Charismatic Cultism
By Kevin Reeves, 8/01

DITC NOTE:  This is an excellent article exposing the cultic methods and teachings of the Third Wave and New Apostolic Reformation, now also called the "Saints Movement".  It is, by no means, an indictment against all charismatics, as there are some who have not jumped in the "river" of the Third Wave and are holding to the authority of the Scriptures.  There are also many other denominations who have opened their doors to the false teachers in the Third Wave, Word-Faith and New Apostolic Reformation who are not excluded from this warning.  Be a Berean.  Learn to discern.  Don't be intimidated out of testing all things and judging rightly.

    "What agreement has the temple of God with idols?" (2 Corinthians 6:16)

    About a year ago a friend of mine attended a Sunday morning church service in a Charismatic group noted for its exuberant worship, local involvement, and passionate children's ministry. The pastor was a relatively new to the area, middle-age veteran whose outgoing personality and dynamic approach to ministry offered hope to the town's spiritually lagging church system. During this one particular service, the pastor read the Acts 5 account of Ananias and Sapphira. Pausing, he looked out across the congregation and, according to my friend solemnly warned, "Don't speak against what goes on in this church. If you do--you just be careful."

    The implication to my horrified friend was crystal clear. What went on in those services was of God. Coming against or questioning any incidents or manifestations was tantamount to provoking God. And God would deal with the malcontent as He had Ananias and Sapphira.

    My friend, who is a solid believer in Christ, understandably left that church and has never returned.

    I believe this minister's heart is sincere, that he desires the best for his people, and that he is a true Christian. But his promotion of Benny Hinn, TBN, and his involvement with the current "River" movement via the Brownsville Revival have left the door wide open to the same kind of control and manipulation that have become a hallmark of the aforementioned "ministries". Benny Hinn's now-famous Denver crusade anathema against detractors, Vineyard and Toronto preachers' invective toward "accusers of the brethren" and "pharisees", pastor John Kilpatrick's 1997 "prophecy" of destruction directed at Bible apologist Hank Hannegraaf, and the multi-faceted threats and insults leveled by "River" pastors at genuine, seeking believers amply demonstrate the dictator mentality that has come to pervade their ranks.

    Discerning believers are rightly alarmed by the many dramatic departures from orthodox Christianity, heretical doctrines that have come from within the Church itself. And far too often, efforts on the part of these concerned Christians have been met with stonewalling, resistance, or outright condemnation from the shepherds that are supposed to be guarding the flock.
Despite my own horrendous exposure to false doctrine and the subsequent uphill battle I fought to correct it, I am still a Pentecostal Christian who believes in the validity of the gifts of the Spirit are for today. It was with tremendous heartache that I felt the need to exit a congregation "moved by every wind of doctrine", and this only after more than a year of concerted action to address issues that I had finally realized were contrary to the Gospel itself. My twelve year attendance and six year standing as elder did nothing to effect change. On the contrary, my credibility suffered irreparable damage within my own congregation, I became the butt of insinuation and behind-the-scenes labeling, and my many concerns were eventually dismissed from the public arena. While I desired wholesale repentance, I was basically assured none was needed. Only after a year of pleading on my part was it even agreed to discuss these issues in an eldership forum, and then only two meetings were permitted before it was unceremoniously shut down. After the first meeting's video presentation that I gave of Toronto-style animal manifestations, spiritual drunkenness (which included men falling on top of women and all manner of carnal indecency), and a host of bizarre, unbiblical manifestations attributed to the "anointing", it was basically decided (by everyone but my wife and I) that, because all of us had experienced some of the same manifestations at one time or another, it must have been from God. In fact, one of the leadership present even suggested that, although the video itself "made my skin crawl", he could see that animal manifestations done "decently and in order" could conceivably be from God.

    That begs the question, "How does a Christian get down on all fours and bark decently and in order?"

    The most resistance I met during the entire year and at both eldership meetings had to do with naming names. Many of the superstars of Charismatic Christianity--all of which had been actively promoted by our church group--were the same ones guilty of the most flagrant and heretical doctrines. Despite the voluminous documentation which I continuously presented over the entire twelve months, the thought of going public against the teachings of "the Lord's anointed" caused every member of the leadership, with the exception of my wife and myself, to recoil in fear. We cannot touch God's appointed servants, we were told. God would eventually deal with them Himself. We were cautioned not to use pulpit time to expose their teachings as heresy, despite the obvious havoc it wreaked among the believing community. Just teach truth, the rest of the leadership insisted, and the error will be corrected.

    Let's be clear about this. When members of the Word of Faith camp (Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, Joyce Meyers, et al) teach that the cross of Jesus Christ did not atone for sins, but rather Christ's taking the punishment in hell as a mere man in our place (Jesus died spiritually), then that is heresy. When Copeland claims God told him Jesus became born again in hell, that is heresy. When Hagin claims that the believer is as much an incarnation as the Son of God, that is heresy. When Benny Hinn told his nationwide television audience that Jesus Christ was going to appear physically with him on stage at one of his crusades, then that is heresy.

    You get the idea.

    What we're dealing with here are not peripheral issues. These doctrines are crucial to our salvation. Anyone who presents to the Church any doctrine that alters the character, nature, or being of God or of Christ's salvation falls under the curse of Galatians 1:8-9. Word of Faith and "River" revival teachers have done that--repeatedly and without apology. But because of their status as teachers of the Word of God, they have been granted virtual immunity. To critically examine the doctrines they promote and speak out against discovered aberrance or heresy is to invite the certain judgment of God, it is stated. After all, the reasoning goes, God put them in the pulpit in the first place, His anointing is on them, and we are not to touch the Lord's anointed. God will deal with them in His own time and in His own way.

    We have become like the Israelites at the foot of Mount Sinai--partying away before a golden calf while Moses stands seething on the cliff with the commandments of God in his hand.

    While we are told repeatedly not to speak against leaders, the main problem with that mind set is that God has always used men to correct men, especially within His own Church. Paul stood up against the hypocrisy of Peter (Galatians 2:11-14), John exposed Diotrophes (3 John 9-10), Paul delivered Hymaneus and Alexander over to Satan because of their blasphemy (1 Timothy 1:20). The Bible is replete with examples of godly confrontation with false doctrine, and commendation for an unwavering stand on the truth.

    Why has this situation been allowed to proliferate for so long? I believe one of the main causes is due to a cancer that has wrapped around the hearts of sincere believers. Cultism is no longer an issue just for Mormons, the Unification Church, and Jehovah's Witnesses. It has entered the Church--big time.

Open My Eyes, Lord

    Becoming suspicious of certain doctrines in my former congregation that I discovered had a flimsy or nonexistent Scriptural basis, I began in 1999 an in-depth research that surprisingly led in the direction of established cults. Having for the previous thirteen years been involved in ministering to various cult groups that would show up on my doorstep, I became very curious as to parallels within the Charismatic mainstream. Concentrating one particular evening on matching up common characteristics, I became thoroughly frightened. I discovered that of about ten major defining marks of cults, my former congregation bore witness in varying degrees to most of them. Further study only confirmed my initial findings.

    Since that time, I have come across these same characteristics in other Christian groups and their leadership in alarming number. The "River" movement (including both the Toronto Blessing, the Brownsville Revival, and church congregations that follow their teachings), Word of Faith, Dominion/Kingdom Now/Latter Rain, and any number of independent congregations on the fringe of these movements all bear, to some degree, the earmarks of cultish systems.

    The first thing they all have in common is extrabiblical revelation. Simply put, this is any revelation that cannot be justified by the clear Word of God. We must be precise on this. The Bible is not some veiled mystery to the uninitiated that mandates taking believers through gradual steps of esoteric wisdom. Simply put, the Bible is easily understood by those who are born again, because they have the Spirit of God living within them to illuminate what is already written.

    "And as for you, the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him" (1 John 2:27).

    True believers in Christ Jesus do not need additional wisdom found outside the safe perimeters of the already revealed Word of God.

    "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16-17). With the Spirit of God to guide us, nothing is lacking in holiness or power.

    Perhaps today more than ever, self-acclaimed teachers are coming into the spotlight and declaring things that Christ never said, or that have no reference point in the Scriptures. The apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 4:6 that we are "not to exceed what is written, in order that no one of you might become arrogant in behalf of one against the other." When prophet Bob Jones declared that his hands turn purple at the approach of witchcraft, or golden due to intercession going up before the throne of God, then he has no reference point in the Bible. We are faced with the simple decision to either believe him or not. Without verification from God's own Word, to take Jones' claims at face value amounts to willing self-deception.

    When I presented Jones' testimony of his color-changing hands to my pastor, I received a smile, a shrug of the shoulders, and, a blithe "Well, not everything is in the Bible." Jones had years earlier prophesied over my pastor and his wife, and impressed them. They were not prepared to go counter to the man, no matter how many times he claimed to have face-to-face visits with Jesus Christ or how contrary to the Scriptures his "revelation knowledge."

    I ran head-on into this same wall times without number. John 21:25 has been cited as proof that we can scoot along on manifestations missing from the Scriptures. While it is true that not everything Jesus did is recorded in the Word, what is recorded does not in any way match Jones' experiences. If the Son of God didn't manifest these spiritual phenomena, then we proceed with them at our own risk.

    Every cult in the world has its origins in extrabiblical doctrine. I would submit that there is no difference between Joseph Smith's claim of an angel's guidance in revealing the supposed "golden plates" that revealed Anew" truth, and Rick Joyner's claim in "The Final Quest" that a spirit of a deceased Christian revealed confession of sin is sometimes necessary after death. Neither doctrine can be found in the Bible.

I Have A Testimony!

    Which naturally leads to the second common trait--preference of experience over the sure counsel of God's Word. I can't tell you how many times believers have told me basically, "Look, I can't receive what you are saying about deception in the Church. I had a vision (or dream, or shaking, or drunk in the spirit, or whatever), and I know that it was from God."
This same attitude was prevalent in the two eldership meetings I went to that had been granted to discuss these issues. I have even been told by a member of leadership, in the presence of a former pastor of this congregation, that, "Sometimes our experiences are so powerful, that we need to just set the Scriptures aside and go with the experience, and wait for the time for God to show us the experience in the Word."

    I was literally speechless and my pastor, by his silence and consistent conduct, proved in agreement with that philosophy.
Set the Word of God aside? Did this kind of thinking ever enter into Christ's mind or teaching? Repeatedly He cited the Scriptures to expose the fraudulent, and to validate His own ministry. Speaking to the Pharisees He said, "You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life, and it is these that bear witness of Me" (John 5:39). When He faced Satan in the wilderness, the weapon He wielded was the Word of God, and it was sufficient to frustrate the most powerful demon in existence. Set the Word aside? Would we disarm ourselves and stand with arms spread waiting to embrace the first spiritual experience that comes along?

    Often I've spoken with Mormons, who have told me, "It doesn't matter what the Scriptures say. I've got the 'burning in the bosom' and I just know the Book of Mormon is of God."

    Enough said.

All Together, Now

    This mind set leads to yet another established trait of cultic groups--syncretism, meaning the combination of all forms of spiritual thought assisting the devotee on his quest for enlightenment. These are hard words, for it makes some Christian congregations sound like members of a Hindu sect. But if we are honest, we must admit that the tendency for many believers these days is toward spiritual smorgasbord. A little of this, a little of that. When John Wimber officially introduced inner healing and wild manifestations blamed on the Holy Spirit, he was generally welcomed with open arms, even among some evangelical churches. And this despite his crediting such people as Morton Kelsey (who called Jesus a shaman who passed on psychic powers to His disciples) with offering Wimber wisdom in developing his spiritual approach. New Age thought had finally gained acceptance in the Church. When I presented a case to both my pastor and his wife of the "born-again Jesus" heresy preached by Kenneth Copeland, the consensus was, "Well, I know he (Copeland) teaches some stuff that's a bit 'off', but he teaches some good stuff too. And that is what we take from him. Only the good stuff."

    Using this brand of reasoning, even the devil had some good stuff to say. Remember in Matthew 4:6, when tempting Jesus to throw Himself from the Temple pinnacle, Satan backed up His temptation with a quote from Psalm 91--"He will give His angels charge concerning you, and on their hands they will bear You up."

    Let's not stop there. Every Mormon that ever entered my home to preach their false gospel believed in salvation through faith in Jesus. When I said Christ, they did too, when I spoke of the Father, they smiled and nodded. The problem was, their "Jesus" didn't match the Scriptural record, and their "father" and "holy spirit", although presented with a facade of truth, proved to be completely contrary to Biblical revelation. Certainly Mormons preach a gospel, but it has just enough of a veneer of the genuine to trap the undiscerning seeker. Do we then glean what's "good" from Mormon doctrine and leave the rest, as many             Charismatic believers are wont to do with their preferred superstar teachers?

    May it never be! God hates mixture. Light cannot cohabit with darkness. Truth cannot share the platform with the false, nor the Spirit of God with antichrist. Have we attained such sophistication that we sigh and smilingly shake our heads at blatant heresy, yet continue to feed from the trough sprinkled with a few kernels of real grain amid rotting piles of garbage?
Speaking to the Corinthian congregation about idols (a false representation of God), the apostle Paul commanded, "You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons" (1 Corinthians 10:21).

    Make no mistake--seducing spirits have peppered the doctrine of Christ with doctrines of demons, and are leading many in the Church astray (1 Timothy 4:1). And because we are warned by our shepherds not to question, the very place discernment should be practiced--the congregation of believers--has become a shelter to false teachers.

Money, Money, Who's Got The Money?

    Financial manipulation is also a big thing among the cults--and the Charismatic church. What televangelist superstar does not place heavy emphasis on money, especially contributions to his/her own ministry? I've never seen a one of them take the platform wearing what I normally wear. Expensive rings, gold jewelry, Rolex watches, $500 suits grace their forms as they preach the Word of God, all the time crying insufficient funds to make the next crusade. Benny Hinn hit a new low during his latest Australian escapade, promising name plaques for donors, ranging from $150,000, which will get your name placed on building stones at the "People's Cathedral, down to a paltry $150 to get a mention on a guernsey at the prayer tower, according to an Australian newspaper article. Hinn has consistently made money a top-of-the-list priority for his multi-million dollar ministry. He has repeatedly proven he will not attempt to live on the salary of the average behind-the-scenes pastor. Even the latest update that I know of has John Kilpatrick of Brownsville fame living on a sparse $100,000 yearly income.

    This fixation of money is a hallmark of such groups as Mormons (whose forced tithes and  business enterprises reap worldwide financial gain), the "Moonies" (whose leadership has lived in overwhelming luxury purchased by the sweat of its on-the-street adherents), and the Jehovah's Witnesses (whose Watchtower Bible and Tract Society has raked in untold millions due to the efforts of its overburdened converts). Word of Faith ministers, who, according to pastor David Wilkerson of Times Square Church, have on video told their followers to take the widow's last five dollars so she can have a "seed faith" reward, have by their greed earned a position right alongside all of the cult leaders mentioned above. No wonder the world laughs at Christianity.

    "And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth is maligned; and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep" (2 Peter 2:2-3).

    Though it was generally used with good intentions tithing, the main source of church income, was a prerequisite for good standing in my former congregation. As an elder and along with my superiors, I often critically judged as spiritually immature those who would not give at least a tenth of their income. Now, having researched tithing according to what the Bible alone has to say about it, I've come to the conclusion that it is no longer in effect. That is another issue altogether. Suffice it to say that New Testament believers were urged by Paul to "Let each one of you do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Corinthians 9:7). Tithing was definitely under compulsion--it was written in the Law that whoever did not give the full tithe was under the curse (Malachi 3:8-11). But Galatians 3:13 states that Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the Law. Stepping back to Galatians 3:10 we see that all the works of the Law are under the curse, and to attempt to perform one part of the Law (tithe) but neglect the others puts the person under that same curse. But Christ has fulfilled the Law in us (Romans 8:3-4). While we are to give generously, it is only in accordance with what we ourselves purpose in our own hearts. Any manipulation by outside forces (even the local congregation) is flat out un-Scriptural.

    Remember, the whole point of Paul's letter to the Galatians was to turn back a congregation that had fallen prey to Judaizers who were trying to bring this group of Christians back under the Old Testament Law. Paul said of such men, "Let them be accursed!" (Galatians 1:6-9). While the average Charismatic congregation holds no Judaizers (my former group included), this mix of Old and New Testament doctrine causes guilt and confusion. We are under one or the other. As simple as that.
And tithe money is often used to purchase teaching materials, books and videos featuring the very same teachers that propagate false doctrine. It happened al the time in my former congregation.

Silenced By Fear

    Another major trait held in common between Charismatic Christian groups and cults is fear. In fact, it is probably a pretty decisive personal factor in determining the validity of the people one is involved with. For many years I heard and read things--about the Toronto Blessing, leaders in the prophetic movement, even within my own group--that I wondered about but was too afraid to persistently question. Things like Christians in animal manifestation, supposed prophetic words, even, at one point, witnessing a worship leader lying on the floor of the sanctuary in the throes of what looked for all the world like sexual passion. Each time I dared to mention some hesitation to accept these at face value, I was assured that these men and women were acting and speaking "under the anointing". When something became too glaring to overlook and I felt it my duty to speak out more boldly, I was dismissed with the admonition that I should read a specific book (authored by someone supporting the very person or practice I questioned), and I was made to feel spiritually immature. Once in a great while I actually got into a shouting match with my ex-pastor over certain issues, often involving his controlling spirit. He always seemed to win, for I cannot pinpoint any positive change after the debate.

    When I began my private research I was terrified I was going against God by questioning what my own leadership and the front-running ministers in the Charismatic arena were telling us. I kept praying, "Lord, please don't hold this against me. I don't want to blaspheme the Holy Spirit. I'm just trying to find out the truth."

    A great deal of prayer, Bible study, and reading about cult beliefs confirmed what my years in dealing with these same kinds of people should have told me. Fear is one of the biggest factors, not only in keeping the average congregant in line, but keeping him from exiting the controlling group. We were always told, "Bloom where you're planted", and entertaining thoughts of departure was tantamount to leaving the blessings of God. "Covering" was so important, and as we were supposed to be the cutting-edge church group in town, stepping out from under the "covering" of our anointed fellowship could only mean we were going down a notch spiritually. As an elder I would occasionally lament over a brother or sister who left our ranks, believing they would be the worse for it.

    And make no mistake. It is common in the extreme for groups like Brownsville and Toronto to threaten those who seek a Scriptural answer for the goings-on in those places. The "River" movement, supposedly based on both the power and the love of the Spirit of God, is notorious for raking over the coals the disagreeing believer. "Pharisees", "hypocrites", "blasphemers" are just a sampling of the vocabulary that comes forth from these "anointed" ministers. The gentleness and reasonableness of the Holy Spirit (James 3:17-18) is glaringly absent. From the very pulpits that minimize or deride the Word of God (anybody remember John Scotland's insulting drunken performance at Toronto in 1997), come a barrage of insults and threats of divine judgment toward those who try to honor that same canon of Scripture. I've seen it firsthand, and have suffered some behind-the-back labeling myself.

Who Is At The Helm?

    Which brings up yet another common thread between many Charismatic and cult groups--control. When people did not receive Jesus, He told them the truth and simply walked away. He did not manipulate anyone into following Him. It was a freewill act or nothing. The "River" movement, with all its attendant "streams" of gold dust, angel feathers, bizarre visions and prophetic words, and animal manifestations has promoted itself as the church on the "cutting edge" of what God is doing today. When you think you're at the top of the heap, hardening of the heart is just the natural result. Every cult member believes his team's truth is the final word, and will defend, often to the death, the basic tenets of his group regardless of the amount of evidence to the contrary. And, once you've got that mind set, you're trapped, but good. Let's face it--if you've come to the highest pinnacle of revelation, where can you go from there but down? Anyone leaving the group is subject to scare tactics to force him to return, pity when realizing he won't, and often shunning when he walks away for good or goes public with what he knows. Control is key in maintaining the appearance of unity. When your people start leaving it looks like the pastor is too poor a shepherd care for his flock.

    Can I say that, Biblically, the only "covering" we have is the Lord Jesus Christ. A group of four meeting in a private home (as my wife and I do with two others who have left the same congregation) is as much a part of the Church as a mega-group with branches worldwide. To be honest, it's a vast relief not to be "cutting-edge", and trying to keep up with all the latest deviations from Scripture. What a joy it is to just believe the pure Word of God and worship humbly, knowing that the reservoir of truth resides not in you but in Christ (Colossians 2:3). If fear of God's punishment is a determining factor in maintaining one's adherence to a group, it is a dead giveaway that, at the very least, its leadership are not acting in a godly manner and should be avoided.

    A defective view of Christ, the Father, or the Holy Spirit indicates cult-like tendencies. To the Jehovah's Witnesses, Jesus is the archangel Michael, to the Baha'i's He is only one of a whole string of messiahs, to the Mormons, He is the spirit brother of Lucifer. To Word of Faith--well, perhaps we can see the cultic ties more clearly in their view of Christ than in any other field. Kenneth Copeland, Kenneth Hagin and a host of Word of Faith leadership teach that the atonement did not take place on the cross, but in hell. Simply put, it was not the blood of Christ that spoke for the full and complete atonement of man to God. Hagin has said that if a physical death was all it took to pay the price, the thief on the cross could have done that. No, Word of Faith teaches that Christ went to hell (as a mere man) in our place, suffered torment for three at the hands of demon spirits who rejoiced over their victory, and then became born again. You heard right. Jesus Christ, the Son of God who is the great I Am (John 8:58), the eternal God (Isaiah 6:1-4) who is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8)...had to be born again.

    If it weren't for the shipwreck of faith that is the result of this heresy, it would be nearly laughable. Taken point by point, even the most basic of Bible students can unravel the faulty reasoning. Christ did not divest Himself of His deity when coming to earth as a man. He merely took on an additional nature without detracting from the first. He could not separate Himself from the essence of who He was--God. To do so would have made Him not God in the first place. And since Hebrews 13:8 assures us that Christ does not change, nor has ever changed, then we can be certain that, contrary to Rodney Howard-Browne's assertion that Christ walked the earth only as a man under the Abrahamic covenant, that in fact Jesus Christ always was, is and shall ever be the unchanging God of all flesh.

    Word of Faith's doctrine of Christ's taking the punishment for humanity's sins in hell also strikes at the very heart of the Gospel salvation. It is the cross that has been the focal point of orthodox Christianity for the past two millennia. Everything that needed to be done in regard to man's reconciliation to a holy God was accomplished on the cross. When Jesus turned to the repentant thief beside Him, He said, "Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise" (Luke 23:43). Unless the definition of "Paradise" has changed over the course of two thousand years, we can safely assume that is exactly where Christ went. According to Hagin's and Copeland's theology, Jesus went to hell and took the thief with Him, to suffer demon torment while He waited to be "born again". It should be noted too that when Christ cried out, "It is finished!", the meaning of the Greek word there is...finished! Contrary to Word of Faith teaching, Jesus' cry didn't merely mean the completion of the first part of His earthly task. It meant what Bible students for two thousand years have taken it quite literally to mean--that the work of redemption on the cross for all mankind was full, complete, and could not be added to or taken away from. The sacrifice of Himself was enough.

    "By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once and for all" (Hebrews 10:10).
It was His body on the cross that bore our sins, not His Spirit, as Hagin and Copeland insist, having to suffer in hell. 1 Peter 2:24 (which Word of Faith disciples are so fond of quoting) tells us in no uncertain terms:

    "And He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness, for by His wounds you were healed."

    It was Christ's blood poured out as an atonement that freed us from sins as final payment for all who would come to Him. In fact, the book of Hebrews, written to believers who knew the Old Testament Law and sacrificial system, presents a definitive case for Christ's sacrifice by the shedding of His blood. Hebrews, more than any other New Testament book, speaks of sacrificial blood covering over the sins of God's people until the final sacrifice purged sins forever by His own blood.

    We could go on and on. Word of Faith is so unapologetically cultic in its presentation of the Gospel that it rightly falls under the Galatians 1:6 heading of a "different gospel". Paul's indictment of those purveyors of the false is recorded in Galatians 1:8-9. Altering the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the very foundation of our faith, is eternally dangerous and those who do so will not escape certain judgment.

You Did What In Church?

    The "River" movement has also greatly redefined Christianity so that it is often unrecognizable. The holy Savior of the world has become a God who loves to "party" and get His people stumbling drunk so that there is no difference between their actions and those of the habitual barfly. Women fall down in drunkenness with skirts hiked up indecently, and ministers of the Gospel crawl around on hands and knees, clothing thrashed and having to be assigned designated drivers because they can't see straight enough to put the key into the ignition. People bark, growl, roar, cluck, act like bulls, fish, karate warriors, and squat immodestly while screaming aloud in order to "birth in the spirit" some illusory "anointing". For nineteen hundred years such practices were considered reprehensible and fleshly (or demonic), but with twentieth-century sophistication such theology has become suddenly sanctified and those who resist it are  dubbed legalists.

    We must understand this. Any doctrine that promotes practices or a system of thought alien to the doctrine of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ cannot be from God. These teachings redefine the nature and person of the Godhead, a trait common to every cult in existence. While God alone is the judge of who has or has not gone too far in disregarding the doctrine of Christ (2 John 9), it is inevitable that many in both Word of Faith and the "River" will be led down the widening path of heresy. Once there, it is a difficult thing to return to a Biblical understanding of our salvation. One thing I have discovered in many talk sessions with those involved in these movements is that, no matter what the Scriptural evidence, they simply do not want to hear it. When the truth is presented, the person is at a crossroads. There are only two ways to go, with no middle ground. And so often I have seen believers I have loved choose to side with deception rather than admit they themselves have been participants in deception. This hardness of heart precludes further discussion. It's impossible to convince someone who simply doesn't want to hear it. Only repentance will break through to the truth.

Logically Speaking

    I don't know how to put this one tactfully, and for that I apologize. One of the common traits between cult groups and many in the "River" and Christian Charismatic congregations is a nearly complete lack of rational thinking. I know, for both my wife and I were lost in the same fog for twelve years.

    Just try telling a Jehovah's Witness the uncomfortable truth about Charles Taze Russell or Judge Rutherford, or about the duplicity, manipulation, or mind control of the Watchtower Bible And Tract Society. Attempts to show, through their own publications, how their often prophesied end of the world has consistently fallen flat is met with stubborn indignation. Characteristically, they shut their eyes, shake their heads and walk away, refusing to listen, no matter how irrefutable your argument. Two who had entered my home stood up and left abruptly when I began showing them, from the Scriptures, that Jesus is God. They, who profess such deep knowledge of the Word, just didn't want to hear what the Word had to say about it. To lay bare the truth and look at hard, unyielding facts goes contrary to the slave mentality fostered by their spiritual overseers. They were afraid to use their own God-given intellect to critically examine any presentation contrary to their beliefs.

    Tragically, the same is true for much of the Charismatic world.

    You see, although we apprehend the truths of the Bible by faith, Jesus didn't tell us to suspend intelligent questioning. The thought processes that we have are God-given, and He expects us to use them. 1 Corinthians 2:14 is usually cited as proof that we are not to grasp things intellectually, but this argument proves fruitless when followed a few verses down when Paul says
that "We have the mind of Christ."

    Romans 12:2 commands us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Ephesians 4:23 tells us to be renewed in the spirit of our minds. And Jesus Himself quoted the Old Testament in Mark 12:30 by commanding us that, along with the rest of our being, we are to worship God with all our mind. In all, there are 58 specific, New Testament references to the mind. To disregard such an important part of our makeup is to shut off one major avenue of understanding. Remember, the believer in     Christ Jesus has been recreated in His image, and he has been given the very mind of Christ.

    The Old Testament, too, has many references to the proper use of human intelligence in our relationship to God. The book of Proverbs has rightly been called a book of common sense.

    "For lack of wood the fire goes out;

    And where there is no whisperer, contention quiets down" (Proverbs 26:20).

    Pretty simple. Without a gossip around, strife ceases to be an issue. It doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure that out. But God put it into the Scriptures for our learning, and to encourage a little rational thought.

    "And according to Paul's custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures" (Acts 17:2).

    Acts 18:19 has Paul repeating the same procedure. The Greek word there is dialegomai, meaning to discuss, to address, to preach. Paul went through the Scriptures point by point, demonstrating by the Scriptures that Jesus is the Son of God.

    Where did Paul get this attitude of intelligent argument? Perhaps from God Himself.

    "'Come now, and let us reason together,' says the LORD" (Isaiah 1:18).

    Time and again I have witnessed to people stuck in one of the many tributaries of the "River" and the hyper-Charismatic movement, and very nearly to the last man they reach a point in the dialogue that they simply refuse to listen to sensible argument. Part of the "code of ethics", if you will, of those in these movements, is not to listen to anyone or anything that may cast a shadow of doubt upon either your teacher or his/her beliefs. These teachers (like those in Word of Faith) are considered so anointed that they are basically looked upon as intermediaries between God and man, and to doubt someone of that status is to doubt God. This kind of attitude was explosively demonstrated by the former pastor of my ex-congregation. Having read Dave Hunt's and T.A McMahon's book, "The Seduction Of Christianity" about five years ago, I was very disturbed and asked my wife what she thought of its contents. She decided to take the book to that night's home fellowship meeting and ask our pastor. When she inquired about the book, he repelled her forcefully.

    "I've heard about that book and it splits churches!" he derided. He went on for a moment about the persons spotlighted by the book's authors, who measured the preacher's practices against the Word of God and found them embarrassingly short of Scriptural integrity. My pastor simply could not, would not countenance any critique of his favored teachers' doctrine. My wife left in a huff, and while my pastor came by later that night and apologized for the disrespect he showed toward my wife, to the best of my knowledge he never did read "The Seduction Of Christianity". He absolutely would not consider any evidence of heresy against those he held in high esteem.

    I have a mound of paper documentation a foot high documenting a plethora of heresy from Word of Faith teachers and teachers in the "River", as well as video and cassette tapes of false teaching coming out of their own mouths. Although I've offered access to this voluminous documentation to members of my former congregation in order to validate my claims, to this date not one person has called or shown up at my home to avail him/herself of the evidence.

    What happens is that the messenger becomes the villain, perceived as impugning the spotless character of certain teachers. Without ever having seen any documentation for themselves, they turn a deaf ear to the truth and accuse of being a malcontent those who discover the heresy and try to present credible evidence.

    If we ran our court system in the same convoluted manner, criminals would go free and upstanding citizens who lay their reputation on the line for testifying would be publicly castigated. Damning evidence would be tossed out of court by a judge who refuses to give it an inquiring glance!

    This fear of reasoning things out in light of the very Scriptures we claim to believe has led many unbelievers to declare Christians mindless simpletons. They say, and often rightly, that we make a blind leap of faith into a realm which has no basis for intelligent dialogue. Paul said, "I shall pray with the spirit and I shall pray with the mind also" (1 Corinthians 14:15).

    It would seem to me that we can safely follow Paul's lead and utilize the intellect which we have also committed to God's glory.

I've Got A Secret

    Although there are yet others, we can touch on one more shared characteristic of cult groups and many Charismatic congregations--secrecy. While Jesus said to Caiaphas that He had spoken openly to the world and not been secretive in word or deed (John 18:20), there are a great many things that the leadership of various Charismatic congregations would not like to have declared aloud. In a meeting with my former pastor and his wife a couple of months prior to my family's exit from that congregation, it was made very clear to me that one of their main fears was that I would go public with what I knew about the inner workings of the group. They simply did not want to deal with the spiritual fallout of too much openness. In that same meeting, I was angrily corrected by the pastor's wife that I had dared to preach a Sunday morning message on the errors of Word of Faith theology, and had the temerity to mention Kenneth Copeland as one of its chief proponents. As there were Word of Faith believers in the congregation that morning, she feared repercussions, and rightly so. Stating that my message was a "hard word", she resented being held responsible to field questions about the sermon all the following week.

    Ironically, just prior to my preaching (which I had undertaken with a great deal of personal fear and prayer) she had assured me about three different times to just preach what God laid on my heart. When I did just that, she was shocked and angry.
Incidentally, after six years of eldership and filling the pulpit when the pastor left town, it was the last message I was ever asked to preach.

    Why should we be afraid to tell what goes on in our meetings? If it is of God, we should share our experiences--if not, then we should be ashamed. The truth is, many Charismatics are embarrassed by their services, and fear when they bring a loved one to church for the first time. Should a wild vision be proclaimed or an exaggerated manifestation happen, they wonder how the visitor will take it and hope they don't have a lot of explaining to do. The thought there is that the uninitiated will not understand. Perhaps the point they miss is that understanding is lacking because extrabiblical doctrines and manifestations don't have a leg to stand on. It shouldn't take an unbeliever to figure this out. Discernment's first home should be in the Church.
Even should a loved one be brought to a Sunday service without embarrassment, the discussions and practices of the inner circle of leadership were closely guarded. In some instances this is justified, as when confession of sin takes place. That is a very personal issue between the sinner and His God. But when it comes to things that cannot be found in the Bible--like casting down the "strong man" over a certain geographical area or engaging a Christian in regression therapy with New Age  "inner healing" techniques--then we must come clean. The bottom line here is if what we are doing is of God, then it should be declared without fear or apology. If not, then it should be repented of. Freemasonry is an organization founded on secrecy. Christianity is not.


    While there are other doctrines bearing striking similarity between common cult groups and much of Charismatic and "River" Christianity, these should be enough. Open dishonoring of the Word of God, preference for bizarre experience over the written text of Scripture, self-styled elitism, a nearly paranoid fear of examining practices in light of God's Word--these should all be red flags that signal extreme danger.

    How does one deal with a situation of discovered heresy within his/her own congregation? Before proceeding any further, know that silence is not an option. As uncomfortable as it is, someone's voice has to speak out the truth. False doctrine is a cancer that will spread if left unchecked and will consume every unresisting cell in its path. To keep the truth to yourself in order to preserve valued relationships or a supposed unity of the brethren is not love but cowardice. Judgement begins in the house of God (1 Peter 4:17).  If we lose every earthly thing for our stand in and our love for the truth, then we still have an enduring inheritance in heaven that does not fade away (1 Peter 1:4).

    While every situation is somewhat different, a few basic suggestions may prove helpful.

    First, don't accuse. Nobody likes to be told his beliefs are contrary to the Word of God, and this holds doubly true should the one approached be a teacher of the Word within the congregation. To have to admit to possibly years of gladly receiving and propagating false teaching and honoring false teachers is very traumatic. Some have lost their faith completely and walked away from the Church. As one who formerly taught these same deceptions I was horrified and spent serious time in heartbroken repentance, questioning literally everything I had learned in the previous twelve years. I also felt a great deal of anger at the leadership above me who had introduced these heresies and roundly withstood any attempts by me to correct our doctrine. But the most common response (be prepared for it) is rejection of what you are presenting. Experience is a hard taskmaster, and will not easily emancipate its long-held slaves. If a man has been slain in the spirit a hundred times, reveled in the "anointing", been enamored of prophecy and superstar prophets, been drunk in the spirit--whatever--to admit that he made a public spectacle of himself without Scriptural support can prove almost unthinkable. It is easier to live in deception and retain a place of authority than to come clean and step into the refreshing (but revealing and embarrassing) light of the truth.

    Second, come with a lucid and well-thought-out presentation of facts. Innuendo, rumors, or unsubstantiated, third-hand reports of heretical doctrine or practice simply will not make an impact. The key is to remain credible. This will mean an intensive time of checking and cross-referencing facts until the margin of error on your part is nil. If your presentation is refused, then let it not come because of laziness or inconsistency on your part, but because your pastor or elder will not follow the truth.
Third, remember that a fruit of the Spirit is self-control. A dialogue that has degenerated into name-calling or shouting will earn you the reputation of a troublemaker. While Jesus became angry at false doctrine, He maintained a completely righteous attitude throughout and His enemies had nothing to refute His condemnation. It's okay to show anger, as the Holy Spirit is grieved over the issue of deception, but make sure it is holy and not vicious. Remember, unless shown otherwise by the Spirit and the Word, these people you are dealing with are brothers and sisters in Christ. One distinction I would make here that I see in the New Testament is that, while the apostles were uncompromising in their stand against false doctrine, their harshest statements are reserved for teachers introducing it into the body of Christ (2 Corinthians 11:13-15, 1 Timothy 1:19-20, 2 Timothy 2:17-18, 2 Peter chapter 2, 3 John 9-10, and the entire book of Jude). As shepherds, the pastors and teachers are the ones charged with protecting the flock, and if instead they welcome the wolf who comes seeking prey (Matthew 7:15), the blood of the sheep is on their hands.

    Fourth, pray, pray, pray. Read the Word of God until it is living within you. It helped me immensely to put aside all other books that I had been using for spiritual growth and read only the Scriptures. Not only were my eyes opened to see how my former group had been taking verses out of context and engaging in practices contrary to the Scriptures, it became like a sharp sword to cut away the false.

    Lastly, stay until you believe further dialogue is pointless. For me it took a year, and that only after I realized that no one was really interested in change. I had been strung along in the hopes that I would change my mind about these issues and not continue to rock the boat. The very day my wife and I told our pastor we were leaving the congregation, his wife refused to believe it was for good. "When you return," she said, and I immediately retorted, "We're not coming back", she ignored me and continued, "When you return, we will welcome you back."

    In her mind it was us, not her and the remainder of the leadership that needed repentance.

    One other point I would mention is--and this is a personal thought some may not agree with--don't leave quietly. If, after approaching the leadership of the congregation and deciding it is genuinely unresponsive, speak to anyone who will listen. My views were well known throughout the congregation by the time I left, and my wife and I wrote a letter to nearly every member of our former church group outlining, in detail and with confirming Scriptural references, why we could no longer attend church services there. One other couple exited the church  after extensive dialogue with me had helped them realize the deceptions being promoted by the leadership, but so far they have been the only ones rescued. My wife and I continue, however, to speak to former congregation members whenever an opportunity presents itself. The leadership of some other church groups in our small community also know our stand and why. We have gone from halting embarrassment to bold witnessing about the tremendous change God has wrought in our lives through study of His Word.

    Once exited, meet with like-minded believers as you are able. There is often a season of de-programming (it's the most apt term I can think of). Years of false doctrine and man's illusory teachings are not easily shaken off, and learned responses to situations have been carved into our minds. We really do need to be renewed in our thinking (Romans 12:2), and this is best done by immersing ourselves in His liberating Word. Jesus said that if we continue in His Word, then we would know the truth and the truth would make us free (John 8:31-32).

    Know also that the anguish accompanying this dealing with heresy will eventually pass. As we keep our eyes on Christ and our heart turned to the simple Gospel of Jesus the light from on high will become more real than ever before, and our assurance before Him at His coming more certain. The Lord is calling His people out from the midst of the false. It is our choice whether to respond.

    "Hence, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come" (Hebrews 13:13-14).