It wasn't a decision I made lightly, but the pastor is leading the church away from the Bible and into bad teaching. I posted earlier about the teacher he brought in for the Wednesday night studies on Spiritual Warfare, and how he distorted Scripture to serve his purpose. It happened again last Wednesday, and that, along with what the pastor did as the study session started sealed the deal as far as I was concerned.
To many of you reading this, maybe even most of you, the infractions or distortions may seem trivial and unimportant. I hope I can demonstrate why they are anything but trivial, as these distortions attack the heart of our faith and form a weak foundation for a believer.
The study session started with the pastor walking up on stage and talking about how great it was that we had a teacher with such a positive message. He then said something that shocked me. He said, "If you're depressed right now, it's your fault."
The economy is bad; we're about to start a third war; the Japanese earthquake/tsunami/nuclear crisis is continuing to worsen; unemployment isn't budging; gas prices are increasing rapidly; but he says if you are depressed or worried, it's your fault. He went on to say that if you were faithful, that God would reward you with material gains. He didn't put it that bluntly, but the implication was clear. Those who God loves, he will reward with good jobs, increasing bank accounts, good health, and freedom from worry.
That was his introduction to a clip from Joel Osteen praying over his congregation, telling them that he believed that God would reward their faith with prosperity, and health, and happiness. The pastor then called his staff to the stage, then sent them out among the congregation to pray that same prayer over the congregation.
It sounds wonderful, doesn't it? Believe in God and worship Him, and you'll have a nice house, a good car, a fat paycheck, and good health and security. And if you don't have those things?
Hey, it's your fault. Your faith wasn't strong enough, or you sinned and didn't repent properly, or you didn't give enough to the church, or any number of things that all boil down to it being your fault. God didn't want bad things for you, but you screwed up and gave satan access to you.
That's the message.
Obviously, the pastor didn't spell it out that way. He only talked about the good things that will happen if you have faith; he never mentioned what it means when bad things happen to good people.
When the teacher began the session, he went back into Job for a bit. I don't know if somebody from the church read what I wrote and he decided he had to respond, or if it was just coincidence, but he wanted to make sure that everybody knew that the Book of Job was all about God's never ending war with the forces of evil. He taught that God defeated the evil, but that the evil was "strong willed" which meant they kept coming back over and over again. He used the analogy of a football team defeating their opponent but having to play them again next season. In other words, when God wins, he doesn't really win; His victory is only temporary.
Not much of a God then, is He?
He backed up this interpretation with Psalm 82, quoting the first and sixth verses
[82:1] God has taken his place in the divine council;
in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:
 I said, “You are gods,
sons of the Most High, all of you;
He said that this clearly shows that there are other gods in the supernatural realm, lesser than God, and in opposition to Him, and that they were contending with Him endlessly.
Here again, he's altering Scripture to suit his purposes because if you read the whole Psalm, you get quite a different picture.
 God has taken his place in the divine council;
in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:
 “How long will you judge unjustly
and show partiality to the wicked? Selah
 Give justice to the weak and the fatherless;
maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.
 Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”
 They have neither knowledge nor understanding,
they walk about in darkness;
all the foundations of the earth are shaken.
 I said, “You are gods,
sons of the Most High, all of you;
 nevertheless, like men you shall die,
and fall like any prince.”
 Arise, O God, judge the earth;
for you shall inherit all the nations!
Even if this Psalm were talking about other supernatural gods that dabble in the affairs of men, similar to the Greek pantheon, do you see any sign that God is fighting them, or struggling to contain them? I don't.
And if you look closer, you find out that the word translated as 'gods' also translates as judges. Verses 2-4 strengthen this translation, as it gives a job description for an earthly ruler, not a god.
So who is right, the teacher who claims that this is proof of other supernatural gods, or little old me, claiming that the Psalm refers to human rulers and judges?
Fortunately, you don't have to take my word for it; you can take God's Word for it.
 Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’?  If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken—  do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?
Jesus refers to this passage and clearly indicates that it is about men who have received the word of God. Not supernatural forces battling with God, not rebellious angel or demons, but simple, fallible men, given authority by God who were falling down on the job.
Psalm 82 is not a manifesto proclaiming spiritual warfare in a supernatural realm; it's an unfavorable performance review for earthly rulers.
That's what Jesus said, and He is my best Teacher.
I was talking to some of the people at my table, telling them about what I'd studied and what I'd found, and I was disturbed by the hostility I faced. Even when I pointed out that the teacher was teaching things that were completely against what was in the Bible, they couldn't hear it. One said that the errors didn't really matter, that they were learning higher truths that were independent of the mistakes the teacher was making. They said that the words he used, what he actually said, wasn't as important as what they thought he meant.
That really concerns me for a couple of reasons. First, if I hadn't pointed out the errors, they wouldn't have noticed. While the teacher told everyone to go out and buy a really good study Bible (ESV to be specific) after having everyone shake it in the air while he prayed, he put it on a shelf and it didn't come back out again. Last Wednesday, he did pull it out, but told people not to bother looking up the references he went through, that they could look them up later if they felt they needed to.
How many people do you think went home and dug into the Scripture to see if it actually said what he said it did? How many Bereans were out there?
Most would have accepted the teacher's pronouncements at face value, and any disagreements they had would have remained safely generic, unreferenced to any relevant Scriptures, and easy to dismiss as immaterial to his main points.
Second, without digging into the Scriptures, how do you know that these "higher truths" are actually truths? If you don't do your homework, and find out what the Bible really says, how can you tell when you are being mislead? The Bible itself tells us over and over again to test the spirits, to search the Scriptures, to verify teaching, all in order to separate good sound teaching from bad.
And when we find bad teaching, we are to avoid it; remove ourselves from it. When it is bad through error in knowledge or understanding, we correct the error in love. When it is deliberately bad, or deceptive, we remove ourselves from it.
The people of that church are being taught that true faith in God brings prosperity and happiness. What happens to that faith when prosperity and happiness do not follow? What happens when God asks us to give away our prosperity, strap on a cross, and die with Him? What happens when the world comes against us, strips us of our rights and citizenship, removes our ability to do business, own property, or takes our very lives? (If you think I'm exaggerating, that that level of religious persecution could never happen, just remember the Holocaust. Or pick up today's newspaper and look for stories about Christians in Asia or the Middle East. Tolerance is the exception, rather than the rule.) What happens to a prosperity based faith when prosperity goes away? What happens when the beast comes against us?
[13:1] And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads.  And the beast that I saw was like a leopard; its feet were like a bear's, and its mouth was like a lion's mouth. And to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority.  One of its heads seemed to have a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed, and the whole earth marveled as they followed the beast.  And they worshiped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?”
 And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months.  It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven.  Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation,
(Revelation 13:1-7 ESV)
Now a lot of folks believe in a pre-trib rapture, and say that when the beast gets here, we'll all be gone, but obviously somebody is here to be conquered by the beasts. Who are those saints? Possibly the church at Smyrna?
 “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life.
 “‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.  Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.
I don't know, but it is clear that there will be Christians who suffer under the beast, are defeated, and martyred.
 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne.  They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”  Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.
(Revelation 6:9-11 ESV)
 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?”  I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
(Revelation 7:13-14 ESV)
We know that bad times are coming for Christians. We know that we will face pain, heartache, torture, and some of us will be murdered for our faith. Our brothers and sisters in other countries are already facing these things. I assure you they are not prosperous, but their faith is still strong. If our faith is based on the belief that God will prosper us if we believe enough, then how strong will our faith be when we are tested? When that prosperity is taken away? How many of our brothers and sisters will fall to the beast before our own faith fails, and we begin to say "Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?" If hardship and troubles are satan's will opposing and defeating God's Will, then how can we ever hope to stand against the beast?
We can't. Our faith will fail. We will either believe that God is unable to protect us, or that we are unworthy of protection, and we will fall. That's what satan wants. That's all he wants. He wants to take us away from the God who loves us, who created us. And this doctrine of prosperity is one of his best tools yet. It's so attractive to believe that because God loves us that He wouldn't let anything bad happen to us. It's wonderful to believe in a God of Mercy and to forget that He is also a just God. It's easy to serve a master who takes care of your every physical want and need, and who assures you that your life will be comfortable as long as you believe.
But that's not the God of the Bible. When Jesus was crucified, he had twelve men who were his faithful followers. Which of them prospered in their lives? Which of them had material possessions, and good health, and freedom for worry, and safety, and freedom from persecution?
Not a single one.
God does bless us; there's no question about that, but we have to remember that God's blessings are a result of His Grace, not our works. We don't earn them; He gives them to suit His own purposes. There is no mystical prosperity formula, nor is there any guarantee that God will not remove the blessings He's given us, again to suit His own purposes.
I come back to Job again, for the perfect statement of our relationship to God.
 Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped.  And he said, “Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”
 In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.
(Job 1:20-22 ESV)
We are required to maintain our faith regardless of whether God prospers us or not. We are required to know that God loves us, and that the rewards He has for us in Heaven far outweigh any suffering here on earth. We're to keep our eyes on Heaven's reward, not material things. When Jesus taught us to pray, He didn't tell us to pray for security, prosperity, safety, or health, but to "give us this day our daily bread." Please Lord, give us what we need for today. That's all. Tomorrow I'll be back again to ask that you give me what I need to get through that day, but for today, all I ask is enough to get through the next 24 hours.
How many of us live like that? I know I don't, but I also know that I should.
In a way, the preacher was right, just not the way he intended. If we're worried or depressed, it is our fault, not because God promises to prosper us if we're faithful, but because God promises to reward us in Heaven if we're faithful. That's a hard lesson to learn and I've watched people very close to me struggle with it for a long time, and I'll admit that I struggled with it as well.
After the church staff member prayed over my nephew the Joel Osteen prayer, I turned to my nephew and told him my prayer for him. I prayed that his faith would be based not on the prosperity that God may choose to give him, but on the sure and certain belief that no matter what happens, God loves him. Come what may, wealth or poverty, security or danger, sickness or health, that he would remain faithful, knowing that God loves him, and that as long as we stay faithful, then no matter what happens, it is not a victory for evil, but a victory for God.
And right now, I pray that same prayer for every one of you who slogged through this long post. Whether you are a believer now or not, I pray that you know or come to know that God does love you, that He wants what's best for you, that no matter what happens here on earth, no matter how painful it is or how bad it looks to our limited eyes, that everything is working according to God's plan, for our good and His Glory.