Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Theological Face-Palm

photo credit: Wikipedia
Somebody recently posted a link to an intriguing article from the online version of Charisma: Remembering the Latter Rain. I'm not sure how recent the article is, but it's fascinating -- in a train-wreck sort of way.

It's amazing to me -- a face-palm moment, if you will -- that long after the Latter Rain movement was rejected as unbiblical (waaaay back in 1949), that it just keeps showing up again and again. This is a bizarre group that just will not go away.

What makes this so intriguing is that I seriously doubt the majority of people who are currently promoting the Latter Rain movement have any clue about what the Latter Rain was all about. For example, the article linked above even spoke glowingly of William Branham as a key influence in the Latter Rain.

One of William Branham's most famous teachings was the "Serpent Seed", where he claimed that the Genesis 3 account of the Fall of Man had nothing to do with Adam & Eve eating the forbidden fruit. Instead, Branham taught that the 'original sin' was that Eve had sex with Satan. And got pregnant, giving birth to Cain, who was born of this "satanic seed". Conversely, Abel (and later Seth) was born to Eve via her real husband, Adam, which meant that Abel & Seth (and their descendants) carried "godly seed" because Adam was created by God.

And throughout history (taught Branham), we see children from the godly seed (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, King David, Jesus), and the offspring of the satanic seed (Ishmael, Esau, King Saul, and the Anti-Christ).
(Perhaps not surprisingly, Branham also suggested many times that pastors and leaders with theological training were from Satan's lineage. Same goes for denominations -- God hates 'em and always has.)
Branham had several other theological face-palm teachings that would take too long to detail here, but the Serpent Seed stands out as why his influence on the Latter Rain should raise red flags, not accolades.

What is even more amazing -- from a theological face-palming perspective -- is the kind of arguments people will throw at you to justify the legitimacy of the Latter Rain. I'm surprised how often I hear: "Well, there were miraculous healings, so obviously God wasn't too worried about their theology!"

Which, being translated, means: "Miracles prove orthodoxy. Did you miss the memo?"

By themselves, miracles don't prove anything, except that something unusual has just happened. Miracles are a sign which draws attention to something. Jesus' miracles attracted multitudes,  but when He got theological -- "I am the bread of life" -- people deserted Him in droves (John 6:25-66). Jesus' miracles pointed to His message, but they didn't guarantee people would accept it.

Throughout the book of Acts, there are numerous examples of the disciples doing miraculous things as the Holy Spirit enabled them -- which drew attention to the message that the disciples were preaching: the Gospel of Jesus. Yet even the Bereans were commended for searching the Scriptures to prove the truthfulness of Paul's message (Acts 17:10-12). The miracles weren't the gospel; they only pointed to the message of it. To use a common phrase, "signs and wonders are signs that make you wonder". But that's quite a  different thing than functioning as "proof".

In the case of Branham's "Serpent Seed", it doesn't matter how many miracles may or may not have happened -- the teaching is blatantly unscriptural. There's no getting around that. When miracles are trotted out as proof that God isn't concerned about theology, what we have is an "epic fail" in the area of discernment.

The other argument that I hear all too often is something along the lines of: "Well, if you actually knew anyone involved, you'd see what wonderful and Jesus-loving people they really are."

Which, being translated, means: "Nice people can't be deceived." (!)

Where do we get the idea that sincerity = orthodoxy? Or that anything unorthodox always resembles a flesh-eating Zombie Apocalypse? I don't know about you, but I've got some extremely nice friends who have no use for Jesus, and I also know some Christians who can act like (ahem...) butt-heads.

Let's face it: when the Arian heresy was rejected, there were probably a lot of sincere Arians who were hurt and offended. Marcion had a lot of followers who were probably also nice people. Cult leader Jim Jones probably had some very sincere believers drinking the Kool-Aid in Guyana.

It would be so much easier if miracles proved orthodoxy. It would be very reassuring to think that nice, sincere people could never be deceived. But that kind of thinking can be dangerous.

In the case of the Latter Rain, in order to get past the theological face-palming, probably the best thing would be for people to actually read the writings of William Branham, Franklin Hall, or George Warnock for themselves. Not read about Branham, Hall and Warnock -- read what they wrote. And compare their teachings to Scripture.

That would be a real eye-opener, and would result in face-palming for an entirely different (redemptive) reason.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Hidden in Plain Sight

"Don't take this the wrong way, but... What are you doing?"

I have a new acoustic guitar. I just picked it up a couple of weeks ago. When I accepted my new role as worship leader/director at The Well, I suddenly saw my well-traveled and much-used old guitar with new eyes.
Especially the worn-down frets that made those special tinny buzzing sounds when played with enthusiasm.

A new instrument was clearly needed. And having been impressed with the quality of guitars that my son Caleb has been using in recent years as he's re-invented himself from prog-rock wizard into a folk monster, I ended up getting a Seagull S6. For about ten days, I was mostly focused on enjoying the wonderful sounds of the new guitar.

And then, it was my first Sunday of leading worship at The Well. And just before beginning the pre-service rehearsal with the rest of the band, I pulled out my tuner and plugged my Seagull into it.

That's what prompted my son's bemused question: "Don't take this the wrong way, but..."

I thought he was joking. What was I doing? Clearly, I was tuning my guitar. It isn't rocket science.

Caleb reached over my shoulder and pointed at the Q1 electronics on my new Seagull. "You've got a tuner built right into your guitar, Dad. I thought you knew." (In my defence, the last time I purchased an acoustic guitar was in 1995. Built-in tuners? Love it -- but whodathunkit?)
Sometimes, I think the Holy Spirit is a lot like the tuner in my new guitar.
Every one of us has this incredible Resource within us -- the actual Spirit of Jesus. Jesus promised to send Him (John 14:16-18, 26, 16:7-15), and His last recorded words prior to His Ascension was to command His disciples to wait in Jerusalem until the Spirit was poured out (Acts 1:4-8). The coming of the Holy Spirit was a big deal to Jesus.

And of course, there are spiritual gifts given by the Spirit, so that the church can be encouraged and built up in the faith (1 Corinthians 12-14, Romans 12:3-8, Ephesians 4:11-16). And some incredibly encouraging and inspirational teaching on Life in the Spirit (Romans 8, Galatians 5:13-26).

And dozens of others passages about the Spirit and His work (say, perhaps, the entire book of Acts). But here's the rub:

We tend to forget that the Spirit is with us 24/7. And that we don't have to wait until the next time we can attend a meeting, hear an 'anointed' speaker, or be on the receiving end of prayer ministry in order to see Him active in our lives.
DISCLAIMER: I fully believe that ministry is meant to take place in community. We need each other; Lone Ranger Christians are a myth. Spiritual gifts are given by the Spirit to bless others, not ourselves. We can't function in a vacuum. That's not how God has designed us.
But at the same time, we can get so accustomed to seeing the Spirit move during larger gatherings (or even home groups), that we functionally forget His 24/7 presence within us. Not "completely forget". Just "functionally" -- meaning going through our day blissfully unaware, until something gets in our face that jolts us back to reality.

I'm thrilled with the built-in tuner in my new guitar. It's a radical and liberating addition to my guitar playing and worship leading. I'm really glad my son -- even while enjoying a chuckle at the old man's expense -- took the time to point out what was hidden in plain sight.

As Christians, we have the Holy Spirit of Jesus indwelling us. With us, 24/7/365. An incredible Source and Resource. Ideally, not hidden in plain sight.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014


Worship is a lot like having a baby.

Of course, I wouldn't know much about actually having a baby, other than being present while my wife did all the heavy lifting (so to speak).

Maybe I should rephrase that first sentence: Worship should be like having a baby.

At least, that's what I learned last week, while leading worship at YWAM's Western Canada Leadership meetings. We had some wonderful times of worship together during the week, and not coincidentally, it was the same week that I led my first service at The Well in my new role as worship leader/director. (God appears to be up to something.)

On the final day, as my last guitar chord was struck, John Wason (the incredible actor/storyteller and founder of Word to Life Theatre Arts) jumped to his feet and brought a powerful re-telling of Jesus' announcement of His ministry.
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor... Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4)
What stood out to me -- aside from being moved and encouraged by John Wason's powerful storytelling approach -- was the whole idea of expectation, and how it plays into our experience of worship, the Word, and simply being together in a room full of fellow Jesus-followers.

I'll be honest: as John began his re-enactment, I moved aside and was putting my guitar back into its case. Worship was "done". We were now going into "meeting mode". There were still some agenda items that needed to be covered that day. But as John continued with the story, something profound happened.

Worship was still going on. But if I hadn't snapped back out of "meeting mode", I would have missed it.

My sense of expectation needed retooling. Or more precisely, I needed to "repent" (re-think) about my mental and spiritual shift out of Worship Mode. God was still in the room; His Spirit didn't stop working just because the music was over.

So, yes, worship should be like having a baby. No-one goes into a birthing room at the hospital with an attitude of "hey, you never know -- something significant might happen". On the contrary, there is a very real, very vibrant sense of expectancy.

When we come together to worship -- in music but not limited to music -- we need to cultivate that same sense of expectancy. God is in the room. We just need to remember to choose "worship mode" at all times, and refuse to accept the paucity of "meeting mode".

Saturday, May 10, 2014

the Telling of Stories

It's been a long, long time... But I've finally created an "About Robby" page for this blog.

I normally don't like having an "about me" section; I find myself often in a Jekyll 'n' Hyde mental wresting match when it comes to anything that smacks of "self-promotion" (ick).

But I write books, and I believe in what I wrote about strongly enough to actually want people to read them.

You see the dilemma?
But on the other hand, telling our own story can be helpful -- and not just as a "marketing tool" (face-palm + ick).
  1. Telling one's own story can set a helpful context for what drives a writer/blogger to write as they do.
  2. And if there's anything we've noticed in the past ten years or so, it's that there is power in story-telling.
So, I've created an "About Robby" tab at the top of the blog, and that's where you'll find all the Stones of Remembrance links. Each Stone of Remembrance, I hope, is much more than a window into my own journey and what inspires/challenges me.

I hope it will provoke some of your own questions, remind you of some of the myriad of ways that God is leading you in your own journey, and above all, to encourage you to continue to "ask, seek, knock" (Matthew 7:7-8) as you follow Jesus.

(And hopefully, also avoid the "ick"-factor.)

Saturday, May 3, 2014

A Missional Plea

These book covers are representative of dozens -- nay, perhaps multitudes -- of books that all basically point to the same thing: Christians need to engage our culture.

For example:
  1. How To Give Away Your Faith, by Paul Little, written in 1966
  2. Our Guilty Silence: the Church, the Gospel, and the World, by John R.W. Stott, written in 1967
  3. Brethren, Hang Loose, by Robert Girard, written in 1972
  4. Out of the Saltshaker, by Becky Pippert, written in 1979
  5. Lifestyle Evangelism, by Joe Aldrich, written in 1981
  6. Power Evangelism, by John Wimber, written in 1985
  7. Becoming a Contagious Christian, by Bill Hybels, written in 1996
  8. The Celtic Way of Evangelism, by G.G. Hunter, written in 2000
  9. Missional: Joining God in the Neighborhood, by A. Roxburgh, written in 2011
Yes, of course, the methodology advocated by each of these authors varies widely. Bob Girard was all for destructuring church down to house groups; Joe Aldrich advocated a friendship evangelism approach; John Wimber encouraged people to combine "proclamation and demonstration" via the use of spiritual gifts; Bill Hybels is the guru of the seeker-sensitive attractional model; Alan Roxburgh is one of many voices advocating the most recent "missionary to your own neighbourhood" approach.
And here's the inconvenient truth: all of these methods have, and continue to, bear fruit.
Not perfectly, to be sure. Not entirely in a "one size fits every church or denomination or city or local neighbourhood" manner. But if we take an unfiltered look (ie. without wearing jaundice-coloured glasses or our-way-is-better blinders), we should be able to concede that God hasn't exactly been handcuffed, waiting until we finally get our methodology just right.

One of the most helpful additions from the recent emphasis on being missional has been the focus on "what is God already doing in your neighbourhood"? (Similar approach to Joe Aldrich's question: "What's in your toolbox already?", only from a different starting point.) Jesus once said, "My Father is always working" (John 5:17), and as the example of Peter being sent to Cornelius' house as a result of Cornelius' prayers (Acts 10:30-33) demonstrates, God is constantly on the move, and we get to participate with Him.

The focus on discerning what God is already up to in our cities and neighbourhoods is a good one; no doubt about that. But sometimes -- and I'd like to quickly point out that it's probably unintentional -- there seems to be an unspoken assumption that everything that current churches have done and are doing, is ineffective. Perhaps even counter-productive.

Or at the very least, kinda lame and out-of-date.
So here's my missional plea:
If we believe that it's possible for us to discern how God is already at work outside of our churches, and therefore we can learn how to cooperate with what His Spirit is up to, why shouldn't we equally expect that God is already still at work inside our churches, and seek to wed the two.
Look again at the publication years from the small sampling of books at the top of this post. In the five decades that I've been alive and on Planet Earth -- without exception -- books have been and are being written to encourage Christians to be culturally engaged as apostolos (sent ones) of Jesus Christ.

Missional is no more the "magic silver bullet" than seeker-sensitive or power evangelism. We don't need to poo-poo one approach to bolster the validity of another. If we're wise, we'll learn from many streams and -- with the guidance of a Holy Spirit who is far more invested in this project that we could ever be -- craft something that fits our church, our neighbourhood, and our city.

Two quotes to ponder and apply, from the old boys' club:
"Take the best, and go." (John Wimber)
"I prefer my way of doing it, to your way of not doing it." (D.L. Moody)