Wednesday, June 22, 2011

For Glenn Beck Fans

This is an article I ran across on the Berean Call website written by T.A. McMahon.

Beck's Bogus Beliefs
Glenn Beck, the television and radio talk show host who is best known for his conservative political views, isn't someone whom we would normally address in our newsletter. Our concerns are usually directed at individuals, programs, or organizations that promote spiritual or theological views contrary to the Word of God. Beck, of late, seems to be making himself at home in that realm, and he's attracting many who call themselves Bible-believing Christians.

His influence among evangelicals is rather odd and may say more about the state of evangelicalism than about Beck's engaging personality. His popularity is proof that there is very little discernment that's based on testing things by the Scriptures--a consequence, in part, of the Church Growth Movement. Marketing principles have become the rule and are being used to fill churches. Biblical doctrines, which convict, have been set aside in favor of psychotherapeutic sermonettes--something to keep the folks feeling good about themselves and coming back for more. There's no doubt that this trend has dumbed down much of the church and has done away with discernment to a great extent.

Anyone who proclaims the name of Jesus--even though his understanding of who that is may be far removed from the biblical Jesus--is nevertheless accepted as a brother in Christ. Conservativism, political or otherwise, is seen to be the glue of spiritual fellowship, and its characteristics have taken on scriptural status and a basis for kinship. I've been told that "Beck must be a Christian because he's all about turning our country back to its Christian roots." That's erroneous on at least two counts.

First of all, Glenn Beck is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He may refer to himself as a Christian, but he's certainly not a biblical Christian. The distinction is as wide as hell is from heaven: "Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God" (2 John:9). Mormon doctrine is "another gospel" that exalts "another Jesus." Both false beliefs came out of the deceived and deceiving mind of Joseph Smith. Secondly, "our country" doesn't have "Christian roots," even though some are claiming that our founding fathers were true Christians. Many were not biblical Christians but Christians in name only, who followed the faith of Deism, Masonry, and the philosophy of the Enlightenment. Any early influence in America's history of a biblical nature very likely came from the Pilgrims and the Puritans.

Since I spend very little time watching television or listening to radio programs, I wasn't familiar with Glenn Beck, other than seeing him by chance on Fox News. I found his Catholic background and his conversion to Mormonism rather curious, given my own Catholic upbringing and, years later, my writing for the film documentary The God Makers. What I know about the overwhelming fictional nature of the Book of Mormon had me wondering why Beck's work as a conservative political analyst didn't give him the ability to discern the blatantly erroneous teachings, practices, and historical claims of Mormonism. However, it wasn't until he was invited to speak at Liberty University's Commencement in 2010 (the largest evangelical college in the U.S.) that I was first made aware of his growing influence among evangelical Christians.

The rationale, I was told, for having him speak to the graduating class was that his conservative point of view was consistent with the school's philosophy, and his message was needed at a time when the Obama administration seemed to be pushing this country down a path of socialism. The fact that he is a Mormon was not a concern because his address would be of a political nature, not spiritual. I learned after the event that he rewrote his talk just before speaking because he felt compelled to address spiritual issues. He said that his invitation to speak was not an endorsement of his religion by the university. "[But although we have] differences...we need to find those things that unite us." His speech was infused with religious terms that would appear to bring people together--except for the fact that these terms have very different meanings for Mormons and evangelicals. He frequently referred to the power of the Atonement, to faith, to the gospel, to the Holy Spirit, to personal revelations from God. Does it matter that a Mormon has a completely different understanding of the Atonement and the gospel from what is taught in the Bible?

Beck said, "Turn to God and live." What God might that be? The Mormon one, who has a physical body and lives on a planet near a star called Kolob? Or the One who is spirit and exists outside His creation?

Beck exhorted his audience to seek the truth. But which God is true? He closed his speech by challenging these mostly evangelical graduates to "question everything, including everything I have just told you" and to "read the Scriptures every day...." Would these include Latter-day Saints' scriptures such as the Book of Mormon, The Doctrine & Covenants, and The Pearl of Great Price? What about "The Inspired Translation of the Bible," which Joseph Smith wrote to make sure that the Bible was "translated correctly"?

Beck's last words were greeted with a standing ovation from the faculty, the graduates, and their families and friends: "I leave these things with you in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Amen." Were they cheering wildly for the biblical Jesus...or for the Jesus Christ of Mormonism? The two couldn't be more dissimilar.

For those enamored with Glenn Beck and upset with my concerns about him, let's take him up on his challenge to question his words. Many of the thoughts in his Liberty University speech can be found in his new book titled The Seven Wonders That Will Change Your Life, which he co-authored with psychiatrist Keith Ablow. In it, Beck sets the record straight as to his understanding of Mormonism. That's important because I have heard all kinds of explanations--from his being naïve about the faith fabricated by Joseph Smith to his being led to biblical salvation through faith alone in Jesus Christ by various evangelical leaders who have appeared on his television and radio programs. Beck, however, dispels any and all speculation:
I read everything there was to read on [The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints'] websites and every word of Mormon Doctrine. I treated Mormonism as if it were a hostile witness. For a while I went to the anti-Mormon literature for hints, but I found most of it to be unfair or just plain wrong. I tried every trick I could think of to find a contradiction. The problem was that I couldn't. Mormonism seemed to explain the world and my place in it better than any other faith I had looked at. It answered many spiritual questions that had gone unanswered for me for my entire life. (Beck &Ablow, The Seven Wonders That Will Change Your Life, p.149)

In his Liberty University speech, which was often very emotional, he referred to the Old Testament book of Ezekiel and how he (Beck) felt that the call to be a "watchman," i.e., someone who stands guard to alert the people to the evil that could overtake them, was something God had put on his heart to do. It was his calling. If Beck's book is any indication of his "watchman" competency, he is either asleep at his post or has gone AWOL. Isaiah sets the criterion for God's watchman: "To the law and to the testimony [i.e., the Scriptures]: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them" (Isaiah 8:20). Does Beck speak according to God's Word? Even if one assumes that he is talking about the God of the Bible rather than the god of Mormonism, or what the Bible declares, it is clear by comparing his views with the teachings of the Bible that he's got them both wrong.

He and his psychiatrist co-author declare throughout their book that God is within everyone: "If God is everything and everywhere and inside everyone, then I figured He had to be inside me, too...." That is a foundational premise to most of what Beck presents. It is pantheism, a belief common to Hindus, Eastern mystics, and popular among New Agers.

The truth is that the God of the Bible is not part of His creation. He created everything out of nothing. If He were inseparable from His creation then He would be subject to the death and destruction that the universe is undergoing. That would deny His perfection.
The Word of God says that the born-again believer is indwelt by the Holy Spirit and that his body is the temple of God (Ephesians 1:13; 1 Corinthians 3:17). This is conditional, based upon faith in the biblical Jesus, and it involves God's taking up residence within the believer. God is not, nor does He become, a part of humanity.

If God were part of everyone and within everyone throughout all eternity (Beck &Ablow, Seven Wonders, p. 85), then He would be part of the evil makeup of every human. Of course, Beck and Ablow fervently deny that mankind is evil: "People are inherently good. Our souls are magnificent and capable of extraordinary performance" (p.165). That may make some "feel good about themselves," but it's contrary to numerous Scriptures that address the nature of man. The prophet Jeremiah tells us, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" (17:9), and Jesus said in Mark 10:18, "There is none good but one, that is, God."
That truth of the Bible poses a huge problem for psychiatrists and clinical psychologists, especially a Freudian psychotherapist like Keith Ablow. How so? He's in the business of facilitating a person's relief from the troublesome problems of living by helping him find his "true self, the really lovable and loving person you are at your core..." (Beck &Ablow, p. 185). The key to recovering the "real you," Ablow and Beck explain, involves a process of "digging up the painful parts of your life story..." (p. 107).

Nearly all psychotherapies assert that mankind's problems are caused by painful issues external to the person, such as emotional traumas, parental abuses, environmental conditions, a bad hair day, etc. Ablow tells us to "Accept that today's negative emotional and behavioral patterns are almost certainly connected to painful memories and unresolved conflicts in the past" (p. 131).
However, if it were acknowledged that the root of the problem is the innate evil within humanity (as the Bible declares, yet psychology denies), Ablow and his colleagues would be out of business. Just as a leopard can't change its spots, neither can the mental health practitioners do anything to change a person's sin nature. Only God can do that. Yet the charade in pursuit of the "higher self," "human potential," "self-discovery," and "the God-given reservoir of personal power inside you," (p. 50) continues to delude and deceive the masses.

Beck's description of his "life story," especially how he was led into Mormonism, is a reflection of what the pseudo-Christian cult is all about: it majors on the subjective and the experiential (e.g., a personal "burning in the bosom" experience from God). He believes that God guided him into the faith of Joseph Smith through a series of inexplicable events in his life. He says that God-ordained "coincidences," which he calls "bread crumbs," are available to help everyone "find their paths to embracing the truth" (p. 152). He and Ablow continually exalt the subjective and experiential through their promotion of "gut feelings," "intuition," "the third ear," and "the inner voice of truth inside us--the voice of God" (p. 265). They write, "Practice listening to your gut....In order to do this, you need to listen for inner voices inside you" (p. 274).

When discernment depends upon gut feelings and inner voices, it's a recipe for spiritual disaster: "And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness" (2 Corinthians 11:14-15). The Bible tells us to put no trust in subjective experiences but rather to trust in God's written Word: "If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:31-32). Jesus' prayer to His Father certifies how He wants believers in Him to know Him and the truth of His teachings: "Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth" (John 17:17).

Mormonism is rife with occult beliefs and practices, whether they be rituals taken from Masonic ceremonies to supposed communication with the deceased through baptism for the dead. This makes the Latter-day Saints extremely susceptible to demonic deception. Yet Glenn Beck seems to have added more false doctrine to an already bizarre belief system. He lauds the first-century heresy of gnosticism and gnostic books such as "The Gospel of Thomas"; he endorses communication through silent meditation ("Connect with the miracle of spirit, of God, that has lived inside you from long before you were born. You will be rewarded..." (p. 85); and he and Ablow espouse the Eastern mystical teaching of spiritual energy as an "immeasurable force that you can tap into to dramatically improve your existence....It is nothing less than your connection to God" (p. 113).

Lest someone object to one or another of the religious or psychological concepts Beck and Ablow are serving up, the two fall back on ecumenical pragmatism: "How can you begin to do this? Some people go to psychotherapists. Others go to pastoral counselors. Others begin to meditate. Still others start with twelve-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous or Al-Anon. Whatever works for you is what you should do, but we've developed a four-step plan to help you get under way."
Perhaps the reason I quote the following verse more than any other in my recent articles is because I see the church and its shepherds looking more and more to the ways of man rather than to the Word of God: "There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death" (Proverbs 14:12). Glenn Beck has no answers for those who are truly God's people. Nevertheless, I pray that he will come to the knowledge of the truth.

I also pray for greater discernment among those who claim to follow the biblical Jesus and the Word of God. Jesus declared to His disciples (which all true believers in Him are) that they were to "Take heed that no man deceive you" (Matthew 24:4). He was referring specifically to the last days, the time just prior to His return. It would be characterized by massive spiritual deception. For more than three decades Dave Hunt and I have been addressing the various elements the adversary of God has used to deceive the world and the church. Of late, our TBC articles have pointed out how the unifying beliefs that are common to diverse religious groups (and anti-religious groups!) are rallying them together with amazing speed. Their mission is fixed upon the earth as they unwittingly work toward building the kingdom of the Antichrist and his apostate religion.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Way Things Ought To Be

Rush Limbaugh wrote a book several years ago titled "The Way Things Ought To Be". The whole premise of the book was that this is how we should live life and operate as American citizens. These are the things that we should stop doing. These are the things that we should do, as Americans. As believers, there are some ways that things "ought to be" in our lives. We are called by Jesus to "take up our cross daily" and follow him. Take up your cross....

In Jesus' day, if you saw someone walking through the city carrying a cross, it meant one thing: that person was going to die.

So when Jesus said, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me" (Matthew 16:24), it meant that we are to die to ourselves. We are to deny ourselves. The word "deny" means to say no to. It means to put God's will and desires above our own. Selfish people will find this outrageous, even offensive, and will find following Jesus to be too hard, the cost too high.

Maybe that is why the church is so weak and anemic today: we don't know that much about cross-bearing. Maybe if Christians stopped trying to be so much like the world, the world would start wanting to be more like us! Are we really carrying our cross today? Are we really dying to ourselves? This is precisely what Jesus is calling us to do.

To deny ourselves and take up the cross means many things. It is as simple as reading your Bible when you get up in the morning. That is taking up the cross and denying yourself. It means praying. It means bowing your head over a meal and giving God thanks, even in a public place. It means speaking up for Jesus Christ, even when it is uncomfortable or a bit awkward. It means being regularly involved in the ministry and life of the church, maybe even a deeper level of commitment. It means giving of your finances to God. It means that in your marriage, you put the needs of your mate above your own. It means putting God first and yourself second.

Jesus said, "For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it" (Matthew 16:25). That is living life as it was meant to be lived. This is the way things ought to be. Are you in?


Just noticed a couple days ago that my blog has crossed the 25,000 hit mark. I'm excited to share my thoughts with those who will listen and I feel that God has called me to write some things here that will hopefully edify the body of Christ. I'm humbled to think of that many hits, but it goes to show how God can use anyone, anywhere, anytime. So I say "Go God!" and thanks for the support of the blog.

Keep the faith!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

What About Sunday School?

A friend in ministry called me to brag that they were cancelling Sunday School for good. I asked why and he gave me a short list of mediocre reasons, centering mostly on declining attendance and a lack of interest. I know that in recent years good ole Sunday School has take some hits with many churches choosing small groups over the medium groups of Sunday School. But should we do away with Sunday School altogether? Is it an archaic model for teaching God's Word? Do churches really need to teach and educate members in the Bible? What benefits does a good Sunday School program offer us today? After observing small groups for about 15 years now, I have come to the conclusion that while they may provide a sense of belonging and community, they do not teach scripture well. I cringe when I hear what passes for biblical knowledge at most churches. I would argue to keep that medium group known as Sunday School alive and well and here's some reasons why:

1) For bible teaching. No other venue in the church other than worship services is better set up to teach the Word of God. Bibles, a white board, some curriculum (if needed), and a fervor for learning the things of God make for a growth plan that other venues can't touch when it comes to Bible learning. This is a small enough group to ask questions, but medium enough to carry rich discussion of God's Word. A good teacher and your set for raising the bar against biblical illiteracy in your church.

2) Adult Sunday School classes are consistent. They meet in the same time in the same room every week. There's no question about whose house or which night or whether the group is taking off for spring break. They'll be there, even for a person who has missed a couple of weeks and might seem out of touch.

3) They extend belonging and increase the potential for outreach. As the leader of a Sunday School class, your goal is to see irregular attendees become regular. You call an absentee and tell them you missed them on Sunday. You visit a class member in the hospital even if they haven't attended for several weeks. You invite everyone on your roll to the next class social function, including those who show up sporadically. These tactics keep you in touch with folks who might never commit to a weekly small group but have the potential to be developed as more serious followers of Jesus. What better way can you imagine for reaching and keeping the marginally committed?

4) They have enough resources for significant ministry. Dynamic Sunday School classes support missionaries, encourage widows, help new mothers, remodel classrooms, and serve funeral dinners. Because they're larger than a small group, they can more easily raise funds or get up a work crew for any Christian service project that needs accomplished.

5) They develop new leaders. Teachers of midsized groups can recruit table leaders who meet with them during the week to plan the lesson together. Each person leads a different circle of attendees for a portion of the class discussion. Dynamic classes need someone to plan socials and someone to follow-up with absentees and guests. Each of these volunteers learns to lead as the teacher encourages and trains them.

There are many other things to consider with this. So many times "Sunday School" seems old school to people. Rename it "Adult Bible Fellowships" or "Adult Bible Studies". I know that it takes leaders, but imagine the influence. Well-trained leaders, new groups, new meeting places, and hard work are requirements for a successful small group ministry too. I think that churches need both. These is no easy way to reach the lost and disciple the saved, but some methods are more effective than others. A well-executed Sunday School ministry is one of them. My vote is rename and revamp Sunday School, but educate those people in the Word. Watch what God can do when His people are students of the Word.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Confusing Allegiance

This is an article that I had sent to me. The only identifier that I have for who wrote it is Tyler. He's obviously on a church staff somewhere. Interesting thoughts. We just dealt with a situation in the church recently that the staff has fondly labeled "Flag-gate". Ponder and feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts.

A few weeks ago a couple of concerned church members approached a minister on staff about the “shameful” state of the tattered American flag that flies near the entrance to the church building. They were kind enough to purchase a replacement, though they were not happy to see the flag in such disrepair.

Typically I would be oblivious to the whole situation, but the Senior Adults Minister asked me to help him change the flag. I am more than willing to help with chores here and there around the church, but this raised a theological dilemma. I have serious doubts that an American flag, or any nation’s flag for that matter, should be flown by a church.

The flag was going to go up anyway and the other pastor needed my help, so I consented. As we went about our work I was instructed that the flag cannot touch the ground lest it be defiled. I was also informed that the worn out flag would be given to some veterans to be “properly disposed of” – whatever that means. As we pulled down the old flag, carefully wrapping it up, I felt like I was doing something wrong.

I’ve been lambasted for opposing nationalism at a previous church so I was hesitant to say anything. With much trepidation, I casually began to talk about my issue with the flag flown by a church. It’s not that I’m anti-American. I cheer for America in the Olympics, eat apple pie and enjoy a good football game. I just don’t think the American flag has any place in the church. I would feel the same about an English, Chinese, Australian, or South African flag.

The problem is not separating Church and State. The idea of separating Church and State is an invention of the modern world. It assumes that the church does not have much to do with everyday life—a foreign concept to Jesus. My problem with flying an American flag is that it is a symbol of allegiance to a nation. The allegiance of believers belongs to God. St. John described the Roman Empire as a “beast” that blasphemes God and arrogantly demands allegiance that belongs to the Almighty (Rev 13:1-9). John reminds us that often nations compete for allegiance that belongs to God.

To my surprise the Senior’s Minister responded gracefully, “Well, I can certainly understand what you mean. I served a church that was near a military base once. They had difficulty distinguishing between God’s work and America.”

I was thankful for his response, but my dilemma is more significant. The Senior’s Minister reminded me that none of these concerned members would say that she actually worships America or that he would place his national allegiance before loyalty to God. Of course not, but sin is deceptive. I fear that we have already begun to worship America when we think the flag ought to be in a church. Why else place a symbol of allegiance in a place of worship?

Compare, for example, how we treat the American flag to the elements of the Eucharist – both symbols of allegiance to political entities. The flag cannot touch the ground and must be disposed of appropriately by its guardians. The bread of the body of Christ is thrown into the trash can in the kitchen along with dirty paper towels and rotten leftovers. The juice of his blood is poured down the drain along with soap suds and crumby remnants rinsed off plates and greasy pans. What does that say about our allegiance?

Yes, I have read Jesus’ response to the Pharisees’ loaded question about taxation (Mt 22:15-22 || Mk 12:13-17 || Lk 20.20-26). The crux of his response is the pithy statement, “Give back to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and the things of God to God” (Mt 22:21). However this passage might be interpreted, it is abundantly clear that Jesus is not suggesting that Caesar needs to be represented in worship. If anything, Jesus’ response prompts reflection about the limits of what ought to be given to Caesar in a world that belongs to God.