Until recently, I have always avoided television Bible teachers and evangelists. The reputation of the people who do televised preaching has always been poor, and for pretty good reasons. I am finding lately, however, that several of the current generation of televised ministers—men and women—are actually capable of genuine Spiritually-inspired edification.
Then there are these other guys—
I got too far from the remote one Sunday morning, and accidentally heard a man preaching what amounted to “Communion magic”. Far from the commandments of Jesus and Scriptural explanations of the purpose of this celebration, this person claimed that it released special power to control one’s circumstances. He even offered to send the unfortunate viewer a special “Communion set”—blessed personally by the miscreant preaching this foolishness, presumably a desirable service because he was actually appearing on television.
Others are more subtle. A popular preacher extracted a basic premise from an analysis of Genesis, Hebrews, and other Scriptures, that humans created in God’s Image shared His power to speak their desires into reality. Prayer, he had determined, would always be answered for a Christian, because God’s answer is always “Yes!”. If one is not happy and prosperous, it is because one has not faithfully announced “I will be happy and prosperous!” To deal with the stack of bills piling up on the kitchen table, one should demand “be paid!”. This sort of “magic money” sermon is very popular in many places.
On the contrary, what Jesus actually told us was:
He taught us to pray first for the completion of God’s Kingdom and Purpose (Matthew 6:10) and gave us His Example in ultimate submission to God’s Will (Matthew 26:42)—in spite of His earnest desire to avoid the terrible sacrifice required of Him.
Moreover, Jesus made—literally created—money (Matthew 17:24-27). He also demonstrated that He had the power to eliminate hunger and poverty from the face of the Earth (Matthew 14:19-21, Matthew 15:37). But rather than do this—by becoming an earthly king at the expense of God’s Will and our hope of Salvation—He withdrew to be alone with His Father (John 6:15).
If we should expect to command our hardships to cease without consideration of God’s Purpose, what is Paul talking about in Philippians 4:11-13?
Then there is the phenomenon usually called “Dispensationalism” (Dispensationalism – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia Christian eschatology – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia Why I Believe In A Pre-Tribulation Rapture). Dispensationalism is so pervasive in many Protestant denominations that many of us grew up so immersed in it that we need to deliberately pray for understanding and discernment to know how to separate the Scriptures from the human efforts to “decode” them—but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Unlike the warfare of competing heresies which led to the dissolution of the Roman Catholic empire into Eastern and Western orthodoxies, most of these various “–isms” among the Protestant denominations seem to grow not out of a love of deception or spiritual morbidity, but out of un-Spiritual efforts to apply human understanding to things which must be “Spiritually discerned”( 1 Corinthians 2:14).
Lacking the Spiritual Wisdom to understand how the Church fits into the Old Testament prophecies, Dispensationalists appear to relegate the Church to a sort of “parenthetical” place in God’s Plan. It is as if Jesus sort of announced the Church in an embarrassing lapse, as if maybe He didn’t quite know the prophesies well enough. We would probably have to conclude that Paul’s dissertation on the future of Israel in Romans Chapter 11 was some sort of marginalia, or something.
All of this mis-reading requires a special “dispensation” for the present age, and a special extra-Biblical additional Second Coming of Jesus Christ to get the Church out of the way— the Rapture, or ἁρπάζω (the “snatching away”)— so that the prophecies for an entirely literal Israel can be fulfilled according to the understanding available through a mere reading of words on paper, without all that troublesome Spiritual growth and insight. Many dispensationalists go on to fall into the trap of trying to scry the date and time of Second Coming-I out of their fundamentally literary understanding (e.g., Hal Lindsey: “The Late, Great Planet Earth“, 1970. Later editions evidently omit the obviously erroneous prediction of Rapture in the late 1980’s).
There are many problems with reading the Bible this way. Jesus said:
If anyone thinks that he will be able to apply some heretofore secret augury of decryptions to scry out of the Scriptures a “desk calendar for the last days”, information denied even to God’s own Son, they are sadly deluded.
Paul, who was certainly a highly literate man, if not a bone fide genius by human standards, went to a lot of trouble to explain the source and nature of Christian wisdom:
1 Corinthians 1
26Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.
If your understanding or teaching of God’s Plan—past, present, and future—requires superhuman literacy, extraordinary charisma, advanced knowledge of encryption techniques, mathematical set diagrams, or color-coded wall charts with transparent overlays, you may safely assume that you have missed the point somewhere.
What is the Church? How does it “fit” into prophecy? Jesus placed it definitively into the completed context of Law and Prophecy (Mark 3:31-34). If we could stop and listen to Him instead of jibbering so much nonsense in our meetings and prayers, we might actually become the Family He intended (John 1:12).
How, then, do we miss the point so badly?—by not listening when God talks to us. Each of us is called to exercise Spiritual discernment.
2Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
16I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
9And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, 11filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.
1 John 4
1Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
Yes, this is terrifyingly dangerous thinking. Christianity is the most dangerous idea ever conceived. Christianity is nothing short of a revolution against everything that humans understand by their own wisdom and intend by their own strength.
This means that all of us—even those of us who don’t read and write too well, or hold menial jobs, or no jobs at all—are responsible for knowing in their hearts, minds, and souls what the Truth is. This is that Law given by God through Jesus Christ, the Law “placed in our minds, and written on our hearts” by the Holy Spirit of the Living God (Jeremiah 31:33), the Law which will stand for Eternity.
Jesus summed up His Ministry this way:
So, where does all of this get us? What is the result of my own simplistic, semi-educated, non-cryptographic individual discernment of Biblical Truth? Feel free, if it makes you more comfortable, to copy, resize, or color code it, maybe draw in a few precisely overlapping circles or tack on some color overlays (but no PowerPoint™, please, or at least don’t tell me about it):
God loves you. Love Him back, and each other in the same way.
Accept His Sacrifice on your behalf, and spend the rest of your life trying to be like His Son. Look forward to His Return.