At the time of writing (in December 2012) I am 47 years old. I was raised by godly parents in a Christian family and I have been part of Reformed (Calvinist), Anglican, Pentecostal, Charismatic, Baptist and Church of Christ churches at various times in my life. Apart from reading the Bible often I have also read many Christian books by many different authors – and not only from our present age. Many have different views on things. I have also been a practitioner of the gospel – going out and planting churches in foreign nations through preaching the gospel. I have experience of many things – for example, miraculous healing and deliverance. On the basis of all this I say to you: trust God's Word, but do not be too eager to trust ANY preacher as if they had all the answers.
It is good to read the Bible. It is good to read different versions of the Bible, but especially New Testament versions based on the Textus Receptus (or better still, in my view, the Majority Text). It is good to study and learn the meaning of words so that you know what the Bible is actually saying. But do not trust any man absolutely, as if he can do or say no wrong. And what I am saying goes for women leaders too, if indeed such be biblical.
It is good to read and hear the Word of God. It is even better to actually do what it says. James the apostle said:
"But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves." (James 1:22)
Do not think that HEARING is enough. It isn't. God expects you to have the kind of faith that goes into action. A passive faith that is merely intellectual is NOT saving faith. James said in chapter 2 of his letter:
"What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? … You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only."
This is a whole area where many are deceived. I don't know how PLAINLY the Bible has to say it before people will take it seriously.
Is there Safety in Numbers?
Do not think that because you are part of a church with 50 members you love who more or less think like you do in matters of life and theology that you have an adequate grasp on the truth or on God's intentions. That has nothing to do with it. People are like sheep and feel safe in the flock, but not all shepherds are serving Jesus Christ – and Jesus told us it would be that way. Jesus made it clear that many people are going to follow false prophets in the Last Days. (Incidentally, do you believe we are living in those last days? I do.)
Even if your church has 10,000 members do not assume your leader is walking on the right path, teaching the right thing and training you in all you need to believe and know. There are many megachurches within Christendom that teach different things. For example, Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Washington state teaches Calvinism and teaches that oral sex is something you should do in marriage. He doesn't emphasise speaking in tongues or encourage it. Hillsong Church based in Australia accepts tongues and believes somewhat in the practice of spiritual gifts, does not believe in Calvinism, does believe in Rock and Roll and collaborates sometimes with the Roman Catholic Church. It celebrates worldly performers like Guy Sebastian and so on who make a profession of Christianity, and gives them the limelight. Joel Osteen has a huge megachurch and he refuses to say if God is going to judge homosexuality or if people who do not believe in the name of Jesus will be lost. Joseph Prince's New Creation Church teaches that repentance is not necessary to enter Life. Four different megachurches with three different approaches to doctrine and ministry. They can't all be right on everything, because they contradict each other. Just because they know that TALKING ABOUT IT doesn't attract followers as well as building their own Corporate Brand does not mean that the differences are not serious. And if YOU belong to any of these churches, the feeling of safety you may have by being part of a large, successful and growing movement might not be justified. You might be missing the will of God for your life. It is possible that you are being misled somewhere. This is not to say these churches mentioned are all no good. In fact you might be extremely edified in some of them, in different ways, and on different levels. But do not worship the ground their leaders walk on. Only a fool would do that – but there are many such fools in the world today.
Are you impressed by the size of your church? Or by the size of a man's television audience? The Roman Catholic church has a bigger church, with more money, more schools and more influence in the world's affairs. Does that make it right? Some think it might, and so they forsake the teaching of the Word of God and go off to follow the mixture of fables and Scriptural traditions that you will find in that huge religious system – which some of its OWN well-informed members admit is compromised by Satanism at the highest levels!! I hope you can see that safety is in humbly submitting to God's Word and God's spirit, not in revering men and powerful institutions.
Jesus gave us lots of teachings in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. They aren't optional teachings, but many Bible teachers dismember the Word of God in such a way as to imply that they are not a core part of Christian doctrine. The subtle and often unspoken communication is that Jesus Christ doesn't really expect us to live as if His words in the gospels were commandments to be trusted and OBEYED. Someone might think that to suggest they are is legalism. Remember that Paul said he was not without law, but under the law of Christ. Remember that Peter talked about the commandments of our Savior Jesus Christ. Do not let people deceive you with little phrases, cliches and unproven assertions. When you read the Bible, the idea is to know what it is actually talking about when it uses certain words. Yes, you will never be able to live the Christian life in your own strength. However, God commands you to be strong IN THE LORD and in the POWER of HIS might. (Ephesians 6:10). That puts an entirely different light on everything.
Do Pentecostals and Charismatics have all the Answers?
I am saying that NO ONE on earth has all the answers except the Holy Spirit, and HE isn't sharing everything about everything all the time. Jesus said the Holy Spirit would GUIDE us into all truth. But a lot of times He stops guiding people who are disobedient and do not have a LOVE for the truth.
For reasons explained elsewhere on this site, I believe in the core Pentecostal message – that the spiritual gifts in the New Testament still validly operate today according to the Word of God if we have faith for them. But this doesn't mean we are safe if we are in such a church. The early church started in pure apostolic power and somehow degenerated into the Roman and/or Orthodox variety of dead ritualistic religion that we see today. Deception is always possible, even in true churches where the power of God is moving – and this happened in the early church too, according to the testimony of Jesus and the apostles. So we must not be arrogant. We need to remain in the fear of God no matter WHAT wonderful things God is doing and has done for us.
Spiritual gifts can be faked, sometimes quite impressively, and they can sometimes also operate through people who are teaching false doctrines. I know some people will find that hard to swallow, but it is a fact. The gifts and callings of God are without repentance.
Some preachers are money hungry, and what they really want is to live a life of luxury and honor without getting their hands dirty caring for people. Many televangelists today are now in this category. Some I believe are outright frauds, others probably have allegiances and backing by the Freemasons and other powerful occult groups in this dark present age. Some have sold out and compromised for money and influence. Do not trust preachers like this. Do not share in their evil deeds and their deceptions by sending them money. Don't be lazy. Get away from the hero-worship mentality and do some hard research. But then again, don't believe everything you read from those who seek to exposes such preachers. Test all things against the word of God. Don't test them against the sayings and doctrines of another preacher, such as John Calvin, Augustine or their modern disciples today.
In eternity many charismatics and pentecostals are going to be surprised at how deceived they were concerning certain individuals who they thought were amongst God's elite "anointed" ones. This doesn't mean that the core pentecostal message is false, or that Jesus changed his ways after the last of the twelve apostles died. But it does mean that people are going to pay a heavy price for departing from the exhortations of the Word of God, especially chapters like 2 Peter 2 and the Book of Jude, which I believe you will NEVER hear preached on major "Christian" television networks – because doing so would seriously undermine their business model.
God wants us simply to RETURN TO HIS WORD and quit the hero-worship of preachers. He also wants us to abandon the motivation of being a hero-worshiped minister of the gospel. He wants us to TRULY seek His glory and NOT our own. This has to be seen by our actions and demeanour, not merely by our words. Its not good to piously say in front of screaming fans "All glory to Jesus". If people are starting to scream your praises, or revere you excessively, and you don't set them straight IMMEDIATELY as Paul and Barnabas did in Acts 14, you have already departed from the principle of giving glory to God alone. You have forgotten that without Him you really are NOTHING except a dirty, rotten sinner. Someone who without the grace of God would be a lusting, deceptive, proud, hateful, envying, greedy hyprocrite. This is you and me without the transforming grace and Word of God.
So stop worshiping men. Stop assuming that your favorite Christian leader of today can do no wrong. Be so immersed in the Word of God that you can spot deception when it issues from the mouths of one these guys. But be a doer of the Word, and do not assume the worst about everyone either. Just remember that "we all stumble in many ways" as James says, but this does not mean that we are content to live in error. Be committed to other Christians in fellowship and to Christian leaders in ministry but not to the extent that you refuse to "test all things". There is a price to pay in the last days if you want to be a lover of truth, but there is no other way to "make your calling and election sure". I leave you now with the words of Paul in 2 Thessalonians chapter 2.
The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, 10 and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
May the Lord bless you and keep you and make His face to shine upon you, and give you peace. Amen.