Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Knowing, Feeling & Doing

One of the things characterizing the message of "Health and Wealth" preachers is quick, easy solutions to complex problems.  They tend to reduce the Christian life to knowing the right technique or formula, or following the prescribed steps  to achieve prosperity.  Thus, the Christian life is reduced to methods of success rather than to the gradual, life-long and painful task of forming character.

Although many Christians do prosper and achieve good health, often strong character is developed through times of difficulty, struggle, and pain.  There is no quick and easy way to develop character.  Character is a quality of life produced by consistent actions and thousands of little decisions during times of testing.  In Romans 5:3-5, Paul says, "We also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us."

In their desire to be positive and provide quick, easy, victorious solutions, many preachers/televangelists say nothing about the character acquired through sufferings (see also James 1:12; Phil. 2:22).  The desire for quick and easy solution to problems also short-circuits the Scriptural process of gaining wisdom and discernment.  Those qualities of character are gained not be reciting a formula, having a positive attitude, or knowing the prescribed steps.  The way to discernment involves deep thought and consistent practice.

Hebrews 5:14 reads, "Solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil."  Notice the connection between solid food and maturity.  Not only do the mature digest solid food, but they also practice what they have learned.  They have thought hard about what they believe, and then have felt whatever emotion that thought produces and then have acted on it.  One cannot act on something without being moved to do so (emotions).  But one cannot be moved to do something unless one is inspired by a particular thought, concept, doctrine, or idea.

Those who press on to learn more about God, and then experience and live out that knowledge, become men and women of character:  "Get wisdom, discipline and understanding," Scripture commands (Prov. 23:23).  "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Psalm 111:10).  Although we may, in our sinfulness, be tempted to take a shortcut to character, we must remember that such neglect is not in accord with Scripture (see Rom. 12:2; Gal. 5:16-25; Phil. 2:12-13; 4:8-9; Col. 3:9-17).

Essential to the development of character is the solid food discussed above.  One important step in developing character involves educating the conscience.  Recently, many writers have described the moral decay in our culture.  One author in particular has discussed the "death of ethics in America" and locates the solution in moral education:  an education of the conscience.  The televangelists could help here but I am afraid they do not.

Again, a few simple answers are not adequate to prepare us for the complexities of life, and the fruit of their own shortcut mentality has been amply demonstrated.  The absence of an emphasis on conscience from the preaching of televangelists indicates a lack of connection between knowing and doing.  Conscience is where doctrine and practice meet and is where general principles are brought to bear in concrete cases.

The Absence of Conscience

Again, a few simple answers are not adequate to prepare us for the complexities of life and the fruit of their own shortcut mentality has been amply demonstrated.  The absence of an emphasis on conscience from the preaching of Faith Movement/televangelists indicates a lack of connection between knowing and doing.  Conscience is where doctrine and practice meet and is where general principles are brought to bear in concrete cases.

Conscience is viewed in Scripture as one of the central goals of instruction.  Paul says, "The goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith" (1 Tim. 1:5).  Do you see "a good conscience" as one of the central goals in the teaching of the televangelists?  If you were asked to give two phrases to describe what it means to "fight the good fight," how would you respond?  Paul says, "Fight the good fight, holding on to faith and a good conscience" (1 Tim. 1:18-19).  Most of the leading televangelists are doing neither.  

I believe that how well we are going to be able to conduct ourselves in this life will be determined by whether we are able to get and keep a clear conscience.  Getting a clear conscience, of course, is essential to maintaining one. (see Paul's goal in Acts 23:1; 24:16; I Tim. 3:9; II Tim. 1:3).  Getting a clear conscience depends on how convinced we are that God's grace and not our own spirituality or obedience is our sole salvation.  Without assurance of our acceptance before God, based entirely on Christ's performance and sacrifice, not our own, we can never have a clear conscience.  We will always be wondering if there is one thing we've left undone.  

Keeping a clear conscience means that we are regularly examining our lives and confessing our sins to God and others if we have offended them.  Also involved is refusing to compromise our conscience. The recent moral lapses on the part of some televangelists raises the question of conscience and character.  It could be that the message of easy solutions is too superficial to deal with the deep struggles in our lives.  We must recapture a wholeness in our lives, which may be summed up in the word integrity.  In order to do that, we must recapture the profound relationship between knowing, feeling, and doing.  

Integrity is the heartfelt response to sound doctrine.  It is the "amen" cheered by the whole person in response to God's truths.  This is the way to wholeness and integrity:  truth (light), experienced (heat), and lived in such a way that the world is once again stirred to ask concerning our Lord, "Who is this Man from Nazareth?"  

-- Art Lindsley

For more information on Victory Churches and the Faith Movement, go to the Reference Library.  Click on any book title to get a brief overview of the book.  All books on the list are available through 

Thursday, November 22, 2012


There is often much enthusiasm surrounding a T.V. ministry.  Some of the T.V. ministries make great appeals to the emotions and stir up rousing sentiments but deny the importance of the mind.  Now feelings are not wrong.  Feelings of love, joy, peace, and many other responses are all gifts from God.  He created our capacity to feel, and above all He created us with a capacity to enjoy Him.  One important Christian catechism asks, "What is man's chief end?"  and answers "To glorify God and enjoy Him forever."  So we see that enjoyment of God is one of the central purposes of our creation.  God also created us to enjoy relationships with other creatures and to enjoy the natural world.  The problem with the message of many televangelists is not their appeal to desires or feelings; the problem is that they settle for "mud pies in the slum" rather than "a holiday at the sea."  They, along with their followers, are far too easily pleased.

Even if we do gain perfect health and perfect wealth and achieve the power to accomplish many miracles, we can still lack the key to ultimate satisfaction:  knowing God.  Augustine once said, "Our hearts are restless until we find our rest in Thee," not, "until we find our rest in miracles," or, "in prosperity," or "in great feelings," but in God Himself.  All humans have a spiritual hunger that only God Himself can satisfy.

Even an atheist, Franz Kafka, recognized the importance of satisfying his own spiritual hunger.  In one short story, The Hunger Artist, he summed up his thoughts.  He wanted his other works burned but insisted that this one story be saved.

Please read the following more than once.

In a typically bizarre fashion, Kafka has the hunger artist making his living by professional fasting.  He is the practitioner of a once venerated profession.  Seated on straw in his small barred cage, he is marveled at by throngs of people.  After forty days, his fasts were terminated in triumph.  His manager would make a speech, the band would play, and one of the ladies would lead him staggering in his weakened state out of the cage.  

However, the day arrived when fasting was no longer understood or appreciated by the people.  He lost his manager and had to join a circus.  His cage was placed next to the animals.  He became depressed by the smell, the restlessness of the animals at night, the raw flesh carried past him and the roaring at feeding time.  The people barely glanced at him in their hurry to see the animals.  Even the circus attendants failed to limit his fast by counting the days.  Finally, he was discovered lying in the straw, and in his dying breaths he told his secret:  "I have to fast," he whispered.  "I can't help it.  I couldn't find the food I liked.  If I had found it, believe me, I should have made no fuss and stuffed myself like you or anyone else."  

Kafka was a writer of parables.  The parable of the hunger artist is not about physical hunger but about spiritual hunger.  Kafka was the hunger artist, and he realized he was starving to death spiritually, but he couldn't find any food he liked.  

There is a hunger within us all that only God can satisfy.  That's what C.S. Lewis meant when he said, "We are halfhearted creatures fooling about with drink and sex and ambition, when infinite joy is offered us."  The meeting of those material desires is not wrong in its proper context.  Yet we can be far too easily pleased.  The followers of these preachers are gorging themselves on junk food.  It is attractive.  It is sweet.  It tastes good.  But it does not satisfy, and it ends up destroying its host.  Many preachers today appeal to our desires for well-being but fail to emphasis (or perhaps fail even to see) the real need.  Christians need the knowledge of a just, holy and merciful God.  We need to know God's character and His attributes.  It is not that we desire too much.  We are not asking for too much when we demand health, wealth, and happiness, but too little!  Some preachers are passionate about things that can only bring partial satisfaction.  They appeal to halfheartedness when infinite joy is offered.  They call us to settle for "mud pies in a slum" because they cannot imagine what is meant by "a holiday at the sea."

For more information on Victory Churches and the Faith Movement, go to the Reference Library.  Click on any book title to get a brief overview of the book.  All books on the list are available through 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Knowing Truth

Neglecting the serious questions for cheap thrills, one way some televangelists have settled for less is by depreciating the mind, centering almost entirely on feelings.  Sometimes the impression is given that faith and intellect are in a state of war.  "The mind," says Hagin, "is something that might trip you and cause you to fall."    Yet, in truth, though our minds are fallen, they are the door to our heart, our conscience, our feelings, and our actions.  What we believe determines how we feel and act.

The call Jesus gave to love God "with all of your heart, soul, strength, and mind" is not at all foreign to Christianity.  Some of the greatest intellects of all time have found no contradiction between faith and reason. Since God is the author of both, faith and reason can (indeed should) be as compatible as a left and a right hand.

Many argue that it is more spiritual and faithful to believe without any intellectual reasons.  "Just love Jesus," they say, apart from any serious knowledge of who this Jesus is or what He accomplished.  Their argument, of course, is wrong.  Paul wrote, "We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ."  (2 Cor. 10:5).  In other words, it is a profoundly spiritual task to critique the philosophies that hold us back from knowing God and His Son, Jesus Christ.  It is actually a sign of a lack of spiritually that makes one fail to provide a well argued alternative to secularism in our universities and in our culture.

Christians often object to studying philosophy (and even theology!) on the basis that in Colossians 2:8, Paul warns us to beware that no-one takes us captive to such deceptive principles of the world.  Although Paul did issue such a warning, the only way for one to beware of the negative influence of some philosophy is to study and understand it thoroughly.  In order to beware of philosophy we need to be aware of it.  If we understand the competing ideologies well, we will know when they are affecting us.  For instance, because the preachers under criticism in this book apparently do not know church history, they are unaware that they are repeating the errors of past ages.  Because they do not understand Greek philosophy or Oriental mysticism or 19th theosophy, they do not know how seriously they have been affected by such thinking.  To take thoughts captive we have to think.

For more information on Victory Churches and the Faith Movement, go to the Reference Library.  Click on any book title to get a brief overview of the book.  All books on the list are available through 

Friday, November 9, 2012

Settling for Mud Pies

What's Missing?

Many of today's preachers make appeals that focus on fulfilling human desires -- especially health, wealth, and happiness.  But other things, too, like peace of mind, joy, satisfaction, self-esteem, power, and victory.  It's not that these things are always wrong in themselves.  Indeed, they are often gifts of God.  However, it is difficult to resist the impression that there are preachers who have set their sights too low.

C.S. Lewis gave us the following insight:

Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak.  We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition, when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.  We are far too easily pleased.

Many preachers, reflecting a common emphasis in modern evangelicalism generally, are settling for "mud pies" because they "cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday by the sea."  These preachers appeal to our selfish instincts, which may be momentarily satisfied by promises of success, unfailing happiness, and good times, when all the while our deepest needs, our truest needs -- for eternal love and acceptance in a world where performance is usually a prerequisite for acceptance, for certainty in the midst of doubt, and for purpose in a period of despair -- go untouched.

Our desires are too weak if we are simply making our own comfort and success our focus, while ignoring the larger issues.  Our desires should be broader, transcending our self-centredness.  We are far too easily pleased!  

Something is missing.  Let's discover the identity of that missing element.  The particular type of message many media preachers communicate has come to be known as the "Health and Wealth Gospel."  Prosperity teaching abounds on their television programs as well as in their written material.  One statement summarizes the technique used:  "God's got it, I can have it, and by faith I'm going to get it."  

We see additional examples in titles such as Kenneth E. Hagin's pamphlet, "How to Write Your Own Ticket with God" and Robert Tilton's magazine, Signs, Wonders, and Miracles of Faith, in which testimonials of financial and physical success abound.  Or in Kenneth Copeland's brochures "God's Will is Health" and "God's Will is Prosperity"  Oral Roberts promises people on his mailing list "Prosperity Miracles That Are Within Fingertip Reach of Your Faith," and his most recent book to date is titled How I Learned Jesus Was Not Poor.  Peter Popoff invites his followers to wash with an "anointed" sponge and then to send a monetary gift to his ministry.  This "will unlock heaven's storehouse of blessings for you."

We have seen responses to such teachings in Bruce Barron's The Health and Wealth Gospel and Gordon Fee's The Disease of the Health and Wealth Gospel   Yet whether or not the Health and Wealth teachings are true, they do reduce life to a tragically narrow and trivial focus, meeting only surface needs.  They ignore a larger vision of reality.  Christians must know truth about all areas of life and must develop a character that is able to make commitments to people, the community, and the nation outside themselves.  These teachings promise a satisfaction of our desires.  But we need to ask, "Are these desires too weak?  Are they too trivial? Are we far too easily pleased?"

-- Art Lindsley

For more information on Victory Churches and the Faith Movement, go to the Reference Library.  Click on any book title to get a brief overview of the book.  All books on the list are available through 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Agony of Deceit - Part 3

Clearly, we are in perilous times.  We have paid the price of ignorance and shallowness, and our fall has been great.  Heretics have been tolerated as divinely-appointed messengers.  Nevertheless, God has proved Himself faithful in the trials of our own unfaithfulness.  Though we do not despair, we do call upon the body of Christ to repair its own system of beliefs and to bring its faith and life into line with sound biblical teaching without delay.  That reformation, as we see it, must take two forms:  first, it must be defensive.  Those who propagate heresy among us and refuse correction must be excommunicated by their local, regional, and national bodies.  Denial of the Trinity is, after all, more damnable than pornography.  Second, it must offensive.  We must put ourselves to the arduous -- but exciting -- task of feeding the sheep on the great themes of biblical faith.  The laity are begging for substance.  They are often more anxious to deepen their faith than their pastors are to help them deepen it.

Paul makes holding to "the deep truths of the faith" a prerequisite for holding the office of deacon or elder (I Tim. 3:9).  Those who lead our churches -- whether ordained or layperson -- are required to be educated in biblical and systematic theology.  They must not just assent to a series of simple fundamentals but must be trained in the "deep truths of the faith."  After all, said Paul, the church is "the pillar and foundation of the truth" (v.15).

We must heed a final caution from Peter:  "False prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies."  "In their greed," Peter said, "they will exploit you with false words" (II Peter 2: 1-3).  So, too, today, the "Word of Faith" movement in particular is a destructive heresy of "false words" and it is a growing movement.  Kenneth Copeland has gone from a weekend spot to a daily telecast -- and other "Word" ministries are increasing in popularity.

These heretics, Peter continues, "indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires and despise authority.  Daring, self-willed, they do not tremble when they revile angelic majesties whereas angels who are greater in might and power do not bring a reviling judgment against them before the Lord." (v v 10-11).  So, too, today many of the leading televangelists rave about their power over Satan and make sport of taunting and teasing the devil concerning their alleged authority over him.  "But these" said Peter, "like unreasoning animals, born as creatures of instinct to be captured and killed, reviling where they have no knowledge will in the destruction of those creatures also be destroyed (v 12).

Throughout church history, periods of heresy, apathy, and ignorance have been both times of danger and of opportunity -- opportunity to set the record straight, to confront a new age with a old message, such a time is upon us.  Only through a renewing of our minds, a rededication of our hearts, and a reformation of our church can such a chapter of history have a happy ending, like so many chapters before it.

-- Michael Horton

For more information on Victory Churches and the Faith Movement, go to the Reference Library.  Click on any book title to get a brief overview of the book.  All books on the list are available through 

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Agony of Deceit - Part 2

Some today would say, "well, sure, truth is important.  But what's really essential is that we know the Person,  not the propositions."  Not so, the Apostle James would say:  "My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this:  Whoever turns a sinner away from his error will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins." (James 5:19-20)  There is no such thing as a personal relationship with Christ apart from an understanding and acceptance of the nature, character, and mission of Christ.  Turning people from error is not a trivial concern.  It is bound up with the severest of consequences:  saving a soul from death.

Maybe we have the attitude we do because we no longer believe eternal questions are important and perhaps that means that we -- who should have been the last to do so -- have become so preoccupied with this world (success, power, fame, and fortune) that we have tolerated a creeping cynicism about the importance of the next.

The Apostle Paul understood that souls are saved and lost in the struggle over truth and heresy.  Paul said he was "innocent of the blood of all men" because he had "not hesitated to proclaim to [the people] the whole will of God."  Therefore, he issued his own warning to the leaders of the church at Ephesus:  "Guard yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.  Be shepherds of the church of God, which He bought with his own blood."  And then the Apostle anticipated apostasy:  I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock.  Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.  So be on your guard!  Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears."  (Acts 20:26-31)

With as many as 500 million viewers worldwide, the televangelists under critical examination in this book, have until recently been protected from censure.  After all, were they not successful evangelists?  But eventually there came an end to their privileged status.  What brought about their downfall?  Not that they were preaching "another gospel," though that was in fact what they were doing.  No, they were brought down when news of lavish expense accounts and sexual deviance reached the public and shocked the church -- shocked it more, apparently, than the televanglists' unabashed disregard for biblical truth.  Only when some televangelists were found to be frauds in general were Christians brave enough to confront them on theological grounds.

...many of us have had experiences with local churches or para-church ministries that gave evidence of giving method priority over message, quantity over quality, volume over clarity, comfort over confrontation.  "But they're winning souls!"  we are always told.  "Isn't that enough?"  Not really.  If success and growth be always a sign of God's favour, we should be elated with the spread of Mormonism, Islam, and Oriental mysticism.  But, of course, we are not.  We know that numerical growth can be caused by spectacular distortion of Scripture.  It is not necessarily the outcome of the preaching of a theologically sound message.  Put another way, an arena filled with persons shouting, "Praise the Lord!" is not necessarily a sign of God's blessing.

"In the last days," Paul warned "people will be lovers of themselves [so we tailor a self-esteem gospel]...lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God [so we put together a gospel of health, wealth and happiness]."  Such people have "a form of godliness but [deny] its power," and Paul's command concerning them is urgent:  "Have nothing to do with them" (II Timothy 3:1-5).  But they are our brothers!  "Have nothing to do with them!"  But they love Jesus!  "Have nothing to do with them!"

Not only have we had a great deal to do with them, we have often been "them."  Though the Westminster Catechism asserted that man's chief purpose was "to glorify God and enjoy Him forever,"  the modern creed insist that we use God to glorify ourselves and enjoy ourselves forever.  Christianity must be fun, never demanding.  It was sweep the believer from one experience of  "victory" to another.  Talk of discipleship's rewards far outweighs talk of its cost.  In short, the modern gospel is marketed to consumers, not proclaimed to sinners.

In spite of all the present dangers, Jesus promised, "I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it" (Matt. 16:18).  Similarly, Paul warns Timothy (and all believers) that "the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine," he still challenges him to "keep [his] head."  For though men will "gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear" and will "turn aside to myths," there is hope for those who pursue an accurate proclamation of the faith (II Timothy 4:3-5).

Martin Luther characterized the heretics of his day as "strutting peacocks" who "seek self-made, individualistic doctrine and manner of faith and life, apart from the commonly accepted ones."  Thus, a heretic is "one who is self-willed in matters pertaining to God, a queer fellow who knows of something better and chooses his own way to heaven, a way the ordinary Christian does not travel."  As for the "miraculous signs" that often accompany heretics, Luther made this chilling prediction..."for in those for those who have no love for the truth, the devil will be powerful and strong..."

The scenario Luther describes is not far from Christ's own description of the coming Judgment Day.  As many faith healers make their way to Jesus, surprised that they have been excluded from the very kingdom they insisted they were building, they plead, "Did we not prophecy in Your name and in Your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?"  And Jesus says, "I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you.  Away from Me you evil doers!'" (Matt. 7:22-23)

For more information on Victory Churches and the Faith Movement, go to the Reference Library.  Click on any book title to get a brief overview of the book.  All books on the list are available through 

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Agony of Deceit

Nobody likes a wise guy.

Critics often fall into that category.  Artists -- whether they be painters, writers, actors, directors, sculptors, or architects -- depend on satisfactory critical reviews for their bread and butter.  Unflattering reviews can end an artist's career.  So nobody likes a critic who is just a wise guy.  But a critic who protects the public from spending its money on "flops" -- that's another story.  He provides an essential and appreciated function.  The same goes for consumer advocates and for the various sports commissions.  They both help the pubic negotiate the promises and pitfalls of the marketplace.

In short, we have critics to help us identify false (or, at least, substandard) art, consumer advocates to help us recognize false advertising, and sports commissions to maintain the integrity of the game.  But where are the "laity advocates" who help folks spot false prophets.  Are we suggesting by our silence that our arts, products, and sports are worth more than our eternal souls?

As I said, nobody wants to sit next to the obnoxious fellow who finds his niche in the world by blowing the whistle on his brothers and sisters.  After all, none of us has all the answers.  But isn't there another extreme? One in which charlatans and outright heretics are allowed to pass for orthodox, evangelical spokesmen?

This book argues that there is indeed.

Trinity Broadcasting Network's president, Paul Crouch, has repeatedly mocked those who would confront false teachers.  During a "Praise-A-Thon," Crouch stated:

There are those who spend a lifetime --we call them apologists--they spend their whole lives apologizing for the Scripture.  They spend their whole lifetime defending the orthodoxy of the doctrines of the church and, as I said a while ago, what is orthodox to them is what is in agreement with their opinion of what the Bible says. . .You can spend a lifetime gazing at the orthodoxy of the church and let a world go straight to hell and never hear the message of Jesus Christ.

This book argues that the struggle for orthodoxy is the struggle for the authentic "message of Jesus Christ" that will, in fact, save those who place their confidence in it.  It argues that by ignoring the orthodoxy of the message being preached by those who call themselves Christians, we are, in fact, assisting in a delusion that results in the very loss about which Crouch and the "faith teachers" say they are concerned.

"But," says Earl Polk, defending himself, "a prophet is not to be judged.  And elsewhere one hears the warning, "Touch not the Lord's anointed!"

Is that really what God commands?  Consider the words of the book of Deuteronomy:  "if a prophet...appears among you and announces to you a miraculous sign or wonder" and through it leads the people astray, "you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer.  The Lord your God is testing you to find out whether you love Him with all your heart and with all your soul."  As for the prophet?  "That prophet or dreamer must be put to death" (Deut. 13:1-5).

Throughout the Old Testament and not just the book of Deuteronomy, believers are called upon to test the prophets.  And in the New Testament Jesus warns, "watch out for false prophets" (Matt 7:15).  Elsewhere He cautions, "False Christs and false prophets will appear" (Matt 24:24).  John commands "dear friends, do not believe every spirit but test the spirits to see if they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world" (1 John 4:1).  Whenever someone claiming to be a prophet announces, "a prophet cannot be judged" warning lights should flash!

The contributors to this volume are concerned ultimately not with air-conditioned dog houses or sexual dalliances but with the real scandal:  heresy.  Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "Tell me what a person believes and I'll tell you what he'll do."  Theology and ethics are inextricably bound together.  Yet under the supposed banner of unity, we have harboured enemy ships -- as long as they flew our flag.  That policy must change.  Tolerating enemies of the historic Christian faith as though they were our brethren is not love, but adultery.  The substance of the faith is the only basis for unity.

Those who embrace the apostolic substance of Christianity have a basis for unity.  Essentials serve as the common denominators.  When those foundational affirmations are eroded, the group loses its essential identity.  And when a group loses its identity, it ceases to offer a common core of commitment that inspires unity and brotherhood.  Give up the defense of the fundamentals and you give up any hope of real unity.

How ironic it is then, that only five decades after the "Modernist-Fundamentalist" controversy evangelical and fundamentalist churches find themselves in the position of harbouring -- or tolerating -- outright denial of orthodoxy.  They are doing that because they have mistaken outward tokens for essential unity.  So long as the preacher waves his Bible under the bright lights, or has an altar call, they do not object to what he says, even if he preaches doctrines as dangerous to the soul as those propagated by the "liberals" he so cheerfully mocks.

One consequence of this tolerance is to leave the way open for an inaccurate understanding of Christianity to be spread abroad.  The world sees televangelists as the spokesmen for the evangelical movement.  It does not distinguish between those who preach the gospel "once for all given to the saints" and those who preach a fraudulent gospel.  So when the world examines televangelism -- its programming, its triumphs, its failures -- and concludes from looking at some, but not all, televangelists that televangelism is materialistic, exploitative, power-hungry, and success -and-numbers oriented -- in short, is just as worldly as the world itself -- it condemns the whole evangelical movement -- and Christianity -- not just fraudulent televangelists.

Does the world realize that televangelism does not necessary represent the evangelical movement?  Does it know that the evangelical movement is concerned with truth?  Do those who occasionally view televangelists programming know that evangelical Christianity offers an intelligent interpretation of and hope for human existence?  Does the average unbeliever come away from an ordinary telecast with a better grasp of the substance of the Christian faith?

Unless the ordinary evangelical is willing to stand up and be counted, the answer will be no.  If the answer is no, that may well mean that evangelical commentators, reflecting the movement generally, have not been as interested in truth as in success.  After all, the incarnation is not as interesting as "Body Builders for Jesus."  Or is it?  The celebrated mystery-novelist, Dorothy Sayers, once asserted, "Doctrine is not boring!  Dogma is the drama!"  She was right.  The drama lies not in the crying and the shouting but in the great truth of the Gospel.

The Apostle Peter understood the responsibility an orthodox Christian has and addressed the subject of doctrine directly.  He was well aware that his Master had given him the charge, "Feed my sheep" --and had emphasized it (John 21:15-18).  That command weighed heavily on Peter's conscience as he reminded the members of the ancient church that though they had once been "like sheep gone astray," they were now "returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls" (1 Peter 2:25).  They needed, Peter said, to "make every effort to be found spotless, blameless, and at peace with [Christ]" (2 Peter 3:14) -- and to pay attention to doctrine.  Not to do so was to bring condemnation upon themselves.  The letters of  "our dear brother Paul," Peter said, "contains some things that are hard to understand," but  the "ignorant and unstable" who distort them, "as they do the other Scriptures," do so "to their own destruction" (2 Peter 3:15-16).

Notice the elements of Peter's warning.  There is the recognition that the Bible contains a number of truths that are easily reshaped by the subtlest distortion.  And there is the assertion that such distortions are caused by those who are "ignorant and unstable."  That is an important clue as to the sort of person we must suspect.  Ignorance among many associated with televangelism is no less prized than it was among the ranters who eschewed thought in favour of an objectless fascination with feeling during the frontier revivals of the last century.  It was in that setting that many of the cults were born.  "No creed but Christ," the evangelist cheered and instability has been characteristic of many religious celebrities in the past and in the present.

By Michael Horton

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