“Peace if possible; truth at all costs.” -Martin Luther
“Dear Friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.” Jude 3
The Bible and historical evidence reveal that the greatest danger to the life and mission of the church comes not from the diabolical tyrants outside the church, but from deceitful teachers within the church. And, the target of those false teachers is always the purity and power of the gospel and the wall of faith that protects it.
If you look at Paul’s letters, you will see his consistent concern: It is the introductions of ideas or practices that add to, or take away, from essential Christ-glorifying truth that was once for all delivered to the Church. (Jude 3) In Romans he warns against those who “cause division and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teachings you have learned.” (Romans 16:17) In Corinthians, he deals with those who claim a secret knowledge that elevates them above the rest of the Church. (1 Corinthians 8:1-3). In Galatians, it is the perverting of the gospel by adding circumcision and asserting a “different gospel which is really no gospel at all.” (Galatians 1:6-7) In Colossians, he warns against those who deceive by “fine sounding arguments” (Colossians 1:25; 2:4,8) He warns Timothy of certain men who will introduce false doctrines. (1 Timothy 3). He warns Titus about those who are “teaching things they ought not to teach.” I think the point is made.
Today, the dangers are not just within America’s church. They are world-wide! Technology has enabled the most unbiblical practices and pernicious heresies to travel instantly around the world. We are personally engaged in this titanic struggle with gospel-denying, Christ-dishonoring and Scripture-twisting heresies in Malawi. There are two predominant “messengers of Satan:” The “Deliverance” movement and the “New Apostolic Reformation.” Both, twist scripture and use it out of context to justify a false gospel. They are a direct assault upon the Church and its faith. Only Scripture, preached, explained, repeated, and defended with all of the energy we can muster in the Spirit, will win this crucial battle. This is a battle for Christ and his Truth.
I was made aware of the practice of deliverance ministry in Africa by my students. They informed me that it was a common practice of the churches to have an altar call at the end of the service, where believers are invited to come forward to have spirits cast out of them- spirits of anger, lust, fear, etc. It is one of the key teachings of this movement that demons can possess bodies and control believers and relief can only found by being cast out by cultic practices. In spite of the fact that they cannot point to one believer in all of Scriptures who was possessed by demons; and cannot point to one epistle written by the apostles that contained any teaching that supports such a position, they boldly persist.
It was brought painfully home to our Action family, when one of our interns demonstrated she was a devotee to the deliverance ministry. While I was out of the country, she came down from the platform to pray for a young boy who had a withered arm and had mental issues. She proceeded to declare that his trouble was because of bitterness. Further, “Jesus told her,” that he had refused to forgive three persons. This unloving, insensitive and unbiblical act of deliverance was interrupted when one of our Action members refused to continue to interpret her words.
When I returned to Malawi from the US, I confronted her. I informed her that her actions were unacceptable. I then asked for her to defend her theology from Scripture. She came back with ten pages. I responded with seventeen. I found that her defense was filled with twisted scriptures, many taken out of context, unnatural interpretations with no clear teaching to back up her theology. Concerning her core position that believers could be demon possessed, I tried to show her that Ephesians 4:27 did not describe demonic control but influence. Her dependence upon the interpretation that “topos” (4:27) meant “stronghold,” in fact, in over 90 other places where it is found in Scripture it simply means “place.” No control. No possession. Just influence.
I could go into a greater detail on our discussions, but the key issue was that Scripture was sacrificed for an unbiblical ideology and practice. I am sure she did not come up with this on her own. I suspect she was mentored by a cult. But after being shown from scripture that Christ’s victory was complete for us, “For he has transferred us from the dominion of darkness into the kingdom of the Son… (Colossians 1:13); and, that Christ’s victory was a total and public beat down of the devil, “having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” (Colossians 2:15), she refused to submit to the clear teaching of the Bible. Reluctantly, although we all loved her, we had to let her go.
When I communicated with her sending organization, describing her unacceptable actions among my Malawian family; her insistence that believers can be demon possessed; her claims to have direct words from the Lord; her claim to be able to determine demonic presence; and even after sending her ten-page defense to them; the response I received was truly surprising. They determined it was just two believers who held differing views! Consequently, they went on to approve her for another mission in our organization.
With all the humility I can muster, I must confess, this is not about “differing views!” It is about the necessity, the authority, the clarity and the sufficiency of God’s Word. It is about the victory of Christ and the glory of His name and the confidence of every believer. It is about the gospel and maintaining its purity. It is about protecting a vulnerable African Church that needs to grounded in God’s holy truth, so that it can see and reject the deceitful doctrines that are being promoted by these false prophets.
The enemy is too clever to outright deny God’s Word. He chips at it. He twists it. He adds to it. He subtracts from it. If he can, he will try to get us to ignore it. He sends false prophets with deceptive heresies. They are wolves in sheep clothing. (Matthew 7:15) They look like us. They talk like us. They use scripture, like us. There may even be some who may not even know that they are being used as tools of the enemy, like the woman we had to confront. But, when false doctrines and unbiblical practices threaten the life and the mission of the Church, it does no good to dismiss the glaring misuse of God’s Holy Word as mere “differing views.” We have no choice! We must at every point and in every place, contend for the faith! Truth matters! This is God’s Word for heaven’s sake!