A Personal Testimony
When the Lord saved me a few years ago, I never thought I’d wind up sitting under the “preaching” of a cult leader whose only intention was to tear my faith in Christ down, tear my wife and I apart from one another, and, well, gain my allegiance, worship, and adoration. I was bright-eyed and filled with the joy of knowing that Christ had forgiven me of all of my sins, from the “biggest” sins (i.e. those sins that every one can see) to the “smallest” sins (i.e. those sins of the heart – murderous thoughts, envy, lust, covetousness), and I was eager to learn about God’s Word. So…I studied His Word daily, searching the Scriptures and comparing what I was reading with what I was hearing on the radio, in church, from fellow believers. The more I did this, the more dissatisfied I became with much of what I was hearing. I wanted to be taught God’s Truth and share God’s Truth with my brothers and sisters, but I couldn’t find it. The people in church were loving, to be sure, but I longed for fellowship around the Persona and Work of Jesus Christ, not around sports or relationships or American Idol or social functions.
I continued to study the Word of God and began to understand that I was slowly becoming Reformed in my theology, so I sought out a Reformed Church in my area. At first things were okay, but over time I began to pick up on the unbiblical reverence with which the congregants at this “church” were speaking of their leader. A woman told me that “he taught as one who has authority and not as the scribes.” Her willingness to apply a Scripture about Christ the Lord to her leader sent off a warning in my mind, but I let it slide since I was trying to be obedient to the Lord and sit under the teaching of a reformed pastor/teacher. Over time, however, things gradually got worse. Personal conversations that I had with the “pastor” were quoted verbatim by him in a sermon condemning the very topic of our initial conversation. Bible passages were taken out of context in order to justify the leader’s own sense of self-accomplishment. Christ stopped being the focus, and the leader’s importance and authority replaced Christ’s. Instead of teaching me to submit to Christ, he was teaching me to submit to him. Instead of warning me about works-righteousness, he was creating an environment where self-righteousness was the key indicator of whether or not one is truly a Christian.
The longer I remained, the more I began to see how this man who claimed to be a reformed pastor was actually a cult leader who preyed on people like me. It wasn’t until he openly preached heresy that, by the Lord’s powerful mercy, I had the courage to confront him about his theological sin. And once I did, he showed his true colors. He was infuriated that I would so bold as to tell him that I couldn’t remain under his teaching if he refused to answer why he had preached that a man is saved by believing the Gospel and obedience to Christ. He accused me of sin, called me rebellious, and told me that what I was doing was the intellectual equivalent of self-pleasuring. He then went on to slander me, lying to his congregation about me in order to cover up his own sin.
I was burdened, overwhelmed, confused, angry, hurt. I had trusted this man to be my teacher, to be a shepherd under Christ’s Shepherding. Instead, he had used every possible opportunity he had to try to place himself between me and the Lord Jesus Christ, to undermine my assurance of salvation, to make a worshiper of a sinful, unregenerate man, instead of a worshiper of the Lord Jesus Christ. The stress reignited a medical condition that I had for years, and I was hospitalized for three days. The cult leader never once repented for his sin against me, my wife, and my son. His followers never once repented of adoring him more than they did Christ. All continued as planned. My family was shunned and the cult leader remained sinless in the eyes of his followers.
I know what it is like to suffer at the hands of a teacher that you’ve entrusted yourself to because you want to be obedient to the Lord Jesus. I know what it is like to have your conscience bound to a man who couldn’t care less about you, who viewed you merely as a means to an end (namely his own self-glorification). But I also know that Christ Jesus was faithful to me, answering my prayers, as I pleaded with Him to reveal whether or not this “pastor” was an abusive wolf in sheep’s clothing, bringing healing to me as I sat in the hospital with no visits from the cult leader or his followers, with no signs of love from any of the people who claimed to be the only church in the area where I live. I know what it’s like to have God bring my family closer together than anything I could have imagined and strengthened our faith in Him and not in sociopathic old men with a theological axe to grind.
The Problem…Not Calling a Spade a Spade…
What I’ve come to notice since that awful time is that men like the cult leader I was being brainwashed by, as well as men like Harold Camping and other heretics, take advantage of the genuine attempts of genuine Christians to genuinely refrain from slandering men who publicly profess to be Christian teachers. They prey on the weak, using their excitement about the Gospel and God’s Word, their love for the Lord Jesus Christ, and their experiential and Biblical ignorance to feel important about themselves. And this, in my own estimation, is a big problem. You see, in the seeker-friendly churches across our country there are, no doubt, hundreds of people who have truly been drawn by God, convicted by His Spirit, and led to faith in His Son, people who desire more in depth teaching (as Scripture says that they should be getting from their pastors) who are being told that their desire for more in depth teaching is selfish. I can attest to this, having received a veiled criticism of my desire to be fed by my seeker-sensitive pastor from another seeker-sensitive pastor who informed me that my experience came from his failure to teach me to be a “self-feeder.” I was ignorant of the fact that it was/is his job to take his congregation deep into God’s Word, so I could only protest vocally, not knowing at the time how to answer from Scripture, although I knew he was wrong. So where do these people turn? Where do sheep without a shepherd who have been wounded by those who are less serious about obedience to God’s Word go? Here is an example of a Mega Church Pastor who is teaching other pastors on this issue.
In a word, they go to those who seem to be enamored with the Gospel, with God’s Word, and who have a superficial desire to eradicate heresy. If these shepherdless sheep knew better, this would be a good thing. However, for those shepherdless sheep who don’t know where to go this could be a disastrous move. I know this from personal experience. But the problem is that there are many in Christ’s church who are aware of the seeker-sensitive abuse of God’s sheep who say nothing, who do not call their leaders to repentance, and who, consequently, are complicit in pushing Christ’s sheep away from Him and into the hands of false teachers whose only desire is to abuse them in his pursuit of self-glory. Similarly, there are many in Christ’s church who are aware of false and abusive teachers who have a history of abuse (in the cult I was attending, I came to find out that the leader has a history of spiritual/psychological/emotional abuse that spans close to thirty years) in conservative circles, but they refrain from calling a spade a spade.
And where does that leave those who belong to Christ? In a place where they are abused by neglect/starvation (i.e. by continuing to attend seeker-sensitive churches) or in a place where they are actively abused by regular spiritual/psychological/emotional beatings. In either case, we their brothers and sisters are failing them. By not speaking out against men like Harold Camping and saying that he is not a Christian, that he is an unregenerate deceiver whose glory is his own belly, we have the Great Disappointment #2, and whatever else ensues. In the last few months, Rob Bell has become a regular name among professing Christians. They have derided him and mocked him for being a universalist, but I read Velvet Elvis a couple of years ago and was absolutely disgusted by his hatred of God’s Word and his pseudo-piety. I also knew that he was a universalist. And so did many others. And they asked him if he was a universalist. And he ran circles around them in order to avoid telling the truth about his satanic teaching. And he took advantage of the sincerity of believers in their attempts to be obedient to the Lord Jesus Christ in not slandering. And here we, some years later wondering how Rob Bell became so prominent, how it is that he has been able to draw such a large audience to himself, and wondering how we can combat his heresy.
Theological error will never be fully stamped out while we remain on this earth, but we do have a job to do. Paul tells us to “Mark those who cause divisions,” i.e. call a spade a spade. Jude tells us to contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints, i.e. to fight against heretics like Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, Doug Pagitt, etc etc etc. John tells us to test “the spirits” to see whether or not they come from God. This means that we are to test not only the teaching, but the individual himself and make a Scripturally balanced assessment of him. Is Rob Bell a Christian? According to his own beliefs, I would resoundingly say NO. Is Harold Camping a Christian? Since he has left the church (cf. 1 John 2:19) and condemned every pastor teaching as teaching under the authority of Satan and not Christ Jesus, I would resoundingly say NO.
Men who have openly denied the faith need to be called out for what they are: False teachers, heretics, and unregenerate tools of the enemy of our souls. This doesn’t mean that we should haphazardly go around pointing fingers at the first person we think is a false teacher, but it also isn’t to say that we should just sit back and watch what happens as thousands, perhaps millions, watch as their spiritual, emotional, financial, familial, and psychological well-being completely falls apart. If a man is a danger to the souls of Christ’s sheep, we need to call a spade a spade. This is what Christ, Paul, Peter, Jude, etc did in Scripture. This is what Luther did when he called the Pope the Antichrist. This is what Calvin, Turretin, and Beza did.
We are called to defend God’s truth against His enemies (like Rob Bell and Harold Camping, for instance), for His glorification, and for the sake of the safety of His beloved Bride.
Let’s pray that the Lord grant us the discernment and humility necessary for this task.