Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Heresy in the American Church

A dear friend and brother in Christ from my college days sent me an e-mail today entitled "Church Test". The title is an illusion to a Scripture that admonishes believers to "test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world" (1 John 4:1b)

The following are 25 common heresies that are being propagated in many of the fastest-growing churches in America. This signals the continuing move of American Christianity away from the historical norms of the faith, and becoming extremist personality cults. My mainline and Catholic brethren who are well versed in Church history will recognize many of them as ancient heresies such as gnosticism, montanism, and pelagianism. (The Catholics would very likely point out my own Protestantism as one (see for their reasons why) but I refer here to pre-Nicene stuff that was thrown out before the first churches were even organized.)

Even if you are not a Christian, or hostile towards Christianity, it is very important for anyone who wishes to understand the "red state" mentality to know why we face an uphill battle in our attempt to convince some religious conservatives to vote their economic interests. The charismatic/Pentecostal movement is the fastest-growing segment of Christianity in the world. This is where I spent my late teens and early 20s. After stepping out of it and reviewing what I believed, I'm greatly alarmed. I definitely understand the mentality.

While I still believe that the gifts of the Holy Spirit (such as prophecy and tongues) still operate today, I think that there is a lot of spiritual abuse in the midst of this outpouring. Much like the doctrine of the neocons, the spiritual abusers play upon ignorance and fear.

If you are not a Christian, please don't respond by ridiculing the church in general. That's just not fair. Also, realize that I'm not here to convert anyone, just to explain what is being taught as truth in many of the churches that rallied their congregations to vote against their conscience.

If you are a Christian, let me know if any of these teachings or others have infiltrated your church or those of your loved ones. As I recount the 25 common heresies, I'll let you know which I've heard in my 12 years of being born again.

Let's start with a few of the more ridiculous, and then get more serious as we move up the list...

1. Jesus became sin on the cross and then went to hell to complete the atonement, was tortured by demons forour salvation. (I haven't heard this preached, but I've read it. Dualism at its worst.)

2. After 3 days the spirit of God came into Jesus' emaciated being and revived him; so he became the first reborn man again in hell. (See #1. Makes no sense.)

3. Jesus was really a rich man, not poor. He even had a treasurer. He didn’t go to his house because he was so busy on the road. He had lots of money, the finest clothes and homes and that’s why we all should be rich too, we follow Jesus. (The last three churches I was a member of actually taught this doctrine. I would get into huge disagreements over it.)

4. The anointing comes when the healing crusade comes to the city. Afterwards it all goes back to normal
and those who want to be healed have to wait for the next meeting when the healer comes. (Comes from the cult of personality associated with the contemporary Charismatic movement.)

5. The anointing was so powerful on the program when he spoke but we need to act when he is there or we will not receive the promises under the anointing. (Have heard this often.)

6. If you do not give your 10% you are robbing God,and you are cursed and the Holy Spirit will leave you. (Almost universally taught--"you are cursed with a curse" if you do not tithe. But most churches who preach tithing tell you 10% is the least you can do, and that the blessing of abundance is on the offering. Many a poor soul has been beggared by this heresy.)

7. If someone speaks in tongues don’t worry about an interpretation, what counts is that the devil can't understand what is said. (Definitely taught in many of the megachurches, including the one where I was born again.)

8. If you have faith you are told will always be prosperous and successful and be healed. And if you are not then you do not have much faith. (Taught everywhere I went.)

9. You need to claim the Scripture from Isaiah, "by his stripes I am healed". Say it out loud over and over again till you get it in your spirit and really believe it. It is thepower of your belief combined with the word that will change things. (Taught everywhere I went.)

10. A prophecy can fail, but not to worry, it's not false, it was a prophecy that was be averted by prayer because all prophecy is conditional upon our prayers. (Heard this a couple of places.)

11. Being gay or lesbian is a greater sin than lying, gossiping and heterosexual fornication. (This notion of a hierarchy of sin is universally believed, and is dangerous. Christians are supposed to believe that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. The Bible calls human righteousness "filthy rags".)

12. We can only fellowship with those who agree with us in doctrine, as stated in Amos: "How can two walk together unless they are agreed?" (Widely taught. The actual translation from the Greek, I believe is "how can two walk together unless they agree to do so?" Which makes more sense. This is why the evangelicals and charismatics will NEVER work with liberal and mainstream Christians. To be honest, most don't believe they're Christians at all.)

13. Want to have God’s abundance, want to have God’s blessings? Sow a seed, a big seed into ____ ministry even if you don’t have it, just vow it and give when the money comes into your hands. Or you can put it onyour credit card even if you are trying to get out of debt. (Widespread teaching. I fell into this thinking big-time in undergrad and ended up wrecking my credit.)

14. Someone gets up in church and tells a story about an angel who came to them last night and took them to heaven or hell and have a completely different revelation that what the Bible says, it is to be accepted as God’s truth on the basis of who they areand being sincere. (Definitely happens. One of the books I read as a new Christian was Mary K. Baxter's *A Divine Revelation of Hell*, which many, many sisters and brothers in the faith take as gospel.)

15. Someone can say Heaven is much like earth and we should not be concerned because everyone is going to go there. Only the Christians will have a better place there than the rest. (The doctrine of universal salvation is now taught in some megachurches. Reminds me of the Countee Cullen poem, "For a Lady I Know.")

16. You can hear a famous teacher say I’m a little god…a little messiah, and so are we are all gods because he tells you that’s what it says in the Scripture. (Have heard this--they misquote a Psalm to get this crazy idea.)

17. The pastor has the congregation repeat after him numerous times scriptures out of context and even non-scriptures as they do group affirmations. (All the time. Congregation, say it! "All the time.")

18. Don't pray for God's will because that is not a prayer of faith. You ask for whatever you want and believe for it because God's will says YES. (Oh my, yes.)

19. If you are slain in the spirit it must be of God because feels so good and wonderful. How could it be wrong since it happened in the church and not everything supernatural is written in the Bible. (Could write a book on this phenomenon.)

20. We are told these are all new things God is doing so it does not matter if they are not in the Bible, the Spirit is doing a NEW work. (How holy laughter and holy barking helps to bring about the Kingdom of Heaven, I'm not sure.)

21. We can go to a meeting have the teacher pass God’s spirit to whomever he wants by touch or the wave of his hand and then leave all the people on the floor looking like a war zone. (Have seen this, too.)

22. If you don't speak in tongues you're not really a Christian! You have not been baptized by the HolySpirit, you don't have the Spirit. (Huge heresy that is infecting even some mainline churches in the South and Midwest.)

23. You can judge those outside the church but if you say something is wrong inside you are divisive and are to leave them alone even if they are saying the samething as the cults and other religions do. (Definitely. Do not criticize the pastor/bishop/Head Honcho or God's wrath is upon you.)

24. You hear it said that "If you leave our church you will no longer have the anointing, you will be forsaken of God." (Definitely. Fear kept me from leaving many churches.)

and one more...

25. You have heard it said or implied that the Democratic Party is against God and/or Christianity and that the Republican Party is imperfect yet godly. (All over the place--and it turned the map red at the bottom and in the center--and it gave a fictitious president four more years.)

Somebody help me. This isn't the Christianity of the gospels, of St. Augustine and St. Francis (at whose tomb I wept), of Thomas Aquinas, of Mother Teresa.

This is a "new Christ."

I've had 1 John on my heart since the aftermath of the election. We evangelicals are literalists, and we love the Bible. A lot. 1 John is up in the running for my favorite book of the Bible, with its messages of love and spiritual discernment. Some of my phrases for living are gleaned from this book, such as "he who says he loves Him must walk as He walked", "the devil has been sinning from the beginning", and "God is love."

I really wish I could send a copy of this one book of the Bible to the values voters and force them to read it... and not just the parts about the whole world lying in wickedness. Many pastors have deceived and fleeced their flocks by quoting the Word of God completely out of context, lifting a single verse and going on a crusade.

But how about this for moral values?

"This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and He knows everything." (1 John 3: 16-20)

Again, my intent is not to proselytize. Only to inform.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Criticize? Heck, I don't even understand at least half of them.

Then again, one major division between Judaism and Christianity is that the former is much more about deeds than intentions (we don't really have nearly as much concern about "sinning in your heart") whereas different denominations of Christianity may accentuate one or the other but all (I think) do talk about both. Some of those acts, like speaking in tongues or claiming to spread salvation by touch, would likely be viewed as proof of insanity in the synagogue I grew up in. And though observant Jews have been waiting for the Messaiah for three thousand years or so, after the whole fiasco with Sabbati Tsvi (13th cent., I think) and others, anyone claiming to one will have to do a lot more than give a good speech and pour a little oil. Though the Chasidim do venerate their teachers and consider them holy, it's because they're perceived as having great wisdom. The holiness can't be spread except by teaching.

I think you're right that the big mistake on the left is to let the right claim it has a lock on morality. If not doing unto your neighbors as you would not have them do unto you and trying to support the legitimization of loving families of all sorts isn't moral, then I don't know what is.

November 18, 2004 at 11:38 AM  
Blogger greythistle said...

Wow. Thanks for posting this discussion. Some of these thoughts underlay your earlier remarks about some people's affection for worldly concerns, no? The problem with protecting a belief is that its proponents become very invested in protecting its infrastructure as well, and that requires money....

Since my academic training is in medieval literature, I'm acquainted (though only in passing) with the "ancient heresies." It is interesting how they pop up repeatedly; there really is nothing new under the sun.

(Am neither Christian nor Jew, btw.)

November 18, 2004 at 9:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Am a Christian - as you well know - but in the lucky position that NONE of these heresies have ever been preached in the church I go to. I've heard plenty of them other places unfortunately, but fortunately my minister is of the opinion that we should stick to what the Bible says, and not what we'd like it to say. Makes for some very interesting and challenging sermons at times, but it's also kept me from many of the heresies I see others believe in.

A few comments to the 25 common heresies:

1+2. Too ridiculous for words.
3. Yes, Judas was a treasurer, but for all of the disciples, not just for Jesus.
4+5. Because of course anointment that strong couldn't happen from afar /sarcasm
7. Completely forgetting that the Bible says the complete opposite, and lists speaking in tongues as one of the smallest of the gifts of the spirit.
11. *sigh* This really annoys me. To God, ALL SINS ARE EQUAL. People will tell homosexuals that they're going to hell, completely forgetting that they're just as big sinners because of the lie they told yesterday. It's frustrating that homosexuality gets so much attention when things like witchcraft, superstition etc. is basically ignored.

I could continue, but I'd probably just say what you're thinking anyway. Thank you for posting this.

Maria -

November 19, 2004 at 6:45 AM  
Blogger DemiOrator said...

I greatly enjoyed this post. Please accept my gratitude for posting it. Although not a Christian myself, I found it thoughtful and insightful. Thanks. (Actually I'm more of a Celtic Reconstructionist, more at} I'm a firm believer in interfaith dialogue. While I doubt you and I would agree on much concerning our respective spiritual paths, your willingness to look hard at the institutional problems of the movement is something I applaud. I posted an entry about it in my blog at

November 27, 2004 at 4:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read your comments on Child Lit and as usual you make so much sense.

I'm not as articulate as you are, but I want to ask Karl Rove, GW, etc. "What would Jesus bomb?"

December 9, 2004 at 10:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ebony, another friend from Child_Lit chiming in....What an interesting set of beliefs! It certainly explains a lot. I often feel that some of the people I meet in my library are speaking a different language than I am when it comes to Christianity. I attend a mainline Protestant church and I have never heard any of these tenets before!

Thanks, as usual for food for thought.

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