Bearing a rhetorically inverse relationship, it seems, to the believer’s duty to discernment is the occasionally seen-on-a-meme quote by Joseph Heller, from his work Catch-22, “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.”
To be sure, for the Christian, the enemy is always on the prowl. He is always after believing prey of any flavor, but perhaps especially the easy-picking sort – those willfully marinating in discernment-free acceptance of all things self-labelled as “Christian.” For believers, what’s commanded isn’t paranoia; it’s discernment.
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour 1 Peter 5:8
The Scripturally-cognizant Christian will realize ground zero for the enemy’s attack is the church. With ever increasing ferocity, charlatans plague, pummel, and promote both subtle and blatant false teaching from pulpits to the discernment-free flocks, heavily goat-laden as they are, occupying pews and Sunday school classrooms.
Shepherds have become, noticeably, less identified by their sound teaching and preaching of the Word and more by their unbridled, and often biblically-unguided, zeal to build the church … particularly “their” church. “Feed my sheep” (John 21:17) lies a dormant, forgotten command from our Lord, much less the accompanying duty of protecting those sheep from the wolves He said were sure to come.
The discernment-obedient, authentic believer will quickly recognize the high-profile, brand-name false teachers that flood the wrongly named “Christian” television and radio airwaves. Bookstores are replete with the works of these wolves. While it seems that, by now, everybody should know that the Benny Hinns, Kenneth Copelands, Beth Moores, Joyce Meyers, et al are false teachers, it amazes that their unbiblical falsehoods yet meet with audiences eager to have their ears itched. Skip the truth. Just scratch my itch.
But it is not only the high profile false teachers, the ones with national visibility, that are prevalent problems. As though inspired by the conspicuous, carnal success of those charlatans who’ve hit the big time, lesser known, lower-level, regional wanna-be’s are equally as dangerous. Like the “celebrity” charlatans, they espouse false teaching and foment a subtle rebellion against the absolute authority and sufficiency of the Word of God.
One such lesser known fomenter of false teaching is Stovall Weems, co-pastor of Celebration Church in Jacksonville, Florida. Celebration, despite its name, is neither a celebration of Christ, nor can it properly identified as a New Testament church. The one celebrated is the pew sitter in this club of morally-inclined deists. Oh, the other co-pastor? Weems’ wife, Kerri. So much for being an authentic Christian church.
Here’s the contradiction of the subtle “say one thing, do another” deception of such “churches.” Celebration’s “What We Believe” section on their website includes this statement:
We believe that the Bible is God’s Word. It is accurate, authoritative, and applicable to our everyday lives. 2 Timothy 3:15-16
Lacking words typically found in an orthodox statement about Scripture such as “inerrant” and “infallible,” Celebration’s claim even to Scripture’s authority and application is disregarded by Weems. Perhaps he should’ve looked a book earlier to 1 Timothy and that apostolic command, “I do not permit a woman to teach.” (1 Timothy 2:12) Is that part of Scripture somehow not authoritative?
This isn’t just an slight oversight by Weems, either. His wife isn’t merely on the staff as a result of pure nepotism. Weems supports women in the pulpit, against the clear teaching of Scripture. On Sunday, July 29, he invited another pastrix, Charlotte Gambill of Life Church UK, to preach in his stead. Maybe Weems and Celebration should include an asterisk to indicate which portions of Scripture are authoritative in their view.
Celebration currently boasts an attendance of over 12,000 each Sunday in multiple locations around Jacksonville, including two international ones in Zimbabwe and Northern Ireland. Weems serves as a flat-screen pastor for his multi-site gatherings.
“I don’t think there’s any place in the life of the church for a flat screen pastor, I really don’t. …How do you know anything about a flat-screen face three miles away from where you are? What kind of shepherding is that? What kind of pastor is that? That’s no pastor at all. That is not a pastor.” John MacArthur
While it is non-denominational, Celebration Church is aligned with the innocuously named Association of Related Churches. Weems – him, not her – serves on ARC’s Lead Team, joining the likes of Nick and Christine Caine (repeat after me ‘prosperity gospel heretics’) and John Gray of Lakewood Church (smile widely and please say ‘Joel Osteen.’). Weems’ woes with discernment – as if he cares about it – with such spurious associations is further exhibited by his participation on “reverend” Steven Furtick’s oversight board.
According to Christian Post, Weems served on Furtick’s Board of Overseers (Perry Noble was also on it, FYI) that approves his salary package. The issue of Furtick’s income came to light as a result of his construction of a $1.7 million mansion to house the mega pastor’s family and, of course, his ego. Weems’ residence doesn’t exactly pale in comparison, a $900,000, six thousand + square foot abode in a gated community on the edge of the St. Johns River, a community known as a favorite of Jacksonville’s NFL stars.
Before consideration is given to Weems and his horrendous handling of God’s Word , just one other point on his issues of his discernment. In March 2015, Weems and Celebration gleefully hosted perhaps the queen charlatan of TBN’s prosperity gospel line-up, Joyce Meyer. “We are beyond excited and honored to host Joyce Meyer.”
(For more on the charlatan that is Joyce Meyer, see HERE.)
So, on two fundamental points of obedience to the Scripture that Celebration claims is authoritative, Weems has two strikes. Women in the pulpit … strike one. Discernment, or the lack thereof, is strike two.
When we are told to have nothing to do with false teachers, it’s generally understood to mean, “don’t invite them to preach in your pulpit”. It certainly means, “don’t hold hands with them on religious boards and associations.” This admonition, of course, probably doesn’t apply if you happen to be a false teacher yourself. No doubt, this is the defensive tack which Weems must take.
In 2014, Weems published The God-First Life. The book’s title is currently being used as the tagline for his church’s website, “We are leading people to experience a God-first life.” Coming from the Emergent/seeker-sensitive “church” movement as he does, Weems’ book posits nothing less than a word of faith, prosperity focused gospel. Believers will know, of course, this is a false, “other” Gospel which the Apostle Paul anathematizes. (Galatians 1:8)
(See Empowered By Christ’s entry on Weems HERE.)
“Years ago, my church – Celebration Church in Jacksonville, Florida – rented a billboard near a busy highway. We were looking to attract people to what God was doing in our world. The ad featured an image of me (which made sense because the invitation was coming from the church, and well, I’m the pastor) with these words emblazoned across the ad: Your Life, God’s Way.” Stovall Weems
Weems’ obviously narcissistic advertising aside, a fundamental misunderstanding of God, and especially His Gospel, is on full display. God is not interested in simply “attracting people.” He does not need to dangle enticements before a depraved world in order to get their attention. What He offers is not a “check out what I’m doing” (What’s He’s doing is judgment, by the way. Romans 1:18) but rather a command to “repent and believe.” (Mark 1:15) Repentance, though, is nowhere to be found in Weems’ doctrine-less tome.
When God so chooses – because He IS sovereign – He will move to regenerate those whom He’s chosen “from before the foundation of the world,” (Ephesians 1:4) but that is not an attractional effort; it’s a supernaturally transformative one He accomplishes exclusively through the mechanism of His Gospel. (Romans 1:16) And that Gospel? Yeah, it too is completely absent from Weems’ book.
The God-First Life lacks a presentation of the Gospel and provides a disturbingly deceptive concept of soteriology. In Weems’ text, both the purpose of whatever salvation may be gleaned as necessary from his writing, and the results of that salvation, are decidedly man-centered. Scripture, however, gives a clear, Christ-centered focus to “all things.” “All things were created through him and for him.” Colossians 1:16
“In your search for happiness, God is not your fiercest opponent, but your greatest ally. But to see things from his perspective, you must master one crucial truth: Happiness isn’t about more, better, or greater; it’s about order.” Stovall Weems
A quick perusal of, say, Foxes Book of Martyrs contradicts Weems’ “it’s all about you” false gospel. Temporal happiness, though a heavily-stressed tenet of contemporary pop “Christianity,” the flavor Celebration proclaims – wasn’t a remotely valued ambition evident in the lives of the many saints who died for the faith of Christ. Temporal happiness simply was not (and is not) a featured selling point for authentic faith. The image of an inverted crucified Apostle Peter ought to be seared into the minds of anyone who’s tempted to believe the Gospel is all about “Your Best Life Now.”
The other obvious problem with The God-First Life approach is that it suggests a cafeteria-style, cultural Christianity intended to meet your needs, wants, and desires in the here and now. Completely lacking the notion of authentic regeneration, much less issuing a call for repentance for the forgiveness of sin, Weems hurls forth a system that, if adroitly administered, yields God-required blessings. You do it right and God’s obliged to bless.
“If we get the order right, God promises to meet our needs, with unexpected blessings attached.” Stovall Weems
Contrast Weems’ teaching, though, with what Christ Himself declared:
“So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” Jesus, Luke 14:33
Weems’ novel approach to apprehending God’s blessing, though, is nothing more than a different veneer of presumed credibility layered across the foundation of a prosperity gospel theology. Weems can only back up this assertion by citing – again, sans repentance and “by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone” – Proverbs 10:22. “The blessing of the Lord makes rich, and he adds no sorrow with it.”
Promise plucking is a well-favored feat of the prosperity preacher and this particular verse is one to which they are obviously favorably inclined. One wonders why the apostle Paul, who, it must be admitted, was “tight” with Jesus, didn’t remind Him of this promise. Instead, Paul, identifying himself as a slave (doulos) of Christ, (Romans 1:1) suffered horrendously in his “God-first” life. Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians ought be considered seriously by those who are jeopardizing their souls with the false teaching of Weems:
Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. 24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food,in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. 2 Corinthians 11:23-28
It’s a shame the apostle didn’t simply know then what Weems teaches now. If only the apostle had just gotten the order right.
Another example from The God-First Life reflects Weems’ mishandling of Scripture and his dismissive presentation of sin, and, of course, Christ’s redemptive work necessitated by it. “Jesus wasn’t against happiness,” Weems writes, “he just redefined how to get it.”
Weems cites such things as greed, drunkenness, dishonesty, hatred, rage, selfishness, antagonism, and envy not as sins committed against an utterly righteous and just God, from whom judgment is forthcoming. He calls these things “types of behaviors that characterize the untransformed life.” The transformed life, of course, is a life with things in the right order, with God first. Umm, no.
The authentically transformed life is one that has undergone the divinely wrought re-birth. Regardless of the practical structure, or intentional focus, we place on the ordering of our life – psychological, emotional, religious, or otherwise – without being born again, no one will see the kingdom of God. (John 3:3)
Just ask your favorite Pharisee. Christ made it clear to them that their own intense focus on the structure of, and adherence to, their charade of religious behavior was not only hypocritical, it was also eternally insufficient. The woes he pronounced on them may easily be applied to the similar works righteousness, prosperity gospel Weems proclaims. (Matthew 23)
Though Weems doesn’t deny the reality of sin, in his view, it’s not really a big deal. Continuing with his “get everything in the right order to get your blessing” outline, Weems prioritizes, verse by verse, the structure of the Lord’s prayer as Biblical evidence that sin shouldn’t be a fixation for us.
“Now, finally, I get to forgiveness. I cannot overstate how important it is to keep things in the priority God established. God doesn’t want us obsessing on our sins. Placing this fourth [according to Weem’s outline of the Lord’s prayer] gives us a check – Have I offended God? How have I treated people? – but it avoids turning my sin into the whole story.” Stovall Weems
Sin, according to Weems, drops in at number four on God’s prioritized spreadsheet of importance. Somehow, the crucifixion, then, seems an awfully harsh penalty for the Son of God to pay. If sin is merely types of behavior of the untransformed life, if it isn’t something we should obsess over – things which Scripture patently contradicts – it’s no surprise Weems’ flavor of the prosperity gospel deflects the need for repentance.
Promoting an aberrant theology as he does, Weems provides, under the banner “Experiencing The Presence Of God,” another “get it in the right order” instruction, this one in his description of worship. His explanation is that worship is about you, an “encounter” you have, an “experience” you get. Worship is about us, not God.
Though his explanation of man-centered worship is decidedly unbiblical, Weems provides yet another illicit interpretation of Scripture while explaining it. In so doing, he also reflects his disregard for “rightly handling the word of truth.” 2 Timothy 2:15
“The third chapter of Revelation shows how Jesus invites us to experience him. … Now he’s standing at the door of your heart, and he’s saying, Will you go ahead and abandon yourself to me? Will you just let me in? And at that moment of abandonment and surrender you experience the presence of God.” Stovall Weems
An astute student of Scripture will recognize this gross misinterpretation of Revelation 3:20. Christ was speaking to a church completely void of authentic believers, perhaps not unlike Celebration. To “experience the presence of God” is not driven by man’s effort. Scripture makes abundantly clear that only God can bring life to those “dead in trespasses and sins.” (Ephesians 2:1)
In the case of Weems and Celebration Church, there are, each Sunday, some 12,000 souls, many of whom are “already condemned,” (John 3:18) that are not being given the truth of the Gospel. Instead they are being fed a Pharisaical, legalistic, structured approach to “faith” that is nowhere to be found in Scripture. It is certain to leave them in their condemned state, on the wide path that leads to destruction.
See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. Colossians 2:8
Though Weems is a wanna-be big player on the pervasive stage of false “Christianity,” he, and others like him, represent the worst of those many false teachers about whom our Lord warned authentic believers. They slather an appealing veneer of Christian-ese across a diabolical “other” gospel that ultimately damns. They’re merely hucksters hurling a feel-good form of religion leading those who swallow it to believe that form and function equate to salvific faith and that the goal of Christianity is experience rather than obedience. It’s exactly the same sort of thing for which Jesus attacked the Pharisees.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. Matthew 23:27-28
Celebration Church and Weems are misleading thousands with a false, legalistic form of the prosperity gospel. But others, too, do so in less than TBN worthy “churches” across the country. The enemy has countless counterfeits. These aren’t churches, and their pulpit occupants aren’t pastors. They are the false teachers Scripture tells us to avoid and expose. (Romans 16:17-18, Ephesians 5:11)
“If the church is anything in the world, it is God’s holy people. Churches should be known by how they exalt righteousness, and how they condemn unrighteousness. Churches should be known for confronting sin and pursuing holiness.” John MacArthur
For Weems and Celebration, holiness isn’t a priority; the “experience” of God is. For them, unrighteousness and sin aren’t things over which one should obsess; they are merely behaviors which cause us to disorder what should be a “God-first life,” a life that apprehends God-obliged, temporal blessings.
But, the truly regenerate believer will be found in thankful agreement with the apostle’s words about his Christian faith …
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Philippians 3:8-11
Each Sunday, in Jacksonville, Florida, thousands will gather to be deceived. Likewise, around the nation and the world, countless souls will sit under the damning words of a feel good religion. Please, pray for these souls. And, please, warn those being misled who are in such eternally damning clubs of deistic moralism.
Contend for the faith. Many are being deceived and many are deceiving … and they’re not all on TBN. Sometimes they’re just down the street …
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[Contributed by Bud Ahlheim]