As a long-time Pentecostal/Charismatic Christian I never thought I would be writing stuff like this. But now I must add my voice to the many others crying out against the tidal waves of false doctrine sweeping the church today.
Recently I received what I thought was the "call to preach." I am still struggling with this at this point. (Note: the struggle is now over, I went back to school for my profession and not a seminary, but that misguided call was the genesis for this site).
In any case I figured I should learn some sound doctrine and get a seminary degree before I dared to stand up in front of people and tell them what God's word meant. After all God's word holds people who presume to teach to a very high standard. In retrospect a seminary degree is no longer in my immediate future so my writings are best cast as those of a beginning student so caveat emptor (buyer beware). (Note: two years after this was first written, my professional reducation is completed, and I have entered seminary part-time for a master's in theology. I am still classed as a beginning student however. In retrospect that "call" wasn't as misguided as I first thought.)
I really didn't think that much more would happen from studying theology other than minor clarification and some improved knowledge of the Bible and of history.
Boy was I wrong.
A little about my background first. I was a Charismatic, who followed the word of faith and prosperity teachers on TBN for fifteen years. I have donated large sums of money to them, under the "hundred-fold anointing". I preached and practiced positive confession, and faithfully confessed the word believing I was God's delegated authority on this planet. I knew how to bind Satan, and speak the word in authority. For some mysterious reason however, I don't yet have millions of dollars in the bank, nor is my entire family saved and disease free.
I have seen miracles however, both at mine and others prayers, although I have never seen anyone saved because of a miracle, even though they received one themselves. This was strangely at odds with all that teaching on miracle evangelism I had heard about for so long.
I am also a somewhat educated man, I have a college degree and some post-graduate work. I am an engineer by profession. Engineers tend to trust their intellectual abilities and I am no exception. Little did I know my so-called abilities had let me down.
After a relatively brief (3 month) study of basic doctrines and studying some of the common heresies the historical Church faced, I was forced to the conclusion that I had been following a lie. After continuing those studies for a bit longer this website was born.
God is true, Jesus is Lord, and the Bible is God's infallible word, but the Word of Faith and prosperity teachings are heretical. And its teachers promote heresy on a regular basis contradicting the Bible seemingly at every turn.
They twist scripture, corrupt the cross (yeah that is really serious, if you believe in a false gospel you jeopardize your salvation), and shamelessly stretch scripture to support their arguments with little apparent regard to careful Bible accuracy.
I felt kind of stupid actually, although in honesty I am glad to be free of deception. I was a self-fleecing sheep. Meaning I turned over my heard-earned cash to con-artists who promised me I would become rich if I did so. And in my greed (yes I freely admit it), I did so. I also thought I was serving Christ by encouraging others to do the same.
I thought I would receive a huge reward from God in heaven from supporting these "anointed" TV preachers, since they were doing mighty works of God and evangelizing the nations. I wanted in on the action, to taste a great reward in heaven by contributing to their ministries.
And I genuinely thought I was following Christ to the best of my ability.
One must ask however, how does promoting covetessness in the name of Christ produce any reward either in heaven or on earth? One may also ask, how does usurping God's authority, and corrupting scripture, in His name no less, ingratiate you to Him?
I also delved into the New Age teachings cloaked in Jesus' name. I was into meditation (also called centering down) and journalling, although I balked (thankfully) at guided visualization (daydreaming) to try to provoke God into giving me visions. This too was deception of the worst sort. I don't deny that God speaks today in the sense of providing guidance and the other ministries of the Holy Spirit. But all that stuff that uses New Age meditation and visualization techniques to hear God's voice better is a dangerous path to follow.
I have been a prophecy buff for almost as long as I have been a professing Christian. Interestingly it is one of the few parts of my theology that survived my newfound education, and coincidentally was one of the levers God used to reach me.
Before my eye-opening doctrinal research I had already noticed that the promised great end-times revival that unites the Church and shakes the world in a mighty revival just before Christ's return is in direct contrast to end-times prophecy's description of a luke-warm, self-seeking, money loving, ear-tickling, chasing after lying signs and wonders, apostate church.
So at least I had a dim awareness that something was wrong so that when the truth was presented to me, I could recognize it as such. Actually God gets credit for this since He claims it fully in Scripture.
When I look back, I realize that I had to go through what I did in order to get where I am. I don't blame anyone, and see God's hand in it. While I disagree with the early gnostics that one had to know a sin first before one could have victory over it, my pilgrimage (as a wind-blown leaf) through some of the winds of false doctrine has given me a first-hand understanding of them.
In fact I was a professional leaf, with skill at catching the winds of false doctrines that appealed to self. I almost never met a false doctrine I didn't like in retrospect. As an ex-wind-blown-leaf, my hope is that maybe a few other leaves out there will benefit from this website.
It took me three months to deprogram myself, I initially focussed my reading at discerning what was false, with the help of some internet ministries who debunk false teachers and their teachings, (be warned some of these are better than others).
At this point I was essentially in shock, everything I had thought was important in the Christian life had been taken from me. I felt a bit lost and wondered where it was going. At this point I began to seek what was true, did anything of what I once believed remain? What was the true Christian life really about?
It took me another three months to reprogram myself. During this stage I read about what was true, I surveyed Christian thought through history, and the errors they delt with, and found that the great truths of the faith have remained essentially unchanged, although they have developed in small ways over time.
A milestone occured after my second three months of study. I arrived at a point where I had read a summary of the great doctrines of the Bible, and read the various disagreements and differing opinions and believed I had found a theological position that was unlikely to change, at least at the foundational level. If you want a theological name for where I ended up, I settled at what is essentially orthodox reformation theology (except I kept my pre-mil eschatology). I felt I was standing on solid ground instead of sand.
The result is I have a much simpler and more peaceful life in Christ than the life of striving for spiritual greatness and power I was living before. I was delivered from much bondage when God finally chose to reveal Himself to me in this way.
The best part is I took notes along the way, I wrote down every false doctrine that I had to unlearn in a reference guide which I post on this website. My newly learned theology I present on this website in various articles, but mostly what I try to do is provide a jumping off point to better theological resources.
Early in my doctrinal studies, it profoundly impacted me that Jesus' complement to the Church at Philadelphia, the second to the last Church in the Church age, was solely for holding fast to His word. He says it twice in fact (rev 3:7-13). And He mentions no other works of theirs at all. The Philadelphia Church was one of only two Churches that Jesus had nothing bad to say about.
The other Church that Jesus had no criticism for was the persecuted Church, that of Smyrna (rev 2:8-11). He exhorts them to be faithful, even to the point of death. Faithful to the point of death has a clear meaning, they were being persecuted for naming Christ, and are being exhorted to hold fast to His word under persecution. It certainly cannot be construed to mean that Jesus wanted them to have faith for miracles, or to force circumstances to change by using His delegated authority. He told them they were going to suffer and that some would die, and that their reward in heaven would be great. How greatly that differs from the "take the world for Christ" stuff we hear today from the Joel's army and dominion preachers.
However, Paul warns about minor doctrinal quibbles. They are divisive he tells us. So where is the balance?
The Bible warns us repeatedly about following a false gospel, or after other gods, even if an angel of heaven should preach it. That is exactly what has happened. The line has been crossed into life-threatening false gospel, and also false gods.
Sound doctrine is one of Jesus' main concerns. I was taught correctly that faith is His main concern, but it was twisted into faith for forcing miracles to happen at my will rather than belief in Him. Rather, holding fast to His word and obeying His commands by dying to self is the evidence of true faith. Doctrinal twisting that compromises scripture or adds to it is not faith but presumption, covetousness, and heresy.
Special revelation (scripture) is closed, the Bible says so explicitly in Revelation (I knew this but forgot as I was carried away by the waves of false teaching). Once a huge fan of such, I now know that those who claim to have had tours of heaven or hell (which inescapably add to scripture) are false teachers. Their revelations also tend to be filled with things that contradict the Bible thus confirming they are false. I don't want to be seen condemning the people however, I cannot speculate as to their motivations, whether they are like I was, and are serving Christ to the best of their ability or not. The great Dr. Walter Martin, who spent much time debunking cults, taught his people this method when dealing with cult members: "Disagree agreeably".
I can't emphasize this enough actually, here is a story that may help. I once met someone who had a near-death-experience tour of heaven, who had no axe to grind, or great ministry to support. A gentle kind christ-like person, who had a vision that obviously contradicted the Bible and promoted a false God in small subtle ways. There were in fact two historical heresies in the vision as well as a lot of extra-Biblical details about Heaven.
The lesson is that we must be true to the Bible, and be kind (but uncompromising) to those who are in deception. The moment we begin to trust in the subjective overmuch we are setting ourselves up to be led astray. I also would not have spotted the small subtle perversions of who God is in that vision (or the others) if I had not studied the historical heresies the church has faced. So my approach (at least in principle) is one of mercy over accusation, and an offer of helpful correction rather than judgement.
Pervasive in the circles I used to walk in is the idea that theological training is bad for you. I can't stress enough that this teaching is self-defeating and serves those who promote false doctrine. I liken this idea to a predator encouraging an ostrich to keep its head in the sand as the predator sneaks up on it.
I might also point out, that those who decry education as quenching the Spirit, might want to take note of Dr. Luke. Luke did his research, was an educated man, and he wrote scripture.
luk 1:3 Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, (NIV)
I would also like to point out that Paul had the most doctrinal education of any gospel writer (a Pharisee of Pharisees in his own words), and God used him to write the majority of the New Testament. Paul, who was theologically educated from his youth, was used to write theological sections specifically. Any teaching that says theological education by itself quenches the spirit is a false teaching.
Everybody knows some theology whether they acknowledge it or not. It is is whether your theology is accurate that matters. Lack of sound doctrinal teaching leaves you vulnerable to false teachings as my personal testimony attests.
Maturity in Christ is about two things primarily:
Character development cannot be forced but it can be assisted by prayer and seeking Biblical wisdom. Sound doctrinal knowledge has to be learned, it does not come automatically by merely reading the Bible. God gives us teachers for a reason. Even the cults give lip service to the Bible, but it doesn't help them. I also did not learn sound doctrine until I sat at the feet of the great Christian teachers in history. Thus your choice of teachers is critical.
The answer to the question of why doctrine is important is as follows: Good doctrine will produce good practice, and bad doctrine will produce bad practice, often destructive to yourself and those around you. Doctrine never exists in a vacuum, what you believe is what you will do.
I read the Bible consistently for fifteen years and never came to even a basic understanding of the fundamental doctrines of Christianity. But I was up-to-date on the latest pop-Christian books. I thought I knew it all and thus perfectly modelled the scripture that pride cometh before a fall. I thank God I fell into grace instead of out of it.
Studying theology is like having someone teach you the obvious that you just slightly missed. Once you hear it the light goes on and you think "of course the Bible teaches that, how could I have missed it." I had many moments like that over the course of my journey.
My study of theology also gave me greater appreciation for the glory and majesty of God, and the wondrousness of His plan of salvation.
So in conclusion I would like to encourage everyone to study theology at least enough to cover the basics, and I encourage studying both the truth and the common errors, since examining both together was very helpful to me.