Friday, October 8, 2010
What methods are being used for "discernment" today that don't have biblical support, and the ways in which the Bible does tell us to test teaching, prophecy and actions.
The following criteria are what many people who call themselves Christians are using to test reality and truth today:
(1) Experiences, manifestations
(2) Feelings, emotions
(3) Numbers of followers
(4) Numbers of people who claim to be saved
(5) The size of a church or movement
(6) Signs and wonders, purported miracles (whether real or false)
(7) Subjective testimonies
(8) Hearsay and rumors
(9) How successful and rich a teacher is
(10) If a person speaks with authority
(11) The atmosphere of a meeting
None of the above criteria being used by many churchgoers today are cited in the Bible as ways we are to test, discern and judge rightly.
Experiences and manifestations can be from many sources; physical, emotional, mental, paranormal/demonic, or from the Lord. ALL experiences need to be tested against the testimony and teachings of the tried and true written word of God. "Slain in the spirit" is an occult technique imported into Christianity, and has nothing to do with what we are taught in the Scriptures. The prophets, Apostles and Jesus Christ did not do it or teach it as something that should be done. If you have an experience, you had better check the source. Think twice before you submit to people laying hands on you for whatever reason.
Mormons made the "burning in the breast" standard fare for their followers, but now a large cross section of Christendom has been taught to judge everything by similar criteria. Modern Christians are, for the most part, not being taught to submit to the Word of God -- but rather to the way they feel emotionally. The phrase "I think" has been replace by the phrase "I feel". This is partially due to influences from the New Age through movies like Star Wars. But in the last twenty years teachers in the Church have taught a whole generation to rely on their feelings.
Emotions are a part of the realm of the flesh and the mind (soul). Emotions can be used by God, but often they are a way for the enemy to get Christians away from the truths of the Bible and gain a foothold in their lives.
Numbers Of Followers
Many leaders have large numbers of followers, including cultists and other religious "gurus". In fact some of the most popular leaders, who have the most followers, are not Christian. Numbers of followers is not a good test of the authenticity of a leader or his ministry.
Numbers Claiming Salvation
Ultimately, only God knows who is saved. Believers can certainly tell if people are false prophets and heretics and must be rejected, but we are not the ultimate judge of their salvation. One fact is certain. When someone claims to be saved they will evidence the fruit of the Spirit, believe in and teach sound doctrine, and not make false prophesies.
Church size means nothing in the realm of discernment. God looks for quality over quantity, regardless of what "apostles" like C. Peter Wagner claim:
"... we ought to see clearly that the end DOES justify the means. What else possible could justify the means? If the method I am using accomplishes the goal I am aiming at, it is for that reason a good method. If, on the other hand, my method is not accomplishing the goal, how can I be justified in continuing to use it?" (C. Peter Wagner, "Your Church Can Grow - Seven Vital Signs Of A Healthy Church", 1976, pg. 137. - emphasis in original)
Quantitative judgments are of men. The size of a church could be due to God blessing a ministry and people being truly saved or due to the oratorical skills of a preacher. Big clubs are not necessarily good clubs. Church size is no way to test a ministry.
Signs And Wonders
Signs and wonders are a dime a dozen today and have just as many evidences in false churches the occult as they do in biblical Christianity. Jesus did state that those who saw him perform miracles should have believed, though for the most part they did not. They couldn't even tell the signs of the times (Matt. 16;1-4). People today love to be able to claim they saw or experienced a wonder or miracle from God. Perhaps this is because they want to feel like they have been touched by God personally, are holy, or simply want to be accepted by their peers. If you are going to claim you have seen or experienced a miracle from God, then that miracle must be held up to biblical criteria to prove it is a biblical Divine healing as opposed to many other forms of healing. I cover this subject later on in the chapter called "Test Everything". True believers are careful not to use deceptive methods, to lie about experiences and signs, in order to gain converts.
2 Corinthians 4:2 Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God.
Testimonies are nice and can even be an inspiration (if they are true), but they are also inherently subjective. In other words, they are hard, if not impossible, to prove objectively, unless incontrovertible proof exists. Don't allow testimonies, uplifting as they may be, to get in the way of biblical methods of testing. Don't rely on testimonies to shape your belief system. Just as you would test a cake to see if it is done by manually inserting a toothpick, instead of relying on the good smell of the cake and the feelings you get from it's aroma, don't use subjective methods to test stories--use the objective Word of God.
Most stories are being passed along today as hearsay. They often gain a little here and there until they have been blown all the way out of proportion from the original account. Don't pass along rumors, gossip and stories unless you check them out thoroughly. In this day and age of the Internet, that has become a much easier task, so there is no excuse to avoid researching claims from all angles. Don't just take people's word for it. Do the math yourself.
Success Of A Teacher
Anyone can be successful given the tools, the gifts, the right connections and the right circumstances. Some of the most godly men and women in the church have been dirt poor. Don't be swayed by rich televangelists. They have often raised their money off the backs of the less fortunate, the naïve, the hopeless, the poor, the fatherless, the widows. True success is not measured by money, power, number of followers, or any of the criteria of the "American Dream". Man looks on the outside, but God looks on the heart. We can get a pretty clear picture of the heart of a person if we test what they say and what they do against the Scriptures.
Many men and women are capable of speaking with authority. It can be a natural gift, a demonic gift or a gift from God. But it is no way to test whether a person is a true or false teacher. Authority can be put on, learned, acted. True authority from God is accompanied by true teaching, true prophecy and the fruit of the Spirit.
Benny Hinn claims he needs an "atmosphere" to do his "miracles".
Interviewer: If Benny Hinn is real, he'll go into the hospitals and cure everyone there.
Benny Hinn: "I've been told that many times. What I tell them is quite simple. Healing most times needs an atmosphere of faith. I have gone to hospitals. I've done it actually many times or people's homes and pray for them. Most times, they cannot get healed. … God's people make it happen; bring this atmosphere of faith ..." (Benny Hinn, interview by Marla Weech, of WFTV , "Inside Central Florida")
When did the Apostles need an atmosphere to heal?
Beware of testing meetings by the atmosphere created there. Like and Amway meeting or halftime at a football game, an atmosphere can be manipulated. God does not need an stadium full of screaming Benny Hinn fans burning with fleshly passion to move. What He requires is simple obedience to His Word.
Thursday, October 7, 2010
What was Paul’s “thorn in the flesh”? I have heard Christians say all kinds of things about it, like Paul had an eye problem, or another illness, or even sinful lusts. Furthermore, many say that God gave him this affliction to test him or to keep him humble. What is the truth about it?
Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” has been just that for many Christian theologians and ministers through the years. It is unfortunate that so many erroneous theories about it have been postulated by sincere believers. When we handle the Word of God, we must be diligent not to inject our own opinions as to its meaning. As we will see, applying sound principles of biblical interpretation will yield a clear, concise, and correct answer to this question, one that will help shed great light on some key biblical truths.
Let us first take a look at the verse in which this phrase is found, and the subsequent verses that help frame its context.
2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (NKJ)
(7) And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.
(8) Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me.
(9) And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
(10) Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
What can we see in those verses? First, it is clear that the “thorn in the flesh” was not a literal thorn, but a figurative way of describing whatever it actually was. Second, we see that it was “a messenger of Satan,” which means that it was certainly not God who “pricked” Paul with it. Had it come from God, why would Paul have asked the Lord Jesus to take this “thorn” out of his life?
In response, the Lord told Paul that he would give him the grace and strength to deal with this problem. So whatever it was, the Lord could not just “delete” it from Paul’s life. That would indicate that the “thorn” was not a physical ailment, because the Lord Jesus did, and still does, heal “all manner of sicknesses.” Paul then said that for Christ’s sake he would “boast” in infirmities, reproaches, needs, persecutions, and distresses, counting on the Lord’s strength to make up for his weakness.
In his excellent book, Christ The Healer,  written in the early 1900s, F. F. Bosworth does a superb job of showing what Paul’s “thorn” really was. He points out that the word “messenger” (v. 7) is the Greek word angelos, which is used 188 times, and is translated “angel” 181 times and “messenger” seven times. In each case, the angelos was a being, either spirit or human (p. 194).
Bosworth notes that the word “buffet” (v. 7) means to strike “blow after blow.” He cites Rotherham’s translation: “…that he might be buffeting me,” and notes that Weymouth’s translation reads: “Satan’s angel dealing blow after blow.” He then rightly concludes that if Paul’s “thorn” had been sickness, it would have to have been many sicknesses, or the same sickness over and over. And he points out that Rotherham uses the personal pronoun “he” rather than “it” (v. 8) to agree with the word “messenger.” And he quotes Weymouth: “As for this, three times I besought the Lord to rid me of him.” Again we see reference to a being or person rather than a disease (p. 194).
Before we look at other biblical uses of the key word, “thorn,” let us get a “running start” toward 2 Corinthians 12:7, beginning in Chapter 10. In verse 2, Paul speaks of “some [people]” who he expected to take to task about their opposition to him. A study of Chapters 10-13 shows that there were many “false apostles” in Corinth who spoke against Paul and boasted of their own spirituality as they tried to win the allegiance (and the financial support) of the Corinthian Church.
In fact, the word “boast,” which we saw above in 2 Corinthians 12:9, helps us follow the contextual trail through these chapters. Those whom Paul twice sarcastically called “super-apostles” were telling the Corinthian believers Paul had ministered to that he was leading them astray, and boasting that they were the ones with true knowledge and spiritual insight.
Paul thus spends most of Chapters 10-13 making his case as to how the Lord had worked in him and given him the authority to build up the Corinthian Church. He calls this “boasting,” and contrasts it to the boasting of his opponents.
Consider the following verses, and note the references to people who opposed Paul:
2 Corinthians 10:11 and 12
(11) Such people should realize that what we are in our letters when we are absent, we will be in our actions when we are present.
(12) We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.
2 Corinthians 11:4 and 5
(4) For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.
(5) But I do not think I am in the least inferior to those “super-apostles.”
2 Corinthians 11:12-15
(12) And I will keep on doing what I am doing in order to cut the ground from under those who want an opportunity to be considered equal with us in the things they boast about.
(13) For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ.
(14) And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.
(15) It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.
Do you think that those people opposing Paul could be called “messengers of Satan”? It sure looks that way, doesn’t it? Let us point out that God never promises that He will take away all of the “buffeting” that comes from satanically-inspired human opposition. Rather, as the Lord Jesus told Paul, he (and God) will stand with us and help us bear up to such persecution, which, in fact, He guarantees will come our way (2 Tim. 3:12).
In that vein, we should point out that in 12:7 where the NKJ reads, “lest I should be exalted above measure,” the NIV curiously reads, “To keep me from becoming conceited.…” Huh? Given the definition of that word, wouldn’t Satan be the one who would want Paul to become “conceited”? Yes, so why would he send a “messenger” to stop that from happening?
Wasn’t it God who had given Paul the “abundance of the revelations”? Yes, and why did He do so? To lift Paul up amidst the spiritual battle raging around him, to encourage him to stay in the fight and not be discouraged, to “exalt” him big time. Chapter 12 says that God even showed Paul some of the glories of Paradise. Wow!
Monday, October 4, 2010
Advanced Bible Study Group
(Meat Eaters Only)
Every Friday at 6PM
3 Cooper Plaza (Across from Cooper University Hospital)
Camden, NJ 08013
Are you REALLY hungry for God’s Word? Are you tired of Bible Studies that just skim the surface and never dig for the truths that defy denominational dogma and the traditions of men? Then this is the Group for YOU! Sometimes we will examine Books of the Bible, sometimes we will do Topical Studies, or we will attack controversial issues.
Teacher: Chaplain Mark H. Stevens, M.Min
October – The Letter to the Galatians
November – The Teachings of Jesus
December – The Holy Spirit