Sunday, September 10, 2017

Brownsville, Lakeland, and Irma

In 1995, the Brownsville Revival broke out in Pensacola, FL, and lasted over five years. More than four million people attended, with at least 200,000 new converts to Christianity, receiving the power to work indescribably great miracles. More than a thousand enrolled in the supernatural ministry training school, hoping to harness their new supernatural apostolic anointing to work miracles and spread the wonderful message of Brownsville.

In April 2008, the Lakeland Revival broke out in Lakeland, FL. Lasting over six months and led by Apostle Todd Bentley, this revival had over 10,000 nightly attendees and hundreds of thousands more watching over the internet. Over the course of this apostolic outpouring, tens of thousands of people were brought to Christ, and myriads were anointed with apostolic, miracle-working power.

So, Florida should be chock full of Spirit-empowered, apostolically anointed, miracle-working believers who can do greater works than Jesus (per John 14:12). And Jesus calmed a raging storm. So as this massive Hurricane Irma is barreling down on the state...

You know where I'm going here, and you already know that it isn't going to happen. Oh, sure, there may be a total loon starved for attention who will try it and accomplish nothing (update: when you need an attention-starved total loon to accomplish nothing, Kat Kerr and Lance Wallnau have you covered). But the vast majority of these self-proclaimed workers of miracles won't even bother trying. Much like how Benny Hinn never seems to bother healing all the patients in a children's hospital, these folks yammer endlessly about their great power to do the miraculous, yet go mysteriously silent when they could actually be of use. I'd like to offer some reflections on this for your consideration.

1) Their lesser interpretation of John 14:12 is wrong and they know it.
The interpretation widely accepted within Charismaticism limits the "greater works" to miracles, and they claim that anyone who has received the Spirit can and will do miracles surpassing what Jesus was able to do. Then they consistently fail to do so, and rarely make even a token attempt. Though they say they believe this interpretation, few of them even try to act like they do, and none of them - not individually, not all of them combined - have a track record that would confirm it.

Now why do I call it the "lesser" interpretation? Because their strict focus on miracle working eliminates the actual greater works - bringing new life to spiritually dead sinners through proclamation of the gospel, building the church. This is shown in Acts, which was in circulation before John's gospel was written, and serves as a record of the ministry of the Apostles. This verse must be understood such that the greater works Jesus mentions are those emphasized in Acts. There we find that the miracle working was continually downplayed, while gospel preaching is central.

Take all the miracles recorded in Acts together, and you get less than Jesus did in just Matthew 8 and 9. But what greater works do we see? "There were added that day about three thousand souls." "As many as were appointed to eternal life believed." "The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul." And on and on. Those are the greater works Acts emphasizes and Jesus meant - the proclamation of the gospel bringing sinners to repentant faith in Jesus Christ.

That was the emphasis of the ministry of Peter, Paul, John, Philip, and the like. Their obsession with miracle working shows them to be not like Simon Bar-Jonah but Simon Magus.

2) The actual number of people who came to faith in Christ at these revivals is probably zero.
I was going to say the reported number of converts is greatly exaggerated, but let's cut right to it - based on everything I've ever seen from these revivals, there is zero chance anyone could be saved through them. Faith comes through hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. To be saved, the gospel must be preached - and so far no one has produced any evidence of that at these so-called revivals.

Lakeland was primarily Todd Bentley. Zero chance of gospel proclamation there. Brownsville lasted five years, so maybe in those hundreds of messages, something Biblically sound snuck through. I've personally heard several dozen of them, from luminaries such as Steven Hill, Michael Brown, Yonggi Cho, Jentzen Franklin, and Rodney Howard Browne, and if they are at all representative...

Chris Rosebrough has been digging up Brownsville sermons for the last year or so. Listen to a few, such as these recent examples from Michael Brown and Jentzen Frankin. Can someone be saved by that? There are numerous other examples, and they follow a similar pattern. The main focus of the sermon is the greatness of the preacher. The secondary point is "Yay, revival!" There will be a heavy dose of "you have to do this better!" Any scripture brought up will be twisted beyond recognition and discarded. Jesus will scarcely be mentioned if at all. You might get the occasional blatant heresy. And the gospel will be completely absent.

When I evaluate sermons, I ask what the result would be if someone fully believed and completely obeyed everything that was said. In the case of every single Brownsville sermon I've ever heard, the answer is the same - the listener would remain dead in his sins and destined for hell.

I'd love for someone to prove me wrong here. Just one example of the gospel being clearly and faithfully presented at one of these revivals. But the more I've heard from Brownsville, Toronto, Lakeland, the Fire and Glory one in San Diego now, the less likely it seems anyone can produce it. It just isn't there. And without the gospel, nobody is being saved.

3) Whatever spirit was leading these revivals sure wasn't the Holy Spirit.
I don't know how someone could listen to Todd Bentley for more than about three minutes and not figure out he's demonic. But Brownsville also produced a cavalcade of people who were obsessed with signs and wonders, cared nothing for sound doctrine, buried the gospel, preached messages that left their hearers damned, and preached themselves instead of Christ. If that isn't demonic, what is?


After all that, we can answer the original question - after two huge miraculous revivals, why isn't Florida overwhelmingly full of Spirit-empowered apostolically-gifted Christians who can command Hurricane Irma to stop? Because Scripture does not promise us that kind of power, so these people wouldn't have that power even if they were Christians, which they're not.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

A word about Antifa

I would like to say a quick word about the growing "anti-fascist" movement that calls itself Antifa. But first, a story.

My freshman year of college, I lived in a dorm on campus. One of the dorm rules was that you were not allowed to build certain things in your room, including lofts. A loft provides precious storage space to a cramped dorm room, so everyone would want one, if only they could get around the problem of lofts being specifically forbidden.

Some friends of mine decided to take a creative stab at getting around the "no lofts" rule. They went ahead and built a loft in their room, then carved the words "NOT A LOFT" into the side. One day when an RA happened to see the not-a-loft and pointed out that lofts were not allowed, someone responded, "True, lofts are not allowed. But (pointing to the words), as you can clearly see, this is NOT A LOFT."

Maybe the RA appreciated the sense of humor and decided to reward them. Maybe he was stunned at the sheer audacity of calling the loft "not-a-loft" and expecting it to matter. Whatever the case, it was allowed to remain, and went unchallenged the rest of the year.

Now I share that story with you because it's completely ridiculous (but true!). They built something that looked like a loft, functioned like a loft, was actually a loft, but slapped the word "not" on it. Does anyone actually think using the word "not" in the name negated what it clearly was? Call it not-a-loft, call it the anti-loft, call it whatever you want, by design, appearance, and function, it was most definitely a loft.

And that's all I have to say about Antifa.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Deceivers and their Deceived

Within the past few days, I've seen three news stories about deceptive false teachers that had eye-popping numbers. Much could be said about these wolves, but here I want to consider the deceived, those who pack stadiums and cut the checks to support these charlatan ministries.

First: yesterday the offices of uber-heretic Benny Hinn were raided by the IRS (makes sense, long time coming) and USPS (suspected mail fraud perhaps?). When the IRS is through, we may get a peek into just how much money pours in for Hinn every year. Conservative estimates have been in the $100 million range, though it is likely significantly higher. Whatever the actual number turns out to be, it's a gargantuan amount of revenue flowing from deceived to deceiver.

Second: Robert Morris, famous for his "blessed life" version of the damnable prosperity gospel, appears to be encountering significant shortfalls, which would be absolutely hilarious when you consider what he teaches. But forget about the possible losses for a second and look at how much revenue this den of robbers takes in annually - about $147 million. That's... a lot. A thousand times more than my church's annual budget.

Third: Kong Hee, the self-appointed apostle of City Harvest Church of Singapore, had his sentence reduced from 8 years to 3.5 years, and his co-conspirators received similar reductions. Their crime? They had diverted at least $50 million Singapore (~$35 million US) to promote the music career of Kong Hee's wife in an attempt to conquer the media/entertainment mountains of the Seven Mountain Mandate. To have $35 million to use on a side project (largely consisting of the pastor's wife living extravagantly in LA and making awful music videos), you can imagine how much they must be raking in.

Three staggering examples of the extreme amounts of money these wolves have amassed. That cash comes from somewhere - despite the ludicrous miracle-working claims of Hinn and Hee, they can't make money materialize out of nothing. No, there are millions of people willingly forking over their hard-earned money to these charlatans. Why? Why would someone write check after check after check to these grifters? How can they be so deceived?

The unpleasant answer: they give them so much money because they want to. They are deceived because they want to be. They look at what these charlatans promise, and in their hearts they think, "I want that." Whether they are promising God as a means to superpowers and health and wealth like Hinn, or God as the Blessed Life Vending Machine where you put in your dollar and get back a hundred like Morris, or promising God will make you the miracle-working super-soldier who will conquer the world and gather the wealth of nations like Kong Hee, they are promising what the unregenerate, sinful heart wants.

For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. (2 Timothy 3:2-5)
The vast majority of people giving to these wolves are not Christians being duped, but the unregenerate pursuing what the unregenerate heart craves. These wolves, and many others like them, promise all the pleasure and riches and fame the sinful heart desires, with just enough of a God talk veneer to make it look respectable. And the masses go after it, because it is ultimately what they want. They are not the duped innocent but willing participants.

What do we do about it? Keep reading in 2 Timothy and the answer is clear - know, believe, and proclaim the scriptures. In the face of such ungodliness, especially that claiming to be part of the church, we have this charge: Preach the word. In the gospel alone is the power of salvation.

Examples like these show us the depth of our sinful human depravity. Only the word of God can overcome our sinfulness, open our eyes from willful blindness, and bring us to life.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Dentists and Hebrews 4:12

I went to the dentist recently. If there's anything I hate to do more than going to the dentist, it's... well, I can't really think of it right now. The dentist is awful, and I hate going. Always have, always will.

Rarely has a song so accurately captured a profession

The worst part may not be the pleasure they enjoy inflicting on their patient-victims. As much fun as I enjoy having an iron hook jammed into my gums repeatedly, it still might not be as bad as the scolding. You know the part, where they find something, anything, to belittle you for. You're not brushing enough, and if you are you're doing something wrong, and you need to floss more, unless you floss like you're supposed to in which case you probably floss too much and are damaging your gums... No matter how clean your teeth were, no matter if your entire visit took less than five minutes, they have to end it by letting you know that you're utterly incompetent in oral care and your mouth is revolting.

While I was being told that my oral care is so awful it deserves prosecution for war crimes, I couldn't help but think of Hebrews 4:12. Wait, the feel-good verse about the Bible being awesome? Yep, that one. Let's take a look at that verse in context, and see how the fault-finding dentist is a bad parable for one function of the word of God.

In Hebrews, the author is encouraging Christians facing persecution to not abandon the faith and return to their old way of life. He does this by systematically proving the superiority of Christ to every aspect of old covenant Judaism (and by extension all man-made faiths as well). Everything in the old covenant points to Jesus, he is its fulfillment, salvation is only possible through his work alone, and to abandon the faith is spiritual suicide, because any other system is necessarily unable to save. Now that Christ has come as the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises, there is no other way. So Hebrews has two themes continually interwoven, the absolute supremacy of Christ, and the need to persevere in the faith.

In Hebrews 3-4, the author draws a parallel between the work of Christ and the work of Moses/Joshua. As Moses delivered Israel from slavery in Egypt, Jesus delivers us from slavery to sin and fear of death (2:14ff). As Joshua led the people into rest in the Promised Land, Christ is leading his people to the greater rest which still remains, the promised "Sabbath rest for the people of God" (4:9).

But there was a problem with ancient Israel, and a warning for us today. Did all who started on the Exodus enter the Promised Land? No. In fact, other than Joshua and Caleb, every single Israelite 20 years and older died in the wilderness. They had gotten right up to the edge of the Promised Land - and there they rebelled against God. His judgment was to send them back into the desert to wander and die, and their children would enter the land (Numbers 13-14).

The author uses this example as a warning and exhortation to us. "Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end" (3:12-14). And again, our primary text:

Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (4:11-13)

As Israel came to the edge of Canaan, the author pictures us coming to the entrance to God's eternal rest. The standard by which we will be judged, by which it will be decided whether we enter the rest or die in the wilderness, is the word of God. Have we obeyed God's word? And not just our actions - even our thoughts and intentions are judged by God's holy standard.

And nothing will be hidden from God's sight - everything is laid bare before Him. You can try lying to the dentist about flossing every day; when your mouth is opened wide, the truth is evident to him. You can try lying to God, saying "All these I have kept from my youth" (Luke 18:21), but do you really imagine God doesn't see?

The dentist's ability to find fault is nothing compared to the convicting power of God's law. "Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no man will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin" (Romans 3:19-20). When our lives and thoughts are laid bare and judged against the standard of God's word, there will be none who pass, and none who can so much as offer a defense. Every mouth is stopped. Every one is accountable. No one will be justified through obedience to the law, but the depth of our sin will be undeniable.

What hope is there? Who can endure such a judgment, having all exposed before God and judged by God's word, which can discern even our thoughts and the intentions of our hearts? What can we do other than accept the guilty verdict and our well-deserved punishment? Keep reading:

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16)

On our own, we are hopeless, destined to die like the rebellious Israelites. But we have a great high priest who, as the next six chapters discuss, has made complete atonement for the sin of his people. In Jesus, and only in him, we find forgiveness of sins and intercession before the Father. Through faith in him we are forgiven of sins, delivered from the judgment, and granted entry to God's rest.

Friday, October 23, 2015

The Curious Case of Opal Covey

When I moved back to Toledo a couple years ago, I had forgotten how much fun the mayoral elections can be. To help explain how the illustrious Carty Finkbeiner could keep getting elected, just look at the competition, including perennial candidate Opal Covey.

Recently Opal went on the radio to talk about her platform. It didn't go well. So she confronted the host about his sinful defiance of God's will that she must be mayor. Seriously. Just watch:


Another fun interview with her can be found here. Please watch this one to the end. You can thank me later.

These clips and her prophetic electoral history (four previous times she's been told by God she would be mayor, without success) raise a host of questions. The shenanigans on display here don't come about in a vacuum, and frankly what she's doing, while maybe more exuberant, is far too familiar.

1) Where are the people to defend her? Why is there no mention of this on charismamag.com or charismanews.com? She has a prophetic word from God and is being mocked and resisted - why don't they take up her cause? And lest you think this is just too far out there for them to defend, take a look at what they actively promote, and tell me how this is any different from, say, a typical Jennifer LeClaire piece.

2) Why is nobody proposing an "open but cautious" stance? How is it that we all instantly know this is total garbage, but with other 'prophecies' and 'tongues' we're supposed to wait and see because you never know? What, specifically, is the difference between this and the thousands of 'words from the lord' that will be spouted at charismatic churches this Sunday?

3) How is it that a talk radio host in Toledo, OH knows the simple equation that self-proclaimed prophet + false = false prophet, and he's not afraid to tell her so (even as she speaks in tongues against him!), but major evangelical leaders and theologians can't figure it out?

4) How is her schtick any different from what happens daily on TBN? How is she different from the New Apostolic Reformation or IHOP or Chuck Pierce or Patricia King or Benny Hinn or Pat Robertson or Bill Johnson or the Elijah List or Todd Bentley or...

5) Is it the William Tapley effect? As Chris Rosebrough often points out, William Tapley plays the same game as Robertson, Hagee, Cahn, and many others who rake in millions while he's a laughingstock. Why? They're slick and polished, while Tapley is... well, just watch his videos. Is that all that's at play here, why Opal Covey is a laughingstock while Bill Johnson has a global following and TBN rakes in cash by the billions? What exactly is different about her, other than the polish?

6) Note carefully the "I speak in tongues against you". Somehow tongues went from declaration of the wonders of God in understandable foreign language previously unknown to the speaker (Acts 2) to gibberish random syllables as a curse. In other words, from spiritual gift to witchcraft. Now, is that common practice in charismaticism? Before you answer, consider the word-faith theology of Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, and their ilk, the idea that you're a little god who creates the future through the power of your words. How is what she did any different?

7) While it's easy to dismiss her as crazy and disturbed, does she understand the implications of what she's saying better than many? Consider - she claims to have a prophecy that she will be mayor. Fred Lefebvre doesn't accept it and seems to work against it (by exposing her utter lack of qualifications). So she accuses him of the gross sin of opposing the work of god, and pronounces judgment on him. Because god told her she would be mayor, everyone who has heard the prophecy is morally bound to obey, and disobedience to her word is tantamount to disobeying god, liable to the fires of hell.

It all makes for a good laugh, except for one thing - if she actually received a real prophecy, her pronouncement would be 100% correct. She didn't, and she's a false prophet and blasphemer, but if it was actually a word from God, she would have been correct that opposing it is vile sin.

So why does this woman understand this, but so much of the church doesn't? How many pastors have an extrabiblical 'vision' they claim is God's revelation to them? How many projects are launched with no justification beyond "God put this on our hearts" or "God gave us a vision for this"? How often is "God is telling me..." or "God is leading me to..." tossed out in casual conversation, as if direct orders from the almighty creator are on the same level as a comment about the weather?

Why do we put up with this? How do we not understand - if Opal Covey can understand it, I'm sure it's not beyond our grasp - that a divine revelation morally binds all hearers, and to oppose it is sin? If they claim the message is God's word, no matter how soft they sell it, to disobey or fail to support it is direct rebellion against God himself - if it's actually from God. If it's not, and at this point in redemptive history we can safely say it's not, then they are sinning by taking God's name in vain, and they're false prophets.

When we let that kind of thing fester unopposed, a generation of Opal Coveys is the result.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Obvious Happened. What Now?

The University of Toronto, in good progressive fashion, started using "gender-neutral" bathrooms in some dorms. You will no doubt be shocked to find out that college guys like looking at naked girls, and some particularly sleazy ones decided to do so without the girls' permission.

So what do we make of this? It's tempting to start with "I told you so" and "How could they not see this would happen?", and plenty of good folks are already on that train. The point needs to be driven home that this result is entirely predictable, and this foolishness needlessly puts women and children in harm's way.

There's one problem nagging at me, though. I have a hard time buying the underlying assumption - that the people responsible for these asinine policies couldn't see this coming. These are generally people with advanced degrees - no matter how worthless those degrees may be, they require some intellectual acumen to obtain. Am I really to believe they are capable of academic achievement, yet utterly ignorant of what could happen when young males are granted free access to naked vulnerable women?

Of course they knew what would happen. They don't care. Advancing the progressive agenda is much more important to them than frivolous concerns like the safety and purity of women and children. There are goals to accomplish, and if some women and children have to be sacrificed - through sexual assaults, being torn limb from limb inside the womb, whatever - along the way, that's collateral damage they're willing to live with. Eggs and omelets and all.

The ultimate goal isn't feminism or 'equality' or a gender-free society or any small potatoes like that. Those are mere means to their doomed-to-fail end: the eradication of God. It's the same goal humanity has shared since Genesis 3, when our father Adam rebelled against God and exalted his own creaturely wisdom above that of the Creator. Following Adam's sin-corrupted nature, we rebel against God and fight against all that necessarily flows from Genesis 1:1. God created, and therefore has all sovereignty and right to define. We want to rule, so we do all we can to defy God.

And so we have these projects to cast off what God has said is good. God created male and female, so we invent the choose your own gender adventure society. God rules over life and death, so we claim for ourselves the right to kill at any time, for any reason; people are only alive when we deem them worthy of life. God created man in His image and gave him dominion over animals, so we imagine man in the image of ancient apes, just another animal, one the world would be better off without. There is no truth so obvious that we won't overturn it to send the message, "We are in charge here!" There is nothing so good that we won't destroy it to spite God.

The problem isn't ignorance, but wickedness. The cure is not common sense (though a dose of common grace sure wouldn't hurt!), but repentance. Foolish policies like the gender-neutral dorm bathrooms come from despising the obvious, but not merely the obvious about boys and girls. It comes from despising the obvious truth that God created and rules over us; we have sinned against Him, and deserve nothing but the harshest judgment. Our only hope is to repent and turn in faith in Jesus Christ, trusting his propitiatory death for sin and righteousness credited to all who trust in him alone.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Trailblazing on the Broad Path

I had no intention of writing or hopefully even thinking about TD Jakes ever again. But then I saw this article in my twitter feed, and here we are.

Short version, he's OK with "gay marriage" (or at least the government backing off and allowing whatever), his views on homosexuality are "evolved and evolving", and he thinks at least some churches should openly embrace unrepentant homosexuals. In fairness, for now his Potter's House isn't yet openly gay-embracing, but these statements definitely open the possibility.

I'll let others dive into the more fun aspects here, such as his anti-inspiration description of Paul's letters and his postmodern "I'm not God, so I can't know what any of this means!" hermeneutic, and focus on why he's doing this now.

Above all else, remember that Jakes is a money-grubbing televangelist whose primary theological aim is prosperity - his personal enrichment at the expense of the gullible. This is almost certainly a trial balloon, just wanting to see what kind of reception they get from their victim/donors.

In the wake of Obergefell, it's only a matter of time until churches, even false-gospel outposts of hell like Potter's House, lose tax-exempt status if they continue to oppose homosexuality. Not only will they need to start paying taxes, their income is likely to fall, as people may not be willing/able to give as much without the accompanying write-off. It makes sense to compromise to keep that exemption.

Unless, of course, the outcry against the decision is strong enough. If a large percentage of existing donors are angry enough about the change and stop donating, it could be worse financially than losing tax exemption. In that case it would make financial sense to hold firm and suffer the consequences - and maybe even pick up new donors in the process.

We could add that a church might hold firm because of the clear teaching of God's Word, but, well, TD Jakes.

So I think this is a trial balloon. They no doubt have run numbers on what losing tax exemption will cost, and they're gathering data to project loss (or even potential gain!) from openly affirming homosexual sin. If the numbers are right, expect them to make the formal move soon enough.

And don't be na├»ve enough to think this stops here. How many megachurches with debts in the tens of millions and budgets that are already stretched too thin can afford to lose tax exempt status? Do you see Andy Stanley or Ed Young or your local Creek holding the line on clear biblical truth, at the potential cost of millions a year?

So give TD Jakes credit. He's nothing if not a shrewd businessman and a trailblazer. Many others will follow the path he's blazing, which is coincidentally broad and leads to destruction.