Do You Really Know the Message Behind Sermons?
Dr. Roger G. Ford, Ph.D., P.E.
When we go to church, we see friends, visit and catch up with the various aspects of our lives, sing worshipful songs (hopefully), and settle down to hear the Truth of the Word of God proclaimed from the pulpit by learned theologians and/or experienced and inspired teachers. We have been trained all our lives to accept and trust what we hear from the front of the church as it supposedly relates to Scripture. During the message or sermon or lesson, we want to hear Scripture references, locations in the Word so we can follow along in our Bibles, and relate the truth that is there to our personal lives. That is what God intends and why He even gave us the Word of God in the first place. All is well and good if we are on the road to reconciliation with God through redemption and repentance based on acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. All is well and good if we have these things, these firm foundations to sooth our hearts, give us peace, and assure us of God’s provision and protection as to what we hear is really from the Word of God and trustworthy.
For the most part, this is what we experience if we have chosen a church and a preacher that is conveying the original meaning and truth of the Bible. But, we live in an age today that can be misleading and dangerous. There have always been variants of the Christian faith we know as denominations dating back many centuries. Even within the “mainline” denominations, there are distinct differences in beliefs, some of which violate Scripture’s true interpretation. But, today, there are many preachers as wolves in sheep’s clothing blatantly and confidently serving up outlandish lies when it comes to what mainline churches believe and teach, and these churches are outside old denominational guidelines and structure. There are so many false teachings existent in America’s churches today that it would be hard to list them all. Let’s look at three of the most egregious ones. And what makes them so egregious is the subtle manner in which they are presented which lulls thinly-based believers and many Christian-pretenders into listening to, accepting as truth, and following the lies.
The Replacement Theology Error
First of all, one such variant is called the Replacement Theology church and is defined as those that believe that the Church of Jesus Christ (those who have accepted Jesus as Savior and Lord) has replaced Israel as God’s Chosen People (also known as supersessionism). A close reading of Scripture and the truth that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8) makes it clear that Israel, the Jews, were, are, and will always be God’s Chosen People. The so-called Old Testament (which should be called the Old Covenant because a testament is changeable like a “will and testament”, but a covenant is forever especially with God) is seen by many as irrelevant to today for many ignorant and ill-formed arguments.
Some say the Old Covenant does not apply to our world today because we are under the New Covenant with Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior Who has put away the Law of Moses and the ancient way of doing religion. Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. The Law was given, not as a means to salvation, but to show us sheep-like humans (read “stupid”) just what sin really is from God’s perspective. That does not and has not changed, ever! The Old Covenant shows us today that those who believed in God AND followed his commandments and precepts (not those of the religious leaders of the day like the Pharisees in Jesus’ time) were considered righteous in God’s eyes. The prophecies in the Old Covenant point to the coming Savior from the line of David, point to the time when He would come to suffer and die for our sins, and will come again this time as Righteous Judge to rule here on Earth for a thousand years.
All of this to say that what the Old Covenant teaches us today is that God’s plan for reconciliation of mankind back to Himself starts with the Fall of Adam into sin, continues throughout the Old Covenant with the identification of just exactly what sin really is, shows us that obedience to God’s way of doing things is the way to please Him and earn reconciliation and His approval, then points to the coming Savior and Redeemer which the New Covenant describes. The Church of Jesus Christ has been grafted into God’s Chosen People, the true vine, the fig tree of God (Romans 11:11-24), not replaced God’s chosen race to bring forth the Savior. Remember, Jesus Christ was and is first God, then a man, but always a Jew! And, God is certainly not finished with the Jews just yet because the Tribulation (described in the Old and the New Covenants), or Daniel’s 70th week prophecy (which starts in the old Covenant and ends in the New Covenant), is for the Jews – the time of Jacob’s trouble, Jeremiah 30:7, and the Tribulation, Revelation 4 through 19. Only a true student of the entire Bible, taken as a whole and complete text, can easily recognize the error in this abhorrent belief and false teaching that God goes back on His promises to His Chosen People in the Old Covenant (Genesis 12:2,3). God NEVER goes back on His Word!
The fact is that God punishes those who do not keep covenants. God brought a famine on Israel in the time of David because his predecessor, King Saul, had killed Gibeonites to rid Israel of pagans, but had broken a 400-year-old covenant Joshua had made with the Gibeonites to keep them alive. And, since God expects covenants to ALWAYS be honored, the last verses of Micah show that God loves His chosen people so much that He will forgive the Jews and restore them. “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. You will be faithful to Jacob, and show love to Abraham, as you pledged on oath to our ancestors in days long ago.” (Micah 7:18-20) Pretty amazing proof that God still loves the Jews and will retain His chosen people, not reject them as the Replacement Theology folks claim.
The Prosperity Gospel Error
Secondly, the next, very pervasive false approach to Christianity is what I call the “Prosperity Gospel” or the “Name It, Claim it, and Get It Now” abomination. The purveyors of this wildly incorrect and devastatingly perverse nonsense want people to buy into a mold-into-your-own-design God who responds to the wishes of totally unworthy, sinful people focused on worldly material wealth and false hopes of instant healing from physical maladies. First of all, God does respond to prayer, God does heal, God does pour out material blessings, but He does so at His Own Will, not ours. God is sovereign, He is all powerful (omnipotent), all knowing (omniscient), and everywhere (omnipresent), therefore He does things like He sees fit to do them. Can we influence Him? Of course, but the Word of God says specifically that in order to do so we must be in His Will.
When we listen to such seemingly appealing messages from the likes of Joel Osteen, T.D. Jakes, Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar, Joyce Meyer, Kenneth Hagin, Marilyn Hickey, Benny Hinn, Joseph Prince, and, yes, even Rick Warren, we find them picking and choosing passages from God’s Word to bolster and testify to their incorrect approaches to life, to God, and even to prophecy. When we seek to meet our own desires, those that are not within the Will of God, we are being selfish. And that is exactly what these Prosperity Gospel preachers want their followers to do. So what?, you say. Well, that is the very definition of being sinful. Sin is nothing but placing ourselves above others and even above God by doing or wanting what WE want, not what God wants, placing ourselves first. Plus, look at the lifestyles of these purveyors of pride and you will find lavish homes, many ostentatious cars, and extravagant spending on clothes, jewelry, and vacations. Compare to John MacArthur, David Jeremiah, Franklin Graham, or Hal Lindsay and their restraint on material things and it is easy to see exactly what drives these selfish wolves.
Jesus demonstrated a pattern throughout his prayer life here on Earth so that we could understand how to pray to Almighty God correctly. In obedience, He brought his desires in line with His Father’s desires. When we reach the place where we are willing to do or accept God’s will instead of our own, we have reached the turning point in prayer. “For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.” (John 6:38) In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus said to his Father, “…your will be done.” (Matthew 6:10). Man’s highest aim should be to bring glory to God (1 Corinthians 10:31), and this includes praying according to His will. First, we must ask for wisdom. “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5). In asking for wisdom, we must also trust that God is gracious and willing to answer our prayers: “But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt” (James 1:6; Mark 11:24). So, praying according to the will of God includes asking for wisdom (to know the will of God) and asking in faith (to trust the will of God).
The convenience of watching these sort on television or listening to their numerous broadcasts on radio or Sirius XM should not influence the true believer to indulge in the false, selfish, and dangerous teachings they espouse and champion. Recognize the selfish ploys that you hear from these charlatans – “God wants you to be rich”; “Just visualize what you want, and God will provide”; “Faith is a seed, you plant it by speaking it”; “You were born to win; you were born for greatness, you were created to be a champion in life”; “God wants you to live an overcoming life of victory. He doesn’t want you to barely get by. He’s called El Shaddai, ‘the God of more than enough’” (actually El Shaddai means God Almighty, the All-Sufficient God, the All-Powerful God).
The Emergent or Postmodern Error
Third, there are other deviant so-called Christian teachings, but the Emergent Church or the Postmodern Church is the most devious and reprehensible not to mention irresponsible. Primarily, this variant believes that current culture should dominate theological thinking today. Social justice or the effort to separate races and individualize cultures (out of one many) instead of being unified under our nation’s and God’s wishes (E Pluribus Unum – out of many One) dominates this variant. We are inundated by Social Justice Warriors (SJW) today ad infinitum. Having this tiresome and, truthfully, wrong philosophy thrown at us daily has become the dominant theme on the news from riots at Berkeley to DACA and illegal immigration to Trump being a racist. For all of this to find its way into the Christian Church when we Christians should be exposing the error of such culture-related, division inducing, riot inspiring behavior and thinking, is very disturbing and grossly against Scripture.
Secondarily, and most erroneous, is that one of the tactics that this variant uses is taking Scripture out of context. This is a common error most of us are exposed to by those unfamiliar with the proper manner in which to read, study, and meditate on Scripture. But, this Emergent or Postmodern Church takes Scripture out of context for purposes of promoting their social justice agenda, which totally misuses Scripture and deviates from the intended meaning.
Specifically, when we are not asking to whom was the Scripture addressed, in what time was it said, what are the surrounding verses saying about the interpretation offered, and how does a section of verses relate and correspond to the entire rest of Scripture, we are misinterpreting Scripture. Instead and in other words, parts of Scripture are used to make a point without regard to the rest of Scripture – a great mistake many make to mold God’s Word into what we want, not what God really said.
Case in point. Jesus’ Olivet Discourse is found in three of the Gospels: Matthew 24:1-25:46; Mark 13:1-37; and Luke 21:5-36. All three occurrences of this message are worth study, but Matthew has the most comprehensive coverage of the Olivet Discourse, so we will look at it in detail. This is the last of Jesus’ major messages, the one He answers the disciples’ questions that resulted from His statement about the temple that “not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.” Jesus said this while in Jerusalem. Then He and His disciples left to go to the Mount of Olives just across the Kidron Valley where the disciples asked Jesus, “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” Jesus then goes into a long discourse explaining many things: many antichrists will come to deceive; there will be much persecution of believers; about the abomination of desolation in the middle of the Tribulation when Satan possesses the Antichrist and all Jews must flee; and about His Second Coming. Then, Jesus, in context, tells of the parable of the fig tree and when Israel resumes their place on the world’s stage, the generation that witnesses that will see all of the End Times fulfillment come to pass. That is our generation today! Then Jesus tells of the similarity of the days of Noah and the evil and wickedness that were prevalent then and today’s evil. People will not perceive His Second Coming nearness in this time, however, just as the people before Noah’s Flood did not realize that God’s judgment was upon them. Therefore, all must be ready for Jesus’ return since no man knows the day or the hour, but we do know the general time, and that time is now!
Jesus then goes into three parables: the parable of the two servants – one faithful, one evil; the parable of the ten virgins – five ready for the Bridegroom’s return and five ill-prepared; and the parable of the talents – five, two, and one. All three of these parables mean to illustrate the necessity that we remain attuned to God and His commandments at all times because we do not know exactly when He will require our very lives, or He returns to exact His judgment upon all the Earth. Then, as a last warning to those who are insincere in their belief, Jesus tells His disciples of the judgment of the Gentiles, again, in context. His message here is the sheep and goat judgment, sheep on the right, and goats on the left. This judgment will occur just prior to the Millennial Kingdom and is for those left alive at the end of the Tribulation. To the sheep, Jesus says they are blessed because they fed Him, gave Him drink, nurtured Him as a stranger, clothed Him, helped Him heal from sickness, and visited Him in prison. The sheep ask when they did this to Him, and HE answers that if they did these things to the least of His brethren, they did it to Him. Jesus then welcomes the sheep into His Kingdom. The goats, on the other hand, ask Jesus when did they ever see those conditions He described. Jesus points out to the goats that they had the chance to do all these things for Jesus’ believers and did not. As a result, they are thrown into the Lake of Fire that burns forever, is a complete absence of God, and remains in total darkness for all time.
The Emergent or Postmodern Church pays no attention to Bible context because they use Matthew 25:31-46 as one of the foundations, if not the primary foundation, used by the social justice movement in modern Christianity. If you take the Matthew 25 passage by itself and without the context of the rest of the New Testament teachings, then it appears to teach that people are eternally judged by God contingent only on the way in which they respond to the needs of the downtrodden. But, to properly and accurately comprehend what a passage is teaching (exegesis not eisegesis) we must examine when in time the teaching takes place and especially to whom the words are directed. In this case, it is Jesus speaking at the very end of the Old Testament age to people who have not been given understanding of salvation by grace. It is simply an announcement that God is going to separate the sheep and goats just before His Millennial Kingdom begins, and mete out judgment accordingly.
There is much for us to gain from study of Matthew 25, but it must be understood that as Jesus spoke He had not yet shed His blood for the propitiation of mankind’s sins. Also, he is speaking directly to the Jewish people and often to the Jewish leadership in the book of Matthew. If we take what Jesus said and, in either not understanding or ignoring the context, then try to apply it to the Church Age, we’d have to pronounce that salvation is achieved by works. But, we do not do works to become saved. We do good works because we are saved. Biblical liberals have clearly supplanted the fundamental teachings of John 3:3-7 (You must be born again), and Romans 10:9, 10, and 13 (believe in your heart and confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and Savior, you will be saved), ignoring those passages in lieu of Matthew 25:31-46 and stressing that good works is a requirement of pleasing God and gaining eternal life. The truth is that no amount of good deeds can save us (Romans 3:23). Only the blood of Jesus Christ can redeem mankind and only faith in Him alone can save a lost sinner (Romans 6:23).
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
In conclusion, there are many abhorrent and aberrant teachings out there in Christendom today such as: you must belong to “the” Church of Christ to be saved; you must be baptized in the Holy Spirit and speak in other tongues to be truly saved; you can lose your salvation once truly saved; prophecy is unimportant to the modern church; only serve the seekers with entertainment and avoid talking about sin; and many others. We have looked at three of the most disturbing and unbiblical heresies – the Replacement Theology error, the Prosperity Gospel error, and the Emergent or Postmodern error.
How do we recognize and combat these gross misrepresentations of the saving grace of the Lord Jesus Christ? Carve out of your day significant time to devote to the Lord. Get a “read-through-the-Bible-in-a-year plan” and read the Word daily, study the Word daily, meditate on the Word constantly, pray for forgiveness, pray for daily filling of the Holy Spirit to overcome our still sinful spirit, then pray for wisdom and understanding and knowledge for the Lord to reveal exactly what Scripture means and how to apply Scripture to our lives. Remember to always read in context, never pick verses or sets of verses out of context for danger of misapplication. Always know the time, the place, the people speaking and those being spoken to, and the relationship of what is being read to the rest of the contiguous Bible, both Old and New Covenants.
Do these things, and when confronted with false teachers and their false teachings, you will be able to recognize their error and defend the Word of God to combat the plans of the enemy to distort and ruin God’s plan of reconciliation with mankind. When you hear sermons, you will know if the messages are true to God’s Word or a purpose driven error meant to mislead or confuse. Be watchful, be careful, be diligent because we live in the last days, and the Lord warned us to beware of false teachers and scoffers because He is returning soon and that trumpet blast calling us to Him could be today!