Where Does the Road to Rome Lead
Catholicism teaches some things that are Scriptural (such as the Resurrection of Jesus Christ). However, it does not have a Biblical worldview. This is because, according to Catholic doctrine, the traditions of men are more important than Scripture. As a result, Catholicism is influenced by unscriptural philosophies, unbiblical pratices, and non-Christian religions.
These will be discussed later. Right now, I want to deal with some principles that will help explain how the priests and nuns in the next chapter wound up mixing Catholicism with non-Christian religions, and how Catholic theologians wound up wandering so far from Biblical truth. These principles are also helpful in understanding how unscriptural beliefs and practices are getting into some Evangelical churches.
Today there are a number of unscriptural worldviews that have influenced churches and individual Christians. One result is that many Evangelicals are becoming interested in Catholic mysticism and other aspects of Catholicism.
In today’s ecumenical world, it is becoming more and more important that people understand Catholicism. That is why I wrote Catholic Concerns.
If you are a Catholic, then please read Appendix A (“For Catholics”) before reading any more of this book.
If you are a former Catholic, then please read Appendix B (“For Former Catholics”) after you have read the rest of the book.
Whatever your religious background, please pray as you read Catholic Concerns. Please ask God to show you His perspective about the things that are discussed here. I have done my best to be fair and accurate, but only God has the full truth. Only He fully understands the big picture. That’s why I want the Lord to speak to your heart as you read this book. (Or any other book about religion.)
The Importance of Worldviews
The worldview of Christians should be based on the Bible—and on their understanding of, and relationship with, the Lord Jesus Christ. However, we live in a world with many other beliefs, values, and ways of thinking. These beliefs and values are continually presented to us through secular education, newspapers, magazines, movies, books, television, and video games.
Some worldviews are: Christianity, Islam, secular humanism, Marxism-Leninism (communism), the New Age movement, and postmodernism. (The New Age Movement is also called “the new spirituality,” the Age of Aquarius, and cosmic humanism.) Each of these worldviews has a different approach to theology, philosophy, ethics, biology, psychology, sociology, law, politics, economics, and history.1
These various worldviews can have a significant impact on our practical daily lives. For example, in the United States, humanism is a tax-exempt religion.2 It has been actively promoted by the media, by Hollywood, and in the public school system.
Secular humanist John Dumphy wrote an article titled “A Religion for a New Age” which was published in The Humanist magazine.3 He said that public school teachers should be “ministers” who use their classrooms “to convey humanist values in whatever subject they teach, regardless of the educational level—preschool, daycare, or large state university.” Dunphy said that the teachers should replace Christianity with the “new faith of humanism.” In 1994, Dunphy wrote an article for the Secular Humanist Bulletin in which he repeated and reinforced his previous statements.4
John Dewey is the “Father of Modern Education.” He is also one of the signers of The Humanist Manifesto. 5 The original Humanist Manifesto (1933) said, “the time has passed for theism [belief in God].” A second version of the Humanist Manifesto (1980) said, “As non-theists, we begin with humans not God, nature not deity.” It also said, “No deity will save us; we must save ourselves.”6
Dewey openly admitted that secular humanism is a religion. In his book A Common Faith he said, “Here are all the elements for a religious faith…”7
Worldviews have practical consequences. John Dewey, the Father of Modern Education, was an atheist who wanted to replace belief in God with the religion of secular humanism. Therefore, it is not surprising that many children who were raised in Christian homes no longer practice their family’s faith when they become adults.
Competing worldviews can influence the beliefs and practices of Christians. For example, the New Age (“the new spirituality”) teaches moral relativism. This is directly opposed to the moral absolutes of Christianity. In spite of that, New Age beliefs and practices are getting into modern churches. You can read about it in A Time of Departing by Ray Yungen.8
Even postmodernism is getting into some churches. The emergent church is led by a group of influential men “who are incorporating elements of Postmodernism within their theology.” They deny the inerrancy of Scripture, and they are skeptical about some foundational Christian doctrines.9 You can read about the emerging church and its influence in Faith Undone by Roger Oakland.10
After some Christian authors showed that the New Age movement is contrary to Biblical Christianity, then New Age leaders stopped using that term to describe themselves. Now they use terms such as “the new spirituality.” The vocabulary changed, but the beliefs and practices remained the same. I would not be surprised if something similar happens with the emergent church movement.
There is another worldview that is influencing individual Christians and some churches. It is Neopaganism. This includes Wicca, modern Druids, and groups such as the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans.
Wicca is the largest Neopagan movement. It involves nature worship, goddess worship, and witchcraft.11 I know some Christian parents whose children became involved in Wicca through the influence of students at their schools. Wicca is a rapidly growing religion that can be studied and practiced on the Internet. There are “virtual covens” where young people can practice the Wiccan religion online without the knowledge of their parents.12
Wiccan beliefs and practices are getting into mainline denominations. For example, two Methodist clergywomen participated in a “croning ritual” (a witchcraft initiation ritual). They both wrote articles praising their experience in Wellsprings, a journal for Methodist clergywomen. When contacted by Insight on the News, both women confirmed their participation in the croning ritual, and said that their bishop (a woman) had also participated. When the bishop was contacted, she said that she “witnessed many croning rituals.”13
Some churches use a ten-session workshop called Cakes for the Queen of Heaven. It encourages goddess worship and endorses witchcraft. The movie Goddess Remembered is used in some church study groups.14
It is interesting that two things are happening at the same time. Some Christians are losing their faith in the supernatural events described in the Bible. Meanwhile, other Christians are developing a faith in the supernatural teachings of Neopaganism and the New Age movement (the “new spirituality”). For example, I met a woman who claims to be Christian, but the soap opera Charmed seems to have more influence on her worldview than the Bible does.
Then and Now
Non-Christian worldviews (especially humanism) have influenced the beliefs, assumptions, and daily lives of Christians in America and other western nations. We have changed more than most people realize.
To get some idea of how much our thinking and behavior has changed, let’s compare some modern beliefs and behavior with those of times past.
Go back to 1950. That’s 58 years ago. If you weren’t alive then, you can get some idea of what things were like by watching movies from that period or reading books about it.
In 1950, the most common disciplinary problems in the schools were talking in class and chewing gum. The overwhelming majority of people were virgins when they got married. Divorce was highly unusual. When people got married, they expected to stay together, no matter what.
Back in 1950, watching sex was not an acceptable form of entertainment. In the movies, if there was a love scene, you saw the couple together and then the picture changed or faded out. You might see a kiss, but that was it. Parents back then would have been appalled if their children saw the kinds of things that have become commonplace in movies and television today.
Charles Spurgeon preached until his death in 1892. That was 116 years ago. When he preached, every seat in his church was filled, and people who couldn’t get seats stood in the aisles. Some people walked for miles to get to his church, stood for a two-hour service, and then walked home again. And they were grateful to be able to do it. There was no fellowship hall, no coffee, no smiling greeters at the doors, and no opportunity to shake the pastor’s hand or talk with him. Back then, people took God seriously. They prayed and read their Bibles at home, and when they went to church, they went there to do business with God—not to socialize.
All Worldviews Are Not Equal
We should love and respect people whose worldviews are different from ours. However, we should not compromise our own worldview in order to do it. We can love people and still disagree with them.
People are free to believe whatever they want to believe. However, there is only one correct worldview. And we will know what it is when we die.
If the secular humanists are right, then we will just cease to exist. But if they are wrong, then we will keep on existing.
If the New Agers and Hindus are right, then that continuing existence will be reincarnation. But if they are wrong, then we will be in either Heaven or Hell.
If the Bible is true, then Jesus Christ is the only way to Heaven.
The stakes are tremendous—and eternal.
A Biblical Worldview
Biblical Christianity is based on having a Biblical worldview. That means believing that the Bible is credible and authoritative, and that it is given by God through the Holy Spirit. The Apostles Paul and Peter said,
So Scripture comes from God. Therefore, whenever possible, we should use Scripture to understand Scripture. That way we will get God’s perspective on it, rather than our own limited human perspective (or the limited perspective of someone else).
Jesus said that His words would last forever. The world that we know will pass away, but His words won’t. In addition, there are times when the writers of the Bible clearly asserted that their words came directly from God. For example:
The Bible is the Word of God, and it is our greatest treasure. It is the key to knowing God and having a right relationship with Him, and it brings joy to those who love the Lord. Psalms 19 and 119 say,
Jesus and the apostles warned us that persuasive people will try to deceive us. Here are a few examples:
According to Webster’s Dictionary, the word “spoil” means to “damage seriously,” to “rob,” to “ruin.” The word “beguile” means to “deceive,” to “hoodwink,” to “deprive by guile,” to “cheat.” So Paul says that Christians have something precious, and they need to be careful not to allow it to be taken away from them by deception. They need to be vigilant, and avoid being defrauded by smooth-talking, persuasive people.
We are strongly warned not to add to Scripture or take away from it. Unfortunately, both adding and taking away have been done by Catholics, liberal Protestants, emergent church leaders, and others. Please note the following warnings:
Thanks to the widespread influence of humanism, many people today have difficulty really believing the Bible. If you are one of them, then please read Josh McDowell’s book Evidence That Demands a Verdict. It’s an in-depth study of evidence for the credibility and reliability of the Bible. In 1999 he published a revised and expanded edition titled The New Evidence That Demands A Verdict: Fully Updated to Answer the Questions Challenging Christians Today. Both editions give historical and archeological evidence for the credibility, reliability, and accuracy of the Bible. They also show how some Old Testament prophecies have been fulfilled.
Also, please read Josh McDowell’s book More Than a Carpenter. This is a short, easy-to-read book about the Resurrection, which is an absolutely essential Christian doctrine. The Apostle Paul said,
In addition, you can read the Internet article “Archeological and Historical Evidence for Biblical Accuracy.”
Please note that I am only recommending two particular books by Josh McDowell. I can’t recommend the author himself because people can change. I don’t know what conferences he may have attended, or what friends or authors may have influenced him. I don’t know whether or not his worldview is still Scriptural.
Some well respected Evangelicals are being influenced by the emergent church. In one case, a man’s son went to seminary and was influenced by an emergent professor. Then the son influenced his father, who is a pastor and an author. Then the father preached a series of sermons to take his congregation through a “paradigm shift” into emergent thinking.
People can change, and churches can change. Therefore, we have to be like the Bereans and test everything against Scripture. (See Acts 17:10-12)
In order to be able to do that, we have to have a good working knowledge of Scripture. That requires reading it regularly. It also requires reading large portions of it at a time, so that we can understand things in context.
During the Temptation in the Wilderness, the devil tempted Jesus to turn some stones into bread. Jesus answered, “It is written…” After that, the devil used Scripture to tempt Jesus—he told Jesus to thrown Himself down from the top of the Temple, saying, “It is written…” And Jesus replied, “It is written again…”
Sometimes things in Scripture have to be kept in balance. “It is written” gives one aspect of it, and “It is written again” gives another aspect of it.
For example, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told us, “Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee, turn not away.” That’s a good general principle. We should help the needy. However, there are so many poor people in the world that if word got around that we gave to everybody who asked, needy people would flock to us. And if we gave them everything that they asked for, we would wind up with nothing ourselves. We would become homeless beggars. Another Scripture verse gives balance to what Jesus said. The Apostle Paul tells us, “But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.” (1 Timothy 5:8)
So there is a balance here. On the one hand, we should have hearts that are willing to give. But we also need to use good judgment when giving, so that we can provide adequately for our families. It is written, “Give to him that asketh thee…” But it is also written, “But if any provide not for his own, specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.”
In applying Scripture, we need to pray, use good judgment, and look for other Scripture passages that give further insight.
Common Sense and Scripture
We can’t live according to Scripture unless we have confidence that it means what it says, that it is reliable, and that it is credible.
Many problems that people have with Scripture are caused by heeding Scripture “experts” who don’t use common sense. For example, Jesus gave the “Sermon on the Mount” and the “Sermon on the Plain.” Some “experts” consider that to be a contradiction. Was it a mount or a plain? They have forgotten something. Jesus was a traveling preacher who taught for three years. Therefore, He taught from many mounts, and many plains, and from ships, and from seashores, and in houses, and from every kind of place that a person could preach from.
Some people are troubled if Matthew, Mark, Luke or John have differences in how they relate something that happened. For example, with the beggar Blind Bartimaeus, one of the Gospels mentions two blind men but the others only mention one blind man. Well, in real life, if you had five people witness an event and write about it, you would have variations in the reports. Different people would focus on different things. And as far as the number of blind men goes, there were many beggars on the roadsides, and some of them were blind. It would not be unusual for a blind beggar like Bartimaeus to have friends who were also blind beggars, and to want to be with his friends. So one account mentions Bartimaeus’ fellow beggar, and the other accounts don’t. There is nothing unusual about that. It’s the kind of thing that often happens in real life.
Another thing that causes problems for some people is differences of writing style in Paul’s letters. In real life, writing style and vocabulary depends on who we are writing to and on the subject matter. We should expect Paul to write to Gentiles differently than he writes to Jews. We should expect him to write to mature Christians differently than he writes to immature Christians who are having a lot of problems. We should expect him to write to Timothy (a fellow minister who was close to him) differently than he would write to people he hasn’t met.
Think about your own letters and emails. Would you write to your boss the same way that you write to your son or your daughter? Would you write to a nonbeliever the same way that you write to your pastor? Would you write about a football game the same way that you write about a research project you are doing at school?
Sometimes Greek verb tenses can cause confusion. For example, 1 John 1:8 says, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” So John is saying that we all sin. But later, in 1 John 3:6 he says, “Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him.” Now that could be confusing. The problem is the Greek verb tense. 1 John 3:6 is saying that if we abide in Him we do not keep on sinning. It’s not a one-time event. It’s a lifestyle. Any Christian can sin and repent. That is very different from habitually sinning. (I don’t know Greek, but I’ve heard that teaching from several preachers.)
Some scholars say that the Sermon on the Mount is a compilation of teachings, rather than one sermon. They have forgotten something. We live in a televised world where many people have short attention spans, and many preachers have short sermons. Back in 1858, when Abraham Lincoln debated Stephen Douglas (the famous Lincoln-Douglas Debates), each debate lasted for three hours.16 So people in those days were able to do serious listening for three hours straight.
I did an experiment. I read the entire Sermon on the Mount out loud, at a slow, conversational pace. (It’s the Gospel of Matthew, chapters 5 through 7.) It only took 15 minutes. Surely Jesus preached longer than that to people who went to all the trouble to find Him and listen to him. He was only going to be with those particular people one time. So He had to get as much truth to them as He could during that one time of preaching.
We know that Jesus and His followers did some lengthy preaching. On one occasion, the Apostle Paul preached all night long, until daybreak. (Acts 20:7-12)
Therefore, I would expect that what the Bible gives us from the Sermon on the Mount is only a selection out of many teachings that Jesus gave on that occasion. And the quotations from Jesus that we have may only be the conclusions that He gave following longer teachings about those issues.
Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount is the result of the Holy Spirit showing Matthew which of the many teachings that Jesus gave should be included in the report, and which statements Jesus made should be quoted. It is also the result of the Holy Spirit enabling Matthew to remember accurately. Jesus promised His disciples,
Matthew 5:38-42 is a good opportunity to use some common sense. Jesus basically told people to be loving and forgiving instead of quarreling and vengeful. For example, He said,
First he said, don’t try to get revenge. Then he said to allow someone to slap you on the cheek. Being slapped is unpleasant, but it is a relatively mild degree of pain and hardship. Jesus did not say that Christians should passively allow people to rape their wives and murder their children. He didn’t even tell Christians to passively submit to persecution. He said,
Similarly, Jesus said that if someone sues us for our tunic, we should let them have it, and even our cloak as well. (Matthew 5:40) That is just some clothing. Although clothing was more difficult to obtain back in those days than it is now, it was still just clothing. Jesus did not say that we should allow people to take our home and our farm or business, so that we and our family become homeless and destitute.
Here is another example of using Scripture to interpret Scripture. It also comes from the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus said,
Some people interpret that as meaning that we should never criticize anything that other people say or do. However, that cannot be the meaning of this passage because, later on in the same chapter, Jesus said,
How can we beware of them if we can’t recognize them? How can we warn our friends and family to beware of them if we aren’t allowed to say anything negative about anybody? According to what Jesus said, He expects us to be able to recognize false teachers, and to discern the difference between good and bad fruit in a person’s life.
How do we reconcile that with not judging people? According to my study Bible, Jesus warned us against condemning the actions or motives of others, because only God knows their hearts and their motives. We cannot condemn people. However, we are expected to be “fruit inspectors” who can tell the difference between people who teach Christian truth, and false teachers. (Matthew 7:15-20) In addition, Jesus commanded us to “judge righteous judgment.” (John 7:24)
Here is a practical example from real life. If we have reasons to question someone’s morality and their level of responsible behavior, we cannot condemn them, because only God knows their heart. However, we should not let them babysit our children. And it would be foolish to become business partners with them.
If we come across a passage in Scripture that doesn’t make sense to us, we can ask God to help us understand it. If we pray, and consider that passage some more, and we still can’t understand it, then we can just set it aside and go on reading. There have been times when a Scripture passage that I didn’t understand before suddenly makes sense. It’s like a light goes on, and I can see it.
Reading Scripture is a lifetime adventure. What we do understand is more than enough to guide us and help us know the Lord better. Let’s use what we can understand, and trust God to take care of the rest of it in His own good timing.
Sometimes people radically change their thinking based on one sermon, or one book, or one movie, or attending one conference. This is known as a “paradigm shift.”
It is possible to have this kind of radical change in thinking without being aware that it has happened. Here is an example from my life.
One day I was eating at a restaurant in the middle of the afternoon, when there were few customers and the waiter had time to talk with me. He was a nice young man, a college student who was raised in a Christian home. He said some strange things. I responded with Christian truth. Then he replied, “But the Alchemist said...”
My waiter had read a novel with a character called “the Alchemist” who was portrayed as being a wise man. He encountered people with problems, and spoke words of “wisdom” that helped them.
I told the waiter that the Alchemist’s statements were New Age teachings. Even though he had been raised in a Christian home, and went to church in his youth, that had no impact on him. When he said something reflecting New Age teaching, and I countered with a Christian perspective, he would reply, “But the Alchemist said...”
I finally told him that “alchemist” is an old‑fashioned word for a sorcerer, and the “wisdom” of this sorcerer was New Age thinking, and it was contrary to the teachings of Christianity. But even that had no impact on him.
The “wise” sayings of a make‑believe character in a novel had more impact on that young man’s thinking than all his previous years of Biblical instruction in a Christian home and a Christian church. Although he still called himself a Christian, he now had a New Age worldview instead of a Christian worldview. And he didn’t even realize that his thinking had changed.
The problem is that he accepted the new way of thinking without examining it.
If he had prayed while reading the book, and compared what he was reading with Scripture (like the Bereans), then that book would not have had such a profound impact on his thinking. He soon would have recognized that what it taught was contrary to Scripture. At that point, he would have been wise to stop reading it. If for some reason he felt that he had to keep on reading it, then he would have been cautious, and compared what it said even more carefully against Scripture. And hopefully he would have asked God to protect him and give him wisdom.
I went to Barnes & Noble to look for that book. On their “Required Reading” table, there was a book titled The Alchemist. So that young man had probably been required to read the book as an assignment in a class he was taking. It’s possible that the professor who gave the reading assignment did so precisely in order to create a paradigm shift. Remember John Dewey, the Father of Modern Education? Requiring students to read The Alchemist would fit right in with Dewey’s goal of using the schools to undermine the faith of Christian students.
When it comes to physical food, we are careful about what we eat. If something smells rotten, then we throw it away instead of eating it. We need to be even more careful when it comes to mental food and spiritual food.
Incremental Changes in Worldview
Another way that people can change their worldview is incrementally—gradually—one small step at a time. Little by little, so that they don’t notice the change. It requires constant vigilance and prayer to avoid being incrementally moved away from a Christian worldview. The Bible warns us to be “sober” and “vigilant” (watchful, on guard).
Drunks act impulsively, based on emotion. Sober people are capable of reflective thinking, discernment, self-control, and basing their actions on Scriptural principles rather than on fleeting feelings. Of course, it takes time and practice to learn to do that. But if we are sober and vigilant, then we are able to do it, even though we may not always be consistent about it.
The best way to learn to recognize counterfeit money is to study good money. And the best way to learn to recognize false teachings is to study Scripture. There have been times in my life when a teaching sounded reasonable, but I felt that there was something wrong with it, so I didn’t take it in and apply it. And then later (perhaps many days later), all at once a Scripture passage jumped out at me, and suddenly I realized what was wrong with that teaching.
That illustrates a combination of the value of knowing Scripture, and the nudging of the Holy Spirit. Jesus told His disciples that He would send the Holy Spirit to them (John 16:7-15). In this passage, Jesus describes the Holy Spirit as being “the Comforter” (verse 7) and “the Spirit of truth” (verse 13). And one of the things that He does for followers of Jesus Christ is to guide them into truth—in other words, to enable them to discern truth from error. Jesus said,
In the epistle of Jude, we are told that God is able to keep us from falling away from Him.
Now this is not a reason to act as if vigilance is not needed. These two Scripture passages balance each other. The first tells us what we need to do. The second assures us that God will give us the grace to do it.
Here is an example of incremental change, from the world of popular music. In January 1971, George Harrison (of the Beatles) released the song “My Sweet Lord.”17 It was his first solo record, and it was immensely popular.
The music is beautiful. The melody and instrumentation, and the soothing quality of George Harrison’s voice, draw you into the song. It sounds so devout, so full of loving worship. The words seem to epitomize the goal of contemplative prayer—to really know God, to be with Him, to see Him. As George Harrison sings about longing to know God, the background vocals sing “hallelujah.” It sounds so Christian.18
But then the song changes. At first the change isn’t obvious, because it is in the words of the background vocals.
George Harrison keeps singing about the same longing to know God. In addition, the instrumentals are so beautiful that when the “halle” of “hallelujah” changes to “hare,” you barely notice it. After a while, you realize that the background vocals are singing “Hare Krishna” instead of “hallelujah.” But then you hear some more “hallelujahs,” so it seems as if it must have been “hallelujah” all along, a song honoring the God of the Bible.
Then the background lyrics become stronger and more noticeable, and it sounds as if they are singing in a foreign language. In reality, they are singing the names of the Hindu gods Krishna, Brahma, Vishnu and Sakshaat (Shiva). They are also singing phrases from the “Hare Krishna” mantra.19
The song has morphed from seemingly Christian devotion to Hindu devotion. But it still sounds so sweet and beautiful that it is difficult to believe that the change has occurred.
That is a picture of what can happen when Christians become involved in contemplative prayer, mysticism, and things that come from Eastern religions or modern New Age practices. People can start out longing to know the God of the Bible, and wind up being drawn to Hindus and Buddhists and New Agers, and to the gods and goddesses that they worship. (In the next chapter, you will read about some Roman Catholic priests and monks who did just that.)
Protestants are not immune to this kind of transformation. Evangelical Christians were introduced to contemplative prayer and mysticism by Catholic mystics such as Thomas Merton. Seeing the genuine devotion of such men, some Evangelicals assumed that they were Biblical Christians, and followed their example. Unfortunately, those Catholic mystics were not Biblical Christians at all. For example, near the end of his life, Thomas Merton practiced Buddhism and Suffism (Muslim mysticism), and he saw no conflict between what he was doing and Catholicism.20
The Roman Catholic Church gives the traditions of men priority over the Bible. In addition, it promotes some beliefs and practices that are clearly contrary to Scripture. You will see some practical results of this in the next two chapters.
“Experts” have a natural appeal because most of us feel inadequate when it comes to understanding Scripture and knowing how to apply it to our daily lives. Our natural inclination is to look for some “expert” to do the job for us. However, there is a problem with that.
Jesus warned us that there would be tares among the wheat. (See Matthew 13:24-30) Tares are weeds that look like wheat. It is difficult to tell the difference until the plants become mature. In other words, on the surface they look like Christians—but they aren’t.
Jesus also warned us about wolves in sheep’s clothing. (See Matthew 7:15-20) These are people who appear to be Christians, but they aren’t. And they cause real damage to real Christians. (Think about what a wolf does to a sheep.)
The Apostles Peter and Paul also warned us. They said,
So false teachers will have a widespread influence among Christians. They will be popular, because they will tell people what they want to hear. And they will teach things that result in having people go to hell. Some of these false teachers will be men who have been deceived, and who deceive others. In some cases, they may spread deception by sincerely passing on deceptive things that they were taught by people they trusted. In other cases, they may deliberately deceive people, knowing full well what they are doing.
One example of a false teacher is Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong. He wrote a book titled Why Christianity Must Change or Die. I skimmed through some portions of that book at Barnes & Noble. Basically, his idea seems to be that, in order to be relevant to the modern world, Christianity has to stop being Christian. Spong also wrote the book Resurrection: Myth or Reality? He spent 352 pages trying to convince people that the Resurrection never really happened. But the Resurrection is an absolutely foundational doctrine of Christianity.
Bishop Spong even questions whether it is necessary to believe in God in order to be a Christian. He wrote an article titled “Can One Be a Christian Without Being a Theist?” In it, he says that we live in a world that has made the “traditional theistic view of God inoperative.”21
You may say, “Well, Bishop Spong is a liberal Episcopalian.” That’s true. But Evangelicals are also plagued with false teachers. For example, today there are some Evangelical authors who deny the existence of hell—which implies that there is no need for salvation. There are also some Evangelical pastors who deny the Atonement (that Jesus Christ died to save us from our sins). Such teachings are not compatible with a Biblical Christian worldview.
So we cannot depend on “experts.” We need to do our own Scripture reading, and pray and ask God to help us understand the Bible, and get to know the Bible well. We can read books by Christian authors, but when we do, we need to be vigilant, and compare their teachings with Scripture. We cannot afford to passively accept something just because an “expert” wrote it. Not even if it is recommended by people with good reputations. (They may have only read a letter from the author or publisher, enclosing some carefully selected excerpts from the book.)
The same thing applies to sermons and Bible studies. We have to be vigilant there, also. Pastors can change. If they are not vigilant Bereans who test everything against Scripture, then one conference, or one friend, or one book, can cause a “paradigm shift” in their worldview. Or a series of books or teachings can cause a gradual, incremental shift. Either way, they can wind up losing a Biblical worldview. And if that happens, then they will start teaching things that will undermine the Biblical worldviews of their church members. If that happens, then it’s time to start looking for another church. (I’ve had to do that. It hurts. But our relationship with God is more important than our relationship with the people in our church.)
The Numbers Game
People tend to be impressed with size. “Bigger” and “better” often go together in advertising slogans. Can we assume that the Catholic Church must be right because it is so big? Among Protestants, can we assume that pastors, authors, or theologians must be right if they have large, financially prosperous churches, or they sell a lot of books, or they influence large numbers of people?
Goliath was huge, powerful, and a seasoned warrior. He was admired by the Philistines and feared by the Israelites. People were impressed with Goliath, but God wasn’t. God used a shepherd named David to kill the giant. (1 Samuel 17:1-54)
When Gideon fought the Midianites, he started out with 32,000 men. That sounds like an impressive number until you read that the Midianite soldiers were a multitude which filled the valley like a plague of locusts. But God told Gideon that he had too many men, and he was to send home every man who was afraid. Two-thirds of his men left (22,000 out of 32,000). Then God disqualified all but 300 of the 10,000 men who remained. That left Gideon with less than one percent of his original soldiers. (Judges 7:1-9)
In God’s eyes, which group were the true-hearted soldiers through whom He could do miracles? The 31,700? Or the 300 who defeated the Midianites? If you read what happened, you will see that God was with the one percent.
Jesus spoke about a large crowd of people who go the wrong way, to their destruction, and a small group of people who find the right way, which leads to life. He said,
If you look at the context in which Jesus said this, He was speaking to the multitudes in Israel. These were not pagans who served “foreign gods.” They were God’s chosen people, in covenant with Him—the people who had the Scriptures, the people to whom God had sent the prophets. And Jesus warned them that there was a broad, popular way, which most people would choose, that would lead to destruction.
Jesus spoke of Godly people who would be despised, and false people who would be widely accepted. He said,
Obviously, being part of a small minority that is spoken against does not necessarily make people right. David Koresh and Jim Jones were dead wrong.
My point is that we cannot use numbers to decide whether or not people are right. We need to measure their teachings against Scripture. Our plumb line is the Bible, not the calculator.
Some things in this book may be startling. When you read them, please do not say things to yourself such as, “How could those Catholics…”
The answer is quite simple. They are believing and doing things that they were taught by people they trust.
You and I do the same thing. The difference is that we were fortunate enough to have trusted people who have a Biblical Christian worldview.Instead of pointing our fingers, how about counting our blessings.