The 2017 church conference circuit is in full swing and with it comes a plethora of unholy alliances. No surprise, Hillsong and Jesus Culture will headline the apostasy this year. In keeping with Paul’s exhortation from Romans 16:17-18, it behooves pastors and Christians to be aware of the sort of tactics that mainstream movements are using to draw young people to their blasphemous ministries. Two of the more prominent events to be aware of will take place this fall, on back-to-back weekends, on two sides of the country. Each will feature lineups full of known false teachers, and music by Hillsong and Jesus Culture. These alliances allow powerhouse music ministries and their teachers to team up and target millennials with their sensual brand of worship and dangerous theology.
On September 21-23, Los Angeles will play host to the first conference titled, “Heaven Come”, featuring Bill Johnson, his Bethel crew, Lou Engle, and Kris Vallaton; along with Carl Lentz and the Hillsong usuals. It promises to be an epic show. With ticket sales running around $200-$250 a head, and a Microsoft Theater capacity of 7,100, the event will certainly make the gang a pretty penny.
The following week on September 27-30, Jesus Culture will travel south to Orlando, FL to headline the smaller but no less heretical, “Jesus Conference”, where Todd White, Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn, and Marilyn Hickey, will join a speaker lineup akin to the backstreet boys. Both of these conferences are designed to mix the old school with the new school as a sort of heretical hand off. It’s as though Satan is casting a net into the population of 80 million millennials and trying to drag out as many as he can by using the old guard.
So why are the 2017 heretical hangouts something you ought to be aware of? Because Christians who are clueless to enemy strategies are sitting ducks and churches who can’t confidently explain to their young people why they must avoid these types of conferences are unable to effectively keep watch over the souls of their sheep (Hebrews 13:17). Cowering in fear is not an option. Hoping it will all blow over is not an option. Not giving answers is not an option. If you aren’t sure what false doctrines are in play here, study the essential beliefs of historical Christianity in relation to the Deity of Christ, Salvation, the Trinity (particularly the work of the Holy Spirit), according to Scripture. Next, compare that to what “word of faith theology”, “little god theology”, “prosperity gospel theology”, and the “NAR”, teach and do in the name of “Jesus Christ.” That will get you all caught up on why these groups are heretical.
I recently spent time with a friend who attends a bible teaching church in the LA area and he was sharing with me some troubling news. His church was losing young people in droves to Hillsong LA and other more “attractional” music-driven venues. They couldn’t stop it. Their youth and young adults had found something that tapped into their emotions, made them feel good, and seemed to be full of love. Ignorant of the deadly doctrines that Hillsong teaches and supports, indifference had swept over many of the young people in the church and they were simply buying in to the cool vibe of the music and ecumenical vision. I could sense the strain in his voice as he explained that this was his fear all along. Plenty of churches have spent wasted time voicing their displeasure over the methods and style of Hillsong, but few have effectively pinpointed them as outright false teachers. Perhaps out of fear of taking on the most famous business in the evangelical world, the body of Christ at large has stayed relatively divided on what to do about these popular preachers.
Many pastors struggle to find a balance. Should they bring up these issues publically and risk exposing the sheep to things they may have never even heard of? How soon is too soon to start sounding the alarm about certain movements? Do first-time visitors really want to come back to a church that just harps on false teachers all the time? Is the best way to deal with a counterfeit to study and know the real thing? How many well-prepared sermons would be derailed if we had to spend time going “heretic hunting” on Sunday mornings?
All of these are valid questions that pastors and people must face head on. The church needs to consistently provide answers and must avoid wasting valuable time cowering in fear, while still being careful of over-emphasizing the latest heretical gossip without providing solutions (something we can all be guilty of).
As church leaders navigate the theological chaos that movements like Jesus Culture and Hillsong pump into the evangelical ecosystem, here are five ways to protect our young people, and the rest of the church for that matter. Keep in mind, this list will apply directly to pastors, but can be useful for any Christian and parent.
- PREACH THE WORD AND PRIORITIZE TRUTH
Nothing equips and empowers God’s people like His word. You don’t learn to identify counterfeit money by studying the counterfeits. If you study genuine currency and become highly familiar with the qualities of the real thing, then you’ll be able to spot a fake from a mile away. In order to best equip the people of God to contend for the truths of God, they must be faithfully taught the Scriptures in the fullest sense. A church must place a premium on its preaching ministry. The pastor can let a missionary share stories from the mission field, make a few announcements, and grant the odd request from the nursery leader to ask for more volunteers, but such things are frivolous when compared to the purpose of the pulpit. He must be undeterred in his task and the people must be ready to feast on the word. The elders of the church must ensure nothing takes away from the preaching ministry of a church. The people need it. They must have it. As for strategies against false teaching, sermon series’ and seminars on heretical teaching can be incredibly helpful for people, but are only as helpful as their application. In other words, if you’re doing any type of teaching on this issue, you must focus on what the Bible says, not just how ridiculous a false teacher looks, or how rich they are – that’s tabloid fare. Make no mistake, preaching the truth and prioritizing the pulpit ministry is the best way to protect people against error.
- PREPARE FOR APOSTASY WITH CONFIDENCE
One of my college coaches used to yell in his pre-game speech, “Preparation is confidence!” It was true on the baseball field and it’s true in shepherding the flock of God. When dealing with a certain error or heresy that Hillsong or Jesus Culture teach, know your stuff and be prepared. People can sniff out a phony from miles away so if pastors are even slightly unclear in their own understanding of the issues, it will be a fog to their listeners. If a pastor hasn’t been praying, preparing, and prudent with the responsibility to rightly divide the word and shepherd God’s people through times of apostasy, they’re going to react fearfully, not confidently on game day. It’s a leader’s job to be out front of those they lead – and it’s advisable that every Christian parent take this strategy for the sake of their children. When people ask theological questions about a certain celebrity pastor, a conference, or a certain book, they need leaders to calmly, lovingly, and biblically state the answer to their question. This will of course mean that leaders have studied the issue, studied their bible, and have taken the time to emotionally process the issue before helping others deal with it. If you don’t know the answer, know how to find the answer for someone. Be unwavering and confident because you’re prepared for what the bible said would happen in the last days (2 Timothy 3:1-17).
- PROTECT THE FLOCK WITH RIGHTEOUS PASSION
If a boy pulls up to my house in a Mustang one day and honks from the curb while my daughter comes down the stairs in a short skirt saying, “Bye dad, be home around midnight”, you’re going to see some righteous passion. Beyond that, I’ve likely failed in my duty prior to that moment. If a false teacher is targeting our young people with sensual music undergirded by deadly theology about a false version of Christ, pastors need to have some passion and proactively guard against this! We’ve seen far too many pastors get more excited over new state-of-the-art buildings, new children’s ministry playgrounds, new books, and their elaborate libraries than over contending for the faith. There is nothing wrong with any of those things but they are still superficial. Too many pastors shelf their passion and cower in fear when it comes time to protect the flock from wolves. Controversy should never deter a pastor from protecting the sheep. Wolves love a weak shepherd who is content to collect a paycheck but too lazy to gird his loins for battle. Far too many pastors skirt around issues, refuse to name a name, or prefer to talk about these sort of issues in a passive aggressive way. Ignorant sheep are one thing, slothful pastors are another. There is no place for this in a biblical church.
- PUT OUT BIBLICAL MATERIAL ON RELEVANT ISSUES
As previously stated, the majority of Sunday sermons cannot just be a heresy hunt. That’s where many well-meaning churches have gone too extreme these days. In order to help people get educated about the larger doctrinal issues facing the church consider the following options:
- Starting a blog for your church
- Writing a short booklet or book(s) to help your people navigate apostasy and more
- Do a weekly or monthly podcast about current events and theology
- Start a YouTube channel
- Do a short series on deadly doctrines, film it, and use the DVD as a resource for years
- Write a distinctive or church document stating your church’s position and distribute
- Mention divergence in the church when your preaching text does – this is plenty of times.
This is just a short list of ways to put out helpful material for your people and deal with important issues without taking two weeks off from your verse-by-verse journey through John to vent about Steven Furtick’s latest antics. If your schedule or ability doesn’t allow you to protect the flock through any of these means, you always have books, seminars, and blogs by faithful bible-teachers at your disposal. No matter what a pastor decides to do, he must do something. People need good, biblical preaching from the pulpit and material that helps them contend for the faith in today’s culture. Keep the juicy venting to a minimum and stick to high application in your material. Your people will thank you because they won’t just know about the latest heretical gossip, they’ll actually know what to do about it.
- PRAY FOR THE FAITH OF THE FLOCK
For all his passionate zeal and willingness to take on false teachers, Paul was diligent in his prayer life. It wasn’t just his warnings, just his teaching, or just his appointment of faithful men to church oversight – it was his prayers that protected the faith of the church. For the church’s best results, prayer is the highest priority. Paul wrote,
For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which He has called you, what are the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His great might that He worked in Christ when He raised him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things under His feet and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all (Ephesians 1:15-23).
There will be no slowing down of apostasy in these last days. Our adversary takes no day off. Still, the church must remain diligent in its task and preachers must be resolute in trusting the power of prayer, the power of truth, and the power of God to draw every last one of His sheep into the fold until Christ returns.
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[Contributed by Costi Hinn]
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- Bethel Music: Unfruitful Works of Darkness