by Sandy Simpson
Sept 18, 2015
I am writing this article to address a subject that I have often observed. It is the fact that if you do not get the leaven out of your church the leaven will become the leadership.
The Bible teaches quite clearly that if you let the leaven in you will leaven the whole lump.
Galatians 5:9 A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough.
We see this often in the case of many “Christian” movements that have allowed a small error to exist in their churches and have not dealt with those issues. It then ends up metastasizing into worse and worse problems as time goes by. Some cases in point:
The Third Wave
In the 1950s and 60s there was a movement, especially in Germany and in other parts of Europe, more so than in America, for evangelical biblical Christians to distance themselves from churches that taught that you have to speak in tongues to prove you have the Holy Spirit or that the Holy Spirit would cause you to speak in tongues as a proof of the indwelling Spirit. Many evangelical Biblical churches saw that as being antithetical to what the Bible says because the Bible is quite clear that not everyone has the same gifts.
1 Corinthians 12:30 All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they?
The proof of the fruit of the Spirit, the evidence of the Spirit, is more importantly involved with morality and Christ-like character than it is with signs and wonders. So when you want to test anyone to see if they are truly Spirit-filled believers then you need to primarily test them for the fruit of the Spirit first and then, of course, the gifts of the Spirit.
Galatians 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
But the gifts of the Spirit can vary and often certain gifts of the Spirit are overlooked in favor of others, especially in Pentecostal churches, by those who want to test to see if a person is Spirit-filled. Many European churches recognized early on these issues and distanced themselves from them. But also many evangelical churches backed off and allowed Pentecostals to define pneumatology which turned out to be a mistake. Biblical Christians rejected the idea that the initial sign of the Spirit is tongues but they did not challenge that notion with doctrinal papers on the errors of Pentecostal pneumatology. Because they only distanced themselves from these teachings without challenging them from the Bible they inadvertently allowed error to grow in the Pentecostal and charismatic movements. Instead of clearly defining the position of the Bible on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, they either taught that the Holy Spirit was the “silent” member of the Trinity or that the gifts of the Spirit no longer existed past the first century church. Both of those reactions also had serious side effects.
What should have been done would have been for Biblical churches to agree to a position paper on pneumatology just as they had previously agreed to the core doctrines of the Church as laid out in the book series "The Fundamentals" edited by R.A. Torrey with contributors such as H.A. Ironside and C.I. Scofield. In 1909, God led two Christian laymen to set aside a large sum of money for issuing twelve volumes which would set forth the fundamentals of the Christian faith. These were called The Fundamentals, and consisted of messages written by well-known defenders of the faith from several different denominations. These twelve volumes of The Fundamentals were mailed free to over 300,000 ministers, missionaries and other Christian workers in different parts of the world. The response was far beyond any expectation. The Bible Institute of Los Angeles (BIOLA) through its publication, The King's Business, printed additional copies to meet the demand and finally combined the volumes into a four volume set which was also widely circulated. It was written as a defense of the Christian faith against liberalism, but holds true today in serving as a helpful aid in distinguishing heresy from truth.
Many churches agreed that the core doctrines as laid out in this series of books were doctrines that are essential to the Christian faith and must not be compromised. Of course pneumatology was not included as a core doctrine which is correct. It is an important doctrine but one on which Christians can and do have some disagreement. But little did they know that pneumatology would rise up to be a defining issue and well beyond a debatable issue in the Third Wave. In fact it has become one of the most divisive issues in the Church today.
So what started out as a somewhat innocuous error of people in Pentecostal churches feeling like they had to “speak in tongues” (most of the time not real tongues but babble because due to peer pressure) in order to fit in became the source of more serious error. As that practice became commonplace and, since tongues were not being used scripturally, it naturally began to be upstaged with more and more exciting “signs and wonders” also used to allegedly prove a person is Spirit-filled. As they reached out for more mystical, experiential practices they discovered more of the Latter Rain which some had already been introduced to through the Azusa Street “revival” and ministries of people like William Branham. The teaching then became a matter of “obtaining” the Holy Spirit as Joyce Meyer recently reiterated, obtaining tongues, obtaining the “anointing” which translates to getting “it” from another person or what is called the “transferable impartation”. This is accomplished, according to Latter Rain proponents, “by” the laying on of hands, “by” the will of man. In other words a person can press the Holy Spirit into people’s foreheads or throw Him across the room as many have seen Benny Hinn do. This was a further departure from the truth of Scripture regarding the laying on of hands, which Biblically was done in agreement with the will of God. If a person was filled (not baptized) with the Holy Spirit at the laying on of hands, the words used in those instances were not “by” but “at” or “through” indicating that anything that happened from God was from Him alone. Something to remember is that the filling of the Holy Spirit is not only accomplished at the laying on of hands but sovereignly without that act as well as evidenced in the Bible. As these ideas further infiltrated the churches those practicing them became even further influenced by the Latter Rain and began to introduce manifestations which were brought in from the occult in order to justify their warped ideas of Spirit filling. One of those occult practices was what they called “slain in the spirit” credited by them as what happened to John when he saw Jesus in His glorified body and was given the Revelation. But John was not knocked down backwards by some power fell down as if dead in fear, reverence and awe in the presence of the glorified Christ. Slain the spirit is no different than the occult practice in Hinduism of “shaktipat” in which people are laid hands on and they fall backwards into a trance, speak in tongues, and many other manifestation that are demonic in nature.
These new practices from the occult then became part and parcel of Pentecostal churches, so much so that those involved could no longer distinguish the difference between their old denominations and the new cults they had become. They joined the Latter Rain churches in the Third Wave and New Apostolic Reformation. They began to teach and promote that there is an impartation from God that you can receive from others and pass along, even though that practice is prohibited both in the Old Testament (Ex. 30:32) and in the New (Acts 8:9-25). Simon the Sorcerer mistook the laying on of hands as a magic trick or ability that would be bought and learned. But the disciples were clear that it was not something they could teach or was from them.
This is one example of how a smaller error can become a gigantic one, and basically bring churches into heresy because it becomes a denial of the character and working of the true Holy Spirit, as well as adding works required to prove salvation which is actually by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
I remember back to the 1950s and 60s that a lot of Christians criticized European churches and missions for making the mandatory speaking in tongues a divisive issue. Mission organizations from Europe would not allow people who wanted to become missionaries to even teach on speaking in tongues or claim that they spoke in tongues. At that time I also thought this was rather harsh. But now when I look back I see the validity of their concerns because that erroneous practice resulted in the openness of Pentecostals to embrace further forms of heresy. Demand for Christians to all speak in tongues was followed by dropping the requirement to have interpretation, then tongues became a free for all and people began to utter things that were in no way any language, or perhaps even driven by another spirit. Once they were opened to mistaking the false from the true they then became open to further ecstatic experiences and desired more as they became bored with tongues alone. So, as it turns out, those who opposed the unbiblical use of “tongues” were correct in making this a defining issue because error needs to be rooted out of good churches or else it can and will start to grow into further problems. Those problems have names today. They are the Latter Rain, Third Wave, New Apostolic Reformation, Word of Faith and the Emerging Church. Not only did these errors open people to the heresies of the Latter Rain and Word of Faith, they also opened them up to the heresies of Christian liberalism in the World Council of Churches, United Church of Christ, United Methodists, Friends, etc.
Snake Handling Cults
There are many examples in Scripture of when certain verses are taken out of context and amplified to doctrinal positions; you can end up in utter heresy and cultism. The book of Acts, for instance, is an account of when the Gospel was first preached to the Gentiles and the Holy Spirit was first given to those who are born again. The miraculous things that happened we must not expect to be normative in the churches, such as going out and handling snakes or drinking poison on purpose. We must rely on the Lord to do what He wills, not start snake handling cults. Snake handling churches use the following verses as their justification:
Mark 16:18 they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”
Acts 28:1-6 Once safely on shore, we found out that the island was called Malta. The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold. Paul gathered a pile of brushwood and, as he put it on the fire, a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand. When the islanders saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to each other, “This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea, the goddess Justice has not allowed him to live.” But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects. The people expected him to swell up or suddenly fall dead; but after waiting a long time and seeing nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god.
From these verses groups formed snake handling cults even though the Lord says that he must not be tested.
Matthew 4:7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
They even forgot to heed the warning to Israel to not test the Lord, or they may be killed by snakes.
1 Corinthians 10:9 We should not test Christ, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes.
They even claimed that if you could not do this you were not filled with the Holy Spirit and not saved. The Lord can save us from poison or snakes, but He does not do that as a result of a test we are putting on Him but as a result of us being His children. This can result in a testimony before an unbelieving world, but God deserves all the glory. When you put God to the test by, for instance, handling snakes, you are trying to share the glory with God and He does not allow that. Sometimes God will put believers to the test, or allow the enemy to do so in order to strengthen their faith. Sometimes He will heal people in order to give them a chance to believe in Him, or in casting out of demons.
So we have many examples of people taking one or two little things out of their Biblical context and making cults out of them. There is the famous example of this practice if you take two unrelated verses out of context:
Matthew 27:5b … and (Judas) went and hanged himself.
Luke 10:37b … Go, and do thou likewise.
You can then make a suicide cult. This is an example of what some people have actually done. Jim Jones in effect told his followers they would not die but “step over into another plane” at the Johnstown Massacre.
Later that same day, 909 inhabitants of Jonestown, 304 of them children, died of apparent cyanide poisoning, mostly in and around the settlement's main pavilion. This resulted in the greatest single loss of American civilian life in a deliberate act until the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The FBI later recovered a 45-minute audio recording of the suicide in progress. On that tape, Jones tells Temple members that the Soviet Union, with whom the Temple had been negotiating a potential exodus for months, would not take them after the airstrip murders. The reason given by Jones to commit suicide was consistent with his previously stated conspiracy theories of intelligence organizations allegedly conspiring against the Temple, that men would "parachute in here on us," "shoot some of our innocent babies" and "they'll torture our children, they'll torture some of our people here, they'll torture our seniors." Parroting Jones' prior statements that hostile forces would convert captured children to fascism, one temple member states "the ones that they take captured, they're gonna just let them grow up and be dummies." Given that reasoning, Jones and several members argued that the group should commit "revolutionary suicide" by drinking cyanide-laced grape-flavored Flavor Aid. Later-released Temple films show Jones opening a storage container full of Kool-Aid in large quantities. However, empty packets of grape Flavor Aid found on the scene show that this is what was used to mix the solution along with a sedative. One member, Christine Miller, dissents toward the beginning of the tape. When members apparently cried, Jones counseled, "Stop these hysterics. This is not the way for people who are socialists or communists to die. No way for us to die. We must die with some dignity." Jones can be heard saying, "Don't be afraid to die," that death is "just stepping over into another plane" and that it's "a friend.” At the end of the tape, Jones concludes: "We didn't commit suicide; we committed an act of revolutionary suicide protesting the conditions of an inhumane world.” (Jim Jones, "Transcript of Recovered FBI tape Q 42." Alternative Considerations of Jonestown and Peoples Temple. Jonestown Project: San Diego State University.
Since they murdered themselves, and the Bible says that all unrepentant murderers end up in hell (Rev. 21:8), then they truly did step over into another plane; that of Hades awaiting judgment. They were all being unfaithful to the Lord, taking the Word out of context and testing God.
Now we see many other denominations falling away, going into apostasy, because they started with some smaller errors and now because of those errors have left themselves open to false teaching. One is the example of Darby who was the father of Pretribulational Rapture teaching. He ended up being rejected by the Biblical scholars of the time such as H.A. Ironside and D.L. Moody because he had started an exclusive cult which became the Closed Brethren, taught infant regenerational water baptism, etc. Now a number of denominations, though largely unaware of the extent to which Darby’s followers went, have elevated Pretribulational Rapture to the level of a core doctrine by putting it in their statements of faith, thus dismissing anyone who has a different view of the Rapture. But the timing of the Rapture is a legitimately debatable subject amongst Christians and is not a core doctrine. When you make that a requirement to be a true believer or part of a church doctrinal statement then you become cultic yourself. Back in the early 70s I was helped by some debates I heard between Pretrib and Posttrib proponents. It helped me to realize that both sides have legitimate arguments and that we need to be careful not to disfellowship people for having differing views of Pre-Millennial eschatology. Both of those views, for instance, have a different way of interpreting the phrase “keep from” in the Bible … one side saying that they believe is means God will take people out before the Tribulation and the other meaning God will keep Christians safe from the wrath of God through the Tribulation.
If an organization is teaching Preterism, Postmillennialism, Amillennialism or Dominionism that would be a legitimate issue to separate over, but those who are teaching the Truth need not separate over Premillennial views of the time of the Rapture. As long as you teach that Jesus Christ will return to earth bodily to rule and judge and that He will come for His elect, whether in a Rapture or in the Second Coming, as PostTribs combine the event, then you can debate the timing of His taking the church to Himself. Now I have my own view of the coming of the Lord Jesus for His Church which is called Intratrib or Intraseal … that He comes for His Church between the 6th and 7th seal. But I will not disfellowship fellow believers if they happen to think differently on this and can, at least somewhat substantiate their belief. I would advise anyone interested in Intratrib to read Jacob Prasch’s book “Harpazo”. But some denominations have made Pretrib such a big issue that they will not even debate about it and immediately vilify anyone who disagrees. This became very apparent when Prasch released his book. He lost a lot of friends over it. That is a cultic practice.
When something becomes such a part of the fabric of your belief system and is not a core doctrine, you had better test yourself to see if you are becoming cultic when you disfellowship over non-core issues. The problem is that many Christians have no clue what is core and what is not. There are five core doctrines that must not be given away as Christians and over which we do disfellowship.
- The Trinity: God is one "What" and three "Whos" with each "Who" possessing all the attributes of Deity and personality.
- The Person of Jesus Christ: Jesus is 100% God and 100% man for all eternity.
- The Second Coming: Jesus Christ is coming bodily to earth to rule and judge.
- Salvation: It is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
- The Scripture: It is entirely inerrant and sufficient for all Christian life. (http://www.deceptioninthechurch.com/5doctrines.html)
Number 3 above is why Premillennial believers need to stick together because in Postmillennialism and Amillennialism you don’t have Christ coming back to RULE on earth, in Preterism He has allegedly already done so and in Dominionism He rules spiritually through His Church which is to take over everything on earth before the Second Coming, sans Rapture. So if you are going to be out of fellowship with people that should be done on the basis of the core doctrines, not secondary debatable ones.
The problem with Amill in particular is that they come to their eschatology by allegorizing Scriptures like 2 Peter 3:8 to try to make the references to 1000 years in Revelation 20:2-4 allegorical or of some nebulous time period that does not equal a Millennium of time. But that verse in 2 Peter is explaining what it is like for God who is outside of time and space, not explaining a literal meaning of 1000 years. As stated before, when you start with a smaller error you end up in bigger ones. Most Amills I know often move on to allegorizing Genesis and do not believe in a 24 hour creation day. They make that well-defined “day” out to be any amount of time to try to bring it into line with evolutionary science, this idea being called “Theistic Evolution”. They use the wrong excuse that a “day” can be anything in Scripture as in “the day of the Lord”. But “the day of the Lord” is talking about a general time period whereas the “days” of Creation are defined as 24 hour days.
Genesis 1:5 God called the light day, and the darkness He called night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.
The next step which I have seen among Reformed Theology adherents is that you end up with a low view of Scripture, not really believing in inerrancy. But God said some things about His Word that ought to give those who have a low view of Scripture pause.
Psalm 119:160 The sum of Your word is truth, And every one of Your righteous ordinances is everlasting.
Psalm 138:2 I will worship toward thy holy temple, and praise thy name for thy lovingkindness and for thy truth: for thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name.
Are there various minor mistranslations in English and other languages in the Bibles today? Yes. Were there errors in the original manuscripts which no longer exist? No. Do the less than 1% of errors in Bibles today compromise core doctrinal issues? No. Can you get the Truth from good English translations? Absolutely. Translation is not an exact science. It is very difficult to boil down the meaning of many Hebrew words to one English equivalent. It is also very hard to translate Greek word for word. But we have many shining examples of great English translations today such as the NASB, the NKJV, the KJV, the RSV and the NET. There are also bad translations out there by cults and even non-translation “commentaries” such as the Message Bible which should be avoided at all costs. But we do have God’s Word preserved for us down through the centuries in many languages around the world.
The last step for Amills is to finally disregard Scripture as the Christian’s highest authority in all matters of faith and practice. I have seen this happen although it has not happened to all Reformed people yet. But many are well on their way. The Catholics are already there and certainly the pope. The RCC is a perfect example of leaven growing into a loaf that is rotten to the core.
You can start with small errors and it always becomes worse the longer it is allowed to fester. You can even end up in denial of one or more of the core doctrines of the Faith, which destroys true Faith and without repentance can cause a person to apostatize. False ideas do not get better with time but worse. The only cure is a radical surgery to remove the offending bits so that the body can be healthy. Things do not get better on their own when left alone but need to be corrected. The Bible says to get the leaven out (1 Cor. 5:7). It says to disfellowship the sinful unrepentant man (1 Cor. 5:5). It says to stay away from false prophets and false teachers (Rom. 16:17). Yet unfortunately it has become politically incorrect in our modern churches to follow what the Bible says in these matters. Therefore these errors are compounding on themselves and we’re ending up with a large segment of Christianity which is into a counterfeit Christianity of their own making, into a type of cultism because of this lack of obedience to the Lord. The problem is that they think they are fine because no one has the fortitude to challenge them about their lack of action against internal error. Oh, they are quick to point out the error of cults but they absolutely rebel if you point out error in their little church. They say “Oh, its fine. We’ll be ok. We’re teaching the Bible”, etc. But they refuse to acknowledge that they are teaching the Bible is a wrong way, picking and choosing what they will follow and what they will ignore.
I have a problem with the way Pretribulational Rapture is being taught today. I don’t have a problem with it being taught, I have a problem with things like “Don’t worry you won’t see the antichrist” or “you won’t be here for any hard times” being taught. I believe, no matter where you place the Rapture in the scope of the end times, that you need to present two things: (1) People need to be ready for Christ to come back at any time, in particular on a personal level as God can end your life anytime and (2) be ready to stand up for the Gospel and the Faith under persecution. Those things are happening now for many around the world and can happen for any Christian any time. The idea of a Pretrib Rapture is actually a very popular modern view and fits our American sensibilities very well … that somehow we are a privileged generation that will always be blessed and never have to go through hard times. But that has never been the case in the history of the Church, only the delusion of Laodicea that they (and we by extension) are rich and have need for nothing, when in fact we are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. This is why Word of Faith and Prosperity Gospel teachings are doctrines of demons.
Another pet peeve of mine is listening to five-point Calvinists say things like “you don’t have to believe to be saved, God will just cause you to believe” or “if you are a Christian and you commit suicide you will still go to heaven (this is what Charles Stanley said on a radio program)” or “you can take the mark of the Beast and repent at the last moment and still go to heaven (this is what John MacArthur said in a message)”. These are ridiculous and foolish ideas. The Bible is clear that you must believe to be saved (after hearing the Gospel and being convicted by the Holy Spirit - Acts 16:31). God is not going to believe for you nor will He go against His Word (2 Pet. 3:9) by sending some to heaven and some to hell based on a choice He made in eternity. It is rather based on His foreknowledge (Rom. 8:29) of whether or not a person will believe when they are convicted of sin by the Holy Spirit. You cannot murder yourself and expect to be in heaven (Rev. 21:8) and taking the mark of the Beast will send you to hell along with the Antichrist and False Prophet (Rev. 14:11). Arminianism, on the other hand, teaches that man is not completely fallen or sinful, that man does not have a sin nature contrary to Scripture (Rom. 7:18 & 25). The Bible says we are desperately wicked (Jer. 17:9) and that all men have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23, 5:12). If you subscribe to either five-point Calvinism or five-point Arminianism you are going to be in error because there are points in both that are incorrect or only partly correct. So when you drift over into the full belief in either system, systems that are of man and do not entirely follow the Scripture, you are going to begin to have your belief system corrupted little by little. Pretty soon you will end up teaching false teaching that is dangerous to the beliefs of Christians who can end up believing in vain (1 Cor. 15:2).
There are many errors in Christian churches that were left to grow into major problems. It use to be a problem mainly for cults which would start following certain Scriptures taken out of context or some person who brings “new revelation”. But now “new revelation” is happening in what used to be evangelical Biblical churches, so much so that even the word “evangelical” has been co-opted by heretics and can no longer be used in reference to Bible-believing Christ-centered churches. When I look at how many Protestant denominations are getting together with Roman Catholics and the pope these days it is a symptom of a long festering problem of interfaithism, inclusivism, pluralism and ecumenism that have crept into churches and now, like the proverbial frog in a pot of water brought slowly to a boil, they don’t even realize they are right in the middle of apostasy. They used to recognize that you can’t do ministry, in particular evangelism, with an organization like the RCC that teaches works salvation and is in denial of the core doctrine of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone and at least one other core doctrine in adding tradition on the same level as the written Word. The RCC has never been able to accept the definition of salvation in the “solas” because they cannot say that salvation is by grace alone. So “evangelicals” who don’t know their Bible have not gotten together with them and signed off on a statement that reads: “Salvation is by grace through faith in Christ”. So everyone, enamored with people like Joel Osteen, Rick Warren, Chuck Colson and others, line up like lemmings and head for the cliff of compromise. Christians can agree with Catholics on some social issues, but not on ministry and evangelism. But even on social issues we do not agree with their policy of priests and nuns not marrying because the Bible clearly teaches that the overseers of the churches should be married (1 Tim. 3:2). When you start with the error of pluralism you end up mixing everything together in one big pot and creating a new one world religion. This is what is going on today and we are well on our way to what the Bible predicted would happen in the end times. We are not going to see a worldwide revival but rather a worldwide apostasy in the churches. There may be a worldwide revival, but it is a revival of demonic religions from the past and occultism. With the “new revelation” of Dominionism, the teaching that the Church must take over the governments and every aspect of the world in order for Christ to return, you have the full fledged fulfillment of the passage on the woman who rides the beast (Rev. 17:3 & 7).
Small errors ALWAYS develop into larger errors if unchecked. Small errors don’t go away by themselves. They have to be dealt with and abandoned. They have to be repented of. They have to be extricated, removed by precise surgery, from the Body of Christ, and from the local church in order that the local church can survive. This was the case with the man Paul told the Corinthians to excommunicate for committing incest. This was done so that the man might be brought to his lowest point by Satan and that he might possibly repent and turn, which he in fact did. But if he had been left in that church that sin would have become commonplace and all kinds of sexual sins follow. We see this happening in a number of churches today. The leadership gets people all riled up on “slain in the spirit”, appealing to the flesh, and gets them hooked. Once they are an addict, if they cannot get another fix, they go searching for alternatives which almost always involve sex, drugs, alcohol, perversions, and adultery. I know someone who works in a garment factory and she could not believe how women, who were allegedly Christians and choir members, talk about the most base sexual details of their lives in front of everyone. They have been misled by the enemy and yet they still think they are true Christians. They have been fooled into substituting spiritual things for soulical things.
The problems in Christendom today are there because discernment has not been taught. People are left with milk only and never move on to meat. They never have to use their own brains or discern what is right or wrong. This is a failure of the leadership. Any church that teaches verse by verse with correct interpretation will cover everything a Christian needs for life and practice. But this is not generally being done. Rebuke is seen as an evil, ugly thing instead of remaining open to the voice of the Spirit through the Word. Christians cannot just “proclaim” and “think positively” out of these problems. They need to study the Word of God and allow the Holy Spirit to show them their errors. We are all sinners saved by grace and we all need our Father to teach us and discipline us when needed. None of us are perfect, none of us have arrived. So let’s admit we have some major problems and begin the process of dealing with them.