A Berean Exercise: “Christian” Magazines – Part 2 | thebereancall.org

T. A. McMahon

There’s a Latin saying that is similar to what it means to be a Berean. The Bereans were Jews to whom the Apostle Paul spoke in the synagogue in the Greek city of Berea. Luke commended them (Acts:17:10-11) for listening to what Paul and Silas had to say and then for searching the Scriptures to discern whether or not their words were true to what was written therein. In a secular sense, that’s what the Latin phrase caveat emptor means: “Let the buyer beware.”

That warning is what the Word of God encourages. Jesus characterized the days prior to His Second Coming as ones of increasing apostasy. He forewarned, “Take heed that no man deceive you” (Matthew:24:4). The Bible also gives reasons for the coming apostasy (a widespread turning away from biblical truth) such as: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine” (2 Timothy:4:3). Without an understanding of, and the application of, “sound doctrine” in one’s life, the ability to discern truth from error is nearly impossible. Furthermore, as deception and seduction increase, the errors become more cunning and therefore more difficult to identify. Twice in Proverbs—14:12 and 16:25—we’re told, “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.” Death always involves separation, and in these verses, death may be understood as separation from the truth of God’s Word, which ultimately leads to destruction.

Over my many years of reading Charisma Magazine, subtlety would not be a term I’d use regarding its biblical errors. They were typically more of the blatant “billboard” variety, but that’s just my opinion. What I’m seeing now is a more sophisticated maneuver that is very seductive and far less obvious. This has been taking place among many of the Word-Faith, Healing, and Prosperity ministries. Joel Osteen is a frontrunner in this approach. His father, John Osteen, was old-school Word-Faith, with its unconcealed heresies, and Joel was his media director. Joel learned how to avoid his father’s excesses in his own presentations, although they are still much the same. 

In my last visit to Bethel Church in Redding, CA, I could see the same things taking place. It’s not that anything had changed regarding its false theology, beliefs, or practices. It’s just that they were no longer as obvious as they’d been in the past. A visit to Bethel’s bookstore revealed what was foundational to its teachings for the 3,000 students who are enrolled on its campus. There were books by the Word-Faith, Positive Confession old guard of Kenneth Hagin, Charles Capps, E.W. Kenyon, Smith Wigglesworth, John G. Lake, etc. However, those writings were buried under current books by Bill Johnson, Kris Vallotton, Heidi Baker, Che Ahn, Randy Clark, and others better known to the millennials and the upcoming generation.

The May 2019 Charisma issue includes an example of that “new tactic,” and it gives me great concern. The two-page article was titled “The Send Mobilizes Tens of Thousands to Kingdom Evangelism,” and the subtitle declared, “We are here for the greatest move of God in human history.” That grandiose overstatement “outdoes” the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus! Sadly, it is claimed to be for the sake of the evangelization of the lost, something that most Christians would be blessed to participate in. According to the article, “Over 50,000 people gathered on Saturday, Feb. 23, in Orlando, Florida, for The Send, a charismatic mega-event that continued for nearly 12 hours straight.” Andy Byrd, of Youth With A Mission (YWAM), one of the event’s primary directors who also emceed, declared, “We are here because we are crazy enough to believe that we are here for the greatest move of God in human history!”

What Christian could object to the stated goal of The Send, which is to equip people to evangelize “high schools, universities, neighborhoods, the mission field, and the foster care system?” Speaker Banning Liebscher “urged Christians to take everyday evangelism seriously, emphasizing it as a matter of personal responsibility.” He added, “It is not your pastor’s job to see your friend saved.” 

Another speaker, Francis Chan, exhorted the young gathering to make sure that they were not responding to an event manufactured by man rather than the Holy Spirit, that they were being faithful in little things (sharing the gospel with their neighbors, friends, etc.) before desiring to go to the ends of the earth to evangelize, and most importantly that they were disciplined in reading the Word of God daily. Without knowing the Word, he noted, they would have nothing of value to share.

Who wouldn’t agree with at least some of the concerns of those speakers? So what’s the problem…or problems?

The fundamental problem is that the crowd of 50,000 or so is being preached at to fulfill the great commission, i.e., “Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matthew:28:19) by sharing the gospel. Yet the gospel being preached by most of the speakers is false, and the Jesus being exalted is “another Jesus” (2 Corinthians:11:4)! 

What is this false gospel? Nearly all of the older Word-Faith preachers (Hagin, Copeland, Price, the Crouches, et al.) were and are heavily influenced by E.W. Kenyon, Smith Wigglesworth, and Paul E. Billheimer. Of Jesus, the latter wrote, “He was ‘made’ sin….impregnated with sin, and became the very essence of sin; on the Cross He was banished from God’s presence as a loathsome thing. He and sin were made synonymous…. [I]t was not sufficient for Christ to offer up only His physical life on the cross. His pure human spirit had to ‘descend’ into hell…. His spirit must not only descend into hell, but into the lowest hell…. The Father turned Him over, not only to the agony and death of Calvary, but to the satanic torturers of His pure spirit as part of the just dessert of the sin of all the race. As long as Christ was ‘the essence of sin’ he was at Satan’s mercy in that place of torment.... While Christ identified with sin, Satan and the hosts of hell ruled over Him as over any lost sinner. During that seemingly endless age in the nether abyss of death, Satan did with Him as he would, and all hell was ‘in carnival.’” 

Dave Hunt, noting the blasphemy and absurdity of such a belief, pointed out that “That would make Satan our co-redeemer!” Yet there’s much more to that shameful heresy in contradiction to the biblical gospel. Jesus paid the full penalty for the sins of mankind as He hung on the cross—not in hell. Following the three hours during which the sky had turned black, He cried out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” He, and only He, as the sinless God/Man could personally experience what was necessary to fulfill divine justice. When that payment for the infinite penalty for sin was completed, His last words were, “It is finished” (tetelestai—paid in full), and “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” Notice that it was into the Father’s hands that Jesus committed His spirit, not into Satan’s in order to be punished.

There is nothing in Scripture that even hints at Satan torturing Jesus as His payment for sin, especially in hell, which is the last place the father of lies wants to be (although that’s where he will spend eternity). That is a false gospel—a doctrine of demons. It also includes a false Christ. What those who hold to such a belief write about Him never happened to the biblical Jesus.

Is that the gospel The Send wants the 50,000 young people to take to the ends of the earth? Someone might argue that not all the speakers believe that gospel. Not all? How many such preachers of a false gospel would it take to lead the young people astray, especially when they are up there with the leader they like? Perhaps some of the younger leaders don’t believe that false gospel, but no one can be certain, because a clear biblical gospel was never given throughout the twelve hours of the conference. Since some of the elder statesmen of the Word-Faith and Healing and Prosperity “gospel” were there to influence those gathered, there’s little doubt that they held to that heretical belief.

As mentioned earlier, one of the speakers, Francis Chan, encouraged the crowd to discipline themselves to read the Scriptures daily, as he does. One value of that important habit is biblical discernment, which somehow seems to be seriously missing from Chan’s stated diligence. His history of defending the Roman Catholic Church, with its false gospel of works, seems to pale in light of a staggering number of heresies held and practiced by those among whom he preached at The Send. Their heretical examples have filled volumes, especially those of Benny Hinn, Rodney Howard-Browne, Mike Bickle, and Bill Johnson. Where were Chan’s warnings as a biblical watchman (Ezekiel:3:17-21; 33:7-11; Mark:13:21-23) regarding the false teachers and false prophets with whom he shared the stage? Why was there no mention of Paul’s warning to the Ephesian elders?: “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears” (Acts:20:28-31).

The doctrinal errors among the speakers, in addition to the false gospel, as noted, are numerous and can only lead their followers away from the Word of God. Most of them, and the ministries they represent, are into Kingdom Dominionism. They believe that God is going to use them to bring about a great end-times revival and that Christians will rule the earth prior to the return of Jesus. No! The Bible states that there will be a “great” tribulation, not a great worldwide revival! The next kingdom, according to the Scriptures, is the kingdom of the Antichrist. Kingdom building is a major belief of Bill Johnson and Bethel Church. That fact is made clear in the songs of Jesus Culture. Those who buy into these false teachings will be contributing to, albeit unwittingly, the religion and the kingdom of the “man of sin.”

False teachings run through the entire history of the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements, not because the Bible doesn’t teach the very critical and necessary work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of every true believer but because that activity has been distorted and abused by many who seem to endorse the Spirit-filled life. Christianity, without the true working of the Holy Spirit, is not biblical Christianity—it is vanity.

The leaven of false prophecies abounds among many of the The Send’s speakers, of whom Benny Hinn may be chief among them (see The Confusing World of Benny Hinn). Fake healings at his meetings are well known. The young leaders of The Send emulate their elders, including Michael Koulianos, who is Hinn’s son-in-law. Todd White claimed to have a word from the Lord that a healing was going to take place among all those in the crowd who had physical scars and needle tracks from past drug use. God, he claimed, was going to remove the scars and needle marks as he spoke! After what seemed like an endless harangue for God to heal, and a besieging of the audience for proof of God’s healing, no one manifested what White had declared.

Another article in the May 2019 issue of Charisma was related to the claim that God was bringing about revival throughout the world. The article was titled “God Is Shaking Europe.” We’re told, “Hundreds of thousands of people in Europe are beginning to respond to the gospel of Jesus Christ through massive evangelization efforts.” Sounds really good! But we need to be Bereans and discern which gospel is being preached, and by whom. The leader of Awakening Europe is Ben Fitzgerald, a former pastor from Bethel Church. The article notes that “numerous houses of prayer, similar to the International House of Prayer [IHOP] in Kansas City, Missouri…have spread to most major European cities.” IHOP’s beginnings were steeped in the beliefs and spiritual abuses of the “Kansas City Prophets.” Yet a leader of the European IHOP comments that “the growth is driven by the next generation…. The younger generation loves worship and is drawn to real Spirit-filled worship.”

The article opens with a statement related to the thoughts of Todd White and Ben Fitzgerald. I don’t think they recognized the potential—and even frightening—irony of what came to their minds. They “felt oddly compelled to visit the field where Adolf Hitler had held Nazi rallies decades earlier. On that field, Hitler had indoctrinated tens of thousands of youth into the lies behind his murderous regime.” If those individuals who are behind The Send are not preaching the truth of God’s Word to the “tens of thousands of youth” who are attending their rallies, the consequences are more than merely temporal—they’re tragically eternal.