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Rainbow Divider

Chapter 2

My Religious Background

Most of the views people hold have come to them either through intellectual study or through tradition. They are heavily influenced by the opinions of others, particularly of those who have devoted much time to the study of the scriptures, delving into the Hebrew and the Greek. Few have been taught of the Lord.

If these things were simply a matter of intellectual debate I wouldn’t bother. I’m not interested in winning theological debates so I can feel proud of myself. Doctrines matter. Even as truth sets free, so does error bind and imprison. John 8:32. Hosea 4:6, Isaiah 42:22. Col. 2:8. In John 6:45, Jesus quoted a great promise from Isaiah 54:13: “And all thy children shall be taught of the LORD; and great shall be the peace of thy children.”

My desire is to share things that I believe the Lord has taught over the years, things that will help to bless, set free and bring greater peace to my brothers and sisters in the world. It is the reader’s responsibility to seek God with a free and honest heart whether these things are so. His promise to teach applies to you if you are His child.

One letter I received after chapter one was published has helped to point me in the direction I believe the Lord wants me to go with this series. It came from a lady who expressed appreciation for the article but raised what I felt was a sincere question in her mind: how can I not believe in a millennium when there are so many unfulfilled promises to the Jews?

That’s a fair question and I doubt she is alone in wondering. I can readily understand. I hope by God’s grace to answer it. As I thought about it, I felt that a little word about my background might be in order first so that the reader might better understand where I’m coming from.

I am not a religious nut from some fringe cult taking blind shots at everyone who disagrees with me. My pen may get sharp at times, but is not directed in a critical spirit at people, but rather at the wicked spirits at work to hurt and hinder my brethren. My desire is to shine the light of the Word upon the enemy that my brethren may go free.

All I can share is what the Lord in His grace has seen fit to share with me over many years. I John 1:3. It has been an extended journey and it is by no means over. “The path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.” Prov. 4:18.

If I had a dollar for every time the Lord has revealed something that corrected something I thought I had known I’d be a rich man. (I’d rather have the riches of His grace!) The question is: are our ideas and opinions on the altar? Have they been surrendered to the Lord? If not, is He really your Lord? Is your mind so set that God Almighty can’t change it?

First of all, I am a member of that dread breed called “preachers’ kids!” I was raised in a very active, missionary-minded evangelical denomination that stood for many good and scriptural things. The founder was a man of God who ministered in the anointing. When he passed off the scene, they set out to continue his work through a humanly devised organization.

What he believed and understood — a mixture of revelation and tradition — became the doctrinal standard. As time passed, ministry was more and more judged for its orthodoxy and natural ability than for the active presence of the anointing and the Spirit of revelation of the Word.

I came on the scene a couple of generations later and witnessed the passing of a number of an older generation whose ministry still had a measure of life in it. Even they, however, were confined and hindered by the four walls they had built and had no room to grow and receive greater light. One could sense in them a certain amount of anguish as they witnessed the downward slide but they were unable to stop it.

What is sad is that most of the members of this movement today — and others like it — are unaware that a slide has taken place. It has happened so subtly and gradually over several generations, all the while preserving the outward form, that they are not aware of it. The illustration of the frog is appropriate. If you drop a frog into hot water he will immediately jump out. If, however, you put him in cool water and ever so gradually turn up the heat, he will contentedly sit there till he boils to death.

What we need to realize is that once even true revelation has been received and given out it enters the realm of human knowledge. This allows men of natural ability to skillfully, and even entertainingly, give out the same message, but devoid of life. This is a key element of Satan’s attack: to induce men to substitute flesh for the Spirit, form for reality, outward appearance for a changed heart.

Religion as Culture

What emerges is a religious culture. People learn to be “Christians” like they learn to be Americans or Chinese or whatever cultural group they happen to belong to. They learn the beliefs, words, behaviors and activities that go with the particular brand of religion. The result is multitudes of religious people who appear to be Christians, but are complete strangers to the new birth.

Into this growing spiritual void come great numbers of demons, wicked spirits whose specialty is the infiltration and takeover of religious movements. Careful to preserve the form so as not to raise too much alarm, they shepherd the gradual apostasy along, tightening their grip as they go: their men in places of influence; their wisdom and ideas embraced; and so forth.

When God begets His children, He does so through the incorruptible seed of the Word. The ability to sow this seed in the heart is a special gift and calling of God exercised by way of His anointing. It cannot be learned in a school. It is far more than correct words and sound doctrine.

As is the case in the natural world, everything brings forth after its own kind. Flesh begets flesh, religious or otherwise. Only Spirit can beget Spirit.

Under the best of circumstances there will be both natural and spiritual children produced through ministry. This is illustrated in Abraham, the father of faith. Of all his sons, only Isaac was a son of promise, recognized by God in a covenant relationship. Many followed Christ, at least for a time, who were never saved. John 6.

Some of the “natural” sons, or “followers,” are deliberately planted there by Satan as part of his scheme. His plan involves maneuvering people he controls into places of influence. He will also encourage even some true children whose zeal exceeds their knowledge and call to act outside of the will of God.

What kind of children do you suppose are produced as men minister outside of their calling and without the anointing? It is only a matter of time before talented, zealous, but lost men, skilled in the religious culture, begin to fill pulpits. What then?

And don’t forget the religious demons at work, doing everything in their power to keep men religiously busy, yet blind to the reality that Christ is no longer the active Head. “Orthodox” sermons are preached, programs are devised and carried out and churches are filled with lost people. Though there may be a remnant of true children among them, a spiritual tide carries them steadily away from where they need to be. The “system” prevails.

Although I grew up in the system, I thank God for giving me what was necessary in the way of life and knowledge to move me along in the direction He desired me to go. For one thing, my preacher father’s primary loyalty was to the Lord and the Word. When asked what he believes, he is fond of saying, “I believe the Bible: I may not understand it all but if it’s in there, I believe it!”

I wonder how many preachers can honestly say that! To any preacher who may happen to read this I would say: are you free to preach what the Lord shows you in the Word? Have you never read things that just didn’t fit in with your particular doctrinal scheme? What do you do about it? Do you just pass it off, rationalizing that you can’t help anyone if you lose your position? Who are you serving? Do you in effect say, “Lord, that’s interesting, but it doesn’t fit in with our doctrine?” Don’t God’s sheep need “all the counsel of God?” Acts 20:27. Doesn’t the Lord know what His people need?

Bible College

Let the reader remember that these observations are not theory: I’ve been there. I graduated from the movement’s leading Bible College as well as from a one-year graduate program with every intention of entering into missionary service.

At the time I entered the college it had just undergone a radical change toward intellectual respectability. It had gone through a process of conforming to and being approved by the academic “powers that be.” It went in a few years from being a Bible Institute that focused more on the spiritual to a modern college concerned that its students have an education recognized by the academic world.

Into this tide of intellectualism I entered with a clear word of caution from my father not to let my head get ahead of my heart. He was well aware of the tide, having taught there previously for several years. I doubt that many fellow students had received a similar admonition.

The Bible was taught, not by revelation, not with the anointing, but as academic course material. It was sad to observe sincere men, some of whom had a measure of desire that their courses have a spiritual content, confined to a dead intellectual process. You cannot learn about God like you learn about chemistry or history. You may learn about the letter of the Word somewhat but you will be ill-equipped to impart life.

Throughout my college experience it was common for us to ask God’s blessing on what we were doing. A majority of the classes I attended were opened with prayer. Acknowledging the Lord is good but that is only half of the equation. The other half is that we had better be moving in the Lord and doing His will!

We are all very prone to acting according to our own natural zeal and wisdom and then expecting God to bless. To illustrate using an extreme example: if you, believing you are able to fly, jump off a cliff, praying a little prayer asking God’s blessing won’t prevent a sudden, painful conclusion to your journey! Many a religious fantasy will suffer the same fate. Matt. 7:21-23.

Praying and asking God’s blessing is not a form of magic. I have heard many a spiritually lifeless sermon preceded by a sincere-sounding prayer asking the Lord’s help and anointing. Their prayers went unanswered. Why? Somewhere in their religious past someone who really had something from the Lord to minister also publicly asked God’s blessing. In time this became a form. Praying a nicely-worded prayer is one thing. Being called of God and having a fresh word from the throne is something else.

I recently attended a large religious gathering and heard a variety of ministry. I felt fairly neutral in my spirit, not necessarily expecting a lot, yet open. One message was a pleasant surprise, easily exceeding my expectations. I can’t even say I completely agreed with every statement the man made, but there was a measure of life and anointing in a number of things he ministered.

Three of the messages stand out in particular for a very different reason. They were preached by men who are basically of my generation, one a little older, one about my age, and one a little younger. Each is considered an outstanding preacher and religious leader and commands a large following.

Each message was scripturally accurate and skillfully and sincerely delivered. Every “t” was crossed and every “i” was dotted. Each used interesting illustrations and spoke clearly. Only one thing was wrong: all three were totally 100% dead! No anointing! No life!

When you are used to ministry that has life in it and then sit through messages like that it’s like trying to drink a glass of sand! I honestly tried to be positive and to get something out of them but my spirit was left dry and empty. Many others around me seemed somewhat bored and listless but I didn’t sense that they really knew why. In all probability it seemed normal to many of them. Is it any wonder that the virgins are asleep? Matt. 25:5. Lifeless orthodoxy is a powerful narcotic.

Learning to Preach?

Why were these messages like they were? I can tell you! I know how they were trained. I was there, not with them in particular, but with others like them.

One of my college courses was called “Homiletics” and basically covered the preparation and delivery of sermons. While the need to be led of the Lord was acknowledged, it was the mechanics of the process that were being taught. In other words, we were taught how to build and carry a “bucket.” That we actually had living water to put in the bucket — or even knew where the well was — was sort of assumed!

Read what Paul wrote of his own ministry in I Cor. 2:1-5. He said, “... I came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom,” and “... my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom.” What Paul said he didn’t do — “that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men” — is precisely what we were taught to do!

Despite the verbal acknowledgment of the need of the Lord, Homiletics was essentially a course in public speaking adapted to religion. That is, the subject matter was drawn from the Bible. How the subject matter was organized and presented was very much of human design.

First, you identify your central thought and its purpose — for example, are you trying in inform or to move the hearers to action? Then you devise several main points that help to establish the central thought. Sub points and illustrations that support each main point are also added. Then you devise an introduction designed to capture the attention of the hearers so that their minds will become engaged in considering the main thought.

Finally, a conclusion is added, suited to the subject. If the subject is “Salvation,” the final conclusion might be an “altar
call.” If the sermon is more oriented towards teaching you are careful to summarize, clearly repeating the central thought and the main points. It helps if the main points all begin with the same letter of the alphabet. After all, you want people to remember what you preach!

Attention was paid to such things as proper appearance and demeanor, appropriate gestures that support what you are saying without being distracting and clear diction and sufficient volume so you can be heard and understood.

I am giving you this degree of detail for a reason! I want to pull the cover off of what passes for preaching in our day! The sheep need to know. Most ministry has long ceased to be a ministry of the Spirit and has become a “learned skill.” They have learned man’s way and not God’s.

Many “Styles”

Although what I have described applies in a general sense to a broad spectrum of Evangelical Christianity, each particular group has its own “style” that it uses to measure what it considers to be “sound preaching.” Some styles are more dignified and some are more demonstrative but all outward styles are subject to becoming mere form, judged by appearance and not by genuine spiritual content.

Preachers are great mimics, quick to copy and imitate others, both in style and content. That is how styles come about in the first place. Someone of influence and ability emerges and comes to be recognized as a great preacher and others begin to imitate him. Even if — and that’s a big “if” in many cases — such a man has a genuine ministry from God, his effectiveness does not arise from his “style” but from God’s call and anointing. Every true ministry is an “original” and it is spiritual folly to imitate. How sad it is to see carnal men become sanctimonious when they stand behind a pulpit! When God truly calls a man, he can be himself. Preaching was not meant to be a form of acting!

I vividly remember sitting in fellowship meetings of preachers and listening to them swap sermon outlines! One man had come up with a particularly clever sermon entitled, “Preaching About Nothing.” He had noticed that the word “nothing” was used four times in the Book of Philippians, so naturally each main point was about one of those verses!

A few weeks later I chanced to see a church bulletin from a large church pastored by one of the other ministers who had also been in the meeting. Sure enough, the sermon title was, “Preaching About Nothing!” I’m sure if they had an outdoor sign it probably announced it to the world as well!

When you build four walls around a tradition and train men to preach that body of tradition, what is left but to employ more and more clever and innovative ways of expressing it? It can become almost a game, or a form of entertainment: religious people who enjoy a skillful presentation of their cherished traditions. They swell with pride at the performance of “their” preacher, congratulating themselves on their wise choice — at least until he falls out of favor with the powers-that-be, or else he receives a “call” to a more prestigious church with a bigger salary and they are forced to begin a new talent search.

What I found both interesting and very sad in the three sermons I referred to above was that each would have received an “A Plus” grade in my Homiletics class. Each was a model of homiletic perfection, never mind that they were lifeless! What has the standard become?!

Most people have heard so little anointed preaching that they don’t know the difference. Instead they look for such things as emotion, sincerity, personal charisma, “doctrinal orthodoxy,” and their accustomed style and manner. It never occurs to anyone that a preacher can have all of those things and not even know God! Worse, the devil can anoint one of his to fit the people’s concepts in order to subtly extend his evil influence. Thus while many preachers have no anointing of any kind, some are indeed anointed — by the devil! II Cor. 11:13-15.

Interpreting the Bible

Leaving aside the question of the employment of human methods and natural skill in conveying the message, where does the message itself come from? Of course, would-be ministers need to know how to interpret the Bible. Another of my college courses was called “Hermeneutics” and was designed to teach exactly that.

We were taught various rules and principles that were intended to serve as guidelines for interpreting a given passage of scripture. For example, it was considered important to know something about the history and culture surrounding a particular scripture. After all, the scriptures were written in the everyday language of the people who penned them. They therefore were meant to be understood. This principle made a knowledge of the languages involved, Greek, Hebrew, and to a lesser extent, Aramaic, of considerable importance. (To that end I did study Greek for two years.)

Since we were not great scholars in all these ancient languages, we were introduced to reference works of those who were. Therefore, gathering information from books by scholars became a definite part of the process.

Another principle was that scripture verses needed to be considered in their context, that is, in the light of the surrounding verses.

It was recognized that the Bible contained things that were not meant to be taken literally: poetry — “Let the floods clap their hands ...” (Psa. 98:8); prophetic symbols — “a beast ... having seven heads and ten horns ...” (Rev. 13:1); parables — “Behold, a sower went forth to sow ...” (Matt. 13:3); and types and shadows (Heb. 10:1).

However, it was stressed that, apart from such obviously symbolic writings, the Bible was indeed meant to be understood literally. One oft-repeated saying was this: “If the simple sense makes common sense, seek no other sense.” That is, we were definitely discouraged from imagining that there were deep, hidden, mystical meanings in simple scriptures.

By this time the reader is probably wondering, “What’s wrong with these principles?” Very little — and everything! It’s not so much that the principles are entirely wrong in themselves: the problem lies in presenting them as a procedure for understanding the Bible through study. They leave out the most important thing: revelation. If God does not reveal His Word to you, you can study it twenty-four hours a day and know nothing!

This was powerfully made real to me through an incident that occurred following a round of golf shortly after my graduation. Two of my playing partners had formerly been my professors, very intelligent and sincere men. The third had once been my Sunday School teacher. Since that time he had ardently pursued a knowledge of the middle eastern languages of biblical times, receiving at least one doctorate and being recognized as an expert in his field.

Following our round of golf we had gone out to get a soft drink and the conversation evolved into a discussion of the fulfillment of God’s promises to the Jews! I was amazed to hear this brilliant scholar wonder out loud — with some sadness — if God had gone back on His Word!

Think about it! This man could read the Old Testament in Hebrew and was an expert in the language, culture and history of the time. He had diligently applied his expertise to the study of the scriptures in an effort to grasp their meaning, yet all his study had left him with more questions than answers, even to the point of questioning God! This was not some liberal theologian looking for reasons to disbelieve the Bible: this was a sincere man trying to understand it intellectually.

Could it just be that true spiritual knowledge cannot be gained through study? Has not God “hid these things from the wise and the prudent, and revealed them unto babes?” Matt. 11:25. Read the first two chapters of I Corinthians. The contrast is repeatedly drawn between man’s wisdom and God’s. To paraphrase I Cor. 1:21, “God has wisely placed a true knowledge of Himself beyond the reach of the human mind and chosen to save those who believe as a result of preaching, which seems foolish when measured by human wisdom.”

No one has had any greater tradition of Bible scholarship than have the Jews. This was true of the Jews of Jesus’ day and continues to be so among Orthodox Jews of today. Men who devote their lives to the study of Moses’ law are accorded great honor. Why, if they were such diligent students of the Old Testament scriptures, did they not recognize their Messiah? Yet who knew their language, culture and history better than they? Who was more diligent?

Paul had studied as a young man at the feet of Gamaliel, regarded by Jews as one of their greatest teachers ever. It was Paul, with his full inside knowledge of their scholarly tradition, who spoke in II Cor. 3:14-15 of their blindness: “... for until this day remaineth the same vail untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which vail is done away in Christ. But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the vail is upon their heart.”

Systematic Theology

Along with these “tools” and principles for understanding and preaching the Bible, we also studied Systematic Theology. This was designed to acquaint us with all the truths that were considered “orthodox” in an organized fashion, effectively setting boundaries of belief for us. These boundaries represented the accumulated wisdom of influential preachers and scholars who had gone before.

It is common, when students are presented with boundaries, to challenge them and we certainly did. I participated in many a lively debate in classroom and dormitory. In the end, however, the weight of tradition generally prevailed. Who were we as intellectual and spiritual novices to challenge the wisdom of our elders and particularly of scholars who had studied the Bible in the original languages? If we thought we saw something in the Bible that appeared to be outside of the theological boundaries, we were undoubtedly mistaken. After all, how could so many who had gone before be wrong? Very easily, I’m afraid!

The Sheep Need to Know

I want to pause and point out something the sheep need to know. It is easy for sheep to be impressed and intimidated by someone who comes to them with lots of education and starts talking about the Greek and the Hebrew. In a word — don’t be impressed by that! I’ve been around a lot of it and they don’t have the answers! A lot of education, far from giving would-be ministers an advantage, most often puts them at great disadvantage since they so easily become proud and come to depend upon it. A humble sheep who honestly seeks God from his heart is far better equipped to come to a knowledge of truth than the greatest scholar on earth!

My Witness

There are many other things I could say about my education, but one thing I especially would like to make clear: I witnessed first-hand a new generation of religious leaders being indoctrinated with the traditions of their movement and sent forth to guard and extend those traditions.

The curious thing about this process of questioning and indoctrination is that when men open the Bible, they no longer see the scriptures as they are: rather, they see what their tradition has taught them is there. This is a form of the same kind of blindness Paul referred to in II Cor. 3. The more religion operates by human methods and with natural ability, the deader it becomes. This process can span generations, but once “the system” gains control there is no turning back.

I am not aware of any movement that began well, became a “system,” and then returned to the headship of Christ. Think about that! It is a one-way street leading to greater and greater control by demons. Rev. 18:2. By the grace of God there may be occasions of refreshing and revival and pockets of life, but the trend is ever toward a demon-infested form of what they once had. In terms of spiritual warfare, the sheep become a spoil of the enemy, led away captive. Col. 2:8.

Another effect upon ministers coming into a tradition is that few of them even attempt to do much interpretation of the Bible. After all, the real work of interpretation has all been done and all that is left is to preach it. The result is that most preachers preach on “subjects” drawn from their tradition and use a few scriptures, often very superficially, to support their concepts. For any interpretation they tend to consult commentaries, such as that of Matthew Henry, to see what they had to say.

I am certainly not suggesting we all become private interpreters of the Word, but the notion that any tradition contains all of the truth or that interpretation is best left to scholars is dangerous error. True ministry must be based upon a fresh revelation of the Word to the heart of a God-called preacher and must be conveyed to the hearers with God’s present-tense anointing. On every occasion there must be the flow of living water from the throne to receptive hearts. It is a joint effort of God’s Spirit and one He sovereignly calls to the task. No classroom in the world can teach that!

The Jews

Earlier, I promised to talk about God’s promises to the Jews. As a result of widespread popular teaching today, it is sincerely believed by many that we are nearing the end of a period of time in which God has focused His attention upon the Church, and that He will then focus His attention once again upon the Jews, with Jerusalem as the capital of an earthly kingdom.

I was exposed to much of this teaching as I grew up and still have among my books the Scofield Bible I earned through a Bible memorization program as a boy. I vividly remember as a teenager an afternoon in which I read many Old Testament prophecies of glory and restoration concerning Israel and rushed excitedly into my father’s study to share my “discoveries.” In short, I am very familiar with this teaching and once, in general, embraced it.

Why do I not believe these things today? Throughout the many years since that time, the Lord has made many things very real to me from the Word, things I hope to share in greater detail as this article unfolds. It is one thing to just accept what your religious environment says is so. It is another when the Lord teaches you.

In reality, through what I have shared of my own experiences, I have already been talking about the Jews because Satan’s assault upon God’s true people has long followed similar lines. The parable of the wheat and the tares in Matthew 13 illustrates how Satan sows counterfeit “children” among the true.

The world has its concept of what a “Christian” is and what constitutes “the Church.” Serious Bible believers have a much narrower view. However, the view that truly matters is that of Jesus Christ for He alone will be our judge. It was He who spoke in Matthew 7 of the “many” and the “few.”

World population figures would number “Christians” in excess of one billion. I wonder how many of those are actually in the book of life! Those who are truly Christians in God’s eyes will be fully known on that day.

The world likewise has its concepts of what a “Jew” is and how many there are. Being a Jew in our day is largely a matter of cultural identity. Those who consider themselves Jews share common cultural characteristics with other Jews: religious beliefs, concepts of family and social order, a shared history as a scattered and persecuted people, and so forth. It is this shared culture, with variations, that has caused others to regard them as a distinct and identifiable group known as “Jews.”

The question is, what does God think about all this? Does He regard those the world calls “Jews” as Abraham’s children, heirs of Old Testament promises? How would the New Testament writers have answered this question? No one was any more familiar with Judaism than the Apostle Paul. What does he have to say on the subject?

I challenge the reader to prayerfully consider these questions.

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