Originally Published October 1991
Critics have long leveled the charge of “divisive” and “negative” against those who would warn the church of unbiblical teachings and practices. I prayerfully consider such accusations, for my heart echoes the same concern. I long just to preach the gospel and to put behind me the controversy that has become such an unwelcome part of my life. Yet in preaching the pure gospel one must carefully distinguish it from the clever counterfeits all around.
How negligent it would be not to warn the sheep of poisoned pastures and false shepherds who promote lies in the name of truth. Yet the odds are staggering. Norman Vincent Peale’s magazines, for example, have 16 million readers monthly, many times our small circulation! The flesh faints with weariness and frustration. Then why persist in a task so lonely and burdensome? Yes, why this burning passion?
There are, thank God, the many letters of encouragement from those who offer their love, support, and prayers. There are, too, the earnest “thank you’s” from the thousands who have been set free from the delusion and bondage of false gospels—from Catholicism and “Christian psychology” to positive/possibility thinking and positive confession. Yet even without any such encouragement we would be compelled to carry on and would urge you to do the same.
Jeremiah was hated, maligned, imprisoned, and threatened with death because he preached repentance and warned of God’s impending judgment when the “positive prophets” promised peace and prosperity “by the word of the Lord.” Popular opinion opposed him. He became so discouraged that he declared that he would no longer speak for God nor even mention His name. But God’s Word was in his heart and burned like a fire in his bones, so that he had to speak (Jer 20). Yes, above all, it is God’s Word burning within that compels us.
Distressed by accusations of “negativism,” I cry out to God and turn to His unfailing Word. And what do I find there? The very message I am constrained to preach! Christ himself was far more “negative” than I have dared to be. He continually warned of judgment and hell, exposed sin, demanded repentance, rebuked the religious leaders and indicted them as hypocrites, whited sepulchers, blind leaders of the blind, fools. Without doubt, He would be banned from most Christian pulpits and media today!
The Sermon on the Mount is not intended to enhance one’s “self-esteem.” It encourages one to be poor in spirit, to mourn, to be meek and merciful, and promises that those who are true to God and His Word will be hated, persecuted, and vilified (Mt 5). But didn’t Jesus say, “Judge not, that ye be not judged” (Mt 7:1)? Isn’t it unbiblical, then, to accuse a Christian leader of any wrong? On the contrary, Christ could only have meant that we were not to judge motives, for He clearly told us to judge teaching and lives: “Beware of false prophets [i.e., teachers]... by their fruits [lives] ye shall know them” (vv. 15-20). Surely He is calling us to judge false doctrine and deeds!
When Paul exhorted Timothy to “preach the word,” he explained that to do so one must “reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2 Tm:4:2). Paul warned of “vain talkers and deceivers...whose mouths must be stopped [from teaching false doctrine].” He urged Titus to “rebuke them sharply” (Ti:1:10-13). He told Timothy, “Them that sin rebuke before all [i.e., publicly], that others also may fear” (1 Tm:5:20). Clearly such reproof requires a judging that does not violate Christ’s prohibition but which, in fact, He commanded and the apostles practiced—a judging which Satan hates because it unmasks his lies.
The International Genocide Treaty signed by President Reagan in November 1988, makes it a crime to try to convert anyone of another religion or to suggest that their beliefs are wrong. It will soon be a serious crime to call homosexuality a sin. The day is coming when, to protect “minority rights,” we will be prohibited by law from preaching the gospel except in the most “positive” manner. Sadly, much of the evangelical church has already conformed.
It is not enough simply to “preach the truth” when there are lies that counterfeit it so closely that many can’t tell the difference. It is both logically and scripturally essential to expose and refute today’s pernicious false gospels. Yet to do so is to be opposed by church leaders and barred from most platforms. I am banned even from such evangelical networks as Moody Radio lest I expose the humanism they promote in the name of “Christian psychology.” Why not allow an open discussion of vital issues before the whole church? Are church leaders concerned for truth—or with protecting their own interests?
“Christian psychology” may seem to help for a time, but it undermines our real victory in Christ by redefining sin as “mental illness.” This heresy inspired a host of new terms such as obsessive-compulsive behavior, dysfunctional families, addiction—and more recently the increasingly popular co-dependency myths and Twelve Step recovery programs spawned by Alcoholics Anonymous. In 12 Steps to Destruction, the Bobgans point out that Bill Wilson, founder of AA, based his system upon what was a revolutionary new theory: that drunkenness was not a “moral defect” but an excusable “illness.” Wilson was relieved to learn that he was an “alcoholic”—a new term at the time.
Enlarging upon this lie, “Christian psychologists” have redefined as mental illness all manner of behavior that Jesus, the Great Physician, diagnosed as sin. John MacArthur tells of hearing a woman call into a “Christian psychology” radio program to confess that she couldn’t keep from having sex with anybody and everybody. She was told that her problem arose from an overbearing mother and milquetoast father and that it was an “addiction” that could take years of therapy to cure. So much for Christ’s “Go, and sin no more” (Jn:8:11). Disobeying God is no longer sin if one has a compulsion or addiction or has had a traumatic childhood.
In his book, Our Sufficiency in Christ, MacArthur writes, “The depth to which sanctified psychotherapy can sink is really quite profound. A local newspaper recently featured an article about a 34-bed clinic that has opened in Southern California to treat ‘Christian sex addicts.’ According to the article the clinic is affiliated with a large well-known Protestant church in the area.” Several leading “Christian psychologists” interviewed for the article “scoffed at the power of God’s Word to transform a heart and break the bondage of sexual sin.” The director explained that his treatment center would serve to rescue many Christians who had been taught that “the Bible is all you need.” Yet that is what the Bible itself claims and the entire church believed for 1,800 years until the advent of Christian psychology.
In The Journal of Biblical Ethics in Medicine, Dr. Robert Maddox warns that “all manner of sin...from gluttony to fornication, from stealing to bestiality...is [being] labeled as disease, to be cured with chemical, electrical and mechanical treatments.” The Bobgans also quote from University of California professor Herbert Fingarette’s book, Heavy Drinking: The Myth of Alcoholism as a Disease: “I just don’t understand why any churches would go for the disease idea...[it] denies the spiritual dimension of the whole thing.” They also quote Stanton Peele from his book, Diseasing of America: Addiction Treatment Out of Control: “...disease definitions undermine the individual’s obligations to control behavior and to answer for misconduct...[and] actually increase the incidence of the behaviors of concern.”
How astonishing that as the secular world is abandoning the sinking ship of psychotherapy, Christians are jumping aboard, imagining that this doomed vessel will not only stay afloat but add needed buoyancy to the ark God has provided!
It makes me weep to watch the growing deception, to cry out against it, and to be heeded by so few and opposed by so many. Why is that essential correction, which Scripture so clearly demands, left to a few of us nobodies and shunned by church leaders who would be heeded by millions? Write to the most influential evangelical leaders and ask how they can “preach the Word” without involving themselves in the reproof and rebuke of rampant error that Paul said must be at the very heart of biblical preaching!
Today I received a memo from a researcher who, along with her husband, is among the nobodies crying out against heresy in the church. Her concern was The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning, a Catholic, published by Multnomah Press. In part she said, “Manning teaches...that [a Christian] may continue to live a life of debauchery...describes himself as a [heavy] smoker and someone who became an alcoholic after conversion...wants active homosexuals accepted into full fellowship (p 26) along with other immoral people... teaches an eastern-type meditation (pp 43, 205-206)...twists scripture (pp 23, 28, 73, 173); he says that everyone, but the self-righteous [those that obey God by Manning’s definition], will go to heaven (pp 17, 26, 29)....This book is dangerous...a ploy by a new age Catholic to invade the evangelical church....Christian[s] must be warned that...the once trusted names of Multnomah, Thomas Nelson and Fleming Revell [to name a few] are no guarantee of orthodoxy. What a shame!”
I called her to make certain she hadn’t overstated her case. She read excerpts from the book to prove she had not. Christian publishers can no longer be trusted to publish truth but have become purveyors of death! A dump truck would not have been large enough to haul all of the heresy out of the recent Christian Booksellers convention in Orlando. Even Roman Catholic publishers of the most awful blasphemy and incredible nonsense, such as Paulist Press, were represented alongside evangelicals.
Take, for example, the booth of another Catholic publisher, Our Sunday Visitor. One of their books on display told the story of Padre Pio, a recently deceased Catholic monk admired by Pope John Paul II. Pio manifested the “stigmata,” a bleeding from his palms to make up the deficiency in Christ’s redemptive work on the cross! Pio believed he was suffering for the salvation of sinners! He claimed that literally millions of the spirits of the dead, whom he saw with his physical eyes, came to him on their way to heaven to thank him for gaining their release from purgatory! This is only one of Rome’s many heresies. I confronted Sunday Visitor employees concerning the demonic delusion promoted by their books and objected to their presence at a convention of evangelical publishers. They pointed to a nearby booth promoting horrendous, allegedly “Christian” rock music and declared, “We have as much right to be here as they do!” I could only agree.
Mission Frontiers, the bulletin of the U.S. Center for World Mission in Pasadena, California, Vol. 13, No. 4-5, has a biblical passion for world evangelization. In contrast to the Manning/Multnomah justification of smoking, the editorial declared, “Tobacco causes more deaths each year in the United States than heroin, cocaine, alcohol, AIDS, fires, homicides, suicides, and auto accidents combined....More Colombians died last year from smoking American cigarettes than did Americans from using Colombian cocaine.” “Addiction,” or sin?
The editorial also highly commended Pope John Paul II’s recent encyclical on world missions. Disappointment was expressed that the encyclical was “marred by reference at the very end to the idea that...the work of the church is done ‘together with Mary.’” Yet the encyclical was praised and an address given where it could be purchased because it spoke of “people groups,” a term in vogue at the World Center. Sadly, however, 950 million Catholics who need to be evangelized—a special “people group” comprising nearly 20 percent of the world’s population—were overlooked! The editorial, in fact, implied that Catholicism’s evangelism is biblical.
Throughout Central and South America, Catholicism is in the most blatant partnership with spiritism and paganism. In Brazil, I visited Aparecida, the largest cathedral in the world next to St. Peter’s in Rome. It is dedicated to a small idol of a “Black Virgin”—pulled from a nearby lake in a fishing net—which now performs “miracles.” The pope came recently to honor this idol. At the Mass the priest led the people in prayers and songs to the idol, asking it for salvation and dedicating their lives to it. Aparecida’s large bookstore carries many of the same “positive” books that delude Protestants—books in Portuguese by American authors, from Norman Vincent Peale to “Christian psychologists.”
Today’s evangelical leaders shun their duty to oppose heresy. Many of them promote Catholicism, occultism, and humanistic psychology. Therefore we, the nobodies, though few heed us, must cry out even louder to warn the sheep of poisoned pastures and false shepherds. “Positive” or “negative” is not the issue, but rather truth and simple obedience to our Lord and His Word. TBC