blood of Christ and the sacrifice He made on our behalf is the quintessential mark of shallow ritualism at the Lord’s Table. Along with flippancy, one can engage in the deepest of liturgies and remain in a nothing but a shallow pool of ritualism. Robes can be worn, special songs sung, and the finest tableware shimmering on the altar. Without hearts burning with somber affection for the One who shed His blood on Calvary, we’re merely snacking on crackers and drinking Welch’s.

Fasting: Quite a few options are made available to the Christian who wants to fast programmatically these days. You can do an Esther fast, a Daniel fast, a Small Group fast, a Church-wide fast, a Women’s fast and many other types. Are these wrong? Sinful? No. But doing them for the wrong reasons could be. Fasting out of peer-pressure, pride, or because you want to lose weight are all tell-tale signs that true devotion to God through fasting is being replaced by superficial idolatry. Check your motives, keep it a secret, and seek the Lord the way the Bible instructs.

So there you have it! Enjoy resolutions, build in routines, see worshipful practices as a prescribed order for your own spiritual growth. But never forget, these are not the end. They are merely means to The End – that is, Christ.

How to Make a Growing Church Feel Small

A growing church can be a blessing and a burden. By “growing” (in this article) I mean, numerically. Every pastor wants to see numerical growth in their church because it means people are coming into contact with the gospel. That’s the power source for conversion (Romans 1:16). Conversely, no pastor with convictions about being a biblical shepherd wants to see the church grow so large it cannot be served faithfully. People should know and be known by their leaders. No matter how “big” things get, pastors and leaders must remain proactive in finding strategies to oversee the spiritual health of the flock in personal ways. That’s not to say every person attending a growing church will want to be known–some will undoubtedly try to blend in and scurry out the door afterwards–but pastors do well to teach people that soul-care matters. Caring for souls is difficult–even impossible–if herds of people are shuttled in and out of a building without intentional connection points.

Even for churches that may not be experiencing rapid growth, caring for a flock can be difficult when that flock is living life at a rapid pace. Here in Orange County, our church has been steadily growing between 30-50 members per year over the past 4 years. That’s not record-breaking growth, but it’s not underwhelming either. Still, the most difficult pace to keep up with is the pace of life that people live at. Families have sports tournaments, people have corporate jobs that demand travel and long hours, and “spare time” goes to recreation and self-care. Add in the fact that we run at two services on Sunday and it’s safe to say there are members who, for some time, hadn’t even met each other. In other contexts, the details may change, but the church’s challenge remains the same. It can be a daunting task to “slow things down.”

About 18-months ago our team strategized several ways to keep our growing church feeling small. The collective vision was pretty grass roots: No more herding people in and out of multiple services like cattle every Sunday! Assimilation and relational equity was the name of the game. People needed to know people. Shepherding souls and bringing people together, the ultimate focus.

I’m certain we’ve failed at times. There’s bound to be a miss here or there. But overall we’ve seen tremendous fruit and received feedback that tells us we’re achieving our goal. With some quantified success in the rearview, and plenty of time to learn new lessons, I thought it’d be a helpful to blog about some things that have worked.

Here are just 6 ways we made a growing church feel small:

  1. We host open-invite lunches with leaders

Called, “Lunch with Leaders,” we invite every newcomer and long-timer to join us for lunch after 2ndservice on select Sundays. Pastors, elders, deacons, interns, and lay leaders attend with their families and the bonding with church members and visitors is something straight out of the New Testament.  The timing of these matters. They take place nearly every 6 weeks; strategically placed at intervals between our small group sign ups and membership breakfasts.

  1. Our pastors attend membership classes (now called “breakfasts”)

I know many pastors who take pride in delegation. I know I do. But is there a time and a place where delegation isn’t all that wise? As a rule of thumb, the pastor who leads our membership classes may vary, but all of our pastors attend the classes and get to know people. More than that, we started calling them breakfasts and sharing a meal together to start. Meeting people and getting to know their stories fosters meaningful membership no matter how large a church gets. A pastor-friend with a demanding schedule once told me, “I’ll be away some Sundays throughout the year, will miss a staff meeting or three, But I don’t miss membership classes unless it’s a 911.”

  1. Our pastors write hand-written notes

Talk about a lost art, the hand-written note is something we were taught early on by an older, wiser pastor. Our office prints customized stationary, and each pastor has access to a never-ending stack of cards and envelopes. Stamps are currency, and besides his Bible, stationary can be a pastor’s dearest friend.

  1. We make a big deal about small groups

In September, January, and April, we host “Sign Up Sundays” for two consecutive weeks. This is where all of our small group leaders host tables spread out across the church campus. They decorate to reflect demographic and personality and welcome every newcomer to the church a place to grow in the word with others. Rosters normally overload by the second week and we train more leaders for the next round of sign ups. Leaders with no more room in their groups become our top recruiters; helping others find groups with open space. 97% of our members are in small groups. New leaders are being developed throughout the year. It makes a big difference in keeping a growing church feeling small.

  1. Our pastors and elders are accessible

This one should be common but there are many churches where pastors jet to the “green room” after services and are nowhere to be found during the week. Some church growth experts insist this is healthy for preserving the senior pastor’s star power. At our church, we’re taking our chances on a more traditional (even biblical?) approach. We’ve made a commitment to be accessible. Our teaching pastor likes to tell people, “There’s no magic behind the curtain.” We are shepherds. If people want to get to a pastor, they always can. If they don’t get to a pastor, it’s because they chose not to.

  1. We try to keep things simple

Too many churches feel like a night at the Cheesecake Factory. There are 8 pages of menu options, cold marble tables, too much noise, and nobody knows your name. Sometimes, less is more. Most times where churches do too much, pastors who should be shepherding souls end up becoming nothing more than glorified event planners. God has called the church to the ministry of the word and soul care. If a church spends too much energy trying to be everything to everyone, this will lead to a loss of vision, a loss of stamina, and a decrease in effectiveness. Why is that counter-active to keeping a growing church feeling small? Because eventually, that church will become little more than a shallow social club.

This list can grow or adjust over time, or maybe you have strategies that work better in your own context. At any rate, every pastor must agree that a growing church should be intentional about caring for the people who call it “home.”

A Biblical View of Wealth

Money tests our hearts like little else on earth. Whether it be the test of poverty, or the test of prosperity, money brings out the best and worst in us. Far too often, and I am sure you’d agree, we don’t know as much about God’s view on money as we ought to, but are afraid to admit. Within church-circles, it’s even more daunting to face our deficiencies on money-management because we’re “supposed” to be people of the Book – with all of the answers rolling off the tip our tongue. Some people preach the prosperity gospel (false), promising God wants you rich. Some preach the poverty gospel (also false), promising God wants you poor. Reality is, everybody needs to continuously revisit biblical principles on money and be a balanced, lifelong student of financial stewardship. To help contrast some of the bad teaching out there, here are some starter-principles to build upon.

Principle #1: God owns everything

When we think of wealth, first, we have to understand that God owns everything! God doesn’t owe you and I anything, He isn’t shocked by the state of the world, and He never “lost the deed to the earth” when Adam sinned, as prosperity preachers and Word of Faith enthusiasts will preach. God doesn’t just hold the deed to all land; He is the Creator of all land.

God owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10); He owns everything under heaven, for that matter (Job 41:11). The Psalmist declares, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” (Psalm 24:1). There is no arguing with the Bible on who owns everything. God does.

So if God is the owner of everything, what does that make us? When we understand this first principle, we quickly realize we are simply, managers. One day, we’ll give an account for how we managed what He’s entrusted to us (see Matthew 25:14–30).

Principle #2: Wealth isn’t guaranteed on earth

The Bible is equally as clear that while God owns everything, wealth isn’t guaranteed for everyone on earth. Jesus told His disciples that the poor would always be with them (John 12:8). We can gather from His words that people are naturally going to struggle financially in this broken world. No wonder Scripture is so adamant that the poor be cared for—they are some of society’s most vulnerable people. Assuming, of course, that they are not poor because they are lazy (the Bible has much to say on laziness, but we’ll have to cover that another time), God cares greatly for those who are in need. The book of Proverbs contains wisdom on serving the poor because wealth is not always going to be evenly spread around the world. Because of that we should:

  • Not oppress the poor, but rather, be kind to them (Proverbs 14:31)
  • Lend to the poor and trust the Lord with the results (Proverbs 19:17)
  • Be generous and share food with the poor (Proverbs 22:9)
  • Give to the poor and not ignore them (Proverbs 28:27)
  • Protect the rights of the poor (Proverbs 29:7)

Caring for the poor is necessary because wealth is not guaranteed for all. Beyond that, Scripture show us what God wants for all of us. Contentment, not riches, should be the goal of every believer. We must maintain balance in our understanding on wealth and poverty. With his intelligence, extensive religious training (Acts 26:5), and Roman citizenship (Acts 22:27), the apostle Paul was certainly deserving of great wealth, but clearly he wasn’t focused on whatever the prosperity preachers of today are selling. He has learned the value in contentment (Philippians 4:12).

God accomplishes his purposes in and through both the poor and the rich. In the end, contentment is the key to a happy heart (1 Timothy 6:8).

Principle #3: Wealth is a tool for gospel advancement

Even though wealth is not guaranteed on earth, God does give the opportunity to gain wealth. You may say, “Nobody gave me wealth—I earned it!” The children of Israel thought the same thing, but Moses reminded them that it was God who was blessing them based solely on His sovereign will (Deuteronomy 8:17–18). In short, if God has blessed you with wealth, you ought to humbly thank Him and realize that you have a great responsibility.

When it comes to being rich, the Bible is hardly silent on what rich people are supposed to do with their abundance of money. Yes, it’s biblical and prudent to leave an inheritance for your children (Proverbs 13:22), and it’s good to work hard and save for the future (Proverbs 6:6). But you know what the greatest purpose of wealth is? To advance the gospel and do God’s will! Paul told Timothy that rich people are to do this very thing. In a very straightforward passage he says,

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.(1 Timothy 6:17–19)

There you have it. Wealth is not a sin. You’re allowed to enjoy it. But don’t for a second fix your hope on it. It’s a tool for ministry, not materialism.

The best investment strategy on earth is putting stock in heaven! Jesus affirmed this investment strategy when He said to store up treasure in heaven where nothing can destroy it (Matthew 6:19–21).

Use your wealth to advance the gospel. You can’t take it with you. There will be no U-Haul behind the hearse.

Principle #4: Wealth is not a sign of elite spiritual status

Prosperity preachers will tell you that wealth is a sign of an elite spiritual awakening. As in, “You have finally realized your full identity as a child of God when you step into the wealth God has for you.…” Or some nonsense like that.

Again, check the Bible on this. It is estimated the Bible contains upwards of two thousand references to money. Approximately 50 percent of Jesus’s parables dealt with stewardship of money and “stuff,” and nearly three hundred verses in just the Gospels alone deal with money. Doesn’t this tell you that money and wealth are a very serious subject to God? Nor do all these verses contain exciting affirmations about being wealthy; rather, many of them contain warnings about being wealthy. In fact, wealth is often a distraction from what really matters, so it takes a lot of discipline and biblical teaching to keep your heart from being sucked in by money’s malicious pull. The wealthy are often in a tug-of-war between their affections for earthly things (Philippians 3:19) and the eternal life to come. Wealthy believers, by the power of the Holy Spirit, can overcome temptations and use wealth as a tool for good, but more than likely there will always be a battle in the heart between giving generously and the natural inclination to keep, keep, keep.

Does the Bible paint wealth as a mark of the spiritual elite, or does it warn of the dangers of having all the things your heart desires? Look at what the Bible warns about wealth and decide for yourself:

  • You can’t serve two masters (Matthew 6:24).
  • The deceitfulness of riches chokes out fruitfulness (Mark 4:19).
  • It’s difficult for rich people to choose Christ over wealth (Luke 18:22–23).
  • It’s difficult for rich people to enter the kingdom of God (Luke 18:25).
  • The love of money is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10).
  • Your soul is your most important asset (Luke 12:20).
  • You can gain the whole world yet lose your soul if you do not have Christ (Mark 8:36).

Furthermore, in the Bible, the poor and afflicted are given special attention when it comes to spiritual care, and they are often able to worship more freely because they are free of the entanglements that riches bring. Revelation 2:9 illustrates this perfectly and tells us what real riches are. Jesus calls the church of Smyrna “rich” because even though they are in poverty and tribulation, they have held fast to their faith no matter the cost! They receive the highly esteemed crown of life for their faithfulness and suffering on earth (Revelation 2:10). What a powerful truth! Wealth is not a sign of elite spiritual status—having Christ is.

Don’t buy the lies the prosperity preachers sell. The wealthy should be asking, “How can I be more sacrificial?” Rather than, “How can I boast in my elite status?” 

Principle #5: Wealth is an immense responsibility

If you’re wealthy, you were meant to build God’s kingdom, not your own earthly empire. Jesus said not to be anxious about any kind of provision but to instead seek His kingdom and his righteousness and that everything else would be taken care of (Matthew 6:31–33). In fact, we are all called to live generous lives with whatever means we have. Jesus said that when a widow gave two cents, she had given more than the wealthy who had given large amounts (Luke 21:1–4). He doesn’t see the size of your gift; He sees the state of your heart. When we give, we must give willingly, not under compulsion (2 Corinthians 8:12; 9:7). Wealth is a responsibility to steward, trusting that God has blessed you to be a blessing and that He will keep blessing you as He sees fit. Our job isn’t to keep; our job is to work hard, invest well, and give generously (again, see Matthew 25:14–30).

Prosperity gospel preachers want you to give to them to make them rich, but God wants you to give to faithful gospel ministries to help them reach. There is a world of hurting and broken people, and money can make a huge impact in ways that will long outlive you. You will be accountable for how you managed the wealth God has given you. That is an immense responsibility. What will your conversation be like before the throne of Christ? Will you stammer and stutter, claiming to have tried to give a little here and there while you spent most of it on your own pleasures and let the poor suffer and the church struggle? Or will you joyfully report to the Master, saying, “Lord, sometimes it went against the grain of this world to give sacrificially for your work, but pleasing you was the priceless treasure I held on to!” If we live that way, I have no doubt we will hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your Master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:23).

So go ahead! Work hard, enjoy life, and celebrate the gifts that God has given you. Be content, seek His kingdom first, care for others, and give generously in whatever ways He has enabled you to do. In all your working, living, striving, giving, and caring, remember to maintain biblical balance and keep eternity in mind.

God is not trying to take away all you have—He’s the one who gave it. He is, more than anything, testing the affections of your heart and offering you a joy beyond this world with Him in glory.

Wealth is not a sin; it’s a responsibility. Use it well.

God’s Design for Fathers and Work

I recently posted a Twitter poll. The question was: Is it biblical for a man who is able-bodied and married with children to be a stay-at-home dad while his wife goes to work as primary provider? After over 1,100 people weighed in, the results and responses were varied. Including many comments from Facebook, it became obvious that there are still numerous people who don’t think the Bible speaks on this issue. I hope this article will help provide some food for thought.

How should a Christian father approach work, leadership, and providing for his family? Some would argue that the culture has changed since the “old days” and the modern man should be happy with whatever method or arrangement he and his wife agree too. That may mean him staying home with a baby strapped to his chest and a casserole in the oven while his wife climbs the corporate ladder. It also may mean the income-driven approach. In many of today’s households, money drives the agenda and the “have to’s” abound. We “have to” have this, “have to” have that. Even if both spouses didn’t have to work, many couples choose to both work in order to maximize income. As for the kids? Well, some would argue that’s what daycare is for.

Is this God’s design? Did He call fathers to a passive existence when it comes to work and provision; viewing “homemaker” as a role fit for men? Is His will that mother and father work for retirement, home ownership, and more comfort while their young children are farmed out to others during their formative years? Does God want the burden of being primary provider placed on the wife’s shoulders? Are we to chase a cushion in our bank account at any cost – even if that means our kid’s well being? The picture we see in Scripture is a resounding “no.” You may be thinking, what about special circumstances and seasons where it’s not as black and white? What about married couples who don’t have kids – can’t they both work? What about people who work from home so they’re able to be with the kids? What about women who work night shifts and Saturdays while their husband plays with the kids in order to not abandon their role in the home? Isn’t it fine that a mother go back to work when her children are old enough to go to school? The nuances are endless, and like the ones above, some are valid, but each couple will have to decide whether or not to follow God’s design – even if that means tough decisions. God’s will for fathers and mothers is that they be serving in their primary roles – especially when young children are in the home. I’ll repeat that one more time so we’re clear: especially when young children are in the home. Let the reader understand, this is no broad brush of every life stage and scenario. A topic like this takes a great a deal of level-headed, biblical thinking. We must consider all that Scripture teaches.

In today’s world, many Christian men need to step up as fathers and stop bowing to culture and cowering in fear of feminists. Yes, life is hard and some decisions might make you public enemy #1, but Christian men are called to lead by example whether it’s easy to or not. To spur you on as you discern God’s word in relation to work and roles, here are 3 truths to remember about a godly father and his work:

  1. Godly fathers are called to work

In Genesis God established the working order for husband and wife.  The Bible is not unclear about God’s design. First, God modeled work in creation (Genesis 2:1-3). As an image-bearer of God, men must remember that work is part of their pre-fall design. Work isn’t bad or to be avoided by men. Work is to be embraced, and by work, I mean employment and labor because God means employment and labor. God gave man his first job (Genesis 2:15). God didn’t employ a woman to manage the Garden of Eden, He employed man. That should be noted.

After the Fall, the nature of work changed, but man’s call to work didn’t. God cursed the ground (Genesis 3:17a), told Adam that toil was now to be expected and that hard work was required to provide food (Genesis 3:17b-19). The work environment would be hostile and unforgiving as it produced thorns and thistles in addition to good crops (Genesis 3:18). As the nature of work changed, God laid out clear roles for men and women. He was not silent on the specific areas that husbands and wives would be impacted. For women, it would be childbirth and the desire to dominate their husband (3:16). For men, it would be difficulty in laboring to provide.

Furthermore, Jesus was a divine example of work. He was sent to accomplish spiritual work (John 9:4-5) which, of course, caused Him to constantly exert Himself physically. Beyond that, what did Jesus do until His ministry began at 30? Historically speaking, as the son of a carpenter He would have been apprenticed in carpentry and no stranger to hard work. Your Savior had the calloused hands of a carpenter long before having the nail scared hands of a Redeemer. Christ was a worker in every sense. We should be too.

  1. Godly fathers are to provide

Being a provider is a vital part of biblical manhood.

On the order of a Christian home the Bible explains that while husbands and wives are spiritual equals (1 Peter 3:7), they are to function in distinct roles. Wives are to submit to their husbands as the head of the home (Ephesians 5:23-27). Just as Christ is the head of every man, the man is the head of the wife (1 Corinthians 11:3). Therefore, a simple question can be asked when it comes to men providing for their wives: Did Christ provide for the Church or did Christ command the Church to provide for Him? From our salvation, to our future glorification, we are provided for by Christ! So also, a man must care for his wife and children by providing for them. 

In the Paul’s writings, we see strong words regarding men providing for their homes: if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever(1 Timothy 5:8). Some will try to dismiss gender roles here and argue that the context is limited to the care of widows (which Paul certainly has in mind), but Paul broadens his language to include a man’s household and immediate circle. To “deny the faith” and be “worse than an unbeliever” means your actions are contrary to what you say you believe and that there are even unbelievers who do a better job prioritizing provision than you! This can be tough for a man to face, but a man was, and is, biblically expected to provide.

A word to those feeling shame or tension over this topic: There is no need to feel shame for missing the mark in this area if you’ve never been taught biblically on it. Study further (resources below), pray through the next step with your wife, and walk confidently forward knowing God always honors His word. It may be a difficult season shifting to a more biblical approach, but trusting and obeying God will lead to joy and peace.

  1. Godly fathers don’t capitulate to culture

It doesn’t matter what culture may demand, a godly man will stand. The Word of God is the godly man’s decree. Christ, not culture, is the head he submits to. Whatever the nuances that come up in relation to his wife, his children, and work, his leadership stays under the Lordship of the Master. He knows his role requires the provision and protection of his family. He studies and helps his family understand their roles as well, leading his wife to be one who loves her husband, loves her children, and diligent keeps home (Titus 2:4-5). This will, of course, include accurately handling the Scriptures so not to dismiss or misinterpret passages he must apply. For example, the question will often arise: Why can’t a mother work full time like the woman in Proverbs 31? He must know that there is nothing wrong with a wife who emulates the industrious woman of Proverbs 31 in order to create income for her home. Yet still, a Christian home should be structured in such a way that the mother is not abandoning her primary responsibilities in order to climb the corporate ladder. It is against God’s design for a household to rally around a mother who is pursuing a career outside of the home when young children are present. Especially when God has called her to fulfill one of the greatest roles in the history of the universe for a short number of years. While many will cry, “cruel patriarchy!” and view God’s design as oppressive, their perspective is short-sighted. A woman gets to birth and nurture God-glorifying children (1 Timothy 2:15) while her husband gets to care for her and provide for her needs. She gets to influence the next generation. She gets to shape the minds of her little ones in a world gone mad. This is God’s design and godly men must work to allow their wives the opportunity to fulfill this high calling.

Christian men do well to read a book edited by Piper and Grudem called, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. On wives and work, George W. Knight III writes:

Since Scripture interprets Scripture and its teaching is consistent and unified, we realize that the picture of Proverbs [Chapter 31] is not contradicted by the Apostle Paul. Furthermore, we must realize that the emphasis on the home is the very point of the Proverbs passage. The woman in Proverbs works to care for her family and to fulfill her responsibility to her family (cf., e.g., verses 21 and 27). She does this not only for her children but also to support her husband’s leadership role in the community (verse 23). She is seeking the good of her family. Furthermore, she seeks to aid the poor and needy by her labors (verse 20). Here, then, are keys to the question of a wife and mother working outside the home: Is it really beneficial to her family, does it aid her husband in his calling, and does it, in correlation to the first two, bring good to others? Can she do it while still being faithful to her primary calling to be a wife and mother and to care for her home? It must be noted that even though the woman in Proverbs has not sought to “find herself” or to make her own career, but rather serve her family, in the end she receives praise from her family (verses 28, 29) and recognition for her labors (verse 31) because she has conducted the whole endeavor in obedience to the Lord she reverences (verse 30).

Much more can be said on this topic that space and time do not allow here. Whatever your view at this point in time, remember this:

Every Christian father will give an account to Christ one day for how he led, served, and nurtured his wife. Will she be battered and worn down from this world because you sent her to fight in a battle that was yours? Will your children have experienced the beauty of God’s design before their very eyes or will you have squandered the chance to help them relish in the joy and blessing of obedience? Will your hands be calloused from labor like Christ?

Men of God keep their work boots by the front door and their Bible close by.

__________________________________

Recommended Resources: 

Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood edited By John Piper and Wayne Grudem

The Grand Design by Gavin Peacock and Owen Strachan

The Fulfilled Family by John MacArthur

Being a Dad Who Leads by John MacArthur

The Exemplary Husband by Stuart Scott

The Prosperity Gospel: A Global Epidemic

Prosperity is hot topic in the church. Does God care if a pastor drives a nice car or lives in a nice home? Does God command that all who follow Him take a vow of poverty and starve their families in a protest of earthly comfort? Bible teachers sell millions of books and accumulate mass amounts of wealth, are they in the same league as other wealthy preachers? Some will have deep convictions about attaining any measure of wealth, while others will be content use their wealth to give back to their church. Some will use their wealth to fund a child’s college tuition, or even scholarship a seminary student. Others will invest their wealth with the goal of giving even more away in the future. Stewardship comes in all shapes and sizes but one thing doesn’t—God’s ability to weigh a man’s heart and motives. It is a man’s heart that God is most interested in and the gospel a man proclaims that God will judge most. When Heaven’s final bell rings and every man is recompensed according to his deeds, God will have the final say. The issue will not be whether that pastor took home a six-figure salary; the issue will be what that man taught and wrote while representing the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In this article, the prosperity gospel is placed front and center as one of the deadliest teachings in the world today. It has attached itself to the Bible, and to Jesus Christ—though it has no business doing so. Countless people in third world countries chase after it in search of stability and hope. Yet, all those who live and die trusting in the prosperity gospel for salvation will be left wanting in both this life, and the next.

What is Prosperity Gospel Theology?

Obviously, the prosperity gospel is not “good news.” Therefore, let’s understand that it’s no “gospel” at all. That said, I use the term because it’s so widely recognized when discussing these kinds of issues. A very basic definition of the prosperity gospel can be described as this: God’s plan is for you to live your best life now. Health, wealth, and happiness are guaranteed on Earth for all who follow Jesus. Heaven is simply the eternal extension of your temporal blessings. The prosperity gospel’s theological foundation can be traced to at least three twisted versions of biblical truths. Prosperity preacher’s twist these in order to legitimize their version of the gospel.

  1. Christ’s Atonement Means Abundant Life Now

The Bible clearly teaches that Christ died to atone for our sin (Isaiah 53) and that because of what He accomplished through His death and resurrection, we’ll experience the abundant life that He came to give us (John 10:10). Though we enjoy some benefits of the atonement now—such as the forgiveness of our sins and assurance of salvation—His atonement guarantees eternal promises that won’t be fully be realized until Heaven. We’ll receive a glorified body, there will be no death, no sin, no pain, no suffering, and no disease! Those are just a few of the eternal benefits of the atonement. Best of all, we’ll enjoy perfect fellowship with our God forever more. Prosperity preachers teach that health and wealth were “paid for” in the atonement—just like sin. Therefore, this twisted interpretation allows them to teach people to expect complete healing, monetary riches, and total victory in every area of their earthly life. Instead of telling people to put faith in Jesus Christ and excitedly await their best life in heaven, they offer an empty gospel that promises people their best life now.

  1. God’s Covenant with Abraham Means Inheritance Now

There’s an old children’s song that goes something like this: “Father Abraham had many sons. Many sons had Father Abraham. I am one of them, and so are you. So let’s just praise the Lord!” It’s used by many faithful Christians as a way to teach children about the great joy associated with God’s covenant with Abraham. Specifically speaking, the Abrahamic covenant (Genesis 12:1-3) has much to do with redemption, and God’s promises to His people. However, prosperity preacher’s use the covenant as a means to promise an inheritance (usually land and money) for their followers now. This has become their most common use for it. In the prosperity gospel, God’s covenant with Abraham is littered with statements like, “If you’ll sow a seed of faith like Abraham, God will bless you”, or “If you speak it and live it by faith like Abraham, God will prosper you.” These type of statements are a way to present any temporal or eternal inheritance that awaits God’s people as a blanket guarantee. If these twisted versions of the Abrahamic covenant were true, then the millions who trust in the prosperity gospel would become millionaires and land-owners overnight. Thus far, it is mainly the prosperity preachers who are benefitting from the offerings of those they deceive.

  1. Faith is a Force You Can Use to Control God

The Bible teaches that Christians are justified by faith (Romans 5:1), that Christians overcome the world through faith (1 John 5:5), and that Christians live by faith because of what Christ has done (Galatians 2:20). The list of verses on the blessings of faith is endless! Faith pleases God, is directly related to salvation, and is the evidence of trust in God for the believer. Prosperity gospel preachers depart from this orthodox teaching on faith when they often add in “Word of Faith” teachings into their sales pitch. They teach that faith is a force you can use to get what you want from God. In other words, you were able to obtain salvation and justification by faith, so why can’t you obtain a Ferrari the same way? Prosperity theology is centered on the notion that God’s will is to save you and make you rich. In such a theological system, right believing, right thinking, and right speaking are all linked with faith in order to create physical blessings. This is where the word of faith movement often hybrids with the prosperity gospel.

How Did the Prosperity Gospel Get So Popular?

Long before the Catholic Church was selling indulgences, the correlation between ministry, money, and manipulation was crystal clear. The Bible even describes Simon the Sorcerer (Acts 8:9-24) as a magician who thought he could buy the gift of God with money. Specifically speaking, the modern day roots of the prosperity gospel go back approximately seventy years. It was during the 1950’s that this divergent gospel pioneered its way into the mainstream evangelical scene and nobody at the time could have imagined that it would spread across the globe. Born in 1918, Granville “Oral” Roberts was, in many ways, the lead prosperity pioneer. He went from being a local pastor, to building a multi-million dollar empire based on one major theological premise: God wanted people to be healthy and wealthy. Oral Roberts didn’t mince words about his version of Jesus or the gospel. He adamantly taught and defended his belief that Jesus’ highest wish is for us to prosper materially and have physical health equal to His peace and power in our soul.[i] He twisted the Bible to make his point and would teach that it was Jesus who said, in 3 John 1:2, “Beloved, I wish above all things that thou may prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth,” when in fact that was the Apostle John’s loving way of greeting his readers at the time. John’s greeting is comparable to the first line of many of our modern day e-mails that begin with, “Hi! I hope everything is going well for you.”

Bestselling books by Roberts often brought the two distinct teachings of the prosperity gospel and the word of faith movement together under one roof. His books brandished catchy titles such as, If You Need Healing Do These Things, The Miracle of Seed-Faith, A Daily Guide to Miracles, and Successful Living through Seed-Faith. Desperate crowds could hardly resist his big promises and they ignored the fact that Roberts was butchering Bible—namely, the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. Big crowds and big money had blinded both Roberts, and those who followed him.

Today, the prosperity gospel has exploded to become one of the most popular teachings in the world. It has overtaken continents like Africa, and South America as it continues to breed pastors and people who are looking to land a serious pay-day.

How Can a Pastor Preach Against it?

It’s a proven fact that the best way to spot counterfeit money is to become an expert in what real money looks (and even feels) like. Knowing the right stuff about the real thing protects you from being fooled. The best way that a pastor can strengthen his flock and protect them from being deceived is to teach them faithfully about the truth. Any seminar, series, or conference on false teaching should always be paired with clear biblical truth, not merely a protest concerning errors.

Here are three ways that a pastor can move from only protesting errors, to also preaching the truth:

  1. Teach a Biblical View on Prosperity

The people of God need to know and understand that prosperity does not validate a person’s salvation. No amount of money, awards from an employer, or inheritance from relatives can act as a “sign” that God’s hand is upon someone’s life. The blessing of salvation can rest upon an orphan just as much as a king. God is not a respecter of persons. Next, a biblical view of prosperity will teach people that the preacher’s message is not validated by his own wealth. For example, many prosperity preachers will use their own net worth as proof that God is blessing them and therefore, their message is trustworthy. This is unacceptable. Finally, prosperity does not validate a church’s doctrine. Much like the pastor’s message, a church may think big offerings and big crowds are evidence that God is pleased with their ministry. Undoubtedly, God is more likely pleased with a church of 80 who is faithful yet poor, than He is with a church of 8,000 who is rich yet false.

  1. Teach a Biblical View of Sovereignty

A pastor will raise up a healthy and humble congregation if they are consistently taught that God controls all things—including prosperity. While it is man who is encouraged to work hard (Proverbs 6:6-8) and to be wise stewards (Proverbs 21:5), it is God who graciously pours out riches on whom He desires (Proverbs 10:22). It is also God who allows the poor to have joy while in poverty! Paul taught, in 2 Corinthians 9:6-15, that Christians ought to be generous, but it is God who gives most. His grace is seen through the care of His children. This may include monetary wealth, or it may not. Trusting God unconditionally is the best way to live. Job learned this lesson well as he humbly said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21).

  1. Teach a Biblical View of Eternity

What debunks the prosperity gospel as well as anything? A high view of Heaven to come! What causes the church to shift its focus from obtaining earthly riches and putting energy into the Great Commission? A view of Heaven to come! Pastors must preach that our best life now is obeying Christ, that our best life now is spreading the gospel, and that our best life now can never compare to heaven. Mission-minded churches have very little time and energy to waste on being money-minded. Stewardship is to be employed for the furtherance of the gospel. Fundraising campaigns must have gospel-centered visions. The pulpit ministry is to be consistent in presenting money as a vehicle for doing more ministry—not having more “stuff”.

What is the Next Step?

One final note on how pastors can preach against the prosperity gospel: Get involved with organizations who are training pastors and sending resources to continents where this false gospel is an epidemic. There are many bold missionaries who know firsthand that the prosperity gospel is infiltrating their mission field more than any other type of teaching. They need our help.

If pastors will enter the pulpit full of zeal for the truth, and people will leave the pew full of zeal for their commission, perhaps by God’s grace a generation will crush the momentum of the prosperity gospel for the glory of God, and the joy of future generations.

[i] Roberts, Oral, If You Need Healing Do These Things (Garden City, NY: Country Life Press, 1950), 15.

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***Editor’s Note: This article was originally written for Theology for Life (Volume 4, Issue 2). 

Why Biblical Elders Are Vital to Church Health

Church leadership models always seem to be going through a type of cultural renovation. Trying to stay relevant, influential evangelicals try to innovate at every turn; trading in biblical roles like elder and deacon for newer, less biblically stringent leadership positions. Some churches avoid having elders altogether because of bad experiences or horror stories from others who warn, “Don’t have elders, they will control you!”  Other churches have senior pastors with their own agenda in mind who purposely manipulate the system to ensure that only “yes-men”make it into leadership. Still, there are churches who have yet to raise up elders or don’t know how. Whatever the scenario, biblical eldership is not always taken as seriously as it should be, and yet, it is incredibly vital to the health of a church.

Elders are important to the church because, first and foremost, they are the leaders that Christ has appointed to oversee His church. This is not mere suggestion – it is the biblical mandate. A church cannot be a fully healthy church without elders, and a church can most certainly not be a healthy church without qualified elders (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9).  At the very least, there should be elders being raised up where there are no qualified elders yet. Elders are so important that one of Paul’s first apostolic decisions in the churches that he established was to appoint elders there (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5).

Besides their biblically mandated presence in a church, there are several specific ways that elders are important to the vitality and health of a church.Here are are six to consider:

1. The church needs elders who are spiritually minded

Far too many elder boards are nothing more than a polity board when instead they should be pastoral. The church doesn’t need corporate shot-callers, it needs shepherds. True elders are ultimately put in their position by the Holy Spirit (Acts 20:28), not by being golfing buddies with the senior pastor or a wealthy influencer in the church. The term elder, in the Bible, is reserved for spiritual men who shepherd the flock. The terms πρεσβύτερος (presbuteros), ποιμήν (poimen), and ἐπίσκοπος (episkopos) are all used to describe the same office in the New Testament. Overseers, pastors, shepherds, and elders are all operating as the same kind of servant leader(s) of the church. Therefore, elders are spiritual men who are spiritually minded. They aren’t concerned with holding a position of power, but rather, being a faithful steward of what Christ has entrusted them with.

2. The church needs elders who care for the people

Christ’s people needs care – period. From counseling, to comforting, to correcting, to concern, no body of believers should be without overseers who have a genuine care for their souls (Hebrews 13:17). One of the ways that care is continuous is in the prayer life of an elder. Elders take time to pray fervently for the people. While the people are working, battling sin, and facing another day of challenges, there ought to be elders who are spiritual men going to the throne room of God on behalf of the people. This by no means is to say that the church must have some sort of priestly mediator – for we have Christ and need no other. It is to simply say that shepherds should be praying for the flock; knowing that God uses the power of prayer to preserve people.

3. The church needs elders who model for the people

They don’t need to be perfect or on a pedestal, but elders should be joyfully modeling a commitment to Christ and holiness in their lives. 1 Timothy 3:1-7 lays out qualifications that all Christians should strive for, but specifically, it lays out qualifications that all elders must possess. In fact, one of the responsibilities of an elder is to set an example for the flock (1 Peter 5:3). Elders who are qualified prove to be helpful models for people who need encouragement, discipleship, and a real life example of how sanctification works! Paul said, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). That’s the kind of leadership the church needs from elders.

4. The church needs elders who support church discipline

Elders oversee church discipline and support a system of correction, purification, and restoration within the church.  This is a healthy ecosystem in that the elders are often appointed by those within the church based on their qualifications, then serve to support the church through discipline and oversight. What a model of humility by both the congregation and the elders! (Matthew 18:15-20; Galatians 6:1; 2 Thessalonians 3:13-15; Titus 3:9-11).

5. The church needs elders who teach the Word

While all believers are to be teaching and admonishing one another (Colossians 3:16), elders are specifically called to the ministry of the word (1 Timothy 3:2) and charged with the task of preserving sound doctrine within the church (Acts 20:31; Titus 1:9). No church should ever have to suffer through the burden of not having gifted leaders who guide them in the Scriptures. Elders should be seen as essential to feeding the flock so much so that one of the primary emphasis in a local church is the raising up, and support of, biblical elders.

6. The church needs elders who protect them from deceivers

Elders are essential to a church because their ministry includes an emphasis on protecting the people by using the word to refute those who would harm them. Again, this is something that all Christians can do, but Christ has seen to it that there’s no question of who must do this. Even though people appoint and humbly follow their qualified leaders, it is ultimately the Holy Spirit who “makes” elders the overseers of the church (Acts 20:28) and demands they must protect the people. Elders stand against false doctrines, mark false teachers, and refuse to concede against any wolves that would prey on the flock (Acts 20:28-30; Romans 16:17-18).

Governance models within any given church may vary. Some will opt for elder led, some for congregationalism, and others will mix these two and find a type of balance. No matter the model, biblical elders are critical to the health of a church. Our goal should be to see Christ raise them up in our churches for the good of His people and glory of His name.

Recommended Reading:

Biblical Eldership By Alexander Strauch

The Masters Plan for the Church John MacArthur

Church Elders By Jeramie Rinne

Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches: A Contemporary Ecclesiology By John S. Hammett