Saturday, November 27, 2021

Spiritual Degeneration

Many segments of the church have lost their way in the pursuit of false spirituality, with some even turning to the occultDoes the Christian faith I first knew even exist today? Reviewing how the Pentecostal experience has changed, ironic and disturbing “paradigm shifts” become apparent, and what was once on the fringes now dominates the Charismatic Movement.

Abandoned Church - Photo by Luc Constantin on Unsplash
[Photo by Luc Constantin on Unsplash]

A recent event illustrates just how far segments of the church have fallen. On “Christian” television, “apostolic” leaders grasped a replica of Gandalf’s staff, struck the stage three times, and issued an incantation against demons. Do you see the problem? They have exchanged the Cross of Christ for a wizard’s wand (Gandalf Staff Prophetic Word).

In the 1950s and 1960s, Bible-believing preachers warned us about the growing “liberal social gospel” that was making inroads into mainstream denominations, insidious changes that would sidetrack the church from its mission to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. And in hindsight, those preachers hit the nail dead center.

Today, the offspring of those earlier preachers have all but dropped the genuine preaching of the gospel to “all nations” in their pursuit of a “conservative” social and political gospel all their own, all in the futile hope of reforming a society that is under the dominion of sin.

In the 1970s, the so-called ‘Prosperity Gospel’ was on the fringes of the faith, while I hate to admit it, some of us did not expect a deception that obvious to ever infiltrate very far into the church. Yet today, that false gospel has become the very definition of the “Charismatic Movement.”

Fifty years ago, preachers warned about the dangers of the New Age Movement, the infiltration of occult beliefs into the church. Yet today, many occult practices have been repackaged and adopted by church leaders in the never-ending pursuit of deeper “spiritual experiences.” Some of them even speak of “recovering” the spirituality that the New Age Movement (allegedly) stole from the church! Rename ‘astrology’ or ‘numerology’ with a Christian-sounding label and, abracadabra, they become perfectly acceptable Christian mechanisms for divining the will of God.

Once, Scripture was the source and test of the true faith; yet today, “new revelation” is being received from dreams, visions, the decoding of Hebrew dates and numbers, lunar cycles, and the like. And those “revelations” are placed on a par with the Bible. Contemporary “apostles and prophets” treat the Bible as little more than an elementary starting point for new believers, ‘ABCs’ for “spiritual” dummies not yet ready to progress to higher “spiritual realms.”

I have not discovered all the truth; far from it. I continue to pursue it, but I am chasing after the recovery of the original gospel as taught by Jesus and his Apostles, and that means spending time and energy studying the Bible. It does not mean chasing after spirit beings in some timeless “spirit world” for new “revelations” beyond anything Jesus or the Apostles ever bequeathed to us.

Scripture is the source, and it tells the story of Jesus Christ, the living Word. To borrow a phrase, there is a “canon within the canon,” and that “canon” or measuring rod is Jesus, especially “Christ crucified.” Whatever goes against that is to be rejected. And while I am not pursuing “new doctrine,” the depth and meaning of “Christ crucified” provides new insights into the significance of the written and still-living Word.

Too many believers are running in all directions in their pursuit of all things “spiritual.” Why does no one consider how the New Testament deals with the term? The term “spiritual” is not all that common in the Bible, appearing only two dozen times in the Greek New Testament, and in all but two cases, only in Paul’s letters with over half the instances in his first letter to the Corinthians. And that is not coincidental.

“Spiritual” was a term used by one of the divisive groups at Corinth - It was not Paul’s term - Its members defined themselves as “spiritual,” for they, supposedly, possessed higher wisdom. And they pointed to their many spiritual gifts and experiences as evidence of their deep “spirituality.”

Rather than rebuke them, Paul turned their term on its head and reapplied it to Christ crucified. Conforming to the paradigm of the crucified messiah is true “spirituality.” What characterizes genuine “spirituality” is a life conformed to the death, to his example of self-sacrificial service, and not visions, gifts of the Spirit, dreams, “signs and wonders,” jaunts to the “third heaven,” or daily visitations with “angels” (1 Corinthians 1:17-2:14).

If you want to be “spiritual,” at least biblically speaking, take up your cross daily and follow Jesus! That may not be as emotionally satisfying as soaring in “spirit realms.” Who wants to slog through life’s daily challenges and self-denying service for others? Nevertheless, the missionary who labors for the gospel in a remote village for little or no pay, even to the point of working himself into an early grave, is a truly “spiritual” man, and in the same way as Jesus of Nazareth who ministered to all who approached him and gave his “life a ransom for many.”

I do not have all the truth. I have a long way to go. But I must cling to what I do have, otherwise, I will be lost. If I let go of what I find in Scripture, I must either walk away from the faith altogether or join the crowd that is being led by blind “shepherds” who are herding gullible sheep over the great precipice to a new, “super-spiritual,” and ultimately, perverted faith. In other words, the “apostasy.”

But a return to “Christ crucified” and scripture alone would derail the three-ring circus of super spirituality into which the Charismatic Movement has degenerated. What we need is not “revival” accompanied by mighty “signs and wonders,” but instead, we must heed the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Paul described the proclamation of “Christ crucified” as “God’s wisdom and power.” And there is the irony. To acquire power over demonic spirits and the ability to perform miracles, preachers, pastors, apostles, prophets, and teachers are deserting the very place where God’s true power is found – Calvary, even discarding the Cross of Christ for wizards’ wands. Now THAT is degeneration.

Our ability to commune with angels or rise through “portals” to the “third heaven” has nothing to do with our spirituality or standing before Jesus. On that day, to many who did perform tremendous miracles, he will say, “Depart from me, you workers of iniquity. I never knew you.”