Will a Man Rob God? 5 Key Questions About Tithing 10%

A Twitter poll on my page last week asked a simple question about tithing. After well over 1,000 votes (with 17 hours still left in the poll) the results were both encouraging and concerning. It seems that the modern church is still in a hot debate over tithing.

For your consideration, here is a snapshot (with link) to the results and comments:

For your edification, here is a biblical examination of tithing and the model for New Testament giving:

“Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me! But you say, ‘How have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing Me, the whole nation of you! Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,” says the Lord of hosts, “if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows” (Malachi 3:8-10).

The usual passage of choice for most tithe-pushing preachers is Malachi 3:8-10. The typical pre-sermon message you may hear on a Sunday morning before the offering is taken could last any number of minutes. We could probably recite it together having heard it so many times in churches of varying denominations – especially prosperity gospel churches.

It starts a little something like this:

Now I want to talk to you this morning before we take the tithes and offerings. Open up your Bible to Malachi chapter 3 and ask yourself, ‘Am I robbing God’? If you’re not tithing 10% to God, you are.”

Whether it lasts ten minutes or thirty minutes, what follows is an application of a passage from a book of the Bible in which God speaks through the prophet Malachi to the people of Israel about about their spiritual condition at that time. This is before the coming of the Messiah – Jesus. God is displeased with the people concerning their defiled sacrifices (1:7), their profaning of His name (1:12), their corrupted priests (2:9), and their open disobedience (3:8-15). This is excellent prophetic literature to preach in a church and there is so much to learn about Israel, God’s character, and the coming of Christ.

Unfortunately, it is primarily used to tell modern-day churches that they have to tithe 10% of their income or else they will be under a curse (Malachi 3:9), and that they have to bring those tithes into the “storehouse” (Malachi 3:10) – interpreting the “storehouse” to mean the church, or in some cases, the pastor’s bank account.

When it comes to “tithing,” so much is assumed because of ignorance, or bad Bible teaching. Some say that tithing is a command from the Old Testament that carries over to the New Testament. Others say it’s just a useful principle, while others insist on certain eras of church history being our model for tithing. Finally, there are those who simply believe they must tithe because it’s what they’ve always been told.

Let’s answer some important questions based on the Bible – not assumptions. This may alleviate a heavy burden you’ve been carrying concerning this subject.

What is a “Tithe”?

Tithing simply means “the tenth part” or “one-tenth.” We see the tithe instituted in the Bible in the Old Testament law, and in a few select cases before the law when some made vows or one time offerings (Genesis 14:20; Genesis 28:22). The tithe involved a percentage of one’s livestock, seed, or produce. When the Old Testament law for the tithe is studied, one discovers some foundational truths that cannot be overlooked:

  • Total tithes would have conservatively been over 20% when multiple tithes are added up (Leviticus 27:30-32; Numbers 18:21, 24; Deuteronomy 14:22-27; 14:28-29).
  • The Priesthood was not allowed by God to own land or inheritance so the tithe provided for their living and needs (Numbers 18:24).
  • The tithes acted as a kind of taxation system that helped provide for the poor, annual festivals, and the operation of the governing priesthood system (Deuteronomy 14:22-29; Nehemiah 12:44).
  • Tithing did not primarily involve money except for certain circumstances (Deuteronomy 14:25).
  • Withholding the tithe was viewed as defiant disobedience in God’s eyes (Malachi 3:9).
  • Tithes (produce and other) would have been kept in a literal storehouse for proper distribution (1 Chronicles 27:25-27).
  • God views the storehouse and His house as distinctly separate (Malachi 3:10).

With that in mind, let’s draw biblical conclusions:

  • Israel gave of its produce, seed, and livestock.
  • The Priests were supported by tithes because they were not allowed to own things.
  • Tithing far exceeded 10%.
  • Tithing was law, much like a taxation system caring for national Israel.
  • Storehouses were literal, not “spiritual” or references to the temple.

How is Old Testament Teaching Misapplied Today?

Firstly, anytime someone is misinterpreting the Bible we need to be careful not to jump to aggressive conclusions. No one is a heretic for getting certain things wrong, but error is serious and can mislead people – that is a stewardship issue of its own.

Secondly, we need to determine what people are teaching and why. Do they have certain theological positions that lend to merging the Old Testament into the New? Do they make a habit of basing their teachings merely on historical “principles” and extra-biblical research, rather than biblical texts and proper exegesis (the process of “excavating” a biblical text)? Or, are they twisting Scripture in an obvious fashion to suit their financial desires and abusive ministry patterns? All of these are important questions to ask upon seeing a misapplication of Scripture.

Here are some common ways the “tithe” is misapplied today. Some of these are more dangerous than others, but all are worth noting:

  • The “storehouse” in Malachi 3:10 is taught to be God’s house – the church – or in many cases the pastor’s bank account.
  • Insisting that a 10% tithe is law while leaving out all of the other laws on tithes and offering.
  • Tithing is taught as a command for New Testament church goers and they are threatened with divine judgment if they do not give 10% gross on all their income.
  • Tithing is accompanied by a special anointing that can unlock special blessings like job promotions, debt-freedom, or even salvation of loved ones.
  • Avoiding Paul’s instruction on giving in favor of teaching Old Testament law.
  • Concluding that because Jesus didn’t denounce tithing that we must still do it.

Did Jesus Talk About Tithing?

A select few New Testament passages bring up the tithe, but nowhere is the church commanded to tithe. Some will insist on tithing in the modern church based on the fact that Jesus didn’t denounce tithing in passages like Matthew 23:23, and Luke 11:42. However, what Jesus said in certain situations (such as scolding the Pharisees in Matt. 23:23) had more to do with calling these people hypocrites than mandating the tithe as command for the church. The Pharisees would keep one aspect of the law but turn around and break another for their own gain. They oppressed people with laws they couldn’t even keep themselves! One cannot take an honest interpretive leap into presuming the church must tithe based on that.

To use Jesus’ words as an argument for tithing is a slippery slope when proper context is understood.

Can Tithing Be Assumed for the Church?

Some may argue that the New Testament church would have already known about tithing because they were familiar with Jewish law and assumed it to be a rule of thumb. Or, that at the very least, it could be a principle they could apply as an essential practice to obey. Aside from numerous interpretive holes in this argument, one glaring oversight is that the church was not comprised of merely Jews, and obedience to the law was not the focus of the church – Christ was. Paul was assigned to the Gentiles and the early church was packed with Gentile converts. If tithing was something for the early church to carry on from Jewish law, then why wouldn’t tithing be taught in his letters to the Corinthians? Galatians? Colossians? Not only are commands or teaching about tithing completely absent from New Testament imperatives for the church, the concept of giving is taught explicitly without teaching on tithing. What Paul teaches about giving is a grace-filled, New-Covenant-focused, Gospel-centered rewrite altogether.

We are no longer under the law.

How Should We Be Giving Today?

If we base our teaching and giving on the proper context of what the New Testament actually teaches, we will find both clarity and freedom. Many churches are scared to loosen the noose of “tithing” from their people for fear that no one will give. In other words, they assume that instead of giving bountifully and generously as the Spirit leads, people will either decrease or even cease giving altogether. This is a pessimistic view; thinking quite low of Christians and their propensity to obey the Bible. It also neglects to remember that giving generously is still very much a part of the Christian life.

When properly instructed, doesn’t every true believer want to do what is right in God’s eyes? If we teach and obey the Bible properly, won’t giving increase as God blesses the church for His glorious work? Won’t the needs of the saints be met? Won’t the church thrive in joyfully unity? Wouldn’t the rich live as gospel patrons and the poor give sacrificially as equal partners in God’s eyes?

Think of it this way: giving 10% could be under-giving for a millionaire, and back-breaking for someone in poverty. But if both gave the way the New Testament instructs, the millionaire may give upwards of 80% and still have quite a surplus, while the impoverished and sacrificial giver may give 2-3% and be stepping out in faith. God sees the heart, and the sacrifice – not the amount. Some people may desire to use 10% as a baseline, or a group of leaders may commit to giving a certain amount together to support the church – great! But none of this is mandated “tithing,” it is simply a commitment.

The Holy Spirit’s words through Paul in 2 Corinthians 8 should be taken more seriously, as should the Macedonian example of giving. Instead of teaching law-driven tithes to church-age saints, why not just trust the God who wrote and preserved the Bible (Isaiah 40:8; 2 Timothy 3:16-17) to work powerfully through His truth rightly applied?

Based on two of the premier New Testament chapters on biblical giving that were written by Paul, here are ten ways we should be giving in the church today. Not tithing…giving:

  1. As a result of the grace of God (2 Corinthians 8:1).
  2. In tough times and in poverty (2 Corinthians 8:2a, 2c).
  3. Joyfully and cheerfully (2 Corinthians 8:2b; 9:7).
  4. Based on ability, not mandated percentages (2 Corinthians 8:3a).
  5. Sacrificially (2 Corinthians 8:3b).
  6. Voluntarily, not by way of manipulation or compulsion (2 Corinthians 8:3c; 9:7).
  7. With a sense of eager participation in Gospel work (2 Corinthians 8:4).
  8. Out of love for the Lord (2 Corinthians 8:5a).
  9. Generously as the Lord provides (2 Corinthians 9:6).
  10. Trusting God to replenish what is given so more can be given (2 Corinthians 9:10-11).

What a refreshing difference Paul’s words are from so many sermons that pull Old Testament verses out of context and apply them however a preacher fancies. Like the grace of God shattering the old bondage of the law and pouring out upon the church age, New Testament instructions on giving are liberal, generous, and Gospel-motivated! Not only is applying the requirement of a 10% tithe part of an inconsistent system of interpretation, it’s highly limiting when you think about how generous the church is encouraged to be. Giving isn’t an issue of the law, it’s an issue of the heart. The Macedonians were poor, but they gave like they were rich. They didn’t scour in obedience to the law, they rejoiced in the privilege of being a conduit of God’s grace. That is the perfect picture of how a Christian is to give in the New Covenant.

When properly understood in context and faithfully taught with conviction, the Scriptures give us all we need to be biblically minded – and biblically balanced – generous givers.

Reaching Those Caught in Deception

Like all generations throughout church history, one of the primary focuses we need to be pre-occupied with today is taking the gospel to those who have never heard it before. However, as apostasy increases and seemingly faithful men and women go rogue theologically, we’ll need not only “outreach” (to those who’ve never heard the gospel), but great emphasis on “inreach” (to those believing in a false gospel). Yes, many false Christians are getting the teachers they raised up for themselves (2 Timothy 4:3-4), but within the masses of apostates there are sheep who need to be rescued. We’re faced with the tall task of evangelism within our own ranks and it’s no walk in the park. One moment we see a glimmer of hope in someone we reach try to reach, only to experience another moment of sorrow when someone we love is swept up in deceit. Maybe you’ve blown up a few Thanksgiving dinners trying to tell people like it is, or held personal crusades at work during a lunch break. In the end, many Christians who are trying to reach those caught in deception are left wondering how people could be so blind? How do they not see that what they believe or are being taught is not in line with Scripture? Even when you show them the Bible and put that up next to the lies they’re being taught, they just don’t see it! Why won’t they change in light of the truth? Questions swirl in our mind as we wonder what to do and how to do it.

A Biblical Roadmap for Rescue

No doubt that’s what Jude’s readers would have dealing with as well back in the early days of the church. Apostasy suddenly everywhere; people who’d seemed to have made a genuine confession of faith were being carried away by false doctrines. It was hard to tell who the good guys were and who should be avoided. Further, they would have been seeing friends and family get targeted by deceivers just like we do today.

Is there a clear roadmap for distinguishing when to walk with someone patiently, when to rush in and go for the all-out rescue, and when to put distance between ourselves and the danger? We undoubtedly need to share the truth and be on mission as Christians, but biblical strategies need to be employed.

Jude shows us how: 

Jude 22 – “And have mercy on some, who are doubting…”

The Doubters are the group that may challenge your patience the most because you just want them to wake up and see the plain truth.  Doubting (diakrino) literally gives the picture of someone wavering on the line, then partial to one side but uncertain, then in the middle but hesitant to fully cross over. Imagine the people who drive you a little crazy because you just want them to make a decision already! These are confused individuals; vulnerable and have been manipulated by clever false teachers. Keep the door open for them. Get into their life. Take off your shoes, stay a while, and build relationship with them for the purpose of reaching them. You don’t drive by and toss a study Bible at them saying, “Here! Figure this out then we can talk.” You buy them a study Bible and commit to coffee meet-ups for however long it takes. Your goal is to live between the tension of convincing them about the truth, and depending on God to open their eyes to the truth. Put your own heart issues before the Lord and resist the urge to use brash and harsh words. Remember God’s mercy towards you, learn patience, ask questions, and stick with them. God has you in their life for a reason.

Jude 23a – “save others, snatching them out of the fire…”

The Deceived are fully convinced they have the real truth. We are to be in full rescue operation mode with them – boldly confronting their errors and calling them to repentance. Like a coast guard helicopter flying into an offshore storm, we’re on the lookout for those drowning in the sea of apostasy, dropping the rope, and pulling them up. And if they reject the rope? We never stop praying, never stop trying, and never stop hoping they will be awakened to the danger they are in. Jude undoubtedly understands the sovereignty of God in saving His children and in keeping His children saved, but he’s equally aware of the vessels through which God so often saves. That is, the faithful witness of His people! (Acts 1:8; Romans 10:17). Snatching (harpazo) is the same word used in John 10:12 of the wolf snatching the sheep away from the hireling shepherd, and in John 10:28 of no one being able to snatch Jesus’ sheep from His hand. Jude has in mind a quick and alert state of readiness to rescue people. Notice there is no opt-out clause. No amendment. No free pass because of God’s sovereignty. No giving up because they reject you. A true Christian is patiently, yet relentlessly looking for opportunities to snatch brands from the burning.

Jude 23b – “and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.”

The Dangerous are those whose garments have been soiled with Satanic deception. They are those who fly the flag of false doctrines with pride, convincing people with their smooth talk and flattery (Romans 16:18). They fill the seats of churches, infiltrate the highest levels of authority, and undermine Christ through greed and heretical teaching (2 Peter 2:1-3). They are bold loyalists to apostasy, enemies of the truth, and set against Christ. We must never sacrifice the truth in the name of unity with these, yet we are called to be merciful so as to not be indifferent to the fact that they still have a soul in need of salvation. Yet, we show mercy with a fearsome devotion to our own morality and doctrinal purity. One commentator writes, “Mercy takes into account moral distinctions. It does not treat evil as of no consequence. Christians have mercy with fear, hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.” What this means is we are acutely aware of where they are heading but believing that God can change anyone so long as they’re breathing. We’re aware that many will fall away but we’re also fixated on our role to evangelize everyone in sight. We’re wincing in agony for their defilement of the gospel but calling them to repentance from a healthy distance.

It is biblical instruction like this that keeps us both tough and tender. Tough on truth – unwavering in our commitment to it. Yet, tender in our hope that apostates turn to the truth – praying for their souls.

Sometimes we’re playing offense. Sometimes we’re playing defense. All along, we must be trusting God’s power to save His people (Romans 1:16), and being faithful to play our part.

God is Good… All the Time

Think about the best things that have happened to you lately. If you’re a Christian who has received a promotion, a raise, a new car, a bigger home, a newer home, a good report from the doctor, a healthy baby delivered, or that job you’ve always wanted…you’ve probably said these words:

“God is so good!” And you’re absolutely right…He is.

But could there be more to His goodness than just the bright side of your story? It seems like our first response when things are going right is to declare His goodness, but the Bible paints a picture of God’s character of goodness even in the darker times. Was God still good when He allowed Satan to afflict Job with suffering? Was God still good when He didn’t answer Paul’s prayer to remove the torment of Satan via the thorn in the flesh? Now personalize it. Is God still good if you lose your job, lose your home, can’t have a child, or doctor says you have 6 months to live?

It’s a sobering thought that will test the core foundation of how we view God.

God’s goodness is based on His character. Which means that your career advancement and good health are unrelated to whether or not He is good. He is good and He is good all the time – no matter what our circumstances might be.

Consider the following biblical examples of how God’s goodness means more than just good times:

The Example The Extent The Edification
Job (Job 1-3, Job 38-42) Job loses his kids, his health, his wealth and friends; His wife says, “Curse God!” Job experiences a deeper relationship with God, is blessed by God, restored.
Paul (2 Corinthians 12:7-10) A messenger of Satan that torments Paul like a thorn in the flesh. God won’t alleviate his torment. Paul experiences the extravagance of God’s grace and learns that God’s power is perfected in weak people.
The Church in Smyrna (Revelation 2:8-11) They suffer. The devil is allowed to cast them into prison, yet they must be faithful unto death. They received the crown of life and enter into the eternal glory of God as honored martyrs.
Peter (Luke 22:31-34) Satan asks permission to sift Peter like wheat – is allowed. Denies Jesus and fails Him. Peter is restored, becomes a pillar of strength in the early church. Suffers faithfully; never to deny His Lord again.

These examples are just the tip of the iceberg. When we search through the pages of Scripture we quickly find that God is good no matter what we’re going through, and that His purposes and methods are beyond what we can comprehend. That doesn’t change the reality of our pain at certain times, but as real as the suffering is, the rewards and blessings for those who remain faithful are monumentally greater – and priceless.

Though God may allow Satan to roam the earth on His leash for a time, there is coming a day when Satan will be bound and cast into the lake of fire for eternity (Rev. 20:1-15). In the grand scheme of things, he is simply a pawn on God’s chess board as He works all things together for His good (Rom. 8:28).

Always remember, God’s allowance of your trials is rooted in love. He loves you so much that He will grow you and sanctify you until eternity, then reward you for being faithful – how good is that?

Enjoy the daily battle in the faith as it is used to test you, shape you, and grow you for the glory of God (Phil. 1:6).

God is good…. all the time.

Chasing a Title or Carrying a Towel

When it comes to leadership, how do you measure greatness?

The mother of James and John thought it was having the best seats in Christ’s Kingdom (Matthew 20:20-21). There are those today who would certainly say that church size, book deals, Twitter following, and global influence are sure signs of high status.

Our salacious, ever growing appetite for affirmation leads us to view the academic letters behind a last name as the moment of “arrival.” Ambitious and youthful pastors think greatness is eventually achieved when their subjective calling to ministry finally lands them an objective goal: The #1 spot in the pulpit.

But is that what greatness is in the end? Is leadership simply climbing a ladder of power, so as to eventually be a shot-caller? When it comes to leadership, if greatness is defined by a spot on the executive board, a large following, fancy letters, and dominating a one-way conversation on a weekly basis because you hold the mic, we need an intervention.

The church does need greatness to live out its purpose in Christ, but in God’s eyes, great leaders are great servants. Just a cursory glance through the New Testament reveals that the word leader is used rarely when compared to the word servant. That’s not to say that leadership is not an important or prominent theme throughout the Bible (it is), but it is to say that leadership is not so much about carrying a fancy title as it is about carrying a servant’s towel.

No one nails having a humble servant’s heart every day, yet certain trends in our life reflect God’s grace in the midst of our own ambitious drive for significance in ministry.

If you are one of those passionate souls who believe they must do something great on this earth, here are three ways things to consider what greatness truly is:

1.) We Must Be Decreasing

Of all the people in the Bible, perhaps John the Baptist could have been the one who’d be let off the hook if he took just a little bit of the spotlight from Jesus. After all, he was the forerunner and ultimate set up man for Christ. Instead, he said he wasn’t the Christ, he wasn’t Elijah, and he wasn’t even a prophet. When pressed for the real story, all he could muster up was quite possibly the most unimpressive personal bio history has known. If John the Baptist had Facebook, the about section would read, “Just a voice. Not worthy to tie Christ’s sandals. Consistently decreasing and not worth a follow. Link to Jesus’ profile ‘here.’”

It can be a monumental challenge to stomach the obscurity that comes from consistent “decrease,” but it’s part of every pastor’s journey. There may be seasons when a gifted pastor is not in the pulpit, but desperately wants to be. There may be seasons when a pastor is called to play a supporting role in someone else’s ministry – and could do more on his own. None of this matters in the grand scheme of what God is constantly teaching His servants. If we cannot accept that His plans and timing are better than ours, that’s a sign that we are still living with an “I must increase” mentality.

Obscurity doesn’t mean obsolete. You don’t need to see your impact to have an impact. John the Baptist was locked in a prison waiting for his head to roll while Jesus – the Jesus he got to baptize – was adding disciples by the minute.

Greatness is giving up what you could do for what you must do. Everybody can be great.

2.) We Must Be Feet Washing

Yes, it’s true, regardless of how above-the-task we think we are. Imagine Jesus the Christ taking the towel and the basin as he washed the feet of Judas the Betrayer. Surely, a towel has much to do with greatness (John 3:1-17; Luke 22:24-27).

Greatness isn’t doing ministry from an ivory tower. Greatness isn’t well-manicured finger nails that click a wireless mouse through hours of Logos. Greatness isn’t preaching all the biggest conferences.

Greatness is bowing low to wash feet.

Ministry is messy and Jesus knew we would all long for clear calendars, simple churches, and well-behaved congregations that don’t interrupt our day in the study, so He showed us a better way. Dirty, smelly, crooked, cracked feet are the key.

Even for those who make our lives difficult. When no one is watching. And when no one washes ours. Greatness is grabbing a towel.

3.) We Must Be Stewarding

Paul set the standard for the greatness of a church leader by modeling the greatness of a servant. He considered himself a slave of Christ (Philippians 1:1), and a steward of the mysteries of God (1 Corinthians 4:1). The criteria for a steward in his mind was faithfulness (4:2). As we consider how we will leave a mark on this earth in ministry, it is imperative that we consider what it means to be a steward of all God has given us.

We will be called to give an account for how we managed for the Master. A leadership title is a responsibility that involves accountability (1 Corinthians 3:13; 2 Corinthians 5:10). Stewardship is weighty in light of the implications.

On the minister as a steward Charles Spurgeon wrote,

…a steward is a servant, and no more. Perhaps he does not always remember this; and it is a very pitiful business when the servant begins to think that he is “my lord.” It is a pity that servants, when honoured by their master, should be so apt to give themselves airs. How ridiculous Jack-in-office makes himself! I do not refer now to butlers and footmen, but to ourselves. If we magnify ourselves, we shall become contemptible; and we shall neither magnify our office nor our Lord. We are the servants of Christ, and not lords over His heritage. Ministers are for churches, and not churches for ministers. In our work among the churches, we must not dare to view them as estates to be farmed for our own profit, or gardens to be trimmed to our own taste. Some men talk of a liberal polity in their church. Let them be liberal with what is their own; but for a steward of Christ to boast of being liberal with his Master’s goods, is quite another matter.

Greatness isn’t in the title you’re called, it’s in the towel you carry.

Embracing Evangelism

Whenever the word “evangelism” comes up, it’s not uncommon for Christians to experience some sort of emotional response that is less than pleasant. Eye rolling, ear plugging, or even church hopping are all strategies that some will employ just to avoid the topic altogether.

To be fair, many Christians just don’t know, or have never been properly taught what evangelism actually is. Worse, far too many pastors do not teach or expect their church to boldly live out the life-changing power of the Gospel. As long as the people show up, give their money, and keep the lights on, everybody goes home happy. Those are all necessary things, but is that really all that the church is supposed to do while we wait for the King to return? Hardly.

This type of common Christianity I’ve just described is barely Christianity at all. It’s maintenance mode, possibly even lukewarm! If a church won’t challenge its cruise-control Christianity it’s bound to become the church of the frozen few [no matter how many thousands fill the seats].

Most people view evangelism as a programmatic, door-to-door effort that that people are forced to engage in. It’s as though somewhere along the way church leaders thought it would actually showcase the manifold wisdom of God (Ephesians 3:8-10) to make evangelism a “drive by” activity like handing out tracks to strangers at the beach, or giving away free turkeys in poor neighborhoods. Are either of those bad things? Certainly not. But even the world can hand out marketing material and free food to the needy during the holidays. So what can the church do that no other thing on this earth can do?

The church can be the church! 

That’s exactly how Christ intended it to be. Think about the way that the apostles laid the foundation with preaching the truth and living according to the truth. Peter didn’t dish out papyrus tracks or free pita bread to people and then invite them to come check out the weekend “experience” so that he could cross off “evangelism” on his to do list. The apostles and the early church lived lives that showcased truth, transformation, restoration, obedience, love, and sacrifice! That’s the life changing power of the Gospel in action.

The church has long since been established but the process of evangelism remains the same. The church lives the truth because it loves the truth, then people are attracted to the truth. For 2000 years people have been miraculously saved by this process and brought into right relationship with the Father under the Lordship of Christ.

This world doesn’t need any more clever evangelism programs or Christian gimmicks. What this world needs is for the church to be the church.

Do you want to spend less time being a one hit wonder on Sundays and more time being the church all week long?

If so, start by changing your mind about evangelism. Real evangelism isn’t a program, it’s a people! It’s you. It happens in your decisions, in your relationships, at work, at family functions, at weddings, at funerals, and even when you think nobody is watching. It’s not just the pastor’s job, it’s everybody‘s job. The body of Christ in the local church is responsible to be His ambassadors in every way possible and each member will stand accountable for how they represented the Lord one day.

Will you be standing before Him with your head bowed in repentant regret or will you fall at His feet with humble adoration claiming, “Master! Thank you for using this clay pot as a vessel for Your glory!”?

In his book, Marks of the Messenger, J. Mack Stiles offers some practical ways for every Christian to become a healthier evangelist.

Here are 10 based on his list:

Disclaimer: These are counter-cultural ideas. Be ready for pushback from people who say you take this “church” thing too seriously.

  1. Attend a church that takes the gospel seriously (Hebrews 10:25). Treat form as secondary, the gospel as primary. Incense and candles, rock band worship, liturgy, Gregorian chants, a pastor with tattoos…these are “form” and therefore secondary. Clear Gospel presentation from the leadership is primary.

  2. Become an actual member of a church. I’m serious; membership shows your loving commitment to one another. This is truly radical. Go against the grain and show that you are really crazy in love with Jesus and join a church. And just think, the less cool the church the more opportunity to demonstrate real love!

  3. Turn down jobs that might take you away from church even if they pay more.

  4. Arrange family vacations around your church’s schedule. Or better yet, take your family on a short-term mission trip with other members instead of a family vacation. This will blow people’s minds.

  5. Move to a house closer to the church and use your house as a place of hospitality (Romans 12:13).

  6. Practice church discipline. It’s biblical (Matthew 18:15-17). This is truly off the charts-radical. Church discipline is not usually what people think it is; the goal of church discipline is always to restore, not to punish. You may offend people, but then again you may save some people from living a hell on earth – or for eternity.

  7. Respect the authority in the church when leaders are biblically qualified (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13; Hebrews 13:17). Think about it. How many church people fall into the bad habit of bad mouthing their leaders over every little thing? So the sermon went 10 minutes too long? Thank God you got 10 extra minutes of truth from your faithful pastor.

  8. Turn heads by really practicing the biblical teachings on giving an receiving forgiveness. Be quick to forgive others (Ephesians 4:32). Be quick to say you’re sorry (Matthew 5:23-24). Forgiveness may be one of the most radical ways to express love and unity in a congregation, and it’s rarely practiced.

  9. Pray for each other (Ephesians 6:18). Don’t just say you’ll pray. Actually put into place some ways to pray for each and every member.

  10. Focus on caring for one another spiritually by discipling one another (Galatians 6:1-2). Though discipling only looks like having lunch, it’s secretly and subversively radical. Over a Caesar salad ask the dangerous question: “How are things spiritually?”

Do you have any idea how many questions people will ask you over the years if you live out just half the things on this list?  Every single time you answer them with the truth you will expose them to the life-changing power of the gospel.

If a church will live, love, and labor like this, the results will be an evangelistic overhaul in the community around them. The power of the gospel is unstoppable and every Christian is an ambassador armed with that power when they walk in the truth.

Remember, evangelism is not a program, it’s a people!

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Recommended reading:
Evangelism by J. Mack Stiles
Marks of the Messenger by J. Mack Stiles
The Gospel and Personal Evangelism by Mark Dever

Five Strategies for Christ-Centered Parenting

How in the world are we going to raise godly kids in a sin-centered culture?

For two decades, social media has evolved and exploded from days of primitive “My Space” accounts that had teens glued to the family computer (under some sort of supervision?), to the now ever-present Snapchat videos and pornography in the palm of their hand. At any given moment they can watch Giancarlo Stanton hit towering home-runs, see what Taylor Swift’s wearing in her latest music video, or watch Justin Bieber act up on TMZ. Tack on the latest pressure to conform to sexuality trends in the LGBTQ community, and we’ve really got to ask the question: Will the watered down, entertainment driven children’s programming at your local mega-church help you raise godly children in this age?

Christians need to start asking the hard questions of their churches because it’s going to take more than a fancy building and feel good programming to raise a godly generation who lives boldly for Christ.

I talk to numerous parents on a weekly basis and even though they’re all different, their love for their children and desire to see them grow into strong Christians is unanimously the same. But just like anything in life, you can want the big time results, but if you don’t practice, and practice the right way, you won’t achieve your goal. Imagine two athletes training for the Olympics. Now, let’s say they both train for an equal 1000 hours to compete in the 1500 meter run. However, one of them trains for this long distance run by doing sprints and power lifting, while the other trains by running longer distances over time, pushing the pace farther and faster, until running 1500 meters is clock work. Which one practiced for the right event, the right way, and makes the Olympic team? You get the picture.

Christian parents have always had the same task and the stakes have always been high, but the game has changed. In today’s fast paced world, we need to ensure that our strategy for raising godly children isn’t viewed as a sprint, but rather, as a long distance haul that is going to need progressive training. Thankfully, our divine “Coach”, and His inerrant training program has been sufficient over the last 2000 years.

If you’ll turn to Scripture to train your children, you’ll find it is loaded with transformational truth that can take your kid from being obsessed with their image on Instagram, to being shaped into the image of Christ. What’s the catch? There are no guarantees, no days off, you’ll wear out your knees, have to put down the phone, turn off ESPN, and have to read more than just Facebook statuses and tweets. Then, after at least 18 years of hard work, you’ll be out even more money when they ask you to pay for college! Ask any athlete who’s won gold, and any parent who’s raised godly kids by the grace of God and they’ll tell you – it’s worth every ounce of blood, sweat, and tears.

If you’re new to Christian parenting or have been choosing a home church based on how many Xbox stations they have in the youth center or how trendy the design scheme is, you may need change your approach. Choose a church because it has a track record of qualified pastors and leaders who support families and make disciples down the home stretch. Also, before you think church relocation, pray for a renovation – the spiritual kind – at your church. Talk to your children’s pastor, ask them what their discipleship strategy is for your kids, ask them for resources to help you become a better Christian parent, and ask them what the long-term vision is for ensuring your kids know their Bible and know Christ. Finally, make sure you’re taking responsibility by putting into practice these 5 Christian parenting strategies every chance you get:

  1. Teach them how to read their Bible.

This starts with you, parent. Ask yourself, “Do I know how to read my Bible and do I actually do it with joy?” If so, make sure you model this for them. It’s mostly caught not taught so ensure that they see you do it before commanding that they do it. Passion for the Word is contagious!

  1. Pray with them daily.

This one isn’t easy, but it’s one of the most rewarding things to watch progress. Lots of parents pray, but make sure you’re praying together too. I remember my wife insisting that we begin to kneel around the bedside and pray with our newborn son when he was barely 3 months old. I scoffed, “He doesn’t have a clue what’s going on at this age, we already prayed plenty today, why can’t we just put him to bed and go relax?” My wife persisted, and I learned a valuable lesson about forming early habits with kids. Now some years later, when my son folds his hands and joins us in prayer, I realize that starting so early was good training for us as parents too.

  1. Teach them about sin and how it separates them from God.

Just the other day I overheard a parent tell their child at church, “You need to be obedient and stop lying. That’s sin that needs to be confessed to God.” The pre-teen replied arrogantly, “God loves me anyways, so it’s ok.” The parent proceeded to explain that God does love them, but sin is what separated man from God in the beginning and must be rightly understood. Antinomian attitudes towards the topic of sin need heart training, and biblical teaching. Teach kids that sin ought to be confessed and share with them the joy and freedom that comes from Christ’s work on the cross! They don’t need to just know that are reconciled to God the Father through faith in Jesus Christ – they need to know why. The gospel is good news, because we repent and turn from the bad news.

  1. Teach them about God’s loving mercy through His Son Jesus Christ.

Love and mercy isn’t just giving to the poor, helping a friend, or giving someone a hug. Love and mercy is Christ giving life to dead sinners. Your kids need to be taught that good deeds without Christ are useless in the long run. One strategy that can be a huge blessing to their life is to help them articulate the Gospel in their own age-appropriate way. It could be as simple as 2-3 year olds learning to sing “Jesus Loves Me”, or helping your 4 year old understand John 3:16 by explaining that God sent His Son so we could be with Him one day. Of course, the sky is the limit as kids progress in age. I know of one 10 year old who studies doctrines as complex as the hypostatic union and Kenosis. This can seem intimidating to some parents but remember that kids don’t need to be systematic theologians by the age of 12, but they need good theology. Theology is an exciting part of life because it is literally helping kids know their God.

  1. Teach them to examine their own salvation.

The American church has got into some troubling times because for decades we’ve told people they’re saved if they “prayed the sinner’s prayer.” What followed for many people was the same old lifestyle, but with a little “church on Easter” sprinkled here, and a little Christian radio on the way to work there. We need to teach our children that true salvation bears lasting fruit, and true followers of Christ are known by the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying work in their life, and their obedience to Christ (John 14:21; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 2:20)

In the end, no parent can be certain that their child will follow Christ and no parent can guarantee that their parenting methods will produce the next Charles Spurgeon. We simply have to obey the Bible as best as we can, love them sacrificially, and trust God with the results. Doctors and opinionated experts will tell you how to create nap schedules, and whether to attachment parent or let them “cry it out”. This can be helpful to information to study but ultimately is useless for the spiritual development of children. If parents desire to be experts in anything, they ought to be experts in God’s word on parenting. There is no substitute for the peace in the heart of a parent who knows they’ve done their best as a steward of God’s little ones.

Is it Always God’s Will to Heal Now?

Jesus is getting a lot of really confusing press when it comes to physical healing these days. This post will answer one of the biggest questions that arises from all of the confusion.

As of right now, miraculous healing is one of the most popular subjects inside and outside the church. Preachers are preaching it, televangelists are guaranteeing, desperate people need it – it’s a healing-hungry world out there.

Recently, I was on a camping trip with my family and thought I was free and clear of any healing ministry enthusiasts. That first night a man walked up to my campsite out of the blue, introduced himself, and proceeded to spend 2 hours telling me about his divine healing ministry. The crescendo of our campfire pow-wow? No, he didn’t heal my wife’s asthma (or even offer). But he did give me two copies of his most recent book on using the power of positive words to speak healing into every sick person I know. After I declined his offer of 400 copies for our church, I shared truth, and he didn’t return again. houston-1You probably experience the same kind of chaotic intrusion from time to time as well. Peruse through your local TV stations or mainstream Christian bookstore and it won’t be long before you’re promised divine healing and a miracle of some sort. On the flip side to all of that, there’s a whole slew of authors and teachers who will tell you that God does nothing supernatural, so not to get your hopes up.

All of the opinions can be downright confusing for people who just need a clear answer to one begging question:

Is it always God’s will to heal everyone during their life on earth?

To find this answer we don’t need a faith healer’s FAQ webpage, or a blanket guarantee from someone who has “seen and experienced some things” in a healing room or a jungle overseas. We need nothing more than to incline our ears and fill our minds with answers from the word of God.

Here are six clear truths that explain God’s will in regards to healing:

I. GOD DOESN’T HEAL EVERYONE ALL THE TIME

This is the most important point to start off any discussion on God’s will and miraculous healing. God doesn’t heal everyone all the time and the Bible gives irrefutable evidence to support this. Miracles of healing were primarily done through God the Son – Jesus Christ, and His Apostles. Jesus healed just one man out of a multitude of sick people at the Pool of Bethesda (John 5:3-8). Jesus didn’t heal people in His hometown of Nazareth (Matthew 13:58). After a healing-spree in the district of Galilee, Jesus plainly decided to go somewhere else to preach even though desperately sick and hurting people were looking for Him (Mark 1:38). His reasoning was simple: “Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for.” Christ didn’t come to earth to hold a healing crusade, He came to bring salvation! As for the most prolific Apostle and writer of 13 New Testament books? Paul wielded miraculous gifts yet told Timothy to take wine for his stomach issues. Why didn’t the Apostle wield his gift of healing? (1 Timothy 5:23). Paul also left one of his faithful ministry teammates, Trophimus, sick at Miletus. Why didn’t he heal him and bring him along? (2 Timothy 4:20). Clearly, God heals as He wills and even sovereignly controlled the specially gifted Apostles. God’s will in healing is not a formula that man can master.

II. GOD DOESN’T HEAL BASED SOLELY ON FAITH

Can you “believe” your way into getting healed? This view on faith healing was first popularized in the early 20th century by faith healing evangelists. They made a lot of money off people by making them repeat customers to their healing crusades. If someone didn’t get healed, the faith healer blamed the sick person and told them to come back with more faith – and usually an offering (we’ll deal with that one next). Fortunately, the Bible clears the air on this abusive teaching. When Jesus healed the cripple at Bethesda, the man didn’t have a clue who Jesus was, let alone have enough faith (John 5:13). In Luke 5:17-26 Jesus did heal based on faith – He healed a man’s soul through salvation. When the Pharisees questioned His authority to forgive the lame man’s sins, He healed the man to prove it. Other times Jesus was in fact moved by people’s faith, but this doesn’t mean that His healing touch was bound to whether or not they had enough faith. When the woman with issue of blood crawled through the crowd just to touch the hem of Christ’s robe, He felt power leave Him (Luke 8:46). In this case, as in others throughout the gospels, Jesus is moved by her faith and heals her, but He tells her of the true healing that has taken place when He says, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace” (Luke 8:48). Jesus calls her “daughter” because He has offered the greatest healing of all; she is now part of the family of God. So can the healing power of Christ be coerced by faith as a force? Not even close. Jesus is the Great Physician who places a priority on healing the wayward sinner’s soul, more than He does the physical body.

III. GOD DOESN’T HEAL BASED ON GIVING MONEY

Simon the Sorcerer tried to buy it (Acts 8:9-25), fortune-tellers and witch doctors will sell it, and faith healers will tell you to sow your biggest seed to get it. As it has been throughout history, people are convinced that healing, like houses, is FOR SALE. When a beggar asked for a blessing in his cup, the Apostle Peter offered him something better – and gave it to him for free! (Acts 3:6). This truth is pure biblical logic. If God can’t be convinced to heal by a guaranteed formula, and Jesus can’t be forced to heal by the right amount of faith, then it’s unthinkable that the Alpha and Omega can be “bought” into healing with a bribe. No Apostle, no New Testament writer, and not even Jesus Himself, ever told someone to give a financial seed of faith for a healing, a breakthrough, or protection from sickness. It is not God’s will that you give money to be healed.

IV. GOD DOESN’T HEAL BASED ON POSITIVE CONFESSIONS

Positive confession teaching asserts that if you have enough faith, and speak your healing by that faith, then you will be healed. Based on this view of healing, your sickness is caused by your negative confession and wrong thinking and you can control God’s will in healing. Growing up I experienced this belief system first hand and was often scolded if I woke up with a runny nose and said, “I’m sick.” A parent would quickly remark, “Don’t confess that! You are well! You are the head and not the tail! You are healed in Jesus Name – now get ready for school.” This view on healing goes back over a century and has been the cause of much confusion in the body of Christ. This teaching has no foundation in Scripture but if certain verses are twisted and taken out of context, it can be taught. The late Charismatic apologist Walter Martin desperately tried to help his own theological camp understand this unbiblical view on healing with sermons about this erroneous teaching. Ultimately, 1 John 5:14 serves as a helpful clarification for praying “in Jesus’ name” as it says, “This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” Confessing something “in Jesus’ name” doesn’t work as a blanket promise if what you’re asking isn’t the will of God. You’ll know God’s will in regards to your healing based on what actually happens – not based on what you confess.

V. GOD SOVEREIGNLY HEALED THEN AND HE STILL SOVEREIGNLY HEALS TODAY

So does God still heal today? As an immutable (unchanging) and sovereign God – of course He does! His will cannot be thwarted and there are those who He has decreed to be healed during life on earth. But He does so according to His will and He does so for His glory. Jesus prayed, “Thy will be done”, multiple times throughout His life and ministry on Earth. At one point, He even prayed this when He was sweating blood (Luke 22:42). Under the greatest weight a man has ever carried, and in preparation to take the sin of the world on His divine shoulders, God the Son still submitted His will to the glorious plan and purpose of the Father’s will. This is a model that should resonate with every believer today. Can God heal? Yes. But sometimes He will glorify Himself through your suffering, your sickness, and even your death. This counter-intuitive way of thinking is foreign to this world. No wonder Peter called us foreigners (1 Peter 2:11), and James said to count it all joy when you encounter trials (James 1:2). Just think of how God will use your story for His glory – no matter what your temporal circumstance may be. That is the greatest honor in this life. Greater than even a healing.

VI. GOD’S WILL GUARANTEES THAT ALL WILL BE HEALED IN HEAVEN

The atonement bought and paid for everything you and I could never afford. Christ died and paid the penalty of sin, sickness, tears, fears, the wrath of God, and the eternal fire of hell. While all of this (and more) is provided for in the atonement, many of the blessings we’ll experience won’t be fully realized until heaven. For example, while we have assurance of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ here on earth, we don’t live eternally until after we die (John 3:16). Similarly, this old decaying body is promised to be replaced by a glorified one (1 Corinthians 15:50-53), but we don’t receive that until heaven. Finally, Christ said He is going to prepare a place for His disciples (John 14:2-3), and that means us indirectly too. Yet, some of us would hardly call our current home a heavenly mansion! Yes, all of the benefits of the atonement were bought and paid for by Christ – but heaven is where we’ll eternally enjoy them in the fullest sense!

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One day the trumpet will sound, the dead in Christ shall rise, death will be no more, He’ll wipe away every tear, cancer won’t exist, wheel chairs will be scrap metal, downs syndrome will be an old diagnosis, blindness will be overcome by marvelous light, and the glorious blessings of the atonement will be realized once and for all eternity.

Some will experience the sovereign healing hand of God in this life. While some will suffer and not be healed until heaven. In every circumstance, let these truths from the word of God bring comfort to your soul, and to your body. Your years of suffering and uncertainty are but a vapor here on earth. Your eternity of perfect joy will never end.

Benny Hinn Is My Uncle but Prosperity Preaching Isn’t for Me

Almost 15 years ago, on a shoreline outside of Athens, Greece, I stood confident in my relationship with the Lord and my ministry trajectory. I was traveling the world on a private Gulfstream jet doing “gospel” ministry and enjoying every luxury money could buy. After a comfortable flight and my favorite meal (lasagna) made by our personal chef, we prepared for a ministry trip by resting at The Grand Resort: Lagonissi. Boasting my very own ocean-view villa, complete with private pool and over 2,000 square feet of living space, I perched on the rocks above the water’s edge and rejoiced in the life I was living. After all, I was serving Jesus Christ and living the abundant life he promised.

Little did I know that this coastline was part of the Aegean Sea—the same body of water the apostle Paul sailed while spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ. There was just one problem: We weren’t preaching the same gospel as Paul.

Lavish Lifestyle

Growing up in the Hinn family empire was like belonging to some hybrid of the royal family and the mafia. Our lifestyle was lavish, our loyalty was enforced, and our version of the gospel was big business. Though Jesus Christ was still a part of our gospel, he was more of a magic genie than the King of Kings. Rubbing him the right way—by giving money and having enough faith—would unlock your spiritual inheritance. God’s goal was not his glory but our gain. His grace was not to set us free from sin but to make us rich. The abundant life he offered wasn’t eternal, it was now. We lived the prosperity gospel.

My father pastored a small church in Vancouver, British Columbia. During my teenage years, he would travel nearly twice a month with my uncle, Benny Hinn. Prosperity theology paid amazingly well. We lived in a 10,000-square-foot mansion guarded by a private gate, drove two Mercedes Benz vehicles, vacationed in exotic destinations, and shopped at the most expensive stores. On top of that, we bought a $2 million ocean-view home in Dana Point, California, where another Benz joined the fleet. We were abundantly blessed.

Throughout those years we faced countless criticisms from both inside and outside the church. Dateline NBC, The Fifth Estate (a Canadian news program), and other shows did investigative work. Well-known ministry leaders took to the airwaves warning people about our teachings, and local pastors told their congregations to steer clear of pulpits filled by a “Hinn.” At the time, I believed we were being persecuted like Jesus and Paul, and that our critics were just jealous of our blessings.

Within the family, we didn’t tolerate criticism. One day I asked my father if we could go heal my friend from school who had lost her hair due to cancer. He replied that we should pray for her at home rather than going to heal her. I thought to myself, Shouldn’t we be doing what the apostles did if we have the same gift? At that point, I didn’t question our ability to heal, but doubts began to stir about our motives. We only did healings in the crusades, where music created the atmosphere, money changed hands, and people approached us with the “right” amount of faith.

Other doubts would surface. What about unsuccessful healing attempts? I learned that it was the sick person’s fault for doubting God. Why would we speak in tongues without interpretation? “Don’t quench the Spirit,” I was told. “He can do what he wants.” Why did many of our prophecies contradict the Bible? “Don’t put God in a box.” Despite the questions, I trusted my family because we were so successful. Tens of thousands of people followed us, millions packed stadiums annually to hear my uncle. We healed the sick, performed miracles, rubbed elbows with celebrities, and got incredibly wealthy. God must be on our side!

Before going to college, I took a year off and joined Benny’s ministry as a “catcher” (someone who catches the people who are “slain in the spirit”) and personal assistant. This was a rite of passage in my family, as nearly every nephew worked for him at some point. It was a show of loyalty and gratitude. That year was a whirlwind tour of luxury: $25,000-a-night royal suites in Dubai, seaside resorts in Greece, tours of the Swiss Alps, villas on Lake Como in Italy, basking on the golden coast of Australia, shopping sprees at Harrods in London, and numerous trips to Israel, Hawaii, and everywhere in between. The pay was great, we flew on our own private Gulfstream, and I got to buy custom suits. All I had to do was catch people and look spiritual!

A Life-Changing Verse

After graduating college and returning home, I met my wife, Christyne. I had no idea that God would use her in bringing about my salvation. In fact, my family and I were nervous because she didn’t speak in tongues. We set out to fix that problem by having her attend one of Benny’s crusades, but nothing happened. Next, she attended a service at my home church in Vancouver, but that didn’t work either. Finally, she received some coaching at a youth conference, but she couldn’t manage more than a few mumbled syllables. I truly thought I could never marry her unless something changed.

Then one day she pointed to a verse I had never seen: 1 Corinthians 12:30 (“Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?”). I was shaken to the core. There it was plain as day—not everybody has to speak in tongues. Soon, the domino effect began. Other longstanding beliefs were failing the biblical test. No longer did I believe that God’s purpose was to make me happy, healthy, and wealthy. Instead, I saw that he wanted me to live for him regardless of what I could get from him.

While struggling to strike out into ministry, I received a call from a pastor-friend who was planting a church in California, offering me a part-time youth pastor position. It seemed like a perfect place to learn and grow, so Christyne and I packed up and took a step of faith as newlyweds.

Soon after joining the staff, God put the final crack in my false belief system, and the truth came bursting forth like a wave of grace. One of my first preaching assignments was John 5:1–17—the healing at Bethesda. As I studied for the sermon, my pastor-friend gave me a trusted commentary. Then the Holy Spirit took over. The passage showed that Jesus healed one man out of a multitude, the man didn’t know who Jesus was, and the man was healed instantly!

This left three treasured beliefs in tatters. Isn’t it always God’s will to heal? No, Jesus only healed one man out of a multitude. Doesn’t God only heal people if they have enough faith? No, this crippled man didn’t even know who Jesus was (let alone have faith in him). Doesn’t healing require an anointed healer, special music, and an offering collection? No, Jesus healed instantly with a mere command. I wept bitterly over my participation in greedy ministry manipulation and my life of false teaching and beliefs, and I thanked God for his mercy and grace through Jesus Christ. My eyes were completely opened.

I am thankful that my wife was willing to question my insistence on speaking in tongues and that my pastor loved me enough to disciple me out of prosperity gospel confusion. I’ve seen how God uses evangelism and discipleship to transform lost souls into found saints. A Christian’s greatest ability is availability. When God’s people are willing to take a step of faith and speak the truth in love, lives are transformed and God is glorified. You never know who he might save through your faithfulness.

Costi Hinn is executive pastor at Mission Bible Church in Orange County, California.


First appeared on September 20th, 2017 on www.christianitytoday.com. Article used with permissions granted to original author by Christianity Today. 

Mythbuster: "Slain in the Spirit"

It had been over three hours since the service started, and I was really starting to feel God’s presence in the building. As I stood next to my friend, the music was deep and intense. The lighting made everything feel so intimate, and a slight fog danced through the air. The lead singer’s voice was so beautiful – Jesus Culture’s music is so anointed. The voices all around me sang in unison, and I felt myself slipping into a deep, rhythmic trance as I swayed to the song. The pastor had been continuously telling us to expect an encounter with God and that God was going to touch us all in some special way. Could this be the solution to my problems in life? I’d been through so much heart-ache and insecurity. I was tired of being told that God’s word and prayer was enough. Maybe this was the real deal – maybe this was the encounter I needed. Just then, the pastor interrupted the singing and shouted, “Jesus is here! The anointing is yours! If you want a fresh touch from God get down here to the front of the stage!” I looked at my friend quickly and said, “Are you coming?! This is it!” He shrugged nervously and stayed put. I think he was skeptical of this sort of thing – he’s a Baptist. Oh well, I thought – his loss. Bodies poured out into the aisles as people just like me hurried desperately down to the stage. As I got closer to the front I felt adrenaline pump through my veins and soon found a spot just a few feet away from the pastor. Looking up at him I felt like God was telling him who to lay hands on. His eyes scanned the sea of young people below his platform. Then, my moment came. He told one of his assistants, “Get that girl right there! The power of God is all over her!” I felt so special that he picked me it caused me to sob uncontrollably. I was pulled up on the platform and it felt like I had made it to the holy of holies. My hands were shaking from the nerves, my breaths were short but heavy, and I sensed the catchers getting into place. Then he shouted, “FIRE!!! on you…” The emotion of the moment was too much for me to take as I felt something take a hold of my body. I abandoned all rationale and was powerfully forced to the ground. My body began to convulse and contort while I was laying on the stage; sounds poured out of my mouth I’d never made before. I could hear and feel other bodies beginning to fall around me and on me. Some people were laughing hysterically, others touched me and groaned deeply, and some were screaming while crawling on all fours. I have heard some Christians say this sort of experience was demonic, while others say it’s just hypnosis. To be honest, I haven’t seen it in the Bible and don’t really know what it is…but I really feel like it’s the Holy Spirit…

The virtual tour you’ve just read through is taking place all over the world every single week in tens of thousands of charismatic churches, healing crusades, youth groups, kid’s camps, Third Wave revivals, and N.A.R. conferences. Many conservative Christians are scared to death of their children ever going to one of these services but when asked what the issue really is, most cannot explain it but to say, “It’s unbiblical” or “not God.”

We need a better answer than that.

So what exactly does someone mean when they say, “I got slain in the spirit!”? This phrase describes what many believe to be a touch from God that sends them falling to the ground – literally. Those who ardently defend this practice claim that it’s God’s manifest presence in a service that causes people to fall over. According to them, God’s power is usually “imparted” to people by a pastor who lays his hands on them, blows his breath on them, waves his hand, waves his jacket, or shouts a phrase like, “Fire!” or “Touch!” These gestures cause people to go flying in all directions. Sometimes it even occurs when a certain song is sung by the worship band, or because people are overcome with emotion during a portion of the service. Often times those being slain in the spirit will manifest on the ground by making animal sounds, crawling, slithering, shaking, convulsing, weeping, laughing, and experiencing trance-like euphoria. Some say they feel electricity when the pastor touches them, others feel warmth, while others are not able to stand under their own strength for hours afterwards. All of this is believed to be the work of the Holy Spirit as He refreshes and renews spiritually empty and broken people. With over 500 million charismatics, and 1.5 billion Hindus (Kundalini Awakening)  practicing slaying people in the spirit, it is no exaggeration to state that at least 2/7 of the entire world has beliefs tied to falling or shaking under the power of some sort of spirit. This is not fringe behavior. This is now mainstream spiritualism and considered highly normative – it’s everywhere.

But does the Bible have any evidence to prove normative activity by the Holy Spirit that causes people to shake, slither, laugh, bark, crawl, or convulse in the church? When God interacts with people in the Bible, does He electrocute them into a seemingly drunken state where speech is slurred and the body uncontrolled? Can a preacher (shouting “FIRE!”) really cause heaven to invade your life on earth? Is there a chance that when some of these charismatic experiences are identical to manifestations found in Hinduism that there is a demonic aspect to it? maxresdefault-1

The best way to understand the charismatic practice of being slain in the spirit is to understand the position of those who support and practice it.

WHAT DO ‘SLAIN IN THE SPIRIT’ ENTHUSIASTS CLAIM?

First, there are a number of varying claims depending on what charismatic group is explaining them. That in itself proves how much confusion there is surrounding the practice.

Here are several key claims:

  • Slain in the spirit experiences are the result of the manifest presence of God the Father.
  • Jesus is the one doing the slaying.
  • The Holy Spirit is a force that cannot be stopped. When He touches people they fall
  • People who are “empty” need to be slain in the spirit to get filled with the Spirit.
  • When God touches human flesh, something will happen.
  • When heaven touches earth, things shake.
  • The power of God is overwhelming. When it shows up, people fall.

To support these general claims and explanations, charismatic enthusiasts use specific Bible passages as proof-texts for being slain in the spirit. Christians who aren’t biblically literate won’t usually notice the interpretive gymnastics being utilized, but when we study what the Bible actually says, the myths behind being slain in the spirit get biblically busted.

MYTH #1: IT HAPPENED IN THE OLD TESTAMENT

It happened that when the priests came from the holy place, the cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord” (1 Kings 8:10-11).

The context of this passage is the completion of Solomon’s temple in which the manifest glory of God literally descended. God’s presence dwelt in the temple as was consistent throughout the Old Testament. A similar experience happened in Exodus 40:34-38 to Moses when he was unable to enter the tent of meeting because of the glory of the Lord.

BUSTED: God’s glory descended upon the temple to signify His residence in the temple. The priest could not to stand to minister (1 Kings 8:10; 2 Chronicles 5:13), and Moses was unable to enter the tent of meeting because of the cloud of glory that filled it – not because they were laid out on the floor. There is nothing remotely close to today’s slaying in the spirit that provides evidence for the practice. God’s presence did not once slay people in the spirit, He did not cause people to fall hysterically, burst out into holy laughter, nor manifest with strange noises. None of what the Old Testament says about God’s presence or experiences at the temple has anything to do with the practice of being slain in the spirit today.

Though still a complete misinterpretation, if charismatic enthusiasts insist on using these texts as proof for their antics, then they must reconcile how the O.T priests were unable to stand or serve in the manifest presence of the Lord while modern day preachers, catchers, organ players, singers, and rest of the audience is able to stand, clap, use the restrooms, and film the antics with their cell phones while only people being “touched” are slain the spirit?

If the glory of God literally shows up, nobody will be filming for YouTube. All will be faced down.

Other texts that are poorly twisted in a similar way to the aforementioned example are:

Genesis 15:12Abram fell into a deep sleep.

Exodus 19:18Mount Sinai shakes from the presence of the Lord.

1 Samuel 16:13The Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David.

Judges 6:34The Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon.

There is not a theologian on earth who can make any of these truly mean that being slain in the spirit is biblical. Did God move in powerful ways throughout the Bible and does He still today? Absolutely. Is there a single instance in the Old Testament where He “slays someone in the spirit” or instructs a prophet to form a fire tunnel and knock people down in a heaping pile? Absolutely not.

MYTH #2: IT HAPPENED IN THE NEW TESTAMENT

They answered Him, “Jesus the Nazarene.” He said to them, “I am He.” And Judas also, who was betraying Him, was standing with them. So when He said to them, “I am He,” they drew back and fell to the ground” (John 18:5-6).

Jesus the very Son of God stood face to face with a betrayer, and a mob of soldiers and high priests, then sent them straight to the ground with a declaration of who He was. This was the ultimate sign of power and authority by Christ and a clear display of His divine sovereignty over those He was allowing to kill Him. Not once was the Lamb of God not fully God and not once was He without control.

BUSTED: When we observe Jesus sending these men falling to the ground, several things cannot be overlooked: 1) They were His enemies 2) He did not impart His anointing to them 3) They did not have a euphoric encounter with God 4) They did not manifest by barking, shaking, convulsing, or sobbing 5) They were not filled with the Spirit 6) They were not healed while lying on the ground 7) They carried on with arresting Him. The events of this text cannot be divorced from the application of this text. What Jesus did, and how the mob responded offers no support for modern day practices.

Other New Testament texts poorly twisted in a similar way to the example above:

Acts 8:17Peter and John lay hands on people who receive the Holy Spirit.

Acts 19:12Handkerchiefs that touched Paul were used to heal and deliver people.

Acts 26:13-14Paul was knocked off his horse by a beam of light.

Revelation 1:17John falls on his face before Jesus out of fear. Jesus says, “Do not be afraid.”

To use any of these examples of God’s power in the New Testament as proof to support the normative practice of slaying people in the spirit today is beyond far reaching – it’s dangerous hermeneutics.

WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT BEING ‘SLAIN IN THE SPIRIT’?

There is literally nothing in the Bible that supports the practice of slaying people in the spirit, being slain in the spirit, or even uses those terms. Some may argue that the term “Trinity” is not in the Bible either yet we believe in the Trinity. This is not a good argument since the doctrine of the Trinity is explicitly proven through countless texts that describe the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and we apply it exactly as the scriptures teach it. Terminology is not the issue with determining the biblical evidence for being slain in the spirit – finding any evidence is.

Even the most commonly known chapters on spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12-14) do not at all deal with the practice or give credence to it. In fact, Paul does more to tone down the chaos of Corinth than to invoke further antics that would confuse the church.

The burden of proof to legitimize this completely unbiblical practice ultimately lies only with those sympathetic to being slain in the spirit.

WHAT IS HAPPENING WHEN PEOPLE ARE BEING ‘SLAIN IN THE SPIRIT TODAY’?

Since we can conclude it is not found in the Bible, there must be other factors at work. After 26 years of personally experiencing, or being a part of tens of thousands of “slayings”, I’ve come to find that five conclusions quantify what in the world is going on when people fall under this supposed power.

I. People think they have to fall down – Peer pressure at these sort of services is intense. Nobody wants to look bad or make the preacher look bad. It is widely believed that there is something wrong with you if you don’t “feel” God’s presence and have a manifestation of some sort, so peer pressure plays a huge factor in falling. Sadly, kids end up being the biggest loser in this forced behavior as they seek to please and soon are brainwashed into the system. In many cases, people see other people falling and just follow suit. Finally, it is common for seekers who come to these services to think they have to fall down in order to get the experience that the preacher is promising.

II. People are told they are going to fall down – The power of suggestion and hypnosis is real. Documentaries like “Miracles for Sale” have proven that the power of suggestion and hypnosis can be used to make complete strangers do whatever the hypnotist commands. This isn’t news to those with an understanding of psychology and social science but many Christians are still unaware that many charismatic extremists who slay people in the spirit are experts at hypnosis and manipulation. Three hours of sensual and soothing music, countless bursts of saying, “Jesus is here! He is going to touch you! You are going to feel something you’ve never felt before! Just receive it!”, gets people in the mood. Then, they are ripe for the picking. Hypnosis is also proven to put people in a trance-like state – something common at these services.

III. People want to fall down – Reverence is a big deal in Third Wave, N.A.R., and charismatic extremist circles. People are taught to honor leaders in a god-like fashion because they are literally on His level. Many former followers in these movements have admitted that they wanted a deeper connection with God, and wanted the anointing that was being promised by the leader – so they chose to fall in hopes of having a spiritual experience. This often leads to the weeping, praying, and emotional responses seen after the pastor lays his hands on them.

IV. People are faking it – I’ve personally interacted with friends, family, and followers who have faked it. By the grace of God, people who don’t grow up in charismatic chaos have no idea this happens but when you grow up with a special anointing service every week and it lasts 4 hours a shot – you start falling just to get it over with. I once asked someone close to me why they threw themselves back and acted so crazy on the platform to which he claimed, “Come on man, we gotta make him look good and get this over with.” Make no mistake about it, people fake it.

V. It is demonic – In many cases where a false teacher is involved (Start @ 3m:15s) modern day slayings in the spirit are akin to the biblical accounts of someone who is experiencing demonization and demonic possession (Mark 9:17-18). Being seized, thrown to the ground, and rigidness of the body are all things people experience – this is exactly what demon possessed people experienced in the Bible. This isn’t a blanket statement to say that all slaying in the spirit practices today are demonic, but it is to say that when the other four points aren’t in play, you can bet it’s not innocent charismatic behavior. Some may wonder how anyone could dare attribute this to demonic behavior, but think about this for a second. Can a false teacher, teaching a false gospel, being used by Satan (2 Corinthians 11:13-15), lay hands on false Christians (or anyone for that matter) and cause them to experience the true Holy Spirit? No. It’s a false imposter – a demonic spirit.

At best, well-meaning people are seeking an encounter with God in the wrong way through the wrong means and will end up confused and disappointed. At worst, desperate people and apostates are being overtaken by hypnosis, the power of suggestion, demonic forces, or a false spirit that they believe to be the Holy Spirit.

If it doesn’t match the Bible, isn’t found in the Bible, or can’t be truly backed up by proper interpretation of the Bible, you’re not missing out on anything. The Holy Spirit is accessible today through the power of the gospel and He exists to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ, not to put on a show (John 16:14-15). If people surrender to Christ, embrace the true work of the Spirit in their life, and submit to the Bible as sufficient and final revelation, being slain in the spirit becomes obsolete.

No matter what a person’s position is on spiritual gifts today, all discerning Christians can confidently say, “I’ll pass” when it comes to being slain in the spirit.