“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Acts 2:42
There is little argument that the post-modern persona of the “church” has been grotesquely deformed from what the first-century bride of Christ looked like. The church has been prostituted. Her visible face is no longer adorned in golden braids of holiness. Her Christ-given, hyssop-purged robe of purity has been stripped from her to be replaced with a chic, sexy, alluring garb that appeals to the world. And her worship has become a defiled, irreverent display of worldliness that is saturated with Christian-ese but void of the Gospel and absent the edifying presentation of the sound doctrine of the Word.
Paul Washer, at the recent G3 Conference, expressed his chagrin for pastors who are prostituting the bride of Christ. (The G3 videos may be seen HERE.) He put it this way …
“That’s what countless pastors in America are doing today. They have taken the simplicity of the bride of Christ, her magnificent beauty, her purity, her holiness and they have torn it from her … and they dress her up and parade her in front of carnal men that they will be attracted to, somehow, come back to God.”
In his own inimitable way, Washer gave us a word worth heeding.
“Let me tell you something … on the day of judgment, don’t worry about the atheists. Don’t fear for the prostitute or the murderer. You want to fear for somebody on the day of judgment? You fear for a large number of evangelical pastors who have departed from the Word of God and are parading the Church in a dress, in a garb, that God never intended her to wear.”
“Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” James 3:1
Dire words, to be sure, but, altogether appropriate if one takes an unclouded view of the “face” of the church that is presented to the world today.
But outside those seeker-sensitive, niche-oriented, scratch-the-goat’s-itch arenas falsely labeled as churches, there’s another area where Christianity is being bartered for fame and profit, and the bride of Christ is being tarnished … the “Christian” conference.
Christian conferences are all the rage, and, many of them – especially the high-profile, highly-marketed ones – intentionally feature known false teachers who, lacking the ability to rightly divide the Word of Truth for their hearers (2 Timothy 2:15), are yet quite capable of drawing a crowd. It does not require much discernment for the “abiding in my Word” believer (John 8:31) to recognize that when Beth Moore, or Christine Caine, or Brian Houston, or Bill Johnson, etc etc etc are featured as headliners for the next “must attend” conference, the “faith once for all delivered” (Jude 3) will not be contended for.
“But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.” 2 Peter 2:1-3
The world’s leading false teachers thrive in the hyped-up hoopla of the “Christian” conference. Tens of thousands of adoring fans crowding the arena may be singing songs with Christian words and may be shouting “Jesus,” but “profession” of Jesus certainly does not mean “possession” of Jesus, nor apprehension of the faith He delivered. But the charlatans paraded before cheering, pumped-up crowds are being temporally well-rewarded with ego-strokes of fame and bulky bank deposits. Yet the personal enrichment of the charlatans means certain famine for many attendees who are desperately, eternally, in need of the authentic Gospel and to be fed the genuine “Bread of Life.”
The top touted conferences are sponsored by hotbeds of heresy like Bethel Church or Hillsong. Driven by their growing music empires, crowds are entertained with Hollywood theatrics and light shows for Jesus that remove focus from the Word, but feed the emotional cravings of the post-modern, give-me-a-feel-good-experience mindset.
Conferences like the recent Passion Conference in Atlanta, which drew some 50,000 attendees, continue to muddy the increasingly murky evangelical waters by mixing presumed theologically-sound speakers with known, dangerous false teachers. Thus the importance of sound doctrine is diminished in a tacit effort to show “unity” around the “love of Jesus.” But it’s adherence to sound doctrine that precludes, for example, Benny Hinn being invited to speak at the Shepherds’ Conference.
This illicit pattern of showing no distinction from the charlatans explicitly serves to undermine the authority and sufficiency of the Word. It sends the wrong and confusing message that “so long as you love Jesus,” we can “worship” together. It gives a nod to the false notion that “we’re all God’s children” and we must come together – with a disregard to intentionally divisive sound doctrine (Romans 16:17-18) – for a good cause, like social justice or ending abortion or feeding the poor, in the name of Jesus.
These conferences implicitly confirm what Scripture does not. A profession of “loving Jesus,” the “let’s do good things for the world for Jesus,” does not imply that one is, in fact, a Christian. Attending the emotionally-charged Christian conference does not make the emotionally-charged attendee an actual Christian. Recall those most frightening words in Scripture, spoken by the authentic Jesus (who rarely is recognizable in so many of these conferences).
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ Matthew 7:21-23
In his current radio series entitled Salvation Survey: Saved or Self-Deceived, Pastor John MacArthur addresses this concern. In the post-broadcast wrap-up with Carl Miller, MacArthur speaks about the self-deceived conference Christian. (The message, Empty Words, and the rest of his series, may be heard at Grace To You.)
Grace To You host Carl Miller poses the question:
“How should our listeners respond to someone who is convinced that they’re saved even though their life shows no evidence of regeneration? How do you minister to someone like that?”
Here’s MacArthur’s answer:
“Well, you know, that’s what false teachers do. They convince people who are not saved that they are saved.”
“I’ll be blunt. There are huge gatherings of people,” says MacArthur, “in these mega-systems around the country pastored by kind of showmen … they’re not really pastors … they’re kind of led by showmen who are speaking in Christian terms and giving people the illusion that they are saved.”
“In many cases the people don’t even know what the Gospel is. In many cases, it’s just an emotional experience.”
MacArthur continues. “There are many, many people in these situations. There’s no transformation in their life. There’s no real love of holy things. They come together to be entertained, to have an emotional high. Superficial doctrine is fine with them because they don’t know enough to know what really matters.”
“I’m convinced,” says MacArthur, “that what you have in the explosion of these massive audiences going to these sort of Christian events that feature music and lights and superficiality … what you have there are millions of people – all accumulated together – who are given the illusion that they’re believers when they are not.”
Restating the question, MacArthur says, “How do you minister to people like that? You take them right down to the Gospel.”
“And here’s how you start. Ask them this …”
“Are you a Christian?”
“Explain to me how it is that you are a Christian.”
“Tell me the Gospel.”
“You’ll know right away whether they even know it,” points out MacArthur, “and you can respond with the Truth.”
[Contributed by Bud Ahlheim]