What Happened to My Church? The drift from solid doctrine to “experience”

by Julie T.

I am concerned that our Christian culture is shifting away from the solid doctrine of God’s Word in favor of “experience.” Traditional Christianity is being replaced with mysticism as false doctrine spreads.

I am concerned that my church in particular is shifting away from solid doctrine and God’s Word in favor of “experience” and the wisdom of humans rather than God. Below are some warning signs I see. My spouse and I communicated with our church elders in person as well as through e-mail. The elders were very kind in listening, but it is unlikely the church will change direction.

Travertine terraces at Yellowstone National Park. The dripping of hot springs gradually produces this strange landscape. Over time, my church changed drastically from the solid Bible church it once was.

1) STATEMENT OF BELIEF ON OUR WEBSITE:

-Our statement of belief on our web site has this introduction: “What we believe shapes how we live. Beliefs aren’t just abstract ideas about things we can’t see. They form a story that gives meaning to life for people and communities. Because our stories are so important for how we live, we have framed our central beliefs within the framework of a story that gives meaning and shapes how we understand our identity and purpose.” This makes no mention of truth, and makes it sound like we made up our own story because it helps us have a sense of identity and purpose. It makes no mention of our beliefs being based on the Word of God.

-Our statement of belief has no Bible quotations or references.

-Our statement of belief downplays people’s responsibility for sin and God’s wrath against sin: “Although people were made in God’s image to reflect Him, sin has broken, distorted, and alienated us from Him, ourselves, and each other.  Sin is violence against the peace and harmony God intended for His creation. Sin is the choice of people to reject God as God and instead worship someone, or something else in His rightful place. Sin has damaged people, relationships, and all creation; leaving humans guilty, shameful, defiled, and fearful.” This section emphasizes sin as the actor (usually sin is the subject noun) and downplays people’s responsibility. It emphasizes how sin makes us feel — “guilty, shameful, defiled, and fearful” – rather than emphasizing that we are legally guilty before God and under a death sentence. This section of the statement of belief misses an opportunity to share Bible verses like Romans 3:23 (“For all have sinned …”) and Romans 6:23 (“The wages of sin is death …”)

-Our statement about Jesus’ saving work on the cross is weakly expressed: “God sent Jesus to deal with the problem of sin, once and for all …” Is sin just a “problem”?  We were totally dead in our sins. Jesus didn’t just solve a problem, he gave us the only way to cross from death to life. Surely we could state what he has done with greater force, and with direct quotations from the Word of God. His Word has power, and our statement of belief should be saturated with it. Here’s one verse that could be used: “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life.” (John 5:24).

-Our statement of belief does not use the word “hell” at all, though Jesus clearly spoke of hell. It does say that people who reject God’s grace will remain separated from him; but hell is not just a “time out.”

-Again, by downplaying sin, God’s wrath, and hell, we may make our statement of belief seem more attractive, but we are actually downplaying the greatness of what Jesus has done to save us if we are downplaying the severity of the situation we need saving from.

2) USE OF SOME WORSHIP SONGS THAT ARE DOCTRINALLY INACCURATE

One song we’ve sung repeats over and over, “You are love and love alone.” (That’s also the title, by All Sons & Daughters.) Yes, God is love, but the Bible doesn’t say that He’s “love alone” – He is other things too, such as a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29) and a judge (Psalm 7:11). “God is holy” appears much more frequently in the Bible than “God is love.”

“Reckless Love” (by Cory Asbury, part of Bethel Music). God is not reckless. “Reckless” means irresponsible and not having a plan. That’s the opposite of what God is. I read online that Cory Asbury was inspired to write this based on the story of the prodigal son. But when you read the prodigal son story, the word “reckless” appears when describing the prodigal son’s behavior! How does it honor God to apply that word to His character?

I was confused after we sang the song “Surrounded” at church. I didn’t know what we were talking about as we repeated “This is how I fight my battles” over and over, until I read more about the song and its origin. This song is from an NAR church (Bethel Church in Redding, CA) http://www.apologeticsindex.org/2977-new-apostolic-reformation-overview

 The NAR movement teaches (among many other problematic teachings) that worship is aggressive and used in gaining dominion over new areas. (Here’s a helpful video about Bethel’s theology and emphasis on experience

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r3tEv26OMTU)

See the song lyrics here:

https://tabs.ultimate-guitar.com/tab/bethel_music/surrounded_fight_my_battles_chords_2276251

The pattern of Hillsong and Bethel worship songs is to be very repetitive and not theologically deep or accurate. It’s more about getting into a certain mental/emotional state than about singing praise to God. Their tunes are often so good that we don’t care that they’re vague or slightly wrong theologically.

I’m also concerned about using worship songs from churches such as Hillsong and Bethel that teach false doctrines (including the prosperity gospel, the idea that it’s always God’s will for you to be healed, kenoticism, and more); if we freely use these songs without any caveats to church members, won’t that legitimize and normalize these churches and their warped theology?

3) MYSTICAL PRACTICES IN USE AT OUR CHURCH

-We have a spiritual formation director. Spiritual formation includes “listening prayer,” a style of prayer that is not what Jesus or Paul taught us about prayer. I wrote a post about this; if you want to read it, click here:

-Lectio divina. This practice is popular among Catholics and Gnostics and is gaining acceptance in the Emerging Church.  It involves listening prayer and promotes over-personalized Bible misinterpretation, as most practice it.

-Visio divina. “Visio Divina is translated as “divine seeing.” It is related to the prayer form Lectio Divina (divine reading), but instead of Scripture, this form of prayer uses visual elements to help set your mind on prayer. It allows God to speak into your heart through the image. This form of prayer has been used throughout the centuries, more popular in Catholic and Eastern Orthodox communities where icons are often used in prayer. However, Visio Divina is growing in use across Protestant communities, as well.”

(the above explanatory quote is from https://www.kathrynshirey.com/pray-with-eyes-of-the-heart-visio-divina/)

Tapping into Catholic mysticism is not a benefit to the church! Keep in mind the Catholics celebrated for their mysticism had some very weird theology and some very dubious visions of “Mary.”

-Yoga/body stretching

-Drum circles – These were led at our church as recently as Summer 2017.

-Enneagram taught at a seminar for the high school youth group. The enneagram has occult origins. Claudio Naranjo stated in an interview that he got the enneagram personality types through automatic writing (this is the process of writing down words given to you by a demon; it’s channeling through writing instead of through speaking.)

For more info, see https://www.equip.org/article/tell-me-who-i-am-o-enneagram/

To see the video clip of Claudio Naranjo, and for more enneagram details, watch this video (Naranjo details start at about 9:30):

4) USE OF THE ALPHA COURSE AS THE MAIN SYSTEM FOR EVANGELISM AND TRAINING OF NEW BELIEVERS

-The course emphasizes experiencing the Holy Spirit – which might sound positive, but take into account that this was written by a leader of Holy Trinity Brompton church, a church where the Toronto Blessing spread. (https://truthinreality.com/2012/07/06/the-truth-concerning-holy-trinity-brampton/) After researching this, I feel the Toronto Blessing and similar “holy spirit” manifestations are actually demonic. The alpha course explains that you might feel heat in your body, and other physical sensations. There’s a weekend set aside for it that is spoken of as the highlight of the course.

-Alpha de-emphasizes God’s wrath, hell, and repentance.

-Alpha emphasizes “God helps me fill the void in my life” rather than, God made a way for me to be saved from His righteous wrath.

-Alpha is approved by Catholics and Protestants, and the writer even provided extra lessons for a Catholic version of alpha. If this is your main way of bringing in people and exposing them to the gospel, this is too broad – ecumenical in a bad way.

Here’s an article detailing concerns about the Alpha course.

http://www.theologian.org.uk/pastoralia/alphacourse.html

5) MYSTICAL TEACHINGS DIRECTLY FROM THE PULPIT

-A sermon on 1/27/2019. It includes that your life dreams are “God-given,” (not necessarily). The female pastor specifically mentions being influenced by a class that promotes listening prayer, the same class that encouraged multiple friends of mine to read Brad Jersak’s book “Can You Hear Me?”, as well as Dallas Willard’s very similar writings. In a previous post (“Jesus in Your Head”), I have written a paper here about this book, detailing how it deviates from sound teaching.

-A sermon on the Holy Spirit on 2/25/2018. I’m pretty sure the pastor quoted directly from Brad Jersak’s  “Can You Hear Me?” book, though he didn’t name the book. The quote compared prayer to leaving a message on an answering machine. This sermon also echoed the teaching of the book that if you have a problem with listening prayer, it’s probably because you’re prideful. Just like the book, it pre-judges any person who might challenge those teachings.

6) GENERAL SHIFT IN SERMON STYLE

I attended the same church from 1995 to 2019. Sermons at this church used to be a very clear verse-by-verse teaching of Scripture, very exegetical. There have been some sermon series more recently that, although they were based on Scripture, were more a “creative storytelling” type style, with conjecture freely mixed in with the teaching. A series on Ruth is an example of this. It was even stated that perhaps something sexual happened at the threshing floor between Ruth and Boaz, when the context clearly celebrates the uprightness of both people.

7) GENERAL SHIFT IN ACTIVITIES OFFERED AT THE CHURCH

The types of classes & activities offered at the church has shifted over time. Bonus youth activities (beyond youth group) offered in recent years have been guitar classes and art journaling (taught by the spiritual formation director). This isn’t bad, but it’s like serving dessert all the time. Where’s the meat of our teaching?  Bonus adult classes and activities also trend away from serious Bible study and prayer, toward fitness and women’s events that aim for emotional experiences.

8) GENERAL SHIFT AWAY FROM BIBLICAL TEACHINGS ABOUT FEMALE LEADERSHIP

The church did not used to allow women to preach on Sundays, would not have hired a woman pastor except for women’s ministry, and did not have a female youth pastor (the church doesn’t have a female youth pastor right now, but the previous middle school pastor was a female, when teen guys need men to be in charge). This is part of a greater cultural trend toward “equality,” but the Bible affirms that there are 2 genders and they have different roles.

9) TRENDING TOWARD FLUFFIER MESSAGES TO THE CHURCH BODY

The feel-good messages in all-church e-mails tend to lack Scripture references. If they do use a Scripture, it’s brief and probably out of context.

On 9/6, the all-church e-mail concluded with: “Be less anxious. Act more boldly. Be sillier, even when people are looking. Be smart with my money. Be even smarter with my time. Be more thankful. And, of course, be more gracious with myself when I don’t do the things listed above with much consistency.” Where’s the Bible in this? These all-church devotionals are basically mini sermons, and those who preach have a responsibility to preach the Word. 2 Timothy 4:2-4 says, “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and encourage with every form of patient instruction. For the time will come when men will not tolerate sound doctrine, but with itching ears they will gather around themselves teachers to suit their own desires. So they will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” We need to stay focused on sound doctrine, and not turn aside to myths.

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