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Posts Tagged ‘false teaching’

My husband asked an assistant pastor how to handle a suggested Nouwen book in our small group meeting.  One of the first questions I heard from him was, “was it an unqualified recommendation?”  In fairness, people do sometimes read and recommend books, but they don’t always agree with everything in the book or everything from that author.  Unfortunately, this was actually qualified in that the book was recommended excitedly and whole heartedly.  The man in our group shared several concepts openly and offered to let two women in the group be the next ones to read it after someone else outside the group finished his copy.  I believe he even suggested that Christians should read it, and I am sure he said it was his favorite book.  We shared some of our thoughts with the pastor, that the man seemed to really like the book and was sharing it. I did mention the comment the man made stating that the book opened an idea he hadn’t thought of, that Jesus himself was a “prodigal of the Father” because he left and came back. The pastor’s eyebrows twitched a little bit, and he shook his head, “no.”  

The pastor’s advice was not to go all out after this man.  He said that we should actually bring this to the attention of the small group leader.  He suggested we share why we see problems with the author and that it’s not someone we’d recommend reading.  He said that many don’t have the same level of discernment, and some don’t subscribe to the strange teachings but also don’t know the problems with an author’s entire body of work.  He said to assume the best about a person at first, and just trust the leadership.  However, he did say to keep paying attention and if this keeps coming up, to bring it back up again to the leader.  It can also be brought up to the pastors in leadership of the church.  He suggested further we truly befriend this man and if the opportunity arises, we can share with him carefully the problems with Nouwen and why we wouldn’t recommend it as a solid book for Christians to read.  

This is a very big difference than what happened at our former church when we brought up books and teachings that were questionable.  The pastor here acknowledged the teaching from Nouwen was bad (if it indeed was what we were saying it is…he’d never read it before).  He mentioned how many people read popular authors, he has been given books from church members of such authors.  He said how he has personally tactfully told people how the author is in error and he’d suggest they never recommend the book without some qualification.  He personally had quoted authors from the pulpit he doesn’t agree with, but he says he intends to always qualify those quotes as true as far as he sees it but the author has other comments or ideas that are not in line with scripture.  And reading works that are questionable can be a learning experience, but it must be qualified as such.  He says he’s sometimes shocked at what members in our church recommend for reading on facebook or in person, saying that he often wants to say, “What?  Haven’t you been hearing sound teaching in our church for years?  Why would you recommend that book?”  

At least he acknowledged us, and was kind.  He did seem to be bothered by this problem and suggested a way to deal with it and not ignore it.  He actually thinks the leader in our group likely hasn’t heard of Nouwen, and may have no clue about it.  I find this to be a very good thing.  It’s much different than the “oh, that author is recommended and used by many pastors…and we might not agree with everything he says but he has good intentions.”  That was our former church, and that was unacceptable squashing.  We weren’t told not to be divisive, but to proceed carefully.  

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We are all sinners in church, so leaving a church because people in the congregation sin is stupid.  Seems stupid, right?  We left a church because of false teaching, but more than that, we left because we would likely have been asked to leave anyway.

Our church had become a Saddleback/Willow Creek/Spiritual Formation church.  The youth were involved in Youthfront, and yes, the leader of Youthfront (Mike King) does promote silence, breathing exercises and such for contemplative prayer.  (Cannot recall the web site, but there used to be one linked to the Youthfront website proper, and it’s been removed).  So, since many of the youth were sent to this camp, we knew that influence was beginning in the youth.  One dear friend and elder had this conversation with his boys (this is to illustrate the teachings and understandings in the church).  

son:  Dad, we learned that God is in everything right?  So that would mean God is in my butt.

dad:  Uhm….I guess you are right.

So, based on bad teachings and based especially on the fact that youth were being taught questionable things beyond just in house debate type stuff, we left.

But more than that, the church promoted books and other materials from horrible teachers.  I’ve written on this blog about a man who took the account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead and said we all had “grave clothes.”  He defined these as our problems.  His son was in the military and sent into combat, his fear for his son was a grave cloth.  Someone else had cancer, that fear of death, a grave cloth.  Another had an addiction, again, a grave cloth.  So, we are to be in small group because when Lazarus came out of the grave Jesus told them to remove his grave cloths.  Twist scripture to promote small groups, and of course, you could buy his book.  This man spoke from the pulpit, a place of authority.  We knew our church was then teaching clear false doctrines.  The words of Jesus were misused as a means to an end, an agenda.  When we asked about this we were told it was okay to use the events in Jesus’ life as an illustration or as a life lesson to apply to today.  Kind of like a parable but different.  Uh, and something about it not being propositional (or is it that it is propositional).  I don’t know exaclty, but all I know is that John’s gospel was written that we may believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God and that we may have eternal life.  Applications can be helpful, but not if scripture is misused and twisted in the process.

But further than the myriad of false teachings, we left because of one thing.  We knew nothing we would do would make any difference.  We were members, we were to submit to the authority of our pastor.  In the past we watched a couple argue, bring charges, and some division was caused.  Yes it was.  The man confronted false teachings in an angry way.  He was treated to one long process and was then cut off from the church.  He was to be treated as one released, not to be in fellowship until restoration.  We witnessed this, and knew our attempts to point to false teachings would end in a public vote for us to leave.  Every attempt we made to talk to anyone was met with doublespeak, was met with strange answers and ambiguity.  All exept one pastor who did encourage us to stay, who prayed with us, and asked us to at least write a letter stating our issues.  We only tackled a few of our issues, and we were met with anger.  We were pointed to as Sanballats and called “liars from the pit of hell.” 

We were treated like resisters.  You see, our former pastor has exchanged pulpits with Dan Southerland.  He’s chummy with him, they’ve spoken in each other’s churches.  Dan Southerland wrote a book called Transitioning, and it has a chapter all about resisters.  A church is to encourage them to leave, and if they do not leave, the church is then to boot them.

So, leaving a church may seem like a cop out, a whimpy thing to do.  Trust me, as a person who has left, it’s not easy.  It feels like divorce (as a child of divorce, I know it’s horrible).  It’s a death.  It was painful.  We did not want to do it.  We looked though at our options.  One option was to stop pointing out the errors in teaching and continue as we had been, with kids we needed to teach truth to, this was NOT a good option.  The next option was to stay and fight.  We had no outside help in this.  We were somewhat unsure as to the right way to proceed.  The pastor helping us was put in an awkward position, we were actually worried for him.  Then we also wondered, “was there a good cop/bad cop situation with the pastors?”  We didn’t know if we could trust him, which was sad.  We did learn though in the long run we could have trusted him.  He’s since been let go from our former church and is out of a job.   We had no real help from elders, they just denied the problems and deflected.  The lead pastor denied and then belittled us.  He was agressive in approach and intimidating.  Final option, leave and take our kids to a church that taught the bible plainly with no flash.  That’s the option we went for.

In reality, if we had no children, we might have stayed and fought.  We didn’t want to fight in our church, but that’s what we felt we would have had to do.  I realize there is another option.  Stay and pray.  Well, we decided to pray throughout our process, and we decided to leave and pray.  We were not sinless in this process, we were not perfect, but we had been under poor teaching and therefore, had little guidance as to the best course of action.  We didn’t know much in the way of dealing with false teaching and how to handle it in your church especially coming from the leaders.

So we did what we thought was best.  We left.

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Uh, it is so hard to be a Christian at times.  It’s been a long three years of learning since we began to really pay attention to problems in our former church.  Last night we had a meeting with one of the pastors from the church we currently attend.  The pastor could tell based on what we said that we have many hurts from our former church.  He said something interesting, that someone had decided to leave this church recently.  The man stated, “I am leaving here, but these are the things I have gained from this church…”  It was a disagreement, to be sure, but it was also a list of ways God had used the church to help him grow.

I do think we did experience good things in our former church.  There was fellowship with other believers, there was some good teaching (a few pastors in particular).  We did have some great times in our small group, made life long family, life long friends.  We also did learn from some people who despite the church had a habit of studying the bible.  Some lacked discernment (obviously we did and by the grace of God began to realize there were problems, how otherwise I do not know…blind I tell ya).  At any rate, we did gain things, we did grow.

However, there was false teaching there.  Most people preaching/teaching it had no intention to teach falsehood.  They had bought into it and didn’t know.  I know we all have, at times, had an uneducated concept of one thing or another about Christ or salvation etc.  I do believe there are those who just make mistakes and haven’t studied and know no better.   There are others who are deceived and despite being taught truth, they are convinced this or that teaching is the truth and is better.  There are others blinded by their own pride, their own agenda.  I think our former church was (and likely still is) filled with some true believers, some believers who are mistaken, some who are deceived.  Then it also has many who think they are believers but aren’t because the teaching has led them astray.  Then there are those who have come in and are being appeased, but are not in the faith.  Every church has some of this, but not outright deception. 

I believe our former church doesn’t just have doctrines with which people can agree to disagree, and can debate about.  I do believe there is more to it, and that is where the hurt lies.  No matter how nice the lead pastor, no matter how much you believe he has good intentions, he is teaching falsehood.  Spiritual formation as it is taught in our former church seems to be works based.  All the “seeker friendly” stuff is about filling the pews, and misses the mark when teaching the gospel.   The preachers spent too much time off message, and that is where my pain can be found.  There are people still going there, and even if they are true believers, and even if there is some growth, I cannot help but believe it is stunted.

And yet, God can use a bad thing for good.  Beauty from ashes.

So there I go again, thinking of my former church and realizing how stupid we were.  We were blind, and it hurts.  It hurts when others cannot understand things, and do not see the false teaching for what it is and challenge it.  It hurts to know their kids are in the church and are buying it all, eating it all up.  And then they wonder why they leave the church and don’t ever come back?  What are they being offered?

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I have speculated, even heard tell of people on staff or in leadership who have difficulties with things going on in our former church.  (A few have visited in our new church and it’s only speculation that they may be taking a break where they can be fed, so it’s unfair to assume they are actually having a problem with the former church).   When the focus gets off of Christ and on to seeker sensitive doctrines, or maybe veers into contemplative practices, or church is on a corporate style plan rather than into the bible, there may be staff/leadership disturbed by this problem.  What are they to do? 

We suspect two staff members and maybe a few in leadership positions are unhappy with things at our former church based on a few clues.  First, support when we were starting the process of questioning.  This/these people listened in a different way.  One even addressed our issues directly (not at the church but with an organization our former church is still involved in).  Change did occur because of this person’s actions.  We believe this person is stuck.  There’s family to think of, uprooting kids.  In some cases, people in leadership are paid (a minister or some other type person like church administrator, accountant, etc) and have issues with how things are going.  They may confront elders/pastors directly or show strong support for the ordinary members who express frustration with teachings and influences being brought into the church.  This alone can be risky.

Stay or go?  People in leadership/staff positions have much to think about when the church starts to get toxic.  Should they stay and continue to provide for their family if paid by the church?    Sometimes a person who serves in children’s ministry or in adult bible study…or especially a pastor, can teach truth in a bad environment.  Though they may not intend to be “warriors” they may in fact be used to protect and train some of the sheep who find themselves seeking for some spiritual truth in a bad environment. 

Also, the staff/leader may need to confirm what is really going on before deciding to take a stand and step out.  It’s not something to be taken lightly if their role is visible in the church.  It’s easy to fall into tempation, easy to assume too much, easy to leave in a way that does not honor Christ.  There are ways to leave without causing more harm than good.  I believe each situation is unique and requires much prayer and discussion/counsel.  Some may slip quietly out the back door of the church, others may resign and make an announcement at the pulpit (especially asking for forgiveness if they were involved in introducing bad teaching initially).  It all depends on God’s will what would be best to do.

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Friends, say this, “I am a living stone” and “I am a priest”

Turn to your neighbor and say, “you are my priest.” 

Congratulations pastor, you just had a sexual predator, who is not one of God’s elect say he is a living stone and declare he is someone’s priest.  There’s also a thief, a liar, and a mother who beat her child just before service.  Even some out there are nice in our eyes, but are still sinners and have just said they are someone else’s priest.  Now, if that sexual predator has become regenerated and has turned from his wicked ways and is saved, that’s a different story.  However, making a mixed congregation repeat after you can be dangerous.  There may be a delusional person out there who now believes they are something they are not.  Scary.

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This is an excellent podcase from www.fightingforthefaith.com .  In this podcast, Rob Bell’s statements about what is gospel are so far off I’ve heard agnostics and atheists agree.  Mr. Bell’s gospel is so off.

http://podcast.fightingforthefaith.com/fftf/F4F072109.mp3

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Despite our family’s circumstances and decision to leave our former church, it is not that we believe all are lost.  We cannot know the hearts of men or what God knows about their individual faith or salvation.  For this reason, I am sure many in our former church are brothers and sisters in Christ.  Leadership may be as well…pastors, staff.  I would say it’s not likely that any church has 100% who are chosen believers, there will always be tares.  I would also say that a pastor can still be saved and yet mistaken in his preaching in some areas.  

I believe God opens the eyes of His sheep in His time so they can see the teaching of wolves, whether it’s sheep unaware who are teaching or it’s wolves who will push the agenda forward.  I personally struggle because one particular pastor has fruits that indicate possible wolf status.  It’s hard for me not to write him off completely.  I do think some of the elders may also be in this category, though I don’t know enough of their personal fruits to see it.  Sadly, there are also likely some in the church we know who believe they are saved but aren’t due to improper teaching.  I don’t know if it’s our role to do more than point out error in teaching, confront sin directly as it’s seen.  It is for God to judge the hearts, we can only judge the fruits.    

I do believe though assuming a pastor or leader is actually a Christian saved by grace through faith in Christ is not wise either.  Just because one says they are a Christian doesn’t make it so.  Where to draw the line in my own head?  I don’t know that I need to know so much as I need to just listen and see where a teacher/pastor is coming from based on their teaching and their fruits.  If I point out the fruits, the error, and pray, what more to do?

I have so much to learn!

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