Written in 2011
When the Son of Man comes will He find faith on the earth?
Apart from persecution and attacking the Word of God, Satan has another way to attack the faith – through infiltration. In Luke 18.8 Jesus asks the question, ‘When the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?’ The implication of this question is ‘Will He find the faith, the faith which the Apostles taught?’ Or will there be an apostasy, a falling away from the truth which will lead people astray?
In the letter of Jude we read, ‘Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Jude 3-4.
A number of scriptures imply that in the last days before Jesus returns there will be a great departure from the truth and even a ‘famine of hearing the word of God’ (Amos 8.11). Speaking of the signs of the end of the age, Jesus warned of spiritual deception first of all: ‘Take heed that no one deceive you, for many will come in my name saying, ‘I am the Christ (Messiah) and will deceive many.’ Matthew 24.4-5. In 2 Thessalonians 2 we read of a ‘falling away’ (apostasy) before the Man of Sin (antichrist) arises. In his last words to Timothy Paul warned in 2 Timothy 3.10-4.5 of coming infiltration of the church: ‘All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived… For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.’
Apostasy – departure from the truth – is a sign of the last days of this age as much as the restoration of Israel and the globalisation process and other signs we have looked at in this book. It is leading to the abandonment of the Word of God, the Bible, and denying the truth that repentance and faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord is necessary for salvation.
In 2 Peter 2 we read, ‘But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber.’ Peter warns that people would ‘deny the Lord who bought them’ – in other words deny the central message of our faith that the Lord Jesus redeemed us through his once and for all sacrifice at Calvary. In this chapter we will look at some of the ways in which this is happening.
Rome and Ecumenism.
Father Raniero Cantalamessa, Preacher to the Papal Household, addressed the Anglican Church, Holy Trinity Brompton in June 2007. He said, ‘To quarrel amongst ourselves, amongst Orthodox, Protestants and Catholics, I think, is something out of date, obsolete. Maybe in the past we could quarrel because all the world was Christian and the differences, they meant very much. But nowadays the world is no longer Christian. We are the minority and in front of the world our differences are very insignificant (although for us they are important). This is why we should put together what we have in common and give a shared testimony of Jesus.’ He went on to commend the Alpha Course which has spread out from Holy Trinity Brompton into all the world and has been widely accepted by the Roman Catholic Church. He said, ‘What I appreciate especially is this ecumenical spirit which is in Alpha courses – no pressure on anybody to join a different denomination but just to join Jesus, to put Jesus at the centre.’
All of this sounds very good – putting Jesus in the centre, giving a shared testimony to Jesus – what could be wrong with that? Should we not give thanks that the Roman Catholic Church wants to join in evangelising the world? The problem is that the doctrinal differences between Roman Catholicism and Bible believing Christians are very significant. Today the majority of Christian leaders in evangelical churches are saying that these differences do not matter and so are blinding their followers to the history of Roman Catholic persecution of Bible believing Christians, the present false teaching of Roman Catholicism and the coming merging of Christendom into a world religious system which is antichristian.
When the previous Pope died it was remarkable how many evangelical Christian leaders paid tribute to him in terms which showed acceptance of the Papacy and the Roman Catholic Church. Billy Graham said of the previous Pope, ‘He was one of those rare individuals whose legacy will endure long after he has gone. I will always remember his personal warmth to me and his deep interest in our ministry.’ Joel Edwards, former director of the UK Evangelical Alliance, said, ‘John Paul II was one of the most remarkable Christian leaders of recent times, a Christian pastor with a commitment to evangelisation and the global church and to creedal Christianity.’ Brian Houston, founder of Hillsong Church in Australia said, ‘We pray that this papacy, like those before it, is marked by a commitment to seeing the Christian message go forward and people changed by the power of the Gospel.’
How can Roman Catholicism and the late Pope who believed Mary to be a mediator between man and God and who was happy to say that Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and animists were praying to the same God as Christians be commended in this way by evangelical Christians? How can people be changed by the power of the Gospel in a church which denies that power?
The Protestant Reformers generally identified the Pope as Antichrist and the Roman Catholic Church as the Whore of Babylon in Revelation 17. You don’t get many credit points today for teaching such a view. Today evangelicals and Catholics join together for the ‘Global Day of Prayer’ and engage in inter faith activity to promote church unity.
Non-Catholics generally see ecumenism as all churches, including Roman Catholics, accepting one another as valid expressions of the Christian faith. However John Paul II, the previous Pope, defined ecumenism as ‘Seeking Christian unity ultimately in the one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.’ (Ut Unum Sint – That they may be one). In other words the aim of ecumenism from the Catholic point of view is that the non Catholic churches accept the supremacy of the Catholic Church, the primacy of the Pope and Catholic doctrine.
I was sent a leaflet announcing ‘We are one!’ inviting participation in ‘Manchester’s Walk of Christian Witness’ from Salford Roman Catholic Cathedral to Manchester (Anglican) Cathedral. Taking part were ‘Christians from across the nationalities and traditions’ from Catholic to Pentecostal and the aim was ‘to pray and praise as one and be seen as one.’ Another meeting announces that ‘God has made a way to heal our wounded, hurting society. … His purposes are fulfilled when Christians of all traditions come together as the ONE Body of Christ.’
But are we all one? If we believe the Gospel and the teaching of the Apostles in the New Testament we are not one with Rome or with liberal Anglicanism. There are major errors in Roman Catholic doctrine. Martyrs gave their lives in this country and across Europe rather than submit to these errors. In the DVD ‘A Woman Rides the Beast’ Dave Hunt shows that there were more Christians put to death for their faith in Jesus as Saviour and Lord by the Medieval Roman Catholic Church than by the Roman Empire.
These are some of the major false doctrines of Roman Catholicism which have been added over the centuries to the teaching of the New Testament and take away the truth of the Gospel message.
Catholic traditions and the uninspired books of the Apocrypha are believed to be as much the Word of God as the Bible itself. Vatican II states that ‘The task of authentically interpreting the word of God whether written or handed on (i.e. the Tradition) has been entrusted exclusively to the living, teaching office of the Church.’ This means that only the Catholic Church can interpret the Bible properly and infallibly.
In reality the Catholic Church throughout history and today has misinterpreted the Bible, adding things that are not there and leaving out things that are there. As a result it is left with a false Jesus. Major examples of this are the teaching on the Mass whereby the wafer taken by the people becomes the body of Christ (transubstantiation). This means that Jesus needs to be sacrificed continually through the Mass as the bread and the wine are changed literally into his body and blood. Article 267 of the Catechism says: ‘The bread and the wine are changed into the Body and Blood of Christ by the power of God, to whom nothing is impossible or difficult.’ Article 278 says: ‘The Holy Mass is one and the same Sacrifice with that of the Cross, inasmuch as Christ who offered himself, a bleeding victim on the Cross to his heavenly Father, continues to offer himself in an unbloody manner on the altar through the ministry of his priests.’
But the Bible teaches that Christ’s sacrifice was complete and final and can never be repeated. Communion or the Lord’s Supper is the remembrance of that sacrifice. On the cross Jesus said ‘It is finished’ and then ‘gave up his spirit’ (John 20.30). By this He meant the work of redemption was finished and there was no further offering that needs to be made. he Bible teaches that Christ’s sacrifice was complete and final and can never be repeated. Communion or the Lord’s Supper is the remembrance of that sacrifice. ‘Jesus took bread and gave thanks and broke it and gave it to them, saying ‘This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.’ Luke 22.19. See also 1 Corinthians 11.23-26.
The book of Hebrews tells us that unlike the many sacrifices offered by the high priest in the Old Testament, the Lord Jesus made a once and for all time sacrifice for sin: ‘Now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many’ (Hebrews 9.24-28).
The ‘Hail Mary’ prayer is repeated continually by millions of Catholics: ‘Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen». This prayer makes Mary a mediator with God on our behalf and therefore assumes she has some role to play in bringing us into God’s favour.
There is a growing movement in the Catholic Church to proclaim the ‘fifth Marian dogma regarding the role of the Blessed Virgin as the Spiritual Mother of All Humanity’. (Is the Time Ripe for a 5th Marian Dogma? http://www.zenit.org). This, it is believed, ‘will solemnly define Our Lady’s motherly roles as Co-Redemptrix, Mediatrix and Advocate.’ (http://www.fifthmariandogma.com) This would add to the existing dogmas of the Roman Catholic Church about Mary – all of which conflict with the New Testament. These include elevating Mary to the status of ‘mother of God’ (Catechism, Article 167) and ‘Queen of Heaven’ (Article 168a). Article 117 says: ‘All mankind has contracted the guilt and stain of original sin, except The Blessed Virgin and her Divine Son.’ This is the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary which was proclaimed by Pope Pius IX in 1854.
On November 1, 1950, Pius XII defined the Assumption of Mary to be a dogma of faith: ‘We pronounce, declare and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma that the immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul to heavenly glory.’ This means that Mary was a virgin throughout her life, after the birth of the Lord Jesus and was taken supernaturally into heaven at the end of her life.
Pope John-Paul II referred to the role of Mary during the crucifixion of Jesus: ‘Mary … co-operated during the event itself and in the role of mother; thus her co-operation embraces the whole of Christ’s saving work. She alone was associated in this way with the redemptive sacrifice that merited the salvation of all mankind. In union with Christ and in submission to him, she collaborated in obtaining the grace of salvation for all humanity…In God’s plan, Mary is the ‘woman’ (cf. John 2:4; John 19:26), the New Eve, united to the New Adam in restoring humanity to its original dignity. Her cooperation with her Son continues for all time in the universal motherhood which she enjoys in the order of grace. Trusting in this maternal cooperation, let us turn to Mary, imploring her help in all our needs.’ (Audience 9 April 1997)
Nowhere in the Gospels is there any suggestions that Mary is the ‘Mother of God’, ‘Queen of Heaven’ or has any kind of mediating role in our salvation. This takes away from the unique role of the Lord Jesus in saving us from sin. The campaign to proclaim Mary ‘Co-Redemptrix, Mediatrix and Advocate’ as a dogma of the church denies the truth that the Lord Jesus is the only mediator between God and humanity (John 14.6, 1 Timothy 2.5).
Mary was the earthly mother of the Lord Jesus and was faithful in the task of bringing the Messiah Jesus into the world by virgin birth. But she was by no means the ‘Mother of God’. She was neither ‘immaculately’ conceived, nor assumed into heaven, but she was saved, as you and I may be, through her faith. In her prayer recorded in Luke 2 she says, ‘My spirit has rejoiced in God my Saviour.’ Luke 2.47.
After the birth of the Lord, Mary plays a minor role in the Gospel account. There is not a word in the New Testament suggesting she was sinless or had a different nature from other people. After giving birth to Jesus, she had other children in the natural way with Joseph: ‘Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary, and his brothers, James and Joseph and Simeon and Judas? And his sisters are they not all with us?’ Matthew 13.55-6. By this count Mary had at least 6 children after she brought forth her firstborn Son, Jesus (Matthew 1.25). Mary was born in the normal way, was saved by her faith as are all believers in the Lord Jesus and died in the normal way. She will be among the great company of the redeemed in heaven as an equal, but not a special intermediary with power to intercede for us and give us access to God.
The elevation of Mary to the role given her by the Roman Catholic Church shows the roots of Catholicism in the Babylonian mystery cults which always had the goddess mother figure, known as the Queen of heaven. In the past 100 years there have been a number of apparitions of Mary giving messages to devout Catholics, many of which are about the end times:
‘God is giving two last remedies to the world, these are the Holy Rosary and the Devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary…the two means to save the world are prayer and sacrifice…. Finally, devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, our Most Holy Mother consists in considering her as the seat of mercy, of goodness of pardon and of the certain door by which we are to enter Heaven. … Ask them to plead for peace from the Immaculate Heart of Mary, for the Lord has confided the peace of the world to her.’ Sr. Lucia of Fatima (http://www.theimmaculateheart.com). ‘Help me save those who will not save themselves…there must be much more good than evil prevailing in order to prevent the holocaust that is so near approaching.’ Our Lady of America (http://www.ourladyofamerica.org).
There is no way that these messages come from the real Mary, as the Bible does not permit communication between the living and the dead. The only way they can be given is by being channelled by evil spirits impersonating Mary and appearing to those who are religiously attuned to this deception. As demons are able to appear as UFOs to a world conditioned to believe in space visitors by science fiction, so they are able to appear as Mary to those who are deceived into believing that she is the ‘Queen of Heaven.’ The messages given are a deception which will not lead people to a place of safety or prevent the ‘approaching holocaust’ because the peace of the world has not been entrusted to Mary but to the Lord Jesus Christ, who alone is able to pardon our sins and open the door to heaven. In the coming days it is likely that the messages channelled from ‘Mary’ will lead people to the coming Antichrist.
Apparently neither the mediation of Jesus nor Mary is sufficient according to Catholic teaching because even devout Catholics have to suffer for a time in purgatory, ‘a place where souls suffer for a time after death on account of their sins’ (Catechism, Article 106). But the real Jesus was able to say to the thief on the cross ‘Today you will be with Me in Paradise.’ Luke 23.43. This man was saved by his faith in Jesus. Although he had no doubt committed many sins, he did not have to spend any time in purgatory, a place which is never mentioned once in the Bible and does not exist.
In the last days there will be a one world religious system which will be allied to the one world government of antichrist but will eventually be destroyed by him (Revelation 17). It is interesting that Pope Benedict XVI in his ‘Charity in Truth’ statement has called for a ‘true world political authority’ to manage the affairs of the world. At the same time, however, the Pope also warned that such an international order could ‘produce a dangerous universal power of a tyrannical nature’ and must be guarded against somehow.
The Pope’s call for a ‘World Political Authority,’ came shortly after the United Nations Conference on the World Financial and Economic Crisis issued a call for global taxes and more powerful global institutions. Pope Benedict said this new international order could be accomplished through ‘reform of the United Nations Organisation, and likewise of economic institutions and international finance, so that the concept of the family of nations could acquire real teeth.’ If the ‘world political authority’ is to be given ‘real teeth’ how are the people of the world going to be able to resist it if it becomes tyrannical?
As we see the growing apostasy of the visible churches, the Lord is calling for a faithful remnant who will ‘contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints’ (Jude 3) which is given to us in the New Testament by the Apostles. As we get nearer to the Lord’s return we should expect to see a growing hostility to this remnant by both secular and religious powers. Examples of this happening are shown in an article by Roger Oakland entitled ‘Evangelicals and Catholics Together and the Rejection of End-Time Christians’. One example of this is Bishop Mark Hanson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. He called for ‘Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican and Lutheran churches to come together to combat a fundamentalist reading of Scripture’ and create a ‘ministry of reconciliation,’ that will ‘result of Christ breaking down the dividing walls reconciling the whole creation to God’s self.’ Hanson says that those who believe in a biblical end times and a literal Bible interpretation are counterproductive to and holding back the cause of Christ, which he suggests is to unite all of creation and produce a planetary utopia.
On the other hand Sir Isaac Newton, the famous scientist who lived from 1643 – 1727, was a Bible believing Christian. He wrote ‘About the time of the end, a body of men will be raised up who will turn their attention to the Prophecies and insist upon their literal interpretation in the midst of much clamour and opposition’. As the world heads for disaster many people are going to be looking for an answer which makes sense. This answer will not be to join up with the false church of Rome or the liberal ecumenical movement, but to ‘repent and believe the Gospel for the Kingdom of God is at hand.’
Once I was preaching the Gospel in London’s Hyde Park and when I had finished a young man came up to me and said, ‘I’ve been listening to what you said and I want you to know that I don’t believe a word of it. I did once, in fact I was training for the church and I went to theological college. There I discovered that the Bible is just myth and gave up my faith.’
This tragic story explains why the church in the West is so weak. Many of our theological colleges where church leaders are trained accept Darwinism and Evolution and have absorbed Higher Critical Theology. Higher Critical Theology means denying the Bible as the Word of God, questioning God in creation and the miraculous interventions of God in the Old Testament, the virgin birth of Jesus, His miracles, sinless life and death as a sacrifice for the sins of the world, His resurrection and the promise of His return in power and glory to judge the world in righteousness. In other words it means abandoning the Bible as the Word of God. In this case anyone with half a brain should be able to see there is no point in going to church and believing in Jesus.
Almost all of the higher clergy in the professing churches of Europe and America accept some form of liberal theology. As a result we hear of Bishops denying the most basic teachings of the New Testament, the Virgin Birth of Jesus, his sinless life, his death and resurrection from the dead, the Second Coming, even as they recite creeds which assert belief in all of these fundamentals of the faith! Most of the discussion programmes on mainstream TV about Christianity start from the view that liberal theology is a proven fact and use unbelieving clergy to put this message over. They give no opportunity for those who believe the Gospel to present the truth.
Liberal theology leads into accepting the inter-faith world view described in the previous chapter. Once this is accepted there is no reason why we should evangelise the world. The Rev. Desmond Tutu, archbishop and primate of Southern Africa, made this clear in a statement he made in February 2006 at the 9th Assembly of the World Council of Churches.
According to Rev Tutu, Jesus Christ set in motion a unity that knows no boundaries and accepting Christ as Saviour is not necessary to enter into this unity. ‘Jesus, it appears, was quite serious when he said that God was our father and that we belonged all to one family, because in this family all, not some, are insiders. None is an outsider – black and white, yellow and red, rich and poor, educated and not educated, beautiful and not so beautiful, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, atheist, all belong, all are held in a divine embrace that will not let us go – all, for God has no enemies. Bush, bin Laden, all belong, gay, lesbian, so-called straight — all belong and are loved, are precious.’
If God accepts everyone, then the idea that there is one way to God – through repentance and faith in Jesus as Saviour – is completely wrong. It is true that God is offering salvation to people of all races and social classes and accepts all who repent and believe the Gospel. But it is not true that God accepts people as they are. The Bible tells us that our sins have separated us from God (Isaiah 59.2) and that we need to confess our sins and believe that Jesus died for our sins to be reconciled to God (1 John 1). It is absolutely not true that God says that all religions are equally valid and that all life styles are acceptable to Him. In fact ‘God commands all people everywhere to repent because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness.’ Acts 17.30-31.
If we accept what Desmond Tutu says then preaching the Gospel is a complete waste of time since God already accepts everybody no matter what they believe or how they behave. In fact God does not accept any of us if we reject the salvation He is offering us in Jesus. If people spend their entire lives rejecting God’s offer of salvation in Jesus Christ, saying to God, ‘Depart from me’, then at the end of their lives on the Day of Judgement they will hear God say to them, ‘Depart from me’ and face eternal separation from God in Hell.
Once we only found such ideas in the liberal churches, but now they are pervading supposedly evangelical churches too. The novel ‘The Shack’ has become hugely successful amongst Christians, selling over 8 million copies. When I published an article about this book warning people on my mailing list about its content, I was amazed how many people wrote in to say that their churches are promoting the book. But the book actually comes to the same conclusion as Desmond Tutu if you follow it through.
James B DeYoung in a book review of ‘The Shack’ writes about the author William Paul Young whom he has known for over a dozen years: ‘About four years ago Paul embraced ‘Christian universalism,’ and has defended this view on several occasions. While he frequently disavows ‘general universalism,’ the idea that many roads lead to God, he has affirmed his hope that all will be reconciled to God either this side of death or after death.’ http://theshackreview.com/content/TheShackReview2Page.pdf
Towards the end of the book in the chapter ‘A Festival of Friends’ (p 209-217) the main character Mack has a vision of eternity / heaven where he sees people with circles of lights around them. One of them is identified as ‘having some difficulty keeping in what he is feeling’. He is then revealed to be his father, who was a drunkard who beat his wife and Mack as a child while repeating Bible verses as he did it. Mack is able to run to him and throw his arms around him saying ‘Daddy I’m so sorry! Daddy I love you.’ They then exchange ‘sobbing words of confession and forgiveness as a love greater than either one healed them.’ This causes a song of reconciliation and joy as Jesus then appears on the scene.
There is no word of his father repenting for his sins and yet he has died and arrived in heaven and is able to be reconciled to his son who is still alive on earth. This completely turns around what the Bible teaches, that there are no second chances after death, that it is in this life that we must make our peace with God through repenting of our sins and believing in Jesus and that there is no communication between the living and the dead. It ties in with the author’s unbiblical idea that eventually everyone will end up in heaven.
If this is the case then of course we don’t need Jesus to atone for our sins by dying on the cross and rising from the dead. Amazingly this idea has now trickled down from the liberal World Council of Churches to supposed evangelicals. In November 1993, the World Council of Churches sponsored a Re-imaging conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Some 2,000 women ‘seeking to change Christianity’ attended. Speaking about the cross Delores Williams of Union Theological Seminary, said: ‘I don’t think we need a theory of atonement at all. I think Jesus came for life and to show us something about life. I don’t think we need folks hanging on crosses and blood dripping … we just need to listen to the God within.’
The ‘God within’ is actually a recycling of the idea of God found in eastern religions and New Age mysticism, which we looked at in the previous chapter. It is also a denial of the truth that ‘Jesus Christ has come in the flesh’ (1 John 4.2) in order to redeem us through his sacrifice at the cross. Therefore this statement is of the spirit of antichrist which John warns us of in his letter.
Virginia Mollenkott, who also participated in this conference said, ‘Jesus is our elder brother, the trailblazer and constant companion for us–ultimately is among many brothers and sisters in an eternal, equally worthy sibling-hood. First born only in the sense that he was the first to show us that it is possible to live in oneness with the divine source while we are here on this planet. As an incest survivor, I can no longer worship in a theological context that depicts God as an abusive parent (referring to Christ’s death on the cross) and Jesus as the obedient, trusting child.’
Referring to Christ’s death on the cross as depicting God as ‘an abusive parent’ is blasphemous, and something which one would hope would be decisively rejected by evangelical Christians. But a few years later, Steve Chalke wrote in his book ‘The Lost Message of Jesus’ a similar thought: ‘The fact is that the cross isn’t a form of cosmic child abuse—a vengeful father, punishing his son for an offence he has not even committed. Understandably, both people inside and outside of the church have found this twisted version of events morally dubious and a huge barrier to faith.’
Brian McLaren, in his book, ‘The Story We Find Ourselves In’, has also referred to the teaching that Jesus took the sins of the world on himself as something that ‘sounds like divine child abuse.’ He goes on to describe an encounter with one of his church members who was questioning the meaning of the cross. After wrestling with the question but finding no answer, he shares the dilemma with his brother Peter saying, ‘ . . . a couple of weeks ago I realized that I don’t know why Jesus had to die.’ His brother quickly responded, ‘Well, neither did Jesus.’ After citing the story of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane as evidence, Peter McLaren says, ‘sounds to me like Jesus didn’t really understand why it had to be that way either. But the point wasn’t understanding it; the point was doing what needed to be done.’
To suggest that Jesus did not know why He had to die tells me how little Brian McLaren and his brother understand the cross. Jesus certainly did know from the beginning that the purpose for which He had come into the world was to redeem us through shedding His blood on the cross as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. These passages from the Gospels show that Jesus knew this before the cross and was able to explain it to the disciples after He rose from the dead.
‘From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day. Matthew 16.21. ‘The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.’ Matthew 20.28. ‘And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.’ Luke 22.20. ‘Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.’ This He said, signifying by what death He would die.’ John 12.31-32.
After the resurrection He appeared to the disciples and explained to them what had happened in fulfilment of the words of the Hebrew Prophets: ‘Then He said to them, ‘These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.’ And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures. Then He said to them, ‘Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Messiah (Christ) to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.’ Luke 24.46-47.
The Apostles also had no doubt as to why Jesus died. Peter wrote: ‘For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit.’ 1 Peter 3.18. Paul wrote: ‘For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.’ 1 Corinthians 15.3-4.
The cross is the central message of the Christian faith, that the Lord Jesus who knew no sin, died as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world, so that we who are sinners could be redeemed through his blood. Take that message away and authentic Christianity crumbles. What will remain is an apostate church which will go into the tribulation period and join in the Babylon world religious system prophesied in Revelation 17.
Christianity without the cross.
Many people are saying we need to move away from the Bible as the basis for Christian faith in order to make it fit into the modern world. This was the aim of ‘The Rethink Conference’, attended by author Roger Oakland who gave this comment on what he saw there: ‘For nearly two thousand years, most professing Christians have seen the Bible as the foundation for the Christian faith. The overall view at the Rethink Conference, however, is that Christianity, as we have known it, has run its course and must be replaced…. Speakers insisted that Christianity must be re-thought and re-invented if the name of Jesus Christ is going to survive here on planet earth.’ Brian McLaren has said, ‘You see if we have a new world, we will need a new church.’ The idea is that in order to reach the so-called postmodern world we need to revise and update Christianity. He says that this will involve a ‘new set of answers, a different way of being Christians.’
The problem with this is that we cannot ‘re-invent’ God or the salvation we have received through the Lord Jesus Christ. The faith once delivered to the Apostles and recorded in the Bible is not ours to re-think to make it more acceptable to the world either. If we do we will end up like the pagans making a god in our image who is no god at all – a ‘god who cannot save’ (Isaiah 45.20) as opposed to the true God who is our Saviour through Jesus the Messiah.
For some the re-invention of Christianity leads to mysticism as Roger Oakland shows in his book ‘Faith Undone.’ Roger shows how Christians are accepting all manner of unbiblical and even pagan practices to awaken some kind of spiritual experiences. Examples given include visions of Mary, using labyrinths with prayer stations, candles and incense, connecting to the ‘divine feminine’, using drumming circles to bring people into a hypnotic state in which ‘the beat of the drum may speak directly to the intelligence of the body.’
In a chapter on contemplative spirituality Roger shows how evangelicals have been influenced by Richard Foster’s best selling book ‘Celebration of Discipline’ which opens the way to accepting teachings which contradict biblical Christianity. Foster commends the writings of Thomas Merton on how to find the interior silence which will bring us to God. Merton was a Trappist monk who acknowledged his debt to Zen Buddhism and Sufi Islam as well as Catholic mysticism. He wrote: ‘If only people could see themselves as they really are. I suppose the big problems would be that we would fall down and worship each other. At the centre of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusions, a point of pure truth. This little point is the pure glory of God in us. It is in everybody.’
This kind of eastern mysticism contradicts the Bible teaching that all human beings are ‘dead in trespasses and sins’ (Ephesians 2.1) and that in our flesh there dwells no good thing (Romans 7.18). Therefore we must be born again, through repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ who died as a sacrifice for our sins and rose again from the dead. The idea of the ‘God within us’ leads into an acceptance that all paths lead to God denying the words of the Lord Jesus who said, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life and no one comes to the Father but by Me.’ John 14.6.
Another ‘re-think’ of Christianity is found in the ‘Seeker friendly’ churches which have become very popular in America, with some huge churches exercising enormous influence world wide. The most well known are Willow Creek Community Church at Chicago and Saddleback Church at Lake Forest California. These churches have thousands of members and buildings which are like small towns in themselves, complete with shopping malls, restaurants, gyms, as well as auditoriums capable of seating thousands. They claim over 400,000 pastors and leaders have attended their Church growth seminars.
The thinking behind this movement is that that to get unbelievers into church we should find out what they want and then give it to them. As most people want entertainment, a ‘fun experience’ and not too much preaching, this is what should happen at church services. The church experience should be as comfortable, inviting, and non-threatening to him as possible. The hope is that the person will believe in the gospel. Short sermons (typically 20 minutes at most) are usually focused on self-improvement.
The reasoning is that if you give the unsaved better entertainment than they can receive elsewhere, or “do church” in a non-threatening way, then they will come, and hopefully, they will accept the gospel. The mindset is to hook the un-churched person with great entertainment, give him a message he can digest, and provide a range of social services to meet his needs. The main purpose of the seeker church’s existence is to give people what they want or meet their felt needs.
Tom McMahon wrote about this in ‘The Berean Call’: Let’s begin with marketing as a tactic for reaching the lost. Fundamentally, marketing has to do with profiling consumers, ascertaining what their “felt needs” are, and then fashioning one’s product (or its image) to appeal to the targeted customer’s desires. The hoped-for result is that the consumer buys or “buys into” the product. George Barna, whom Christianity Today calls “the church’s guru of growth,” claims that such an approach is essential for the church in our market-driven society. Evangelical church-growth leaders are adamant that the marketing approach can be applied without compromising the gospel. Really?
First of all, the gospel and, more significantly, the person of Jesus Christ do not fit into any marketing strategy. They are not “products” to be “sold.” They cannot be refashioned or image-adjusted to appeal to the felt needs of our consumer-happy culture. Any attempt to do so compromises to some degree the truth of who Christ is and what He has done for us. For example, if the lost are considered consumers and a basic marketing “commandment” says that the customer must reign supreme, then whatever may be offensive to the lost must be discarded, revamped, or downplayed. Scripture tells us clearly that the message of the Cross is “foolishness to them that are perishing” and that Christ himself is a “rock of offense” (1 Cor 1:18; 1 Pt 2:8). Some seeker-friendly churches, therefore, seek to avoid this “negative aspect” by making the temporal benefits of becoming a Christian their chief selling point. Although that appeals to our gratification-oriented generation, it is neither the gospel nor the goal of a believer’s life in Christ.’
What is happening in churches on both sides of the Atlantic is that we have churches trying to get people to come in by being entertaining, positive and never saying anything that might be interpreted as being judgmental. In the process Bible teaching is toned down. Often the versions of the Bible used are paraphrases like ‘The Message’ which can be made to say what the preacher wants to be said. They present a picture of a nice non judgmental God who just wants to help us put the world to right again. This ‘nice’ God will certainly not bring judgment on a wicked generation or allow the Great Tribulation to happen or send people to Hell.
But the problem is you can’t avoid the fact that God in the Bible does enter into judgement with fallen humanity, that there is a Day of Judgement coming and that the dominant power in the last days of this age will not be happy Christians being nice to everyone, but the Antichrist bringing multitudes to death and captivity (Revelation 13.10). Of course such a message is considered very negative and threatening, and has almost become deleted from many of our churches, but for reasons shown in this book, that is the direction the human race is travelling in.
For others the ‘re-thinking of Christianity’ is about social activism. One of the biggest influences in this direction has been Rick Warren and his Global P.E.A.C.E. Plan which has 500,000 churches in 162 nations as part of his network. The P.E.A.C.E. plan identifies the ‘giants’ of humanity’s ills as spiritual emptiness, self-centred leadership, poverty, disease, and illiteracy, which he hopes to eradicate by (P)lanting churches, (E)quipping leaders, (A)ssisting the poor, (C)aring for the sick, and (E)ducating the next generation.
Warren uses the analogy of a three-legged stool to illustrate the best way to slay these giants. Two of the legs are governments and business, which have thus far been ineffective, and, just like a two-legged stool, cannot stand. The third very necessary leg is the church. ‘There are thousands of villages in the world that have no school, no clinic, no business, no government–but they have a church. What would happen if we could mobilize churches to address those five global giants?’ Warren reasons that since there are 2.3 billion Christians worldwide, they could potentially form a vast ‘army of compassion’ of ‘people of faith’ such as the world has not yet experienced.
In addition to the Christian version, Warren has an expanded inclusive version of the P.E.A.C.E. plan that has drawn support and praise from political and religious leaders and celebrities worldwide. To accommodate working with people of all faiths Warren has revised the ‘P’ in his P.E.A.C.E. from ‘planting evangelical churches’ to ‘(P)romoting reconciliation’ and the ‘E’ from ‘equipping church leaders’ to ‘(E)quipping ethical leaders.’ Warren has elsewhere acknowledged his practical shift to pluralism: ‘Who’s the man of peace in any village–or it might be a woman of peace–who has the most respect? They don’t have to be Christian. In fact, they could be Muslim, but they’re open and they’re influential, and you work with them to attack the five giants (to which he has added global warming).’
At the Davos 2008 World Economic Forum (a gathering of leading world industrialists, politicians and media people), he declared, ‘The future of the world is not secularism, but religious pluralism….’ Referring to the ills besetting the world, he declared, ‘We cannot solve these problems without involving people of faith and their religious institutions. It isn’t going to happen any other way. On this planet there are about 20 million Jews, there are about 600 million Buddhists, there are about 800 million Hindus, there are over 1 billion Muslims, and there are 2.3 billion Christians. If you take people of faith out of the equation, you have ruled out five-sixths of the world. And if we only leave it up to secular people to solve these major problems, it isn’t going to happen.’
One of the panellists at the Davos gathering where Rick Warren presented this programme said that for this to happen religious leaders of different faiths must not seek to deny the ‘authenticity’ of other people’s faith and or suggest that they are ‘illegitimate, or consigned to some kind of evil end.’ In effect this means that Christians must not say that Jesus is the only Saviour and that those who die without saving faith in Jesus Christ are eternally lost. It also ignores the fact that in much of the predominantly Muslim part of the world minority Christians are suffering persecution, having their homes and churches burnt down and being forced out of public life by Muslims.
For Emerging Church leader Brian McLaren, the future way of life for the Christian will ‘require us to join humbly and charitably with people of other faiths – Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, secularists, and others – in pursuit of peace, environmental stewardship, and justice for all people, things that matter greatly to the heart of God.’ (July 28, 2008, on ChristianPost.com). What matters to the ‘heart of God’ is ‘that all should come to repentance’ and believe the gospel.
Rob Bell, in his book Velvet Elvis, reflects the ‘fix the earth’ eschatology of nearly all Emerging Church leaders: ‘Salvation is the entire universe being brought back into harmony with its maker. This has huge implications for how people present the message of Jesus. Yes, Jesus can come into our hearts. But we can join a movement that is as wide and as big as the universe itself. Rocks and trees and birds and swamps and ecosystems. God’s desire is to restore all of it. The goal isn’t escaping this world but making this world the kind of place God can come to. And God is remaking us into the kind of people who can do this kind of work.’
Actually the restoration of all things is only going to come through the intervention of God at the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. Before that time the attempts to ‘fix the earth’ are going to result in failure and disillusion as the world moves into the Great Tribulation period and turns against those who truly believe in Jesus Christ as Saviour.
Kingdom and Dominion.
A variation on the theme of the church fixing the world is to be found in the Kingdom and Dominion teaching. Those who hold this view reject what I have written in this book because they believe in the ‘Post-Millennial’ view that first the revived Church brings in the Millennium of God’s rule on earth and then Jesus will return. Dominion theology which teaches that:
This age will end with a great revival causing the global triumph of Christianity with great signs and wonders convincing people of the truth of the Gospel as all other political and religious systems fail.
Prophecies relating to the restoration of Israel in the last days should in fact be applied to the church because the church has replaced Israel (or is the New Israel).
I first encountered this view in 1982 in Restoration magazine in which Bryn Jones described a vision of the exciting prospect in store for those who took this line of interpretation:
Ordinary Christians would be equipped with supernatural powers, laying hands on the sick with extraordinary miracles taking place in public places. Poverty would be abolished among them as multitudes turn to the Lord and have their material needs met through his provision.
The powers of darkness would be overthrown – governments and religious systems based on principles opposed to the Bible would be shaken as the Church emerges in power and glory.
All nations would reach out to God as the Church is established as the ‘mountain of the Lord’s house, the highest of nations’. Heads of government in despair at their own failure to solve the problems of humanity will turn to the revived church asking them to ‘teach us the ways of the Lord’ (see Isaiah 2:1-4).
Following this great revival the Lord will return for his glorious church and wind up history.
According to this teaching the Church will make the world a paradise and only after that happens will Jesus come. Many leaders in this movement teach that all the negative prophetic judgment passages in Bible were fulfilled around 70 AD. Therefore, in their theology there is no pre-tribulation rapture, there is no great tribulation for the world, and there is no literal thousand-year reign on the earth. There is no need for Jesus to physically return to restore the earth because the Church can do it all without His physical presence. Many of these leaders say Jesus will just be here in Spirit through His Church until all on earth is accomplished.
Those who believe this say there will be a last days’ revival unlike any other in history. Claims of revival abound today, sending excitable Christians half way round the world to bring back the latest ‘blessing’ with reports of incredible miracles taking place and promises of ‘whole cities and whole nations’ being won for Christ. Generally the ‘revival’ fizzles out within a few months, sometimes with reports of abuse of money or sexual scandal and a huge gulf between what is claimed to have happened and what has actually happened.
Actually the Bible does not teach that the governments of the world will ask the church to ‘teach us the ways of the Lord’, rather that there will be persecution of Christians before Jesus returns. It speaks of a great falling away rather than a revival in the last days. It teaches that the world is heading for destruction and that if Jesus did not come back physically no flesh on earth would survive (Matthew 24:22).
Health and Wealth.
Allied to this is the Prosperity Gospel. Put briefly this is what this Gospel offers. God wants you to be rich and healthy. Since there are very few people on earth who prefer poverty to wealth and sickness to health, it is obviously an attractive offer. One text used for this is 3 John 2: ‘Beloved I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.’ This is said then to be a general statement that God wills prosperity and health to all Christians.
According to the Faith and Prosperity teachers you receive this blessing of health and wealth by confessing your faith. ‘I possess what I confess.’ A scripture which is used for this is Mark 11.24 ‘Whatever things you ask for when you pray believe that you receive them and you will have them.’ A website supporting this view had these words on it. ‘Therefore if I confess that with His stripes we are healed (Isaiah 53: 5) I possess healing. If I confess that my God shall supply all of my needs (Philippians 4:19); I will lack for nothing since I possess God’s abundantly supply.’ What you must never do is make a negative confession – ‘I don’t feel very well.’ ‘I am worried about whether I will keep my job.’ If this sounds a little bit like the Christian Science concept of mind over matter, it is. You can trace the origins of the teaching of the faith movement to the same root as the Christian Science teaching of Mary Baker Eddy.
According to the Faith teachers a believer in Jesus is a little god and ‘When we use the spiritual laws that God has set up, God must obey what we request.’ (Kenneth Copeland Praise the Lord, TBN, 2/5/86). In effect this means that God must obey our will, a total reversal of the teaching of scripture. This puts man on a higher level than God. It is also similar to the New Age / witchcraft idea that you can create your own reality by the words you speak out.
Isaiah 53.5 / 1 Peter 2.24 ‘By his stripes we are healed’ is used to justify blanket coverage for the physical healing of every Christian who has enough faith. ‘It is the plan of our Father God in His great love and His great mercy that no believer should ever be sick, that every believer should live his life full span down here on earth and that every believer should finally just fall asleep in Jesus’ (Hagin, Seven Things You Should Know About Divine Healing, p. 21). Hagin also denies having a headache for forty-five years, labeling such as ‘simply symptoms rather than any indication of a headache’ (In the Name of Jesus, p. 44). In the context both Isaiah and 1 Peter are describing spiritual healing of afflictions which are available to those who trust in Jesus as the Messiah.
A central tenet of the prosperity gospel is that God wills the financial prosperity of every Christian. If a believer lives in poverty, he/she is living outside God’s intended will. ‘You must realize that it is God’s will for you to prosper’ (Copeland, Laws of Prosperity, p. 51). Kenneth Hagin says that God not only wants to deliver believers from poverty, ‘He wants His children to eat the best, He wants them to wear the best clothing, He wants them to drive the best cars, and He wants them to have the best of everything.’ (Quoted by D.L. McConnell ‘A different Gospel’ p.175).
The way to release prosperity for yourself is to give to the ministry that is revealing this truth to you. You may be poor and in debt but if you give in faith God will reward you with financial blessings up to 100 fold of what you give. Prosperity teacher Gloria Copeland once described this as a ‘very good deal.’ It is of course ‘a good deal’ for the person who receives the money, who can use the money given to provide themselves with luxurious mansions, expensive cars and even private jets. Not so for the poor who are fleeced of their money by these smooth talking con men and women and often end up more in debt or poverty.
The faith teaching is based on a view of the nature of man and of the Lord Jesus Christ which is seriously in error. They teach that God gave humans dominion over the earth, but Adam turned this dominion over to Satan when he disobeyed God in the garden. God created man in ‘God’s class’ (or, as ‘little gods’), with the potential to exercise the ‘God kind of faith’ in calling things into existence and living in prosperity and success as sovereign beings. We forfeited this opportunity, however, by rebelling against God in the Garden and taking upon ourselves Satan’s nature. To correct this situation, Jesus Christ became a man, died spiritually (thus taking upon Himself Satan’s nature), went to Hell, was ‘born again,’ rose from the dead with God’s nature again, and then sent the Holy Spirit so that the Incarnation could be duplicated in believers, thus fulfilling their calling to be little gods.
Since we are called to experience this kind of life now, we should be successful in every area of our lives. To be in debt, then, or be sick, and not to have these problems solved by ‘claiming’ God’s promises, shows a lack of faith.
The idea that we are ‘little gods’ is a complete distortion of the scripture. True Christians are sinners saved by the grace of God through repentance and faith in the once and for all sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross. Even after salvation we are still subject to corruption and mortality as far as our bodies are concerned. The most obvious reason not to believe that we are little gods is that one day we will die unless the Lord comes first. Our hope of resurrection from the dead is not our own power or goodness or ‘godhood’, it is the grace of God by which we are saved when we come to the cross where Jesus paid the price for our sins.
When it comes to the cross we find that the faith teachers have the most bizarre and unbiblical doctrine – that Jesus’ death on the cross was not enough to atone for sin and that following his death on the cross He was taken down to hell to be tormented by Satan. From this ‘spiritual death’ Jesus was reborn in hell and rose out of hell to be the ‘firstborn from the dead.’ It was here that He finally defeated Satan. But the Bible teaches that Jesus’ blood shed for us at the cross was sufficient to pay the price of our sins (Colossians 1.19-20), that He finished the work of redemption on the cross (John 19.30) and then surrendered His spirit to the Father not to Satan (Luke 23.46). He told the repentant thief ‘today you will be with me in Paradise’, not hell. (Luke 23.43).
There is not a word in the epistles of the New Testament which backs up the false view that Jesus failed to atone for sin at the cross and had to descend into hell to defeat Satan there. There is however a passage which describes those who teach this: ‘But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgement has not been idle and their destruction does not slumber.’ 2 Peter 2.1-3. These preachers are bringing in destructive heresies, and deny the ‘Lord who bought them’ through His sacrifice on the cross. Many people are following them and because of their deceptions the Gospel is being mocked and rejected by those who can see through the promises they give to people and the claims they make for themselves. They are exploiting people with promises of health and wealth which they cannot possibly deliver on. But they get very rich in the process.
The idea that every Christian is always healed of every disease is not born out by scripture or real life. Nor can it be said, as many of the faith preachers say, that salvation and healing are equally promised in the atonement. They often go onto say that if you are not healed there must be a question about whether you are saved. This leaves the sick person who is not healed with a double problem. Not only does he still have his sickness but also now doubts his salvation. However the scripture tells us that ‘whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ If we ask God to forgive us our sins on the basis of the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross we know that He will always hear that prayer and forgive us as we repent and believe.
We cannot say the same about healing. Every church I have ever been in has sick people in it who are not healed miraculously of their diseases and go to doctors for help when they become ill. The faith preachers themselves get sick and die. The problem for Christian witness today is that many preachers are making massive claims of what has happened or is about to happen, but investigation of these claims shows that the claims are false. Nothing like what is claimed to have happened has really happened and prophecies of great things about to happen don’t come to pass either. In this case they make people more sceptical in the long run of the true claims of Jesus Christ, that in Him we can know forgiveness of sins and eternal life. There is also the rather basic matter that Christians are supposed to tell the truth.
Recently at our fellowship we had a visit from Justin Peters who is suffering from cerebral palsy and speaks on this subject. He said he had been to many Benny Hinn rallies and seen what does not get recorded on the cameras. Hundreds of people who have been prayed for, are lying on the floor, not healed and disappointed, wondering if it is God’s failure or their lack of faith that they have not been healed.
As to the promise of prosperity, one has to say that only a church that is corrupted by the materialism of the west could come up with such a doctrine. Paul wrote to Timothy: ‘The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. … Command those who are rich in this present age, not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God who gives us all things richly to enjoy. Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold of eternal life.’ 1 Timothy 6.10, 17-19.
We live in a time of ‘uncertain riches’ with the whole world economic system being shaken by financial crises. We may lose what wealth we have in a moment and if that is where our treasure is and our faith is we may lose our faith as well. We also live in mortal and corruptible bodies which are aging and wearing out. One day, if the Lord does not come first, we will all die. No one can guarantee that in the process from birth to death they will never get sick. A simple investigation into the lives of the faith healers themselves will soon turn up the fact that they are as subject to the frailties of life as every one else. And their churches remain full of people with ailments of all kinds, minor and serious. God wants our faith to be in Him and in the eternal life He has given us through Jesus our Saviour. ‘Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction which is but for a moment is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.’ 2 Corinthians 4.16-18.