Often newly formed cults and/or high demand authoritarian groups which may be operating within the church claim they are trying to “get back to the New Testament church.” These groups have some vague idea that the first century church had an unadulterated uniform pristine faith. The church, they think, was error free under apostolic direction and all early believers held the same belief and behavior on all topics. In response we sometimes ask, “Have you read the Bible?”
Nearly all the New Testament was written to correct false teaching, bad behavior, fighting amongst believers and inflated egos. That was the negative emphasis. The positive emphasis of apostolic letters to the various churches was to establish sound doctrine. We would suggest to the new ill-informed “reformers,” who almost universally believe they are now the only true Christians or church, that if they are trying to get back to the New Testament church, they have arrived. We might also mention that Christian history is littered with the carcasses of often abusive groups who saw themselves as “restoring the true Church of the first century.” The fact is, the church is dealing today with many issues which are closely akin to those that troubled the first century church, if not indeed the very same issues. Those early churches were made up of human beings still encumbered with their old nature, and in some cases their pre-Christian pagan practices. As a result, they were not at all pristine and perfectly united in spirit and doctrine – and neither are we. Sad, but true.
What makes the church, the Body of Christ, the church? It is not uniformity of belief in all areas but is made up solely of imperfect individuals who have called on the Name of the Lord for salvation and have been “made one” by the Spirit. The millions have become ONE, but much like marriage, their “oneness” does not guarantee agreement on all issues. The one thing that would bring uniformity in all issues would be for all Christians everywhere to stop this nonsense and simply agree with US, or rather ME – since I don’t always agree with my spouse. But we don’t really see that happening. We can all thank God for that.
In Realville, while we are yet in our fallen state, true believers must, yes, affirm the essentials of the faith and have unity in the Spirit, in spite of disagreements on other important but secondary areas of the faith. For those who wonder what the essentials might be, this will be helpful:
God – monotheistic (one true God), trinitarian (within the nature of the one true God exist three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit). He created all things, is separate from creation but interacts with His creation.
Man – is part of creation and was created in the image of God. As Got Questions? explains, “It is a likeness mentally, morally, and socially.”
Sin – Eve was deceived into disobeying God and Adam chose to follow Eve’s lead. The disobedience (sin) caused a separation (death) between man and God. Since then, humans are born separated from God with a predisposition to sin (sin nature) and we also choose to sin.
Salvation – When Adam and Eve sinned, God provided temporary payment for sin in the form of animal sacrifice. This continued until the Son, Jesus, second person of the Trinity, incarnated (took on humanity), lived a perfect life in our place and died a death we deserved, to pay the penalty for sin that we owed, providing peace with God by calling on the Name of the Son for salvation.
Resurrection – The resurrection of the Savior was physical and demonstrated death itself was conquered. This pointed to the promised redemption of the whole person spirit and body. When Christians breathe their last, their spirit separates from their body and goes to be with God. At the resurrection, their physical body is raised, and their spirit is reunited with their body.
The inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture – the text of the 66 books of the Bible is God-breathed or inspired, and in the original writings are error free.
Once we get beyond these essentials of the faith we may, and often do, have disagreements on important but secondary issues of the faith. These disagreements often involve something we might call the “mechanics of the faith.” They deal with questions like “How does God do stuff?” How did God create the heavens and the earth from nothing? (we have no idea). When did God create the heavens and the earth? (Many divide into armed encampments over this one). How could Jesus be fully human and fully divine and not some mixture of the two?
Then there are the mechanics of the faith regarding living and practicing the faith. Which day should we gather to worship? Even Paul had to address this one (Romans 14 and Colossians 2). Is baptism sprinkling, pouring, full immersion or something else? A brief article on early baptism, “How was baptism practiced in the early Church?” describes many of the elements practiced then, including fasting for a day or two in advance, anointing with oil, immersion or pouring. Obviously, each position had their preferred method. There is an odd position which has (we say thankfully) passed from the scene and is no longer a point of current contention in the church:
The Apostolic Tradition explains how those to be baptized must “remove their clothing,” and go into the water “naked.”
There are many issues in various categories that are still fought over – we mean disagreed on – regularly. One of the biggies is the question of Pentecostal/charismatic gifts. Have they continued since the first century (continuationism) or did they cease in the first century (cessationism)?
Very few have yet asked us what the true positions on secondary issues should be, and, as a mission that focusses on cults and non-Christian religions, MCOI does not take any official positions on most of these secondary issues although it is fair to speculate, we’d say IXNAY on naked baptism ceremonies. We feel that most Christians would agree that a vast majority of people look far better – and are far less distracting – with clothes on. We are all for “leaving behind our dirty sin-stained garments” in a spiritual sense, however.
The fact that we do not take official positions on many of those issues, does not mean we do not have personal views which comport with our understanding of the Bible and our respective church affiliations, but it does mean we major on the essentials and try not to get embroiled in debates on secondary issues, which debates will likely survive until the LORD sets us all straight at the time of our redemption.
The Bible does address the issue of “sign gifts” directly. In First Corinthians, the Apostle Paul spent a great deal of time (3 chapters) on the question of sign gifts in the church the believer’s behavior regarding these gifts to correct wrong conduct. Some of those who had more visible gifts were acting arrogantly against those who did not. Consequently, chaos, pandemonium and divisiveness ensued. Paul’s first correction was to make clear that these gifts were not their personal toys but:
To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good (1 Corinthians 12:7)
The gifts were for the benefit of the entire Body. Some would have more visible sign gifts others would not. All were to benefit and be blessed regardless of the distribution and all were to be act biblically, serving one another and being responsible in their behavior and attitudes.
Unfortunately, there are some in the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement today which are unaware of – or perhaps disregarding – Paul’s instruction in this area. In spite of what Paul plainly wrote, chaos and pandemonium rule the day in some – though by no means all – Pentecostal/Charismatic circles today. Where Paul did not allow tongues in the church unless there was an interpreter of such utterances available, some churches today are a veritable cacophony of chaos. In other gatherings – particularly Word Faith and NAR – people are being routinely “bowled over with the Spirit” and being so-called “drunk in the spirit,” along with other unruly behavior. Paul’s word to the Corinthians on similar behavior was given both to bring godly order to the fellowship and protect the reputation of the faith to the outside world:
If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? (1 Corinthians 14:23)
He ends this section with sobering words:
But all things should be done decently and in order. (1 Corinthians 14:40)
We also have a growing movement of false prophets which are operating with impunity within Pentecostalism. Sadly, one of their chief apologists seems to be Dr. Michael Brown. We have written on this issue with “False Prophets Prophesying Falsely,” in early January and “Michael Brown and the False Prophets” in late January. After Dr. Brown responded to that blog, we wrote, “Michael Brown: Fraternity Over Orthodoxy?” in March.
The common thread through all three articles is simply this: We go to Scripture and recite the biblical definitions of false prophets. False prophets and false prophecies are also something Jesus warned his people to be on the lookout for. Biblically, a false prophet may even be one who gives true prophecies but use these “successes” to lead others to accept false views of God. Or alternatively, if a self-appointed prophet were to give even one false prophesy, even one teensy little prophecy that did not come to pass – they were to be recognized as false prophets and were not to be listened to. Period. The biblical guidelines are simple, easy to understand and unequivocal. The legal penalty for being a false prophet in the theocracy of the Hebrew nation was the same as sexual sin – capital punishment. The issue is so serious to God the Nation of Israel were to execute the offenders.
Michael Brown and the false prophets have simply created extra biblical criteria which allows them to prophecy falsely with little or no repercussions at all. Recent times have proved to be a dark and embarrassing time for these “prophets” when a veritable blizzard of false prophecies were unleashed on the public, which stubbornly refused to happen as predicted, bringing great discredit to the church of Jesus Christ from enemies of the faith, and likely doing great harm to the faith of Christians that had believed in them. Word of these “prophecies,” when given, had been spread far and wide, so their abject failure was apparent to millions and these “prophets” were inescapably recognized for the false prophets they were. To make matters worse, even when all hope of the prophecies’ realization was past, these false prophets, men, and women, simply clung on – quite publicly – to the false hope that God would shortly do as they said. They openly and rather defiantly issued proclamations of “soon and very soon” fulfillment of said prophecies, rather than just admitting they had been disastrously wrong.
After this massive public exposure of so many of these false prophets, and humiliating reality began to set in, a new tact has been taken by these false prophets. On April 29, 2021, the “Prophetic Standards Statement” was released. It seems the biblical standards are far too narrow and confining and could result in their being removed from pulpits and ministries, as we believe they should have been. It was necessary to implement a new criterion which allowed for the continued operation of false prophets while projecting at least the illusion of accountability for their false proclamations. Perhaps the two most illuminating paragraphs are:
On the other hand, if a prophetic word is delivered containing specific details and dates in which the stated prophetic word will come to pass and that prophecy contains no conditions to be met in order to be fulfilled, and that word does not come to pass as prophesied, then the one who delivered the word must be willing to take full responsibility, demonstrating genuine contrition before God and people.
Any statement of apology and/or explanation/clarification should be delivered to the audience to whom the erroneous word was given. For example, if it was given to an individual, the apology (and/or explanation/clarification) should be delivered to the individual. If the word was delivered publicly, then a public apology (and/or explanation/clarification) should be presented. This is not meant to be a punishment but rather a mature act of love to protect the honor of the Lord, the integrity of prophetic ministry, and the faith of those to whom the word was given.
Not meant to be a “punishment? In the Hebrew Scriptures false prophets were to be executed. Execution seems like an obvious “punishment” of some kind to us. Under the newly revealed criteria, false prophets need to apologize, as well as giving an “explanation” and/or “clarification,” which means they can offer excuses for their actions. By what authority can these new prophets elevate their self-authenticating criteria above the clear word of God? It is clear the only authority they recognize is their own. This is not a matter of cessationism vs. continuationism. This is a matter of fidelity to the word of God concerning something on which He has been abundantly clear. We don’t say these false prophets are beyond the grace of God, or beyond His ultimate forgiveness, but to issue an “apology” without even coming to a real and deep understanding of the terrible seriousness to God of making false prophecies, is a very serious sin. How can they be trusted at this point? They do not seem to even know what they did wrong and should be allowed to go right back to “false prophecy business as usual.” It is a direct slap in God’s face. Obviously, false prophets are not qualified for leadership in the church. How could they lead others to understand the word, when they lack such understanding themselves, completely disregarding His clear warnings about false prophets and false prophecies. The Body of Christ, “to protect the honor of the Lord, the integrity of prophetic ministry, and the faith of those to whom the word was given” should rise up as one and call for the removal of any and all of the false prophets from leadership positions.Ω
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Great article, Don. I read their prophecy statement. Was any prophecy in the Bible ever “peer reviewed” first or any instruction to do so like they require?
Do they misuse the passage Rev.19:10 “…the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” to support their view? Weren’t prophecies given either somehow to preserve the chosen line thru whom the LORD would send the promised messiah into the world or to foretell things specifically relating to Him, His reign, & His followers and these are the Spirit’s testimony of Jesus?
Good questions. We have no “peered reviewed” prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures. Some attempt to create a peer review process out of 1 Corinthians 14:32, “the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets.” There is really nothing in the text which indicates a review of whether a prophecy is true or false though. The closest possibility would be v:29, “Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said.” Are the weighing it for accuracy or importance? I would suggest it is the latter, v:30 “If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent.” The result is, v:31 “For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged,” Why was Paul laying this out? v:33 ” For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.” This section is about church order and behavior not really about peer review boards.
Prophecy was used in many different ways. To pronounce judgement, blessing, give direction, etc. Prior to written revelation prophets were God’s messengers to His people Israel.
Their attaching Revelation 19:10 has to do with what they believe is “the essence of the spirit of prophecy” for what they are defending “the ultimate goal of prophetic ministry is to exalt the lordship of Jesus Christ,” The passage in Revelation doesn’t really bear on that but it is pretty often the case that Statements of Faith and other documents written by believers use passages which sound like they might apply and are attached. It isn’t a good practice but it pretty common.