For decades, there have been doctrinal trends or movements that have emerged in the church. Not all of them are harmful. Just as the Holy Spirit enlightens Believers and gives more insight into certain Scriptural truths reviving the Body of Christ, Satan also uses false movements to lead Christians astray. I must add, however, that a genuine movement – usually due to apostasy – can degenerate into a false one.
For instance, we’ve had the House Church movement in which Christians met in homes instead of church buildings; the Inner Healing movement which involved “healing of memories;” Branhamism, based on the teachings of William Branham and the Third Wave movement which emerged from the Charismatic movement. Evaluating movements within the church is part of Christian discernment. For a movement to be so described, it must have influenced people across denominational lines. Let’s now do a brief analysis of some popular ones.
1. The Emerging (or Contemplative) church movement.
This is a movement with divergent beliefs – a mixture of Orthodox, Catholic, liberal Protestant and Evangelical theology. It is termed “emerging” because it embraces a postmodern view in which the church is expected to adapt to the culture or spirituality of the world systems, thus its “emerging.”
The Emerging movement teaches “the theory that denies absolutism and insists that morality and religion are relative to the people who embrace them” (Modern Reformation Magazine, 2005, 14:4). In other words, they are not sure about what is right or wrong, neither does it really matter, because whatever you embrace is true for you. One of its leaders, Brian McLauren, dismisses parts of the Bible as Paul’s “personal opinions” while Rob Bell, another leader, says he has discovered “the Bible is a human product.” On Oprah show, he says “the church will continue to be even more irrelevant when it quotes letters from 2,000 years ago as their best defense.”
The Emerging church practice meditation, mysticism, yoga, use of prayer altars, candles, icons, centering prayer, visualization and other occult techniques. They also reject the substitutionary atonement of Christ as “a form of cosmic child abuse by a vengeful Father punishing his Son for an offence he didn’t commit.”
2. The Word of Faith (WOF) movement.
This movement teaches that faith is a force which can be applied by Christians (who are “little gods”) to speak positive, creative words just as God did at creation. Armed with this “God kind of faith,” one can dispel all sickness, poverty and control all of life’s circumstances. Though there are slight doctrinal variations among the WOF camp, its teachings on “positive confession,” Christians being gods, the denial of Jesus as the “only begotten Son” and His spiritual death in hell came from Essek Kenyon, a Baptist preacher. There is stronger evidence that he borrowed these doctrines from the Higher Life Movement (Robert Bowman Jnr. The Word-Faith Controversy, 2001).
Kenneth Hagin repeated Kenyon’s teachings and from him, they spread to Copeland, Paulk, Tilton, Dollar and other key WOF preachers. Through Christian TV and books, their teachings are being widely disseminated in Africa and other continents. Most, if not all, of WOF teachers claim to derive their teachings from Jesus Himself through visions or special revelations (thus are called “revelation knowledge”).
WOF leaders adjust Bible passages to rhyme with their peculiar doctrines. For example, Joel Osteen said God made Zechariah dumb “because God knew that Zacharias’ negative words would cancel out His plan. God knows the power of our words, He knows that we prophesy our future.” But no one who lets this passage speak for itself would come to this conclusion. He also said “Your words have creative power.” This is often laced with an alteration of Mark 11:22 “You shall have whatever you say!” Thus, man is in control while God takes a backseat.
WOF doctrines make adherents deny symptoms of sicknesses or shun medical treatment. This can be potentially dangerous. The movement’s obsession with materialism also raises some questions. The teaching that Jesus was dragged into hell to atone for sin utterly changes the place of redemption from the cross to hell (Col. 2:15).
3. The Hebrew Roots Movement (HRM)
This is a philosophy or a shared concept that Jewish traditions or Judaism are far superior, and are a sure way for Christians to have a deeper relationship with Christ, sanctification or even salvation. It’s a diversified movement made up of individuals or groups, ranging from the Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research to pop Judaism. Some adherents are called “Messianic Jews.” But a theme common to them is the idea that restoring the Jewish roots or following Jewish traditions is the only authentic form of Christianity.
The Sacred Name movement, for example, teaches that “Yahweh” is the only name to be used for God, and “Yahshua” for Jesus (varies from group to group – Yahuwah, Yeshua, Yahwah, Yahoshua etc). The use of any other name is deemed idolatry or blasphemy. They adhere more to the Talmuds than the New Testament. The Talmuds contain later traditions, customs and practices formulated when the Jews had no temple, priesthood or animal sacrifices and were completed about 400-500 years after Christ (The Encyclopedia of Jewish Religion, 1965, 374).
The HRM also observe Jewish feasts, festivals and laws, even though such requirements are not binding on Gentile Christians (Acts 15:19, Col 2:16-17). First century Judaism had different sects – the School of Shammai, Hillel, the Sadducees, the Zealots, Herodians and the Essenes – so its subjective to hold to any Jewish tradition as a valid path to spiritual fulfillment. This trend is hard for many non-Jews to adjust to because it makes Jewishness next to Godliness, whereas, saved Jews and Gentiles are one body in Christ (see Eph 3:1-8).
4. The Ecumenical Movement.
This is a unity of all non-Catholic churches with the Catholic church which came from the Vatican II Council (1962-1965) stating that “there may be one visible church of God, a Church truly universal and sent forth to the whole world.”
In 1967, some Pentecostals began holding prayer meetings with Catholics in Pittsburgh and Notre Dame where many Catholics spoke in tongues. This led to the Catholic Charismatic movement and was attributed to the Holy Spirit uniting the church. One of the first prophesies in these meetings was that “what Mary promised at Fatima was really going to take place” (The Pentecostal Movement in the Catholic Church, 1971, 58).
Later, ecumenical meetings began incorporating Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, New Agers and animists in praying for world peace. Today, ecumenism has spread across denominations and church societies with the idea that all religions worship the same God, only differing in the details. Though many ecumenists today (like Rick Warren) drone on uniting religions through social work or activism, in reality, it has failed to create unity. It also dismisses clear Bible commands against ungodly partnership with unbelievers or heretics (2Cor. 6:12).
Fruits of a True Movement
Bible teacher, Derek Prince, in his book, Protection from Deception highlights ways to discern if a movement is true or false.
I. The Fruit of Exalting Jesus.
The Holy Spirit always glorifies Jesus Christ (Jh 16:13-14), therefore, a true movement glorifies or exalts Jesus Christ. He is the Head of the church and must have the preeminence in it. The Holy Spirit does not exalt human personalities or traditions in place of Christ.
II. The Fruit of Respect for Scripture.
The Lord Jesus Himself called Scripture “the Word of God” and said “the Scripture cannot be broken.” (Mk. 7:13, Jh 10:35). God does not take His Word lightly, and He doesn’t esteem those who don’t tremble at His Word (Is 66:2). A true movement takes the Bible as its final authority while a false one tries to subjugate it to its experiences or agenda.
III. The Fruit of Repentance
Repentance is one of the first messages of the New Testament (Mt 3:2, Mk 1:15). It is a decision to turn away from sin and submit totally to the Lordship of Christ. There cannot be a genuine revival in the church without total repentance. A movement which dismisses repentance or replaces it with “positive” words is not from God.
IV. The Fruit of Love for Fellow Christians.
Jesus gave an identification mark of true Christians and that is “if you have love for one another” (Jh. 13:35). It matters little what the spiritual experiences or gifts a movement boast of, if the mark of love is absent, they are all in vain (1Cor 13:2). One of the ways to know a false movement is to observe how its adherents treat or speak of other Believers outside their circle.
V. The Fruit of Loving Concern for the Unsaved.
Jesus said the Holy Spirit is to empower Christians to be His witnesses (Acts 1:8). A person who is truly saved and has the fire of God’s Word burning in his bones will always be eager to reach others with the Gospel truth. When this zeal is absent, it indicates that fire has left the cooking place. Many Christians have been led astray by becoming witnesses unto a doctrine, a system or a denomination, rather than being witnesses for Christ.
Observe the movements I mentioned so far, are most people in them meeting up to all these standards? The King James Only movement is a case in point. Do they love other Christians who differ only by using a different Bible version? Are they witnesses to Christ or a man-made tradition? Have they repented of promoting falsehood in the name of truth? These are ways to know what underlie trends in the church.