The ‘Prophets’ and ‘Apostles’ Leading the Quiet Revolution in American Religion

A Christian movement characterized by multi-level marketing, Pentecostal signs and wonders, and post-millennial optimism.

Interview by Bob Smietana| August 3, 2017, Christianity Today

A quiet revolution is taking place in America religion, say Brad Christerson and Richard Flory, authors of The Rise of Network Christianity: How Independent Leaders Are Changing the Religious Landscape.

Largely behind the scenes, a group of mostly self-proclaimed “apostles,” leading ministries from North Carolina to Southern California, has attracted millions of followers with promises of direct access to God through signs and wonders.

Their movement, which Christerson and Flory called “Independent Network Charismatic” or “INC” Christianity, has become one of the fastest-growing faith groups in the United States. Apostles like Bill Johnson, Mike Bickle, Cindy Jacobs, Chuck Pierce, and Ché Ahn claim millions of followers. They’re also aided by an army of fellow ministers who fall under their “spiritual covering.”

Many of these apostles run megachurches, including Bethel Church in Redding California, HRock Church in Pasadena, and the International House of Prayer (IHOP) in Kansas City. But their real power lies in their innovative approach to selling faith. They’ve combined multi-level marketing, Pentecostal signs and wonders, and post-millennial optimism to connect directly with millions of spiritual customers. That allows them to reap millions in donations, conference fees, and book and DVD sales. And because these INC apostles claim to get direction straight from God, they operate with almost no oversight.

Nashville-based religion writer Bob Smietana spoke with Christerson (professor of sociology at Biola University) and Flory (senior director of research and evaluation at the Center for Religion and Civic Culture at the University of Southern California) about the appeal—and danger—of these burgeoning movements.

What’s the difference between INC Christians and the prosperity gospel movement or megachurch networks like the Association of Related Churches (ARC)?

Christerson: Probably the closest kinship would be prosperity gospel movement. But it’s a little different in that the INC movement has a network that cooperates more often. My sense of the prosperity gospel is that it consists of individual entrepreneurs, TV preachers, and megachurch leaders, but there’s not as much cooperation.

Also, the theology is different. The prosperity gospel would focus more on the individual’s health and wealth. This group is unique in that they really think God has put these apostles on earth to basically transform the world. It’s a sort of trickle-down Christianity, where these apostles are at the top of the mountain, exercising this power from the top down. That’s how the kingdom of God comes in.

Ironically, this group isn’t really focused on building up big congregations. Their ideas are spreading through other means, like high-profile conferences and the media products that they are selling.

Flory: These apostles are able to access a lot more money, because they are operating with a pay-for-service model, rather than relying on people’s donations and their goodwill. Congregations bend over backwards to keep people happy and keep the butts in the seats; people don’t have to pay unless they feel like it. But this is a completely different financial model, and it tends to generate much more money.

How do the people in this group identify themselves? Are they Pentecostals? Charismatics? INC Christians?

Christerson: They would use the word prophetic or apostolic—or they would align themselves with one of the apostles. They would say, “I am a follower of Bill Johnson,” or Mike Bickle, or Cindy Jacobs. People would tell us, “he’s my apostle” or “he’s my prophet.” The other term we hear a lot is “spiritual covering”: There’s this idea that you are under spiritual covering of your specific apostle or prophet. A related term is “impartation.” The apostles basically impart their power to you. If you are under them, the power that they have straight from God trickles down to you.

They consciously avoid any kind of formal organization or denomination. They see the strength of weak ties—it allows them room to experiment and to work with all kinds of different people. They can focus on putting together these big events—they don’t have to support a staff or donate to a seminary. They can just go straight to the marketing activities.

How do you become an apostle? What’s the process?

Christerson: It’s all sort of self-appointed. Leaders in the moment would say that people are recognized as apostles because of the influence that they have—not only over your own congregation but over other leaders. But there’s definitely a good deal of self-appointing going on. Peter Wagner, a leader in the New Apostolic Reformation movement, referred to himself as a “super apostle,” because he was influential with a bunch of other apostles.

Ironically, this group isn’t really focused on building up big congregations. Their ideas are spreading through other means, like high-profile conferences and the media products that they are selling.

It’s easy to see the advantages for leaders—it’s great to be the guy at the top of the pyramid since they get all the cash and no one tells them what to do. But it also seems like lay people really like this model. What do they get out of it?

Christerson: For the young people, they’re searching for meaning, and they’re also looking for adventure and excitement. These kinds of churches appeal to them in ways that traditional congregations just can’t. They are not merely trying to learn how to know God, live a godly life, or share their faith with other people. They really believe they are participating in this cosmic spiritual battle to transform the world. They are involved in this battle for whole cities and nations.

And then you have the appeal of direct access to God—getting direct downloads from God. God is going to talk to me and tell me what to do. Or my leader is getting direct downloads. For many people, that’s more exciting than a 45-minute sermon examining the Greek terms from Paul’s writings.

INC movements don’t have same “priesthood of all believers” theology as the Protestant Reformers, because power is still flowing down from particular apostles, and then others can access it. There is definitely a hierarchy. But since they are not building institutions, there is a lot of freedom for people to experiment with the tools they get from these apostles. So that opens up a lot of opportunities for people to lead, innovate, and create their own way of doing Christianity. That participatory aspect is a major part of the appeal.

Rather than traditional worship services, many megachurches say they have “experiences.” What kind of experiences are INC churches trying to create?

Christerson: The traditional megachurch uses music and exciting preaching from great communicators. But we found that wasn’t the case with these INC-lings. They are actually not very exciting preachers. That really surprised us. For them, it’s all about encountering these supernatural manifestations. That’s the exciting experience.

It’s very spontaneous. We went to a conference where a number of apostles were speaking and Bill Johnson was doing a Bible teaching. He had probably talked 20 or 30 minutes, and you could feel the restlessness in the room. He said, “I know you are just waiting for me to stop preaching because you want the power. But just hang with me here.” People weren’t there to listen to him. What they wanted was for him to lay hands on them.

After he finished, people came up to the stage, and they were being slain in the spirit. People were falling down and getting healed. That’s what they are there for. They don’t want to sit and watch other people. They want to access the power themselves to make a difference in the world.

Flory: The desire for this kind of experience is broader than just this group. It works out in interesting ways among these INC Christians, but we see it across different religious groups that we have studied at the Center for Religion and Civic Culture. Particularly among evangelicals, we’re seeing a more experiential, embodied way of understanding religion.

It’s remarkable how effectively INC personalities can get their message out without owning a television studio or buying airtime. How do they manage?

Flory: INC leaders have leveraged digital technology to get their message out—smartphones in particular, where you can get anything you want as long as you have some kind of digital connection. That just expands the world exponentially for these people.

Christerson: It’s also basically free to put your product out there. IHOP is particularly good at doing that. They say their website—in terms of viewed video content—is one of the top 50 websites in the world.

Between the internet and the conferences, they have figured out ways to leverage that big, exhilarating, hyped-up experience you get in a stadium venue. That’s where their networking comes into play. They can bring in four or five apostles, and then their followers flock to see them. People have these significant experiences that juice them up to contact the apostles over the internet. If they can go to a conference two or three times a year to get a new jolt, that becomes the new rhythm, as opposed the weekly rhythm of church life.

Let’s talk about the “7 mountains” theology, which is popular in these circles. On some levels, it sounds like theocracy. Christians are in charge of every part of life: the “mountains” of business, government, media, arts and entertainment, education, the family, and religion. On the other hand, it sounds like there’s no actual plan—aside from putting these Christians in charge. So what’s going on?

Christerson: They really believe that God is behind it all, that he is appointing people into these high positions, and that they will know what to do when they get there. They will be listening to God, and he will use them to supernaturally make America or the world into the kingdom of God. Some of the people that they claim are in these high position—like Betsy DeVos, Ben Carson, and Rick Perry—are part of the Trump administration. But they are not Pentecostals, and they have nothing to do with these groups. The movement just latches on to them and claims God is using Trump to bring in the kingdom.

Some INC people describe Trump as a King Cyrus figure—he’s not one of us, but God is using him to defeat our enemies and restore our nation. If Trump collapses or gets impeached, they will not look very good. Some of them have staked their reputation on Trump’s performance, but not all of them.

They don’t have policy goals, other than anti-abortion and anti-gay-marriage sentiments. They don’t have an idea of what it takes to reduce poverty or curb international conflict. None of that is even on their radar.

It’s a very different approach than other religious groups take. If it’s the Catholic Church, the religious right, or the religious left, they actually have a strategy. They have think-tanks and organizations, and they’re involved at different levels with political parties. This is nothing like that.

Flory: In some ways, it’s a really romantic vision. For most of the 20th century, most Pentecostals and evangelicals were pre-millennial—they imagined that God’s reign would appear in full only after the second coming of Christ. But the INC movement is explicitly post-millennial. In their minds, God’s kingdom can come to earth before Christ returns—and, by the way, it will be in America. There is this interesting combination of America first, Americans as God’s chosen people, and a romantic vision of God working it out through the people he chooses.

Do INC leaders engage in any self-reflection about the dangers of holding major power without oversight?

Christerson: I haven’t seen a lot of self-awareness on their part. They think they are an instrument of God—and that’s all they need. There’s a suspicion of any kind of accountability structures, because these limit the power of God working through individuals. When you have a church board and an elder board that hires a pastor, then that pastor can’t do the things that God is telling him to do—because he has to go to the board to get everything approved. The real danger, they would say, is when institutions become more powerful than the individuals that God calls.

But they do seem different than the prosperity gospel preachers, in that wealth isn’t flaunted.

Christerson: Peter Wagner talked about the differences between the two groups. He said that the prosperity gospel thought that money was a blessing for the sake of blessing. For his own New Apostolic Reformed movement, the prosperity comes from God in order to transform the world for God.

Interestingly, INC leaders think that the business world is the key to all of this—because wealth is more powerful than all other forms of power. They anticipate this huge transfer of wealth to believers. But they see this wealth as an instrument for bringing about God’s kingdom on earth.

For prosperity preacher, it’s more that God is going to bless me individually to show me favor and to show that he is God. We didn’t get that from the INC leaders. They dress casually and don’t drive expansive cars or fly in their own planes.

Many INC apostles are very successful. So why have they stayed out of the spotlight, at least in the broader culture?

Christerson: One reason this movement hasn’t gotten a lot of press is that the leaders don’t seek it out. They have their own networks for disseminating information and getting attention. They are not sending our press releases. For example, they had this Asuza Now conference at the Los Angeles Coliseum, and it drew 50,000 people on a rainy day—if not for the bad weather, the crowd probably would have been even bigger. And it didn’t even make the Los Angeles Times. Fifty thousand people show up for an apostle’s conference at the LA Coliseum, and nobody covered it. That was mind-boggling to me.

They don’t seem to be on anybody’s radar, in part because they are not promoting themselves through normal institutional channels.

And yet they do seem like friendly people, at least in public. And they seem to lack the kind of ostentatiousness that turns people off from prosperity gospel preachers or televangelists.

Christerson: They are super down-to-earth. And there isn’t the angry edge we’ve seen from certain religious-right activists or the more traditional pre-millennial dispensationalists who want to fight evil. For these guys, God’s taking over the world, and they are just riding the wave.

Source CT Article

Other NAR related links:

The Six Hallmarks of a NAR Church

The New Apostolic Reformation (Many Articles and Links) by Sandy Simpson

Interview with Sandy Simpson (with outline and additional links) on Echo Zoe Radio

The New Apostolic Reformation (Multiple Articles) by 4 Truth Ministry

List of Direct Quotes from C. Peter Wagner by The Zedekiah List

The New Apostolic Reformation by Apologetics Index

The Roots and Fruits of the New Apostolic Reformation by Bob Dewaay

The Changing of the Apostolic Guard: 13 Names to Watch by Holly Pivec

The Apostles Who Don’t Do Anything by Grace to You

Interview With Caryl Matrisciana: New Apostolic Reformation by Amy Spreeman

Dominionism and The NAR by Berean Research

Apostles and Prophets are the Foundation of the Church by Bob Dewaay

The New Apostolic Church Movement by Let Us Reason

What Is The New Apostolic Reformation? by Got Questions

Do Miracles, Signs and Wonders Create Faith? by Robert Liichow

Christianity Today Should Correct Heidi Baker NAR Story by Talk To Action

Debunking the Seven Mountains Mandate and the NAR by Chris Rosebrough

What’s Wrong With the Passion (NAR)”Translation” Bible?

The New Apostolic End Times Scripture by Steven Kozar

C. Peter Wagner’s Apostolic Movement on Issues, Etc.

The Apostolic and Prophetic Movement by Keith Gibson

Why I Must Speak Out Against the NAR and Bethel Church by Tony Miano

The Latter Rain Movement on Issues, Etc.

The History of the Renewal Movement: Interview with Lyndon Unger on Echoe Zoe Radio (with links and notes)

The NAR: A Warning About Latter Day Apostles by Orrel Steinkamp

What Is Dominionism? by Apprising

I Refuse to Believe Bob Jones-I’m Staying Home by Steven Kozar

What Is The NAR? by Asleep No More

C. Peter Wagner Spins the NAR by Herescope

The NAR-You Will Know Them by Their Nuts by Church Watch Central

HAW and WOF NARpostles by Church Watch Central

The New Order of the Latter Rain by Spirit Watch

Quick Thoughts: What is the Seven Mountain Mandate? by Lyndon Unger

“I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!”

— Galatians 1:6-9

The New Apostolic Reformation An Examination of the Five-Fold Ministries

By Pastor Gary Gilley, Southern View  Gospel & Think on These Things Ministries (TOTT)

TOTT Ministries publishes really well written articles concerning contemporary issues facing today’s church. The two most recent articles address the topic of this blog post. They represent a careful and honest  examination of the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR)  covering NAR’s

  • Historical Roots and Foundation,
  • Theological Distinctives,
  • Infiltration into Mainstream Evangelicalism,
  • A Biblical Examination,
  • and Conclusion

All of the information in these articles is carefully presented and referenced in great detail. Due to the length of the material it is not practical to post them in their entirety in this blog. Instead, I offer you the linked to the online articles:

The New Apostolic Reformation An Examination of the Five-Fold Ministries Part 1

The New Apostolic Reformation An Examination of the Five-Fold Ministries Part 2

Whether you recognize the term NAR or not,  You will recognize many of NAR’s theological distinctives, as well as the names of well know NAR proponents.

I pray that God will bless your reading!

A Mid-Week Bible Study and the Memphis Dialogues

I attended an interesting lunch time Bible study today. It meets once a week on Wednesdays here where I work. The leader said that since they were still working out technical difficulties, we would talk about what is on our minds. I took a question with me:

“Was James White ‘unequally yoked’ with Yasir Qadhi in Memphis?”

I just happen to be in the middle of a study in 2 John and already have some good notes (I am blessed to teach the class)! Talk about timing!

There were four of us and none of the others knew about Memphis, so it was perfect, as far as I was concerned. No chance of the others already having made up their minds.

I provided the necessary background and then read from a really good and fair article that was published by a Christian news outfit.

One of the other men had no problem with a general discussion about two religions, and did not see any ‘yoking’ going on (I shared the definitions from 4 separate commentaries.) One of the men had some of the same issues brought up by those who have already aired their ‘issues’ with James White. The last of the three other men didn’t give an opinion.

It was a good time of ‘dialogue’.

I learned something else that was disturbing. I heard Jimmy DeYoung, one of the regulars on Brannon Howse’s program (from the July 7 show) say

“James White does not believe the word of God and is a heretic. We should mark him and just forget about him. . .the man’s a heretic.”

Then Shrahram Hadian chimed in and said that Dr. Andy Woods said in a conversation with him that Dr. White should be given over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh. Fine Christian men, these!

And last but not least, in his latest podcast, at about the 1:20 mark, there is an interview with an actual missionary in Iraq that is quite illuminating and should be listened to by all of those who are ‘rebuking’ (bashing) Dr. White, especially the fellow on another blog that told me my missionary analogy was ridiculous.

My point was that the answer to being unequally yoked can be yes, no, or maybe, and maybe is probably the best answer.

Anyway, this whole ‘Christian’ fiasco has been a vehicle for this guy to dig a little deeper into His work to sharpen the few exegetical skills I might have, as well as taught me a bit more about ‘Christian’ behavior and humility

Was James White ‘Unequally Yoked’ in Memphis?

Some say yes, some say no, some say maybe. This post is for informational purposes. Your opinion is your own. If you MUST have my opinion, I am in the ‘maybe’ camp. The term ‘interfaith’ is briefly discussed because someone recently told me that EVERYTHING interfaith is ‘unequally yoked’. I think that’s silly.

“Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?” 2 Cor 6:14

unequally yoked together G2086  (KJV + Strongs)

G2086   (Strong)

ἑτεροζυγέω

heterozugeō

het-er-od-zoog-eh’-o

From a compound of G2087 and G2218; to yokeup differently, that is, (figuratively) to associate discordantly: – unequally yoke together with.

Total KJV occurrences: 1

 

Albert Barnes

Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers – This is closely connected in sense with the previous verse. The apostle is there stating the nature of the remuneration or recompence which he asks for all the love which he had shown to them. He here says, that one mode of remuneration would be to yield obedience to his commands, and to separate themselves from all improper alliance with unbelievers. “Make me this return for my love. Love me as a proof of your affection, be not improperly united with unbelievers. Listen to me as a father addressing his children, and secure your own happiness and piety by not being unequally yoked with those who are not Christians.” The word which is used here (ἑτεροζυγέω heterozugeō) means properly, to bear a different yoke, to be yoked heterogeneously – Robinson (Lexicon). It is applied to the custom of yoking animals of different kinds together (Passow); and as used here means not to mingle together, or be united with unbelievers.

 

It is implied in the use of the word that there is a dissimilarity between believers and unbelievers so great that it is as improper for them to mingle together as it is to yoke animals of different kinds and species. The ground of the injunction is, that there is a difference between Christians and those who are not, so great as to render such unions improper and injurious. The direction here refers doubtless to all kinds of improper connections with those who were unbelievers. It has been usually supposed by commentators to refer particularly to marriage. But there is no reason for confining it to marriage. It doubtless includes that, but it may as well refer to any other intimate connection, or to intimate friendships, or to participation in their amusements and employments, as to marriage. The radical idea is, that they were to abstain from all connections with unbelievers – with infidels, and pagans, and those who were not Christians, which would identify them with them; or they were to have no connection with them in anything as unbelievers, pagans, or infidels; they were to partake with them in nothing that was special to them as such.

 

They were to have no part with them in their paganism unbelief, and idolatry, and infidelity; they were not to be united with them in any way or sense where it would necessarily be understood that they were partakers with them in those things. This is evidently the principle here laid down, and this principle is as applicable now as it was then.

 

Jamiesson-Fausset-Brown

Be notGreek,Become not.”

unequally yoked — “yoked with one alien in spirit.” The image is from the symbolical precept of the law (Lev 19:19), “Thou shalt not let thy cattle gender with a diverse kind”; or the precept (Deu 22:10), “Thou shalt not plough with an ox and an ass together.” Compare Deu 7:3, forbidding marriages with the heathen; also 1Co 7:39. The believer and unbeliever are utterly heterogeneous.Too close intercourse with unbelievers in other relations also is included (2Co 6:16; 1Co 8:10; 1Co 10:14).

fellowship — literally, “share,” or “participation.”

righteousness — the state of the believer, justified by faith.

unrighteousness — rather, as always translated elsewhere, “iniquity”; the state of the unbeliever, the fruit of unbelief.

light — of which believers are the children (1Th 5:5).

 

Adam Clarke

Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers – This is a military term: keep in your own ranks; do not leave the Christian community to join in that of the heathens. The verb ἑτεροζυγειν signifies to leave one’s own rank, place, or order, and go into another; and here it must signify not only that they should not associate with the Gentiles in their idolatrous feasts, but that they should not apostatize from Christianity; and the questions which follow show that there was a sort of fellowship that some of the Christians had formed with the heathens which was both wicked and absurd, and if not speedily checked would infallibly lead to final apostasy.

Some apply this exhortation to pious persons marrying with those who are not decidedly religious, and converted to God. That the exhortation may be thus applied I grant; but it is certainly not the meaning of the apostle in this place. Nevertheless, common sense and true piety show the absurdity of two such persons pretending to walk together in a way in which they are not agreed. A very wise and very holy man has given his judgment on this point: “A man who is truly pious, marrying with an unconverted woman, will either draw back to perdition, or have a cross during life.” The same may be said of a pious woman marrying an unconverted man. Such persons cannot say this petition of the Lord’s prayer, Lead us not into temptation. They plunge into it of their own accord.

 

John Gill

Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers,…. This seems to be an allusion to the law in Deu 22:10 and to be a mystical explanation of it; and is to be understood not as forbidding civil society and converse with unbelievers; for this is impracticable, then must believers needs go out of the world; this the many natural and civil relations subsisting among men make absolutely necessary; and in many cases is both lawful and laudable, especially when there is any opportunity or likelihood of doing them any service in a spiritual way: not is it to be understood as dehorting from entering into marriage contracts with such persons; for such marriages the apostle, in his former epistle, had allowed to be lawful, and what ought to be abode by; though believers would do well carefully to avoid such an unequal yoke, since oftentimes they are hereby exposed to many snares, temptations, distresses, and sorrows, which generally more or less follow hereon: but there is nothing in the text or context that lead to such an interpretation; rather, if any particular thing is referred to, it is to joining with unbelievers in acts of idolatry; since one of the apostle’s arguments to dissuade from being unequally yoked with unbelievers is, “what agreement hath the temple of God with idols?” and from the foregoing epistle it looks as if some in this church had joined with them in such practices; see 1Co 10:14. But I rather think that these words are a dissuasive in general, from having any fellowship with unbelievers in anything sinful and criminal, whether in worship or in conversation:

 

“Interfaith”

adjective: of, operating, or occurring between persons belonging to different religions

This could mean a wide variety of things from having an actual worship ‘service’, picketing an abortion clinic together, having a conversation, eating a meal, UFC, playing chess, name an activity. If you are going to tell me that James White was ‘unequally yoked’, you had better tell me exactly WHY you make the conclusion. 

James White had a discussion about religion with a Muslim in which each man presented various tenets of their respective faiths. Whether he was unequally ‘yoked’ is a matter of speculation and individual opinion.

You can come to a hard and fast conclusion, or, you could choose wisdom and say you ‘think’ He might have been ‘unequally yoked’. 

 

Repackaged Lies – ‘Christian’ Meditation, Part II

As I promised in Part I, this post will contain the transcript of the audio from Introductory Session1, which was 10 minutes long.

Before the text, you need to know about the background audio, which was continuous throughout. I’ll try and describe it for you. There were essentially three parts to the audio.

  • A low-pitched tone in the background was constantly ‘humming’. Sometimes you couldn’t really notice it because the other two parts were often louder I heard the same tone in the background of worship music in the chapel we attend; that is until the then lead Chaplain moved on and took his synthesizer playing son with him.
  • A set of higher tones with a lot of ups and downs; sort of a melody, but not a real melody. Something you might hear in a lot of ‘New Age’ music.
  • A constant breeze, or wind dominated the background and was the most ‘important’ of the three parts. I think it was symbolize the ‘breath of God’. Think of the ‘Holy Spirit’.

These tips for success are offered:

1. The meditations are quick and easy, but they do require a commitment. Our most successful beginners set aside 10 minutes/day

2. It’s best that you meditate at the same time and place if possible.

3. Find a place that you won’t easily get interrupted for 10-15 minutes and somewhere you can relax in a chair.

4. Do the meditations with headphones if you have them. Noise cancelling are great, but you can just use the ear buds that come with your phone or iPod.  But remember: It’s better to do it, than to not do it!

As promised, here is the speaker. (I might toss in a few short comments that look like this.)

He begins:

“Welcome to Meditate On Christ, Day 1. Over the next seven days you’re going to begin a meditative journey that’s both easy and powerful. All we’re going to do is follow the example of Jesus and withdraw from our daily life to pray and meditate for a few minutes a day.”

(Did Christ really practice this sort of meditation?)

“If you haven’t been able to consistently pray and meditate before, don’t worry. I’ll walk you through it, step by step. As we begin, take a moment to get comfortable in your chair. It’s a good time to quiet the body in preparation for meditation. It’s nice to use a posture that won’t cause any discomfort or distraction in the next little while. So uncross your arms and legs, and rest your hands in your lap, with your feet on the floor. If you haven’t already, you can close your eyes. Just begin by giving in to God right now.”

He offers this prayer:

“Father, we thank you for this time we can take from the business of our lives to acknowledge you. Amen”

He then speaks to you as you learn to meditate:

“Know that you are in his hands and that you are completely safe right now. Release all of your cares and worries and concerns and attention to him, because he cares for you. This is your time with the almighty God, so take it, relax into it, enjoy it.”

(There’s the mention of God! It must be a good thing)

The meditation exercises:

“In the next few moments take a few breathes with me, loud enough that someone nearby could hear you. With each breath remember that it is God himself who gives us our breath. The Holy Spirit is the breath of God. God is present with us and one way that we will remember this is to ‘notice our breath’.

(You’ll hear a LOT about your breath from here on out.)

“Let’s try it now. Breathe in then breathe out slowly. Notice how the body relaxes as you breath out.”

. . .Try it again. . .

. . .One last time. . .

Remember that you can do this anytime of the day and you can experience his presence when you remember he gives you each and every breath.”

(Did you catch it…’experience’ his presence?)

“Let your breathing return to normal and notice that God is with you right now. Whether or not you are consciously aware of it, you don’t have to do anything or feel anything or make anything up. The Bible teaches us that God is always present with us

He is here, right now. He is present in the space around you filling this room, this area. He is here, flooding into your life

If it’s helpful, you can imagine his presence like a color filling in every space in the vicinity; or like breathable water filling up the room, covering you and everything around you.

He is here…he is here.”

(And there I thought God lives IN us through the Holy Spirit…who knew?)

You can talk to God:

“I’m grateful for your presence here with me. Thank you, God, that you have never abandoned me and that all I need o do is recognize that you are here with me. All I need to do is turn my attention to you. So often my attention is distracted by the things around me; by my own worries, concerns, thoughts, and even by fun, entertainment, or work. Yet through all these things you are with me.”

(Is this where we empty our minds, like good little Hindus?)

Our instruction continues:

“Take a few moments now to notice that God is with you in every moment of your life, including this one.”

(Are we ever going to ‘notice’ anything from scripture?)

“As thoughts or distractions come into your mind right now, don’t try and ignore them, or to suppress them, or to anything at all about them. Simple let them be. They will pass away as you turn your attention to God’s presence with you again.

And don’t be discouraged or frustrated, as it’s completely normal to have thoughts continually bubbling up, especially when you begin to focus on God’s presence.”

(Nope. “God” is mentioned, but no actual Bible verses. . .yet)

In case it’s hard to get those distracting thought out of your head:

“If it’s helpful, you can always return to ‘noticing your breath’. There is no need to breathe differently or change your breath; simple ‘notice it’. ‘Notice’ how regular it is or how one breath differs from the last. And as you do, remember that it’s a gift from God.”

(Who knew breathing could be so fascinating?)

. . .Just tones for about 10 seconds. . .

“As you continue breathing you may notice that different thoughts come up, but as before, don’t worry about them. As soon as you recognize that you have been distracted just go back to ‘noticing your breath’.

Notice the breath of God in your life and you gratefulness for that breath.

. . .Just tones for another 10 seconds. . .

The grand finale:

“As we come to the end of this session, allow yourself to lowly come back into the rest of your senses. As you gently open your eyes. Remember that all it takes in any given moment today to remember that God is with you, is to ‘notice it’.

From time to time, try briefly turning your attention to God throughout the day and simply ‘notice’ what effect that has.

(‘Notice’ enough yet?)

“That’s all for today, God be with you, Amen”

______________

So that was the first session. Day 2 was pretty much a regurgitation of Day 1 (I listened to it), with pauses for ‘just tones’ that were a bit longer. That, and they added imagining the room being filled with smoke (like in the OT presence of God before the Israelites). You are encouraged to ‘feel’ the smoke in your nostrils. And of course, lots more ‘noticing’ of this and that.

Now you tell me, is there ANYTHING “Christian” about all that?

The ‘Inspire’ Bible

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Is the new Inspire Bible the latest innovation for ‘experience’ and ‘feelings’ based Christianity?

Without getting into the whole ‘adults and coloring books’ debate in this post (I do have my own opinion), I have to admit to feeling compelled to visit the Inspire Web site to find out their ‘sales pitch’. All new editions of Bibles have sales pitches. Here is what I found:

Inspire is called The Bible for Coloring and Creative Journaling’ at the top of the homepage. There is also a description of the ‘coloring and creative journaling’ features available to the reader.

The pitch that I found most interesting was this:

Inspire offers a new way to engage with, meditate on, and respond to Scripture—leading beginning colorers and experienced illustrators to the Prince of Peace.”

First of all it offers something ‘new’. We always like ‘new’. I’m just glad it didn’t also say ‘improved’. That would have been trying to say that Inspire was somehow ‘better’ that the other thousand or so niche Bibles that are already on the market.

Then we are told that it’s a ‘new way to engage with, meditate on, and respond to Scripture’. What does that mean? What’s different about this particular Bible? I suppose that’s the ‘coloring and creative journaling’ opportunities it affords, as opposed to ordinary coloring books and ‘uncreative’ journaling. That’s just a guess. Whatever it means, it’s significant to note that ‘beginning colorers and experienced illustrators’ can benefit from this new Bible.

And what is the ‘benefit’ you ask? Well, that’s also provided by the Web site. Inspire is a new way to “engage with, meditate on, and respond to Scripture” and in doing find the Prince of Peace.”

Here’s where this old guy is really confused, and here’s my twisted logic.

1. The ‘new’ manner to “engage with, meditate on, and respond to Scripture” is by coloring in the Inspire Bible.

2. The act of coloring, especially intricate drawings, requires careful attention and focus. There’s color selection, type of ‘strokes’ with the coloring implement(s), shading, staying between the lines, evaluating one’s work as it proceeds, etc., etc., etc..

3. The activities described in 2 above tend to redirect one’s attention and focus from the text of scripture itself to the ‘coloring’ activity, and even more so when one is evaluating one’s ‘creativity level’ while so engaged.

4. Therefore the ‘engaging with, meditating on, and responding to’ scripture means something other than merely studying the text of scripture itself; examining the several levels of inherent Biblical context, comparing translations, consulting dictionaries, concordances, commentaries, and the like, while allowing the indwelling Holy Spirit to guide us along. You can’t do all of the above and color at the same time.

5. If the ‘engagement while coloring’ reduces engagement with scripture itself, exactly what ‘spiritual’ engagement is taking place? If it’s not IN scripture it must be OUTSIDE of scripture.

6. If it’s spiritual engagement outside of scripture, what/who are we talking about? We’re talking about quieting yourself down in order to ‘hear’ the voice of Jesus/God speak in your mind and write down what you envision in your mind or hear. In other words, ‘feeling’ and ‘experiencing’ God.

Original question answered. I’m sure “beginning colorers and experienced illustrators” will be led to a ‘Prince’, but which one, the Prince of Peace and Light, or the Prince of Darkness wearing a clever disguise?

Hillsong and God

by Cameron Buettel & Jeremiah Johnson, GTY

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Truth matters, especially when it comes to worship. That ought to be obvious; you can’t properly praise the Lord if you don’t know who He is. Christ Himself was unequivocal on that point—He said true worshippers “must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24, emphasis added).

However, much of modern worship music seems to aim at taming the one true God. Some popular “worship songs” are nothing more than artificial praise offered to a different god altogether. In his book Worship, John MacArthur describes the fallout of the biblical illiteracy that permeates the church today.

“Worship” aims to be as casual and as relaxed as possible, reflecting an easy familiarity with God unbefitting His transcendent majesty. This type of “worship” seems to aim chiefly at making sinners comfortable with the idea of God—purging from our thoughts anything like fear, trembling, reverence, or profound biblical truth. . . .

The decline of true worship in evangelical churches is a troubling sign. It reflects a depreciation of God and a sinful apathy toward His truth among the people of God. Evangelicals have been playing a kind of pop-culture trivial pursuit for decades, and as a result, the evangelical movement has all but lost sight of the glory and grandeur of the One we worship. [1] John MacArthur, Worship (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2012), 10-12.

During our recent visits to Hillsong Los Angeles, we’ve seen that trend played out in vivid detail. Worse still, we’ve identified some unbiblical characteristics that Hillsong routinely attribute to God.

Hillsong’s God Is Passive

In their Statement of Beliefs, Hillsong asserts—without any biblical support—the following: “We believe that God wants to heal and transform us so that we can live healthy and blessed lives in order to help others more effectively.”

That statement raises some important questions: What is hindering God from making us all healthy and blessed? And why is the world full of sickness, poverty, and hardship if God doesn’t want it that way?

The simple answer is that Hillsong worships a passive and impotent God. Over and over during our time at Hillsong LA, we were encouraged to “invite God in to lead and guide” and to “allow” Him to lead us. We were taught that our worship opens the door for God to work in our lives—that it offers Him the opportunity to bring breakthrough to our circumstances. One night we were bluntly assured that “our prayers can even change God’s mind.” 

That’s a far cry from the God of the Bible, who “does whatever He pleases” (Psalm 115:3); whose purposes cannot be thwarted (Job 42:2); who predestines His people according to His purpose and will (Ephesians 1:11); and who sovereignly rules over all His creation (Psalm 103:19). While God’s sovereignty is occasionally paid lip service in songs and sermons, the concept of a truly sovereign Lord is utterly foreign to Hillsong’s theology.

Hillsong’s God Is One-Dimensional

But that comes as no surprise, given Hillsong’s general myopia when it comes to divine attributes. In the Hillsong doctrinal economy, one aspect of God’s character stands head and shoulders above all others: His love. On more than one occasion we were told that “God desperately loves every single person out there in Los Angeles.” We were repeatedly reminded that the gospel and the message of Jesus Christ are “inclusive”—that God is not interested in perfect people; that He loves you “just the way you are” (more on that next time).

In one evening service, we heard from Christine Caine, an anti-trafficking activist and international speaker—herself a product of Hillsong. Her message concerned God’s faithfulness to keep His promises, and she used the story of Abraham and Sarah as her text. She closed by reassuring us that God still loves us after the “dumb stuff”—a term she applied to all sorts of sin, including Abraham’s fornication with Hagar. Her point was that there is nothing we can do—no matter how egregious and rebellious the sin—to make God love us any less. His great love for mankind will always win out, overcoming any and every obstacle.

The problem with that view of God’s love is that it ignores so many of His other fundamental attributes. There is no thought given to His holiness, His justice, or His righteous wrath. In fact, as Romans 5:8-9 makes clear, God’s love and His wrath are best understood in tandem. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.”

Hillsong is quick to apply the blessings and benefits of God’s great love. But apart from those other vital aspects of His character, it seems like little more than vague affection. Put simply, God’s love loses its luster in a vacuum.

As John MacArthur explained in a video blog earlier this year, “You can’t take one attribute of God—any one attribute of God—and isolate that as if that defines God alone. God must be understood in all the complex of all His attributes.” In God’s divine nature, those attributes complement one another—they do not compete. And they cannot be fully or accurately understood in isolation.

Hillsong’s God Is Familiar

Perhaps one of the other hazards of over-emphasizing God’s love is that it turns Him into a kindly benefactor, robbing Him of due reverence and respect. Worship services do not need to be somber affairs, but there is a noticeable lack of sobriety that pervades Hillsong LA’s meetings.

And it’s not just a matter of the club-like atmosphere or the rock show accouterments. There’s no discernable sense of reverence or awe for God—no notion that He is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:28-29). And while they spend significant time wooing people to enter into a relationship with Christ, there is no sense that “it is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). Rather, Hillsong’s God is a cosmic butler, attentive to all our needs and eager to unleash breakthrough, heal relationships, and shower blessings into our lives. He waits at our beck and call.

Gone is any sense of God’s transcendence or holiness. In fact, the reactions of men like Moses, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Paul, and John—who humbly fell on their faces in the presence of the Lord, dumbstruck with awe—seem inappropriate for a deity as intimate and familiar as the one Hillsong describes.

That attitude can lead to some disturbingly casual and careless discussion of God’s Person and work. For example, in the aforementioned message from Christine Caine, she brought the audience to hysterics with the following description of God’s creative work: “God woke up one day and burped and [gestures] earth, and [said] ‘Whoops, look what I did.’” Those simply aren’t the words of someone who takes God and His Word seriously.

A Word About God’s Word

That same giddy carelessness is on display in most of the preaching we heard at Hillsong LA. Speakers frequently play fast and loose with Scripture and its meaning. Context is rarely a concern. The general pattern is to isolate a portion of Scripture’s narrative and turn it into an analogy for the audience and a promise of God’s blessing and favor.

Even the most familiar verses and passages are exceedingly pliable in the hands of Hillsong’s leadership. The first Sunday we attended, Hillsong LA’s lead pastor Ben Houston turned John 3:16 into an exhortation to give to the church, explaining how “God so loved that He gave,” and that our love for the church ought to prompt us to give our money.

That sort of postmodern flexibility is brought to the text in every service, and it turns every lesson into a reminder of God’s aggressive love for you, His eager desire to bless you, and your integral part in unleashing that blessing in your own life. It’s not much more than a watered-down version of the prosperity gospel or the Word Faith movement.

In his book, Worship, John MacArthur points to several Old Testament examples to illustrate how seriously God takes worship. Whether it’s the Israelites fashioning a golden calf at the foot of Mount Sinai, the strange fire offered by Nadab and Abihu, or Uzzah simply reaching out to steady and secure the Ark of the Covenant, the message is clear:

God will not accept deviant worship. Some would insist that any kind of sincere worship is acceptable to God, but that is simply not true. The Bible clearly teaches that those who offer self-styled worship are unacceptable to God, regardless of their good intentions. No matter how pure our motivation may seem or how sincere we are in our attempt, if we fail to worship God as He has commanded, He cannot bless us. [2] Worship, 20.

At best, Hillsong’s God is a pale and incomplete shadow of the fullness described in Scripture. At worst, he’s a fraudulent idol, made in man’s image and incapable of providing the redemption and transformation that sinners so desperately need.

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