Category Archives: Christianity Questions

Questions about Christianity: Who Are the Free Will Baptists, and What Do They Believe?

 

The Free Will Baptists are one of many denominations within the widely varied Baptist realm. They are organized under the National Association of Free Will Baptists, or NAFWB, an association of autonomous local churches in regional, state, and national fellowships. Each church is governed in a congregational style, meaning the entire membership votes democratically on nearly all decisions the church makes.

As their name indicates, Free Will Baptists teach a strong Arminian theology, which holds neither to predestination nor to an unconditional assurance of the perseverance of believers in their faith. As Baptists, they believe in believer’s baptism by immersion. Their understanding of God, the Trinity, salvation, and the Bible are all congruent with common Protestant teachings. One distinctive in the practice of all NAFWB churches is that they practice foot washing as a required ordinance of the church, alongside baptism and communion.

Aside from their practice of foot washing, Freewill Baptist churches represent fairly standard, conservative Baptist churches, with an Arminian point of view.[1]

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Christianity: Who Are the Gideons International, and What Do They Believe?

 

The Gideons International is an association of Christian business and professional men who are dedicated to distributing God’s Word around the world. The Auxiliary of Gideons are wives who support the work with prayer and by participating in many of the functions of Gideons, including the placement of Bibles. By making Bibles available around the world, the Gideons trust God to use His Word to increase His kingdom (1 Corinthians 3:6).

The Gideons International has its worldwide headquarters in Nashville, Tennessee, but each Gideon is assigned to a local group called a “camp.” Camps usually meet once a week for a prayer breakfast and once a month for education and planning. Members encourage each other in personal witnessing and in their overarching goal of bringing men and women, boys and girls, to a saving knowledge and acceptance of Jesus Christ as Savior.

The Gideons organization was begun in 1899 by two traveling salesmen with a heart for evangelism. They later adopted the goal of putting a Bible in every hotel room in the United States starting in 1908. From those beginnings grew an organization of over 300,000 men and women in 195 countries giving out Bibles or New Testaments in over ninety languages. In their first 105 years, the Gideons have given out over 1.8 billion copies of God’s Word.

The Gideons are lay persons (not clergy) who are members in good standing in an evangelical or Protestant church. Essentially, they represent local churches as missionaries whose sole purpose is winning the lost through providing them the Word of God. Today, they distribute over one million Scriptures throughout the world every week—that’s more than two copies per second. Whole Bibles are left in hotels and motels, and New Testaments are provided to middle schools, high schools, colleges, prisons, hospitals, nursing homes, military facilities, doctor’s offices, and fire stations—all at no cost to those receiving the Bibles. Churches support the Gideons with prayer, with some of their members serving as Gideons and Auxiliary members, and by paying for Bibles. All donations to the Gideons go for the printing and transportation of Bibles—many to countries where traditional missionaries cannot go. In forty-eight of the countries where the Gideons are organized, people struggle to survive; they will never own a Bible without some assistance.

The Gideons believe and teach the basics of orthodox Christian doctrine, and the New Testaments they distribute have two pages in the back devoted to explaining the gospel and how to be saved. Their doctrinal statement and further information on the Gideons are available on their website.[1]

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Christianity: What Is the International Church of Christ (ICOC), and What Do They Believe?

 

The International Churches of Christ (ICOC) is a spin-off from the Churches of Christ; both groups are non-denominational, worldwide associations of churches and part of the Restoration Movement. The ICOC has a network of over 600 non-denominational churches in about 160 countries. The International Churches of Christ was formerly referred to as the ICC.

The International Churches of Christ has a number of distinctives. One is a strong emphasis on discipleship; however, “discipleship” in the ICOC looks very different from what most other churches practice. The ICOC consistently uses high-pressure manipulation to bring new disciples into their fellowship. Once a member is acquired, he is set up in a “buddy system” of discipleship. The neophyte is indoctrinated to believe that only the International Churches of Christ has a true understanding of the Bible and the gospel. The “disciple” is encouraged to imitate the whole life of his “discipler.” The disciple must meet with the discipler at least weekly, have daily contact, and make no major decision without checking with him or her. Disciples are told where to live, whom to date, what courses to take in school, how often to have sex with their spouses, and so on. Individuals must not question their leaders. Such requirements are often made by those who practice heavy shepherding.

Another distinctive is that the International Churches of Christ focuses its evangelism almost exclusively on college students. This fits well with the ICOC’s preferred method of “love-bombing”—suddenly and purposefully surrounding a person with high amounts of friendly contact, various forms of aid, and an overall sense of being immersed in a community—something first-year college students especially crave. While none of these things are unbiblical (indeed, community, service, and friendliness are all excellent aims for Christians), the International Churches of Christ uses these virtues as a façade and manipulative tool to increase membership.

Theologically, the International Church of Christ holds to the basic tenets of Protestant evangelicalism, but with two very important exceptions. First, the group is exclusivist, claiming that the church is meant to be united in one association, divided only by geography. It teaches that any church that remains outside of this unified system, i.e., not under the ICOC’s leadership, is not a part of the “true church.” Such claims of exclusivity should raise a red flag. Any church or denomination that claims to be the “one true church” and that all others are false churches is itself teaching falsehood.

The International Churches of Christ also departs from biblical teaching in its teaching of baptismal regeneration, the belief that baptism is required for salvation. The ICOC believes that anyone who is not baptized is not saved and must be “evangelized” and brought into the church. Further, the ICOC teaches that baptism under the auspices of the ICOC is the only baptism that can save. No other baptism will do. The Bible, on the other hand, teaches that salvation is by grace through faith, apart from works (Ephesians 2:8–9)—including the work of baptism.

Other problems with ICOC theology include their rejection of eternal security and their amillennial perspective of the end times.

The International Churches of Christ has a strict and invasive power structure that uses manipulation and indoctrination to control its membership. Many people have been hurt by this group emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. Because of its manipulative practices and errant view of salvation, we must caution against becoming involved in the International Churches of Christ.

If you have been negatively affected by the International Churches of Christ or another manipulative group claiming to be Christian, we encourage you to seek healing, firm in the knowledge that, even though God’s name may have been used to hurt you, God Himself is loving and able heal those who have been spiritually abused.[1]

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Christianity: What Is the 700 Club? Is the 700 Club Biblical?

 

The Christian Broadcasting Network’s flagship television program, The 700 Club, is a talk show combining news, social commentary, human interest interviews, and responses to questions and prayer requests received by phone or email. The show has been running since 1966, born out of telethons for CBN during which the station’s founder, Pat Robertson, requested 700 people to support CBN monthly. The original show included various interviews, performances, and call-in questions or prayer requests. Today, Pat Robertson is still the main host, while his son, Gordon, has taken over as CEO of CBN.

It should be noted that using television or a talk show format is not inherently wrong or unbiblical, any more than radio, newspapers, or the internet is. Television is simply another form of communication that can be used in many ways. Christian-themed information and the gospel can indeed be communicated effectively through various television formats.

However, The 700 Club itself is not an ideal source for biblical information. Pat Robertson has become well known for his comments about natural disasters, 9–11, homosexuals, and many other hot topics. The way Robertson has expressed his opinions has sometimes been inconsiderate and inappropriate for someone who claims to love others with the love of Jesus. Aside from their social unsuitability, Pat Robertson’s statements on current events are often far from what most Christians would consider to be true about God and the Bible.

This is not to say that The 700 Club never communicates biblical truth or that it is un-Christian. However, one should exercise caution with advice and information from the commentators and hosts of CBN. We are all fallible, and all information should be checked according to Scripture. Some sources of information should be considered less reliable than others, and The 700 Club is one of those sources.[1]

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Christianity: Who Are the Hutterites, and What Do They Believe?

 

The Hutterites, or Hutterian Brethren, are a communal, pacifist Christian sect who live mainly in Southern Canada and the Northern United States. There are approximately 49,000 Hutterites (as of 2011), living in 483 colonies (as of 2004). Since coming to the New World from the Ukraine in the 1870s, the Hutterites have sustained themselves mainly through agriculture, although they are beginning to return to manufactured goods out of economic necessity.

The history of the Hutterites is intertwined with the Protestant Reformation. As Anabaptists, the Hutterites share common roots with the Mennonites and the Amish. The group takes its name from Jakob Hutter, a Moravian Anabaptist pastor who was martyred in 1536 by King Ferdinand I of the Holy Roman Empire. Hutter’s followers emerged as the only fully communal representatives of the Anabaptist movement.

The Hutterites firmly hold to adult baptism by immersion, pacifism, and living completely separate from the world.

The Hutterites practice communal living, where everyone puts their output “in” and takes “out” just what they need. In a colony, each family has an individual dwelling, usually including a yard, and household goods, but the buildings, equipment, land, and all monetary or material gain belong to the colony as a whole. The size of a colony is 100 people, on average. This number could represent as few as nine or ten families because of the large number of children per family. Hutterites base their social format on the facts that Jesus and His disciples shared a common moneybag (John 13:29) and that the early church in Jerusalem held everything in common (Acts 2:44–47 and 4:32–35).

Partly because of their pacifism and beliefs about baptism, and partly because of various European wars, the Hutterites have been forced to move a great deal since their founding in 1528 in the Tyrol province of Austria. Within a hundred years of Hutter’s death, the entire sect had been forced out of Moravia. From there, they spent time in Transylvania and Slovakia, then spent a short three years in Wallachia, a region of modern-day Romania, until the Russian government invited them to the Ukraine in 1770. One hundred years later, the group of 800—a small number compared to the 20,000 once living in Tyrol—had to leave when their military exemption was rescinded. The Hutterites proceeded to abandon Europe altogether, founding three colonies in the then-U.S. territory of South Dakota from 1874–77. This was not to be their last migration, however, as the U.S. also rescinded their military exemption for a time, beginning in 1918. Although some Hutterites slowly returned to the U.S., most now live in Canada.[1]

 

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Christianity: Who Are the Jews for Jesus, and What Do They Believe?

 

Jews for Jesus is a ministry organization based in San Francisco, California, with the stated purpose of making “the messiahship of Jesus an unavoidable issue to our Jewish people.” Jews for Jesus grew out of the turbulent hippie movement in the 1960s in San Francisco. The organization practices truth in advertising by making sure that those people on the front lines of ministry and evangelism are, indeed, Jews who are also “for Jesus.” Jews for Jesus is a non-denominational, independent mission relying on individual and church donations for funding.

Jews for Jesus was founded by Moishe Rosen, born in 1932 in Kansas City, Missouri, as Martin Meyer Rosen. He was given the Hebrew name “Moishe” at his circumcision, and he was reared in a nominally religious Jewish family. When his wife, Ceil, came to know Jesus as her Messiah and Savior, Moishe was convinced that he would be able to prove that Jesus was not the Messiah. He began to study the facts concerning Jesus, and his research became the very way in which he, too, became a believer in Jesus the Messiah. His zeal for the Lord Messiah led him to study at Northeastern Bible College in New Jersey. He then became affiliated with American Board of Missions to the Jews (ABMJ), now known as The Chosen People Ministries. Moishe soon began to reach out to the Jewish hippies and counterculture in New York City and later in San Francisco.

Jews for Jesus uses unique methods in reaching the Jewish population. Rosen developed the concept of the “broadside,” which is similar to a gospel tract but uses a folded, standard-size sheet of paper with humorous quips and eye-catching graphics to communicate the message of the gospel. Evangelists with Jews for Jesus frequently employ music and street theatre to attract people with whom they can share the message of Jesus. The organization gears up for local city campaigns with targeted broadsides and other media outreach. They seem to thrive on fresh ideas and new approaches to sharing the gospel message.

It is also helpful to know what Jews for Jesus does not stand for or practice. They do not live communally. However, because of their unique ministry and the opposition they face from both Jews and non-Jews, they tend to be tight-knit and closely resemble a family. They are not a cult. Members, employees and volunteers choose their own housing, make their own decisions, manage their own finances, raise their own children and are strongly encouraged by the organization to maintain close family ties. They are not hippies. This ministry got its start in the shadow of the counterculture, but they are not against traditional values. They are not in competition with other ministries that reach out to Jewish people. They consider other organizations and individuals as co-laborers for Jesus the Messiah.

Jews for Jesus maintains as a core conviction that a Jewish person does not lose his Jewish identity when he becomes a believer in Jesus the Messiah. Jews for Jesus believes in one God in three Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They believe that the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, is the inspired Word of God. They believe that salvation for both Jew and Gentile is through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah. They believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the prophesied Messiah. They believe that Jesus is co-equal with the Father and that He is both fully God and fully human. They believe that the Jewish people are in a covenant relationship with God and that God will accomplish His purpose through them. They also believe that the Church is under the New Covenant and composed of both Jewish and Gentile believers. In other words, their beliefs reflect historic Christian orthodoxy. Their heart’s desire is to share the gospel with their Jewish family, neighbors and friends.[1]

 

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Christianity: What Is the Difference between a Sect and a Cult?

 

The word sect comes from the Latin word secta, which means “school of thought.” It is a subjective term that may apply to a religious faith or denomination, or it may refer to a heretical splinter group. Sometimes, the connotation is one of disapproval, similar to the “destructive heresies” spoken of in 2 Peter 2:1, though there are no consistent or accepted exemplars to use to identify a sect.

Sects are found in all religions. Islam has Sunnis and Shias, Judaism has Orthodox and Karaites, Hinduism has Shiyaism and Shaktism, and Christianity has Baptists and Lutherans. These are all examples of religious sects, and they can be thought of as “branches” of different religions. There are also non-religious sects, such as capitalists and socialists among economists, or Freudians and Jungians among psychiatrists.

In contradistinction, the word cult always carries a negative connotation. There are specific criteria used to identify a cult. In Combatting Cult Mind Control, deprogrammer Steven Hassan singles out what he refers to as “destructive cults,” which he defines as “a pyramid-shaped authoritarian regime with a person or group of people that have dictatorial control. It uses deception in recruiting new members (e.g. people are NOT told up front what the group is, what the group actually believes and what will be expected of them if they become members).” Hassan also correctly points out that cults are not only religious; they may also be commercial or secular in nature.

Hassan developed the BITE acronym, which describes the components employed by destructive cults using mind control. BITE covers the following areas of control:

Behavior Control: An individual’s associations, living arrangements, food, clothing, sleeping habits, finances, etc., are strictly controlled.

Information Control: Cult leaders deliberately withhold or distort information, lie, propagandize, and limit access to other sources of information.

Thought Control: Cult leaders use loaded words and language, discourage critical thinking, bar any speech critical of cult leaders or policies, and teach an “us vs. them” doctrine.

Emotional Control: Leaders manipulate their followers via fear (including the fear of losing salvation, fear of shunning, etc.), guilt, and indoctrination.

From a Christian perspective, a cult is any group that follows teachings that contradict orthodox Christian doctrine and promote heresy. Under this definition, the Watchtower Society and the Latter-day Saints (Mormons) are both cults.

Because not all cults are immediately recognized as such, and some people may easily confuse cults with sects or denominations, it is critical to follow the example of the Bereans in Acts 17:11: “Now the Bereans … received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” Always research the beliefs of a group before committing to it, examine its behaviors and doctrines in light of the Bible, and beware of the methods listed in the BITE model. Talk to members, but refuse to be coerced by them. Importantly, if something doesn’t seem right, don’t do it.[1]

 

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Christianity: What Is Jesus Culture? Is Jesus Culture Biblical?

 

Jesus Culture is a movement that began in 1999 as a youth group and has since expanded to have an international influence. The music and conferences of Jesus Culture are aimed at young people, seeking to lead them “to experience the radical love of God” and send them back into their communities “completely impassioned and transformed” (from the official website). The ministry focuses on revival, worship, the power of God, and the “manifest presence” of Christ in the world. The founder of the movement is Banning Liebscher from Bethel Church, a Charismatic church pastored by Bill Johnson in Redding, California.

There has always been and will always be great variety within the body of Christ. One reason for the plethora of church denominations is that human beings are unique and one size does not fit all. With every generation, there has been a revival of passion that expresses itself through different outlets. In the 1940s it was Youth for Christ; in the 1970s it was the Jesus People; since 1997 we have witnessed the 268 Generation, also known as the Passion Movement. The young people of Jesus Culture are passionate about spreading worship over the globe, and they set about to do it the way that seems best to them.

Bethel Church, from which Jesus Culture emerged, teaches salvation by grace through faith. However, the church also teaches that the positions of apostle and prophet are being filled yet today. The “apostles’ teaching” mentioned in Acts 2:42 is not necessarily the doctrine of Peter, James, and John, according to Bethel. It is whatever the modern-day apostles are saying. Obviously, this doctrine can lead to a downplaying of Scripture and opens the door to spurious teaching.

Indeed, Jesus Culture is sometimes criticized for a lack of depth and biblical teaching at their conferences and concerts. The emphasis is on having an undefined “personal encounter with the love of God” rather than on repentance and faith. Such an emphasis appeals to emotion, and as with anything centered primarily on emotion, those participating often miss the mark. Any time we give preeminence to emotional experience over the clear teaching of the Word, we open the door to potentially harmful doctrines.

Another concern is Jesus Culture’s emphasis on signs and wonders, including visions, healings, and speaking in esoteric tongues. Johnson teaches that believers who are sick have “allowed” the sickness into their lives and that those who are not healed should “realize it’s not God’s fault” and pray for a “greater anointing” (from the official Jesus Culture website).

Within Jesus Culture are many committed believers, and their accent on worship and worldwide missions is commendable. We praise the Lord for anyone who is brought to faith in Christ through their efforts. At the same time, Got Questions Ministries disagrees with their stance on the sign gifts and sees a danger in their promotion of modern-day apostles. First Thessalonians 5:21 commands us to “prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” As believers, we ought to carefully examine every teaching and practice and compare it to the written Word of God.[1]

 

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Christianity: What Is the World Council of Churches (WCC)?

 

The World Council of Churches is an international, interdenominational fellowship of Christian churches. Denominations within the WCC include mainline Protestant, Anglican, and Eastern Orthodox churches. The WCC is intentionally ecumenical and inclusive.

The World Council of Churches was founded in Amsterdam in 1948; its current headquarters are in Geneva, Switzerland. The World Council of Churches has member churches in more than 110 countries and territories throughout the world, representing over 560 million individuals.

The stated aim of the World Council of Churches is “to pursue the goal of the visible unity of the Church. This involves a process of renewal and change in which member churches pray, worship, discuss and work together” (from the official WCC website). There is, in fact, much written about unity in Christ and the Holy Spirit in the council’s publications. However, it is a unity maintained at the expense of the absolute truth of the Word of God.

For example, the World Council of churches accepts the ordination of women, approves the ordination of practicing homosexuals, and tolerates an amazing variety of heretical beliefs. At a “Re-Imagining” Conference in Minneapolis in 1993, the deputy general secretary of the WCC, Mercy Oduyoye, taught that we all have “spirit mothers” who avenge us and that the spirits of the dead surround us “in the rustling of trees, in the groaning woods, in the crying grass, in the moaning rocks.” The same conference also featured Kwok Pui-Lan, a WCC member who defined salvation as “bringing out what is within you” and quoted the Gnostic gospels. Pui-Lan justified her use of Gnostic texts by stating that, since it was men who decided the canon of the Bible, she was not obliged to accept it.

Historically, the World Council of Churches has been led by those who hold to liberal theology and who promote “progressive” social policies (such as abortion) and leftist political agendas.

Of course, not every member church of the WCC approves of the council’s stance on every issue. And no doubt there are many genuine believers within the WCC. However, the WCC’s willingness to tolerate departures from foundational doctrine is troubling. Yes, the Lord wants His church to be unified (John 17:22), but not at the expense of foundational doctrine. Truth wields the sword of division (Matthew 10:34).

Revelation 17 symbolically describes an end-times apostate religious system. The apostate members of the World Council of Churches will have no problem joining the false church of the end times, in the spirit of ecumenicalism and inclusion.[1]

 

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Christianity: What Is a Foursquare Church?

 

The Foursquare church, officially known as International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, is a Protestant denomination founded by Aimee Semple McPherson in the 1920’s. Foursquare derives its name from what McPherson called the “Foursquare Gospel: Jesus is the Savior, Jesus is the Healer, Jesus is the Baptizer with the Holy Spirit, and Jesus is the Soon-Coming King.”

Foursquare’s Declaration of Faith begins with “We believe that the Holy Bible is the Word of the living God; true, immutable, steadfast, unchangeable, as its author, the Lord Jehovah; that it was written by holy men of old as they were moved upon and inspired by the Holy Spirit …” This Declaration, penned by Aimee Semple McPherson, contains 22 sections including, to mention just a few, the Eternal Godhead, Salvation through Grace, Baptism of the Holy Spirit, Divine Healing, and Tithing and Offerings. Virtually every belief and statement on the church’s web site contains a scriptural reference supporting it.

However, there are concerns with some of the beliefs of the Foursquare Church that do not line up with Scripture. According to their Creedal Statements and Declaration of Faith, they believe in “the free moral will power of man, who can backslide, apostatize, and be lost” which is a rejection of the biblical doctrine of eternal security. The Bible clearly teaches that a true believer cannot lose his/her salvation or apostatize (John 10:28–29; Romans 8:30; 1 John 2:19).

They also believe in “Divine Healing through the atonement” which would disagree with the understanding that while spiritual healing is in the atonement, physical healing does not necessarily occur until the glorified state. Isaiah 53:5, which is then quoted in 1 Peter 2:24, is a key verse on healing, but it is often misunderstood and misapplied. The context of 1 Peter 2 makes it clear that Peter is speaking of spiritual healing. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24). The verse is talking about sin and righteousness, not sickness and disease. Therefore, being “healed” in both these verses is speaking of being forgiven and saved, not physically healed.

Further, the Foursquare Church believes “in the personal Baptism of the Holy Ghost as received by the apostles” which, as explained elsewhere on their website, means that they believe the baptism of the Holy Spirit is a “second blessing” subsequent to salvation. Along with this, they believe that all of the miraculous gifts of the Spirit are active in the church today. The majority of biblical evidence supports the indwelling of the Holy Spirit upon salvation, and while there are subsequent “fillings” of the Spirit throughout a believer’s life, there is only one baptism of the Holy Spirit, and that occurs at salvation.

As for the miraculous gifts of the Spirit, the gifts of prophecy, knowledge, wisdom, healing, etc. verified those who were sent from God and were necessary for the early Christians to know God’s plan and purpose for them. The gift of prophecy, for instance, enabled believers to communicate new truth and revelation from God. Now that God’s revelation is complete in the Bible, the “revelatory” gifts are no longer needed, at least not in the same capacity as they were in the New Testament.

While the Foursquare Church definitely has some biblical stances on many doctrines, there are enough questionable beliefs to warrant caution and prayerfully seeking God’s will and discernment.[1]

 

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Christianity: What makes Christian conversion valid? Can’t it be explained psychologically?

 

Whenever a believer gives his or her testimony, there always seems to be someone who objects to this being used as evidence for the Christian truth-claim. They contend that it seems like everybody has some sort of conversion experience or religious testimony.

The Mormons talk about the burning in their heart; those in Eastern religions will talk about the peace and tranquility they receive; others will admit to a new joy or happiness.

Why is Christian conversion correct and the others incorrect? Can’t it be better explained by conditional responses or some type of self-hypnosis?

It is true that many today are testifying to religious experiences in which they claim to have met ultimate reality. At first glance, the Christian sounds like everyone else because he is also claiming to have experienced truth. The unbeliever or casual observer needs more than a mere testimony of subjective experience as a criterion to judge who, if anyone, is right. The difference is that Christians have that criterion.

Christian conversion is linked to the person of Jesus Christ. It is rooted in fact, not wishful thinking. Jesus demonstrated that He had the credentials to be called the unique Son of God. He challenged men and women to put their faith in Him, that they might know God and what life is all about.

Jesus said, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10, KJV). When a person puts his faith in Jesus Christ, he enters into personal relationship with God Almighty, which results in changes taking place in his life.

Christian conversion is neither self-improvement nor culturally conditioned. There are many who put their faith in Christ, and do it against the pressures of friends and family. The Christian’s experience ultimately depends on God and His work in the person’s life. This must take place. The experience is grounded in this fact, not in the person himself.

Besides the fact that Christian conversion is based upon something objective, the resurrection of Christ, there is also the universality of Christian experience that must be considered. From the time of Jesus until today, people from every conceivable background, culture, and intellectual stance have been converted by the person of Jesus Christ.

Some of the vilest individuals who ever walked the face of the earth have become some of the most wonderful saints after trusting Jesus Christ. This must be considered. Because of the diversity of the people, it cannot be explained away simply on the basis of conditioning.

Let’s say, for example, that someone approaches you and says that he has found the meaning of life, ultimate reality. He confesses that his life has undergone a drastic change. So you ask him what the key is to this major change. He responds by saying, “Ever since I started wearing a watermelon rind on my head, my life has been changed.”

You check with this person’s friends, and they tell you that indeed he has been different since the day the rind was put on his head. Now you want to know if this experience is peculiar to this one individual, or if others have made the same claim. Thus you start looking for people with watermelon rinds on their heads.

You look far and wide, but cannot find anyone else with a similar experience. Thus you conclude this person is generating his own experience, and is not meeting ultimate reality.

Christian experience is universal, and though this in and of itself does not make it true, it does make it worth considering. What does make it true is that it is based upon the overwhelming evidence of the deity of Jesus Christ.[1]


[1] McDowell, J., & Stewart, D. D. (1993). Answers to tough questions. Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.

Questions about Christianity: What Is the Reformed Baptist Church?

 

In order to understand the Reformed Baptist Church, we need to answer two preliminary questions: 1) What does it mean to be Baptist? 2) What does it mean to be reformed?

To be Baptist is to be part of a church or denomination that, broadly speaking, holds to adult believer baptism (typically by full immersion) following a credible statement of faith as the only biblically acceptable way to administer the sacrament of baptism as commanded by our Lord in his Great Commission (Matthew 28:19–20). This is the view called credo-baptism (“believer” baptism), which is held over against the view of paedo-baptism (“infant” baptism) that is commonly practiced by Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and many continental Reformed churches.

Baptists also generally believe in the autonomy of the local congregation over the more hierarchically-structured denominations such as Roman Catholicism (which is based on an Episcopal model of church government) and Presbyterianism (which is based on a Presbyterian model of church government).

Within this broad category there are many different types of Baptists who hold various views on soteriology (doctrine of salvation) and ecclesiology (church structure and governance). Some fundamentalist Baptist groups hold that the King James Version of the Bible is the only true, inspired version of the Bible in the English language. Other Baptist groups are so theologically liberal that they fall outside the boundaries of what is generally accepted as orthodox. All this to say that Baptists come in many different shapes and sizes, but nominally they are all unified on the doctrine of adult believer baptism.

Baptist history is also a bit difficult to trace. There are some Baptist groups that claim the Baptist tradition can be traced in an unbroken line back to New Testament times, somewhat akin to the Roman Catholic tradition of papal succession. Others claim that while there was not an unbroken chain of Baptist churches going all the way back to New Testament times, there was a continuity of Baptist forms of faith going all the way back to the earliest beginnings of the church. The most commonly accepted view holds that Baptist tradition is traced back to the English separatist movement of the early 17th century. The English separatists were a group of individuals who were unsatisfied with the changes made during the English reformation, which was part of the larger reformation movement sweeping the continent, and hence they separated from the Church of England. From this separatist movement, two strains of Baptists emerged—General Baptists and Particular Baptists. This leads us to our second question noted above: What does it mean to be reformed?

Generally speaking, to be reformed means to flow out of the Protestant Reformation movement of the 16th and 17th centuries. The Reformers were those who protested against certain abuses within the Roman Catholic Church. It is often said that the Protestant Reformation had both a formal cause and a material cause. The material cause of the Reformation (i.e., the particulars of the dispute) was over what became the doctrine of justification by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone. In other words, the debate centered on the question of how a man is made right (justified) before God. Rome’s basic answer to that question is that grace, faith and Christ are all necessary, but they are in and of themselves, not sufficient. The Reformers argued that grace, faith and Christ are both necessary and sufficient.

The formal cause of the Reformation was the question of authority. What is the ultimate authority for the Christian in matters of faith and practice? For Rome, the answer is both Scripture and tradition. However, since according to its dogma, the Roman Catholic Church is the source of both Scripture and tradition, as well as the infallible interpreter of both, the matter of authority essentially boils down to the Catholic Church alone. The Reformers believed that the Scriptures alone were the sole infallible rule for Christian faith and practice; hence the Bible is the ultimate authority in these matters. All other lesser authorities—church councils, synods and other such declarations—are only authoritative insofar as they conform to Scripture.

Inasmuch as Baptists are Protestant, they are reformed in this general sense as noted above. However, there is a more specific sense of the word ‘reformed,’ and this is more germane to our discussion. Reformed in the more narrow sense refers to those groups that follow in the theological footsteps of John Calvin—in particular his doctrine of salvation. This is what separates the General Baptists from the Particular Baptists. The General Baptists are so called because they hold to a belief of general atonement—Jesus died to make all men, in a universal sense, savable. Particular Baptists hold to the Calvinistic understanding of salvation that believes Jesus died only for the elect, and He died to actually secure their salvation, i.e., particular atonement. Reformed Baptists flow out of this Particular Baptist stream.

Today there is no official Reformed Baptist denomination, but there are several federations of Reformed Baptist churches, such as the Association of Reformed Baptist Churches in America (ARBCA). Most Reformed Baptist churches subscribe to the London Baptist Confession of Faith (1689) as their doctrinal standards; the 1689 LBCF is essentially the Westminster Confession of Faith reworded as it pertains to baptism. Some notable Reformed Baptists in history are John Bunyan, William Carey and Charles Spurgeon.[1]


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Christianity: What Is the International House of Prayer (IHOP)?

 

The “International House of Prayer” (IHOP) is a para-church ministry located in south Kansas City, Missouri. IHOP was founded by Rev. Mike Bickle in 1999. Its primary purpose seems to be international prayer of intercession. Since 1999, the International House of Prayer has experienced explosive growth, with the group acquiring significant amounts of property in Grandview, Missouri, and opening up satellite branches in other cities. The rapid expansion, the unusual practices, the fierce loyalty of many IHOP members, and the relative newness of the ministry have led many to question whether the International House of Prayer is a biblically-solid ministry or a cult.

At the International House of Prayer, there is active prayer taking place, literally 24/7, without interruption, and this has been the case for many years. 24/7 prayer is a good thing. There is no such thing as “praying too much,” so, in this area, IHOP is to be commended. The problem arises, however, in the type of prayer that is taking place. The International House of Prayer has adopted many of the practices of the contemplative prayer movement, with much more focus on mysticism and contemplative spirituality than on worshipping the Lord in prayer and interceding for others through prayer. Some elements of the IHOP employ prayer in a Word-Faith manner, claiming things from God rather than submitting to God’s will in humility. There are also reports of prophetic prayer, praying in tongues, and other ecstatic practices. So, while 24/7 prayer is commendable, if the prayers being uttered are not biblical, there is no true value in them.

Another concern with the International House of Prayer is its connection with the prophetic movement in general, and the Kansas City Prophets specifically. Instead of a biblical understanding of prophecy, that is, declaring the truth that God has revealed, IHOP essentially views prophets as Christian psychics, with prophetic hotlines, prophetic readings, and an emphasis on personal prophecy. Many have been led astray by those claiming to be apostles and prophets with a “word from the Lord.” There have been many reports of spiritual abuse and prophetic manipulation within the International House of Prayer movement.

This misunderstanding of the gift of prophecy leads to another area of concern. The International House of Prayer has an extreme over-emphasis on the miraculous gifts of the Spirit. Much has already been written on the cessation of the miraculous gifts, but IHOP’s use of these gifts goes far beyond what most Charismatics and Pentecostals will accept. At IHOP, the miraculous gifts of the Spirit are expected to be commonplace. Miraculous healings, visions, dreams, prophecies, tongues, words of knowledge, signs, wonders, etc., are claimed to be constant within the ministries of IHOP. Whether full cessationism is accepted or not, IHOP’s claims regarding the gifts of the Spirit do not at all agree with what the Bible presents. In the New Testament, the miraculous gifts of the Spirit authenticated the teachings of the apostles (2 Corinthians 12:12). If miracles are normal, they cannot have an authenticating quality to them. IHOP’s claims regarding miracles do not agree with what the Bible teaches about miracles, signs, and wonders. We would all be wise to remember Jesus’ warning in Matthew 24:24, “For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect—if that were possible.”

With all of that said, clearly IHOP should not be considered a biblically-sound ministry/organization. The above concerns are only the “tip of the iceberg” in comparison to some of the things that have been reported by former IHOP members/participants. Should the International House of Prayer movement be considered a cult? That is more difficult to answer. Generally speaking, a cult is a group that has false teaching on one or more of the core truths of the Christian faith, such as the deity of Christ or salvation by faith alone. On these core truths, IHOP appears to be solid and biblical. However, other common identifying factors of a cult are present at IHOP, such as it being controlled primarily be one individual, fierce loyalty to the organization, communal living, and a feeling of superiority over the uninitiated. So, while the International House of Prayer should probably not be considered a cult, there are enough serious concerns about its beliefs and practices that should prevent Christians from getting involved in its ministries.[1]

 


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Christianity: What Is the Southern Baptist Convention and What Do Southern Baptists Believe?

 

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is an association comprised of over 16 million members in over 42,000 churches in the United States. Individual church membership is typically a matter of accepting Jesus Christ as personal Savior and submitting to believer’s baptism by immersion. The SBC is considered to be an evangelistic, mission-minded church with a generally conservative doctrine which focuses on the fact that Jesus died for our sin, was buried, and then rose from the grave and ascended to Heaven. Unlike some other denominations, the churches in the Southern Baptist Convention generally identify themselves as independent, autonomous congregations which have voluntarily joined together for mutual support.

The Southern Baptist Convention got its start in 1845, in the turmoil that led to the Civil War. As with the war itself, there were many factors that led to the division between North and South, but the headline issue for the church was slavery. Following the great revivals of the early 1800s, many Baptist churches in the northern states took a strong stand for the abolition of slavery. Though the Triennial Convention attempted to mediate the issue by establishing a non-committal policy on slavery, the southern churches felt slighted in the national meeting, and formed their own convention at the First Baptist Church of Augusta, Georgia. Though they differed on the issue of slavery, the Southern Baptists and Northern Baptists essentially held the same doctrines following the split. One key distinction in practice was the cooperative movement in the Southern Baptist Convention. Whereas the Northern Baptists maintained their independence, the Southern Baptists formed a cooperative body to support world missions and other causes. These cooperative efforts were directed by the central administration rather than the churches.

In forming the denomination, Southern Baptists wanted to maintain the autonomy of the local churches while creating an alliance of churches working in friendly cooperation. The denomination does not ordain ministers, assign pastoral positions, or mandate contributions, as these decisions rightly belong to the local churches. The primary goal of the denomination is to identify with like-minded churches and pool resources to establish and advance the work of the Gospel. The “convention” lasts for 2 days each year, as messengers elected from the various churches gather together to address issues of doctrine and practice which impact the churches. The messengers develop and vote on resolutions which are then delivered back to the churches as recommended practices, but there is no authority to force churches into compliance.

Throughout their history, the Southern Baptists have seen the same kind of struggles with liberalism and modernism that many other churches have. From its founding, the Southern Baptist Convention was more concerned with functional unity than doctrinal unity, and as a result, there was a wide divergence of beliefs within the churches of the denomination. In the 1950s, liberalism began to increase in the seminaries, resulting in many students doubting the truthfulness of the Bible. In the 1963 convention, the Baptist Faith and Message was written to try and “keep the peace” between liberals and conservatives, but the schism continued to grow. Conservative members sought to uphold the Bible as the inspired, inerrant Word of God, which is authoritative in every area of life (2 Timothy 3:16). More liberal members questioned the historical accuracy of certain sections of Scripture, such as the creation account of Genesis 1 and 2. Convention members who held to conservative doctrinal views saw the danger and prepared a statement in 1979 which emphasized the need for doctrinal unity within functional diversity.

Starting in the 1980s, there has been a conservative “takeover” or resurgence within the leadership of the convention. In 1995, the convention approved a resolution renouncing its racist past, and apologizing for its past defense of slavery. In 2000, the Baptist Faith and Message was revised to reflect support for a male-only pastorate, and instructing women to exhibit loving submission to their husbands. As a result of these and other conservative decisions, there have been a number of churches and groups which have separated and formed their own associations or joined other associations. In 2004, the SBC removed itself from the Baptist World Alliance, which it said had become too liberal.

Overall, Southern Baptist churches are good, strong, biblically-based churches. As with any church denomination or association, though, there can be bad churches and/or bad pastors. Just as you should with any other church, sincerely ask God to lead you to the church of His choosing for you. Carefully examine the teachings and practices of a church before officially joining it.[1]


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Christianity: What Is the Assemblies of God Church, and What Do They Believe?

 

The Assemblies of God is one of the largest Pentecostal denominations, with 57 million adherents worldwide. It was organized in 1914 to promote unity and doctrinal stability among groups that had been influenced by the Pentecostal revivals of the early 1900s, revivals which were the result of a desire to see an increase in God’s power in churches and individuals. Many people spent long hours in prayer, seeking a fresh infusion of the Spirit. Following the teachings of Charles Parham, these people were expecting speaking in tongues as an evidence of the Holy Spirit’s baptism. The first popularly acknowledged revival was at Azusa Street in Los Angeles, 1906–1909. From that movement, several churches were formed, and in April 1914, meetings were held in Hot Springs, Arkansas, which led to the formation of the Assemblies of God. Eudorus Bell, formerly a Southern Baptist preacher, was appointed as the first chairman of the denomination.

The core doctrines of the Assemblies of God are salvation by repentance and faith, Holy Spirit baptism as evidenced by speaking in tongues, divine healing as an expected part of salvation, and the imminent Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Like many other Pentecostal churches, their doctrine of salvation follows the teachings of Jacob Arminius (1560–1609) in that believers can fall from grace as a result of persistent, unrepentant sin. The need for personal repentance and faith in Jesus’ substitutionary death for sin is the cornerstone of salvation (Luke 24:46–47). Regarding the baptism of the Spirit, the official emphasis of the church is on the need for power from on high to witness, not on an experience or bubbly feelings. Even though this is the official statement of the church, it is easily observed that some Assemblies of God preachers have given an inordinate focus on the ecstatic experiences like being slain in the Spirit and “holy laughter”. On the doctrine of divine healing, again there is a discrepancy between the official position and that of some teachers. The Assemblies of God website states that the same faith that saves also heals and that preachers don’t heal—only God does. Believers are called to pray and leave the outcome to God. Yet some of the more infamous faith healers who have been ordained in the Assemblies of God portray themselves as special avenues of God’s healing.

The emphasis of the Assemblies of God churches has always been evangelism and missions, and faith healing crusades have often been a key element of that work. While many people have evidently been brought to saving faith through the faithful work of Assemblies of God churches, there have also been a significant number of problems associated with their ministries. Benny Hinn, Morris Cerullo, Jim Bakker, and Jimmy Swaggart all received their ministry credentials through the Assemblies of God and have been repeatedly involved in scandals. The Toronto blessing (laughing revival) and Brownsville (Pensacola) Revival were both led by Assemblies of God churches and have led to a wide range of biblically questionable practices. Even though revival and healing campaigns have been a hallmark of Assemblies of God ministries for years, there is little evidence to show that God was at work in those campaigns. In the cities where many thousands supposedly came to Christ, there has been no noticeable decrease in crime or divorce, and even though hundreds have claimed healing, there are no documented cases of visibly evident healing (like restored limbs or reversed diseases).

There are many deeply committed believers within the Assemblies of God, and we ought to love them as brothers and sisters in Christ. Within that fellowship are also many people who have been confused by the emphasis on healing and signs and the false doctrines taught by a few noteworthy teachers. Any time we give preeminence to emotional experience over the clear teaching of the Word, we open the door to potentially harmful doctrines. First Thessalonians 5:21 commands us to “prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” As believers, we ought to carefully examine every teaching and practice, compare it to the Word of God, and hold on to only those things which are upright by that standard.[1]


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Christianity: Is Christianity a White Man’s Religion?

 

In the past 2,000 years, the vast majority of Christians have been white/European. While Christianity had its beginnings in the Middle East, it spread rapidly to Europe and parts of Asia where Caucasians were the predominant race. The history of Christianity is filled with expansions, but mostly throughout Europe and Asia, then on to the West in the 15th century. Christianity has not had nearly the same success spreading among Middle Easterners, Africans, and Asians, and this has led many to declare that Christianity is a religion for white people.

Christianity was never intended for white people only. The first Christians were all Semitic in ethnicity and likely had light- to dark-brown skin. Christianity having been predominantly a white religion in past centuries has nothing to do with the message of Christianity. Rather, it is due to the failure of Christians to take the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the ends of the world (Matthew 28:19–20; Acts 1:8). The apostle John declared that Jesus Christ is the propitiation for the sins of the entire world [all races and nationalities] (see 1 John 2:2). Spiritually, men of all races are one due to the presence of a common sickness—sin. Sin entered the human race at the Fall, and because of Adam and Eve’s disobedience, sin has been an inheritance for all of their descendants. Romans 5:12 tells us that, through Adam, sin entered the world and so death was passed on to all men because all have sinned.

But just as sin entered the human race by one man, so does redemption come by one Man, Jesus Christ. Forgiveness of sin, the essence of Christianity, is offered to all races, colors, creeds, and genders, to all “those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness” through Him (Romans 5:18). In giving His life as a substitute for sin, Jesus Christ purchased for God with His blood “men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9). No, Christianity is not a white man’s religion. Christianity is not a black, brown, red, or yellow religion either. The truth of the Christian faith is universally applicable to all people.[1]


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Christianity: What Happened at the Council of Trent?

 

After the separation of the Eastern and Western churches in 1054, the holding of councils by the pope became a way to give guidance to the church, both locally and ecumenically (for the entire church), on varying ecclesiastical matters. One of the most significant of these was the Council of Trent, held in the mid-1500s, which considered such weighty matters as the Lutheran Protestant Reformation and how to counter it, disciplinary reforms in the church, the definition of dogma, and ways to establish key tenets of Roman Catholicism. In fact, the growing complexities of the issues at stake grew so voluminous that it took 18 years, spanning the reigns of five popes, for the Council of Trent to actually convene.

During the Council of Trent, both Scripture and tradition were declared authoritative for the Roman Catholic Church, with tradition just as authoritative as Scripture. Salvation by grace alone through faith alone, one of the Reformers’ rallying cries, was dumped overboard in favor of “sacramental” and “works” righteousness.

There are seven sacraments instituted by Christ, according to the council: baptism, confirmation, communion, penance, unction, orders and marriage. The council condemned anyone who said sacraments were not necessary for salvation, or that through faith alone without any sacrament man can be justified. “Works” righteousness is the belief that one can win God’s favor by doing good things.

The council also confirmed the belief in transubstantiation, that the substance of bread and wine given during communion (the “Eucharist”) is changed into the actual body and blood of Christ, while the appearance of bread and wine remains.

Trent attendees stressed man’s incapacity to save himself, yet confirmed the necessity for the cooperation of his free will, including his resolve to receive baptism and begin a new life. They denied that predestination to salvation can be known with certainty (one rebuttal to this belief is found in Romans 8:28–30). Modern Roman Catholicism, in general, continues to hold to the beliefs put forward and accepted at Trent.[1]

 

 


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Christianity: What Is the Hebrew Roots Movement?

The premise of the Hebrew Roots movement is the belief that the Church has veered far from the true teachings and Hebrew concepts of the Bible. The movement maintains that Christianity has been indoctrinated with the culture and beliefs of Greek and Roman philosophy and that ultimately biblical Christianity, taught in churches today, has been corrupted with a pagan imitation of the New Testament gospels.

Those of the Hebrew Roots belief hold to the teaching that Christ’s death on the cross did not end the Mosaic Covenant, but instead renewed it, expanded its message, and wrote it on the hearts of His true followers. They teach that the understanding of the New Testament can only come from a Hebrew perspective and that the teachings of the Apostle Paul are not understood clearly or taught correctly by Christian pastors today. Many affirm the existence of an original Hebrew-language New Testament and, in some cases, denigrate the existing New Testament text written in Greek. This becomes a subtle attack on the reliability of the text of our Bible. If the Greek text is unreliable and has been corrupted, as is charged by some, the Church no longer has a standard of truth.

Although there are many different and diverse Hebrew Roots assemblies with variations in their teachings, they all adhere to a common emphasis on recovering the “original” Jewishness of Christianity. Their assumption is that the Church has lost its Jewish roots and is unaware that Jesus and His disciples were Jews living in obedience to the Torah. For the most part, those involved advocate the need for every believer to walk a Torah-observant life. This means that the ordinances of the Mosaic Covenant must be a central focus in the lifestyle of believers today as it was with the Old Testament Jews of Israel. Keeping the Torah includes keeping the Sabbath on the seventh day of the week (Saturday), celebrating the Jewish feasts and festivals, keeping the dietary laws, avoiding the “paganism” of Christianity (Christmas, Easter, etc.), and learning to understand the Scriptures from a Hebrew mindset. They teach that Gentile Christians have been grafted into Israel, and this is one reason every born-again believer in Jesus the Messiah is to participate in these observances. It is expressed that doing this is not required out of legalistic bondage, but out of a heart of love and obedience. However, they teach that to live a life that pleases God, this Torah-observant walk must be part of that life.

The Hebrew Roots assemblies are often made up of a majority of Gentiles, including Gentile rabbis. Usually they prefer to be identified as “Messianic Christians.” Many have come to the conclusion that God has “called” them to be Jewish and have accepted the theological position that the Torah (Old Testament law) is equally binding on Gentiles and Jews alike. They often wear articles of traditional Jewish clothing, practice Davidic dancing, and incorporate Hebrew names and phrases into their writing and conversations. Most reject the use of the name “Jesus” in favor of Yeshua or YHWH, claiming that these are the “true” names that God desires for Himself. In most cases, they elevate the Torah as the foundational teaching for the Church, which brings about the demotion of the New Testament, causing it to become secondary in importance and only to be understood in light of the Old Testament. The idea that the New Testament is faulty and relevant only in light of the Old Testament has also brought the doctrine of the Trinity under attack by many advocates of the Hebrew Roots beliefs.

As opposed to what the Hebrew Roots movement claims, the New Testament teachings of the Apostle Paul are perfectly clear and self-explanatory. Colossians 2:16, 17 says, “Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day—things which are a shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.” Romans 14:5 states, “One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind.” Scripture clearly indicates that these issues are a matter of personal choice. These verses and many others give clear evidence that the Mosaic Covenant laws and ordinances have ended. Continuing to teach that the Old Covenant is still in effect in spite of what the New Testament teaches, or twisting the New Testament to agree with the Hebrew Roots beliefs, is false teaching.

There are aspects of the Hebrew Roots teachings that certainly can be beneficial. Seeking to explore the Jewish culture and perspective, within which most of the Bible was written, opens and enriches our understanding of the Scriptures, adding insight and depth to many of the passages, parables and idioms. There is nothing wrong with Gentiles and Jews joining together in celebrating the feasts and enjoying a Messianic style of worship. Taking part in these events and learning the way in which the Jews understood the teachings of our Lord can be a tool, giving us greater effectiveness in reaching the unbelieving Jew with the gospel. It is good for Gentiles, in the body of the Messiah, to identify in our fellowship with Israel. However, to identify with Israel is different from identifying “as” Israel.

Gentile believers are not grafted into the Judaism of the Mosaic Covenant; they are grafted into the seed and faith of Abraham, which preceded the Law and Jewish customs. They are fellow citizens with the saints (Ephesians 2:19), but they are not Jews. Paul explains this clearly when he tells those who were circumcised (the Jews) “not to seek to be uncircumcised” and those who were uncircumcised (the Gentiles) “not to become circumcised” (1 Corinthians 7:18). There is no need for either group to feel they must become what they are not. Instead, God has made Jews and Gentiles into “one new man” in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:15). This “new man” is referring to the Church, the body of Christ, which is made up of neither Jew nor Gentile (Galatians 3:27–29). It’s important for Jews and Gentiles to remain authentic in their own identity. In this way a clear picture of the unity of the body of Christ can be seen as Jews and Gentiles are united by one Lord, one faith, one baptism. If Gentiles are grafted into Israel, becoming Jews, the purpose and picture of both Jew and Gentile, coming together as one new man, is lost. God never intended Gentiles to become one in Israel, but one in Christ.

The influence of this movement is working its way into our churches and seminaries. It’s dangerous in its implication that keeping the Old Covenant law is walking a “higher path” and is the only way to please God and receive His blessings. Nowhere in the Bible do we find Gentile believers being instructed to follow Levitical laws or Jewish customs; in fact, the opposite is taught. Romans 7:6 says, “But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.” Christ, in keeping perfectly every ordinance of the Mosaic Law, completely fulfilled it. Just as making the final payment on a home fulfills that contract and ends one’s obligation to it, so also Christ has made the final payment and has fulfilled the law, bringing it to an end for us all.

It is God Himself who has created a world of people with different cultures, languages and traditions. God is glorified when we accept one another in love and come together in unity as “one” in Christ Jesus. It’s important to understand that there is no superiority in being born Jewish or Gentile. We who are followers of Christ, comprised of many different cultures and lifestyles, are all of value and greatly loved because we’ve entered into the family of God.[1]

 


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Christianity: What Is the Salvation Army, and What Do They Believe?

The Salvation Army describes itself as “an evangelical part of the universal Christian Church with its own distinctive governance and practices.” Most people recognize the red-and-white shield of the Salvation Army as representing a social services organization that responds to disasters, feeds the homeless, and runs thrift stores. Many do not realize the underlying purpose of those efforts is rooted in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Salvation Army was founded in 1865 by William Booth, who saw a great need for reaching the poor and destitute in England with the gospel of Jesus Christ (Luke 14:21). He began an evangelistic ministry on the streets, and as these people responded to the gospel, Booth directed them to the various churches and chapels in their neighborhoods. As these “undesirables” came into the very proper Victorian churches, they were often rejected because of their unorthodox dress and habits. To provide a place for them to worship and be discipled, William Booth founded the East London Christian Mission. When Booth was dictating a letter referencing believers as God’s army, the name “Salvation Army” was coined, and Booth began forming his mission in a military structure.

Booth named himself the General of the Salvation Army, and his wife, Catherine, was named “Mother of the Salvation Army.” From the beginning, women were given the same freedom and authority as men, and Catherine was an ordained minister in the organization. Ministers were given military officer ranks in keeping with their duties and experience, and church members were called soldiers. One reason for this military identification was a reminder that as Christians, they were in permanent mission to the unconverted. William Booth identified the approach to his work in “three S’s”—Soup, Soap, and Salvation. In order to give the message of salvation, the physical needs of the people were met. That method is still kept today.

While the Salvation Army was started as an independent Christian Church, Booth was careful to avoid criticizing other churches. He viewed each church as a part of the Body of Christ, and therefore harmony and cooperation were to be encouraged. One Salvationist expressed differences between churches this way: “In the overall economy of God there are no inherent contradictions, but there are creative paradoxes.” Since many in the churches seemed to rely on the outward symbols of the faith (baptism & communion), yet didn’t live out a personal faith, Booth eliminated all forms of outward observance in his church. The Salvation Army sees all of life as a sacrament to be lived for God, so baptism and the Lord’s Supper are not practiced, and the style of worship can vary significantly from location to location. The emphasis in the Salvation Army is on personal religion and individual regeneration, with a commitment to unceasingly proclaim the gospel.

The basic doctrines of the Salvation Army are like most evangelical churches: a belief in the Trinity, the full divinity and humanity of Jesus Christ, the full depravity of man at birth, the atoning death of Jesus Christ for man’s sin, and the essential need of repentance and faith for salvation. Following Arminian theology, the Army teaches that continued salvation depends on continued obedience to the Word of God and that the believer can attain whole sanctification in this life by that obedience.

Keeping with the social efforts that began the mission, the Salvation Army has always included social justice and charitable work as a key part of its ministry. In World War II, the Salvation Army operated 3,000 service units for soldiers and sailors, which led to the formation of the USO. Today the Army carries on a wide range of work, including prison visits, disaster response, refugee assistance, addiction and dependency treatment, daycare and children’s homes, homeless and domestic violence shelters, thrift stores, hospitals, clinics, and schools. They are recognized worldwide as a charitable organization which exists to help others. In fact, the Salvation Army is one of the world’s largest providers of social help. It has permanent ministries in 115 countries and 175 languages and provides assistance to millions of people every year.[1]

 


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Christianity: What Is the Vineyard Movement?

The Vineyard Movement is a charismatic organization, also recognized by such names as the “third wave,” “power theology,” and the “signs and wonders movement.” The Vineyard Movement’s founder, John Wimber, formed five churches in 1982, with the original goal of forming 2,000 churches by the year 2000. The stated goal of the Vineyard Movement was to combine the best of evangelical thinking with Pentecostal practices.

There are certain aspects of the Vineyard Movement’s teachings that are suspect, if not entirely non-biblical. Members of the Vineyard Movement often rely on “experience with God” rather than following the Bible as the standard for faith and practice. Because of this, they teach that if what they do “works” pragmatically, then it must be from God. Additionally, the Vineyard Movement promotes various practices that have more in common with the occult and the New Age movement than with biblical Christianity. Some Vineyard Movement churches have been known to include “inner healings,” contact with familiar spirits, aura readings, and psychological programs.

The Vineyard Movement tends to promote certain spiritual gifts such as healing, casting out demons, and binding Satan as the more desired gifts. In contrast, Paul’s imperative is to stop desiring the “showy” gifts and learn the more excellent way, the way of love. Love, as Paul explains, is not “puffed up,” envying, boastful or proud. It is not self-seeking. Yet the Vineyard Movement promotes exactly these things, encouraging Christians to think of themselves as greater than others by virtue of the sign gifts they believe they possess. Paul goes on to say that prophecies and tongues will cease, so where is the boasting that comes from sign gifts (1 Corinthians 13:4–11)? Vineyard Movement adherents also practice what is called “power evangelism,” which they claim is the gospel presented to the unbeliever with an added twist: a demonstration of God’s presence by “signs and wonders” through healings and other miracles.

The initial goal of the Vineyard Movement, to combine solid evangelical theology with Pentecostal expressions of the Holy Spirit, was admirable. However, that is not the direction the Vineyard Movement has, for the most part, followed. The Vineyard Movement increasingly emphasizes the miraculous gifts of the Spirit and de-emphasizes the need to use the gifts of the Spirit as the Bible instructs. The Vineyard Movement, in its goal to “allow the Spirit to move in ways we do not expect,” has allowed doctrines and practices to infiltrate its ranks to which the Holy Spirit is diametrically opposed. The Vineyard Movement should not be considered a cult. Rather, the Vineyard Movement is an example of what happens when followers of Christ have good motives, but lack the commitment to submit to the Word of God in all things.[1]

 


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.