The Passion Conference just wrapped up its 20th anniversary with a massive crowd of millennials in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. The event, running from January 2 –4, saw over 50,000 eighteen to twenty-five-year-olds * packing the venue in order to, according to the Passion 2017 website, “see a generation leverage their lives for what matters most.”
To accomplish this noble task, the event’s front man, Pastor Louis Giglio, gathered a wide array of notable “celebrity Christian” personalities to prance, dance, proclaim and croon across the platform. False teachers aside, the stellar celebrity Christian line-up must’ve been a deal even at the $209 at-the-door ticket price.
(* The conference website is explicit in discouraging those under 18 in attending and, other than what it calls “Door Holders,” discourages anyone over 25 -except leaders of groups of millennials – from attending. Children are not welcome.)
Among this year’s featured participants were the false teaching pastrix Christine Caine, the SBC’s resident recipient of revelation Beth Moore, and Hillsong New York’s “I’ve been on Oprah downplaying Christ” Carl Lentz.
“No sooner is there a good thing in the world, than a division is necessary. [Genesis 1:4] Light and darkness have no communion; God has divided them, let us not confound them. Sons of light must not have fellowship with deeds, doctrines, or deceits of darkness. … In judgment, in action, in hearing, in teaching, in association, we must discern between the precious and the vile, and maintain the great distinction which the Lord made upon the world’s first day.” Charles Spurgeon, Morning & Evening
The pastoral presence of those who might have once been considered reliable, but who are now clearly off the rails of Biblical, doctrinal obedience – how exactly does one stand on a stage in a spiritual endeavor next to known false teachers when Scripture clearly says “avoid them”? (Romans 16:17, 2 Corinthians 6:14-18) – included heavyweight of “Christian” hedonism, John Piper, and former-pastor-turned-conference-celebrity Francis Chan. Even 84-year-old Charles Stanley – father of the “Scripture isn’t important” Andy Stanley – made an appearance to pray with Giglio for the gathering, his appearance giving the explicit nod to the event and an implicit thumbs-up to its headliners. These days, it seems, that enemy who appears as an angel of light is most often showing up cloaked in an evangelically-approved tunic of ecumenism.
Among the musical talent obtained for the conference were Matt Redman, Chris Tomlin, David Crowder, Christy Nockels, and – because no gathering of millennials can possibly worship Jesus without them – the Hillsong United band.
The gathering of these known false teachers and hurlers of “another Gospel” (Galatians 1:8-9) would represent, for the Biblically-informed believer, an obvious event to avoid, much less one to encourage or send your millennial charges to. But undiscerning parents and seeker-sensitive churches exhibiting zero biblical discretion supported this ecumenical endeavor with gusto. According to a report in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “the faithful come from 90 countries and more than 1,600 colleges.”
What did they come for? Well, it wasn’t for sound doctrine and reliable Biblical teaching. That much we can ascertain from the headliners. In fact, as noted in our review of the Passion Movement’s recent devotional book, Simple Pursuit, the superficially appealing, but persistently Passion-prevalent refrains for “unity” are couched neatly in the increasingly popular, but biblically-toxic, notion that “doctrine divides.”
Devotional contributor Chris Tomlin noted as much in the text itself, writing “Jesus said that the world would know we are His by our love (John 15:35). Interestingly, He did not say ‘by our doctrine’ or ‘by our denomination,’ but by our love.” As we noted in our review, the Apostle Paul clearly identified those who divide the true church as those engaged in teaching and behavior “contrary to the doctrine you have been taught.” (Romans 16:17-18) Instead of obeying Paul’s command to “avoid them,” Passion paraded them across the stage, blasted them across social media, and posts them to YouTube. Doctrine doesn’t matter to Passion.
One of the most glaring examples of a disregard for what the New Testament places high regard for – doctrine (1 Timothy 4:6, 2 Timothy 4:3, Titus 1:9) – came in the crowd-stunning, surprise performance by country superstar Carrie Underwood. According to Wide Open Country, “Underwood joined Christian rocker David Crowder on stage at Atlanta’s Passion 2017, an evangelical conference that focuses on reaching college students.” Reaching them is, of course, one thing; but reaching them with solid Truth from Scripture is quite another. Passion might easily accomplish the first, while the latter seems casually disregarded.
But on Monday evening, January 2, Underwood performed her #1 hit, the “Christian” song “Something in the Water.” This wildly popular song seems to be promoting a wildly erroneous doctrine … baptismal regeneration. She sings of amazing grace because, as the song’s repetitive focus emphasizes, “there must be something in the water, Oh there must be something in the water.”
Well, umm, no. There is nothing in the water. Baptism does not save. If baptism had any divine, salvific value, one must wonder why the Savior Himself didn’t make the procedure a staple of his River Jordan ministry, but Jesus didn’t baptize (John 4:2). Of course, if baptism saves, wouldn’t that find our Lord issuing a cross-bound lie to the thief on the adjacent cross, “Today you will be with me in paradise?” (Luke 23:43)
A good dunking – even if motivated or accompanied by the emotions-manipulating theatrics of a well-orchestrated musical performance, coupled with Hollywood-like mood lighting and a professionally managed environmental aura designed to evoke a feel-good “experience ” – does not save. It is not the experience of emotionally intensified liquid immersion that saves. It is the supernaturally aided comprehension of divine Truth – the Gospel (Romans 1:16) – that saves. It is when God sovereignly opens the eyes to see and the ears to hear that He regenerates through the power of His Gospel. It is the apprehension of divine Truth that is the believer’s validation and their assurance. Baptism is the symbolic external act of obedience that He has, indeed, brought life to a previously dead soul. (Ephesians 2:4-5)
As Josh Buice commented in his blog, “The truth is, Carrie Underwood sang heresy to thousands of college students and the students let everyone know that it was acceptable.”
There is nothing in the water … rather, everything is in the Word.
The concern with Passion 2017, though, isn’t the Word. Though the conference is appealingly besmeared with a millennial-friendly, church-approved slathering of Christian-ese, the actual “Jesus” of Scripture, of orthodox Christianity, is absent. “Jesus” may be lauded, but authentic believers must be cautious against just any “Jesus” being proclaimed. There are many “false messiahs.” (Matthew 24:24) Only one Jesus truly saves, and He is known in His Word, through its diligent consumption by the individual, by its responsibly taught proclamation by preachers and teachers, and apprehended solely by the illuminating, regenerating work of the Holy Spirit.
“The Scriptures are not a sanctified pep pill. The Scriptures are there to give you knowledge.” John MacArthur, Why Believe The Bible?
The “Jesus” of Passion is the “Jesus” of experiential faith, most often exemplified in one’s life by acts compliant with a social gospel agenda. Ending poverty, sheltering the homeless, seeking to correct the woes of injustice – all are noble efforts, to be sure, but those acts alone are not the Gospel. Only when accompanied by the actual, proclaimed Gospel of Jesus from His Word are such acts potentially, eternally worthwhile. No one is saved by good works, neither yours done for them, nor those done for themselves. Sola Fide. Apart from the Gospel proclaimed, one is merely comforting the already condemned (John 3:18) as they are being propelled towards God’s final wrath. Only through His proclaimed and powerful Gospel might He save those whom He wills. (Romans 1:16)
But the Jesus of Passion isn’t driving adherents to the Word, but to an experience that unifies all who laud any “Jesus.” It’s this pursuit that is the danger of Passion, for the Jesus who unites is the One who, as He prayed to the Father, sanctifies and unites through His Word. (John 17:17)
As one person, engaged in dialogue with a Passion 2017 attendee, noted on Facebook, Jesus is, according to the attendee, “all about making us do stuff for others in His name.” The evident assessment from this encounter? “The Jesus they know … is NOT the Jesus of the Bible!!”
Given the parade of false teachers and doctrine-avoiding – and, in some cases, doctrine-denying – celebrity Christians across the Passion platform, it’s little surprise that attendees are clueless about the authentic Jesus who, with His Word, is exalted above all things, particularly in His Word. (Psalm 138:2)
But, as one 21-year-old attendee to the conference said, “We all want the same thing – the experience.” (Source)
But experience doesn’t save. Gospel Truth saves. It’s clear in Scripture … from the lips of our Lord, no less … “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6) You’ll note He didn’t say, “I am the experience.” A few chapters earlier in John’s Gospel, the Lord identified His disciples, not as those who had an “experience of the Truth to be set free,” but that they would “know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32) That Truth is found by abiding in the Word.
The Biblically astute ought to be most Berean about Passion because, as Pastor Buice noted, “Passion without knowledge is deadly.”
Indeed, for Passion attendees, it appears a toxic dose may just have been served … all in the name of “Jesus.”
[Contributed by Bud Ahlheim]