For decades, many doctrinal trends or movements have emerged within the Christian church.
We’ve had the House Church movement in which Christians met in homes instead of church buildings.
There was the Inner Healing movement which involved “healing of memories.” Branhamism – based on the teachings of William Branham – was another one. Then we had the Third Wave movement which emerged from the Charismatic movement.
Not all movements are entirely harmful. The Holy Spirit can enlighten Believers and give them more insight into certain Scriptural truths which in turn revives the Body of Christ.
On the other hand, Satan can use false movements to lead Christians astray. A genuine movement, due to apostasy, can also degenerate into a false one.
Evaluating movements within the church is a crucial part of Christian discernment. For a movement to be so described, it must have influenced people across denominational lines. Now, let’s examine 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 worldview in which the church is expected to adapt to the culture or spirituality of the world systems, thus it’s “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 moral path 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, Rob 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 practices 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 within the WOF camp, their teachings on “positive confession,” Christians being gods, denial of Jesus as the “only begotten Son” and His spiritual death in hell largely came from Essek Kenyon, a Baptist preacher.
There is a strong evidence that he borrowed these doctrines from the Higher Life Movement (see Robert Bowman Jnr. The Word-Faith Controversy, Apologetic Index, 2001).
Kenneth Hagin repeated much of Kenyon’s teachings. 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, theythey termed “revelation knowledge”).
WOF leaders adjust certain Bible passages to rhyme with their peculiar doctrines. For example, Joel Osteen said God made Zachariah 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 and shun medical treatment as a denial of faith. But this has proved to be potentially dangerous.
The movement’s obsession with material wealth also raises some ethical questions. Notably, their 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, p. 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 – therefore it’s 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” (Edward O’Connor, The Pentecostal Movement in the Catholic Church, Ave Maria Press, 1971, p. 58).
Later, ecumenical meetings began incorporating Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, New Agers and animists in praying for world peace. Today, ecumenism has spread across denominational lines 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 (2 Cor. 6:12).
Fruits of a True Movement
I. The Fruit of Exalting Jesus
The Holy Spirit always glorifies Jesus Christ (Jn. 16:13-14), therefore, a true movement glorifies or exalts Jesus Christ.
Christ 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, Jn. 10:35).
God does not take His Word lightly, and He doesn’t esteem those who don’t tremble at His Word (Isa. 66:2). A true movement takes the Bible as its final authority, while a false one tries to subjugate it to its experiences, visions 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 that 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” (Jn. 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 (1Co.r 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 Holiness Revival Movement is a case in point. Do they love other Christians? Are they witnesses to Christ or a man-made tradition?
I have been intrigued by the King James Only Movement. It’s adherents are witnesses of a tradition rather than Christ. They slander and attack the motives of other Christians. They’ve not repented of promoting falsehood in the name of truth.
These are ways to know what underlie trends in the church; if they are godly or ungodly.