We must avoid both being hyper-critical of everything, and being accepting and undiscerning about everything.
As I have said so many times over the years, getting the biblical balance right may be difficult, but it is what all believers must seek to do on a regular basis. It is always so very easy to lose biblical balance and get off on extremes which actually harm the gospel and our Christian witness.
Some of the reactions to my recent posts on the prosperity gospel are a good case in point. As always, there are folks in the various camps, with many ready to hurl anathemas at each other. People will get all hot and bothered if you dare to touch their pet teaching or pet teacher or pet church or pet ministry.
There are some charismatics and Pentecostals who believe that those who are not are sub-par Christians – or even worse. And there are anti-charismatics and anti-Pentecostals who think that these folks are all of the devil. Also, there are cessationists and continuists when it comes to the gifts of the Spirit, and they often fiercely condemn one another.
And there are some who think that prosperity is a sign of God’s blessing, while there are others who think that poverty is a sign of God’s blessing. There is so much polarisation out there, and so much bitterness between the brethren on these sorts of things.
We can take this even further of course. There are Arminians who really detest Calvinists. And there are Calvinists who really detest Arminians. There are some who think churches like Hillsong are 100 per cent of the devil. And there are some who think churches like Hillsong are 100 per cent of God. On and on it goes.
Sorry, but I tend to differ with all of these folks! I am tempted to say, a pox on all your houses! Yes we all have a right to be concerned about things that we believe are unbiblical or theologically suspect or dangerous. But it is way too easy to become a heresy hunter and denounce every other Christian on the planet if they do not line up with every single thing you believe in.
For what it is worth, I do not think Penties are of the devil, nor do I think those who are not are of the devil. And I am by no means a gung-ho cessationist – but neither am I a gung-ho continuist. And I am pretty sure that neither wealth nor poverty is a sure sign of God’s blessing.
There you go – I have declared my hand, So you can all start hating on me now! Indeed, I can never please everybody. Whenever I write on these things, WWIII always tends to break out, and I will get attacked on all sides. Thus the anti-charismatics think I need to condemn all charismatics, while charismatics think I need to condemn all non- or anti-charismatics, etc.
Sorry but I will do none of this thanks. I will seek to stand for the biblical balance and avoid the unhelpful and unbiblical extremes. And if you want to know in much more detail my thoughts on some of these matters, there are plenty of my articles you can read on this. See here on the health and wealth gospel for example: https://billmuehlenberg.com/category/theology/the-health-and-wealth-gospel/
And see pieces like this for where I stand on some of the other hot potato issues: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2013/10/18/on-strange-fire-part-one/
I realise that no matter what I say or what I believe, there will be some believers who will be upset with me, or want to write me off as an arch-heretic. The only way to avoid the constant criticisms and attacks of course is to simply say and do nothing. Remaining completely silent is one way to avoid some of the never-ending warfare over these issues!
But let me look briefly at some of the criticisms I have received over my recent articles, including my review of Costi Hinn’s new book about his uncle Benny Hinn and the prosperity gospel: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2019/08/24/god-greed-and-the-prosperity-gospel-by-costi-hinn/
Many folks came along and said things like: ‘Yes, but people are being blessed by these ministries, or healed by these ministries, etc’. Hey, I am sure some are. But that is not the only thing we must assess. We must evaluate more than just the external manifestations of particular ministries.
And some folks have said that the fact that not everyone is healed does not prove that people like Hinn are a fake. Sure, but by the same token, having some that are healed doesn’t prove that they are the real deal either! God can certainly heal, with or without healers, including those healers who seem to love to get rich from it. Costi Hinn’s book is a very important read on all this.
As I say, I am by no means a gung-ho cessationist nor am I a gung-ho continuist. I simply believe that we always need to be wise and discerning, and never allow Jesus Christ to get a bad name when folks are getting stinking rich out of such ‘ministries’.
We need to judge things by the bigger picture. There can always be some people who will get healed at some healing meeting. But that alone is not all that we need to know. We need to look at other things, including the biblical message being proclaimed – or not being proclaimed.
We are never to judge a ministry solely by external things, including supposed healings. Indeed, we must bear in mind that cults and false religions can also have ‘healings’. So we need to be careful and discerning here. We must also assess the person in terms of his character and his overall fruit as well.
And let me also point out an important truth: we are all flawed vessels. None of us have it all together. That God can use any one of us is simply amazing. We are all a mixture of flesh and the Spirit. We have carnal motivations mixed in with godly motivations.
To my continual amazement, I recognise that God has used me at times in the past – and perhaps sometimes in spite of myself! So in one sense God can use anyone – or anything. He even used Balaam’s ass to accomplish his purposes! So he can use a Benny Hinn or a Hillsong or a hardcore Calvinist church as well.
Good outcomes can often come from all sorts of ministries and leaders or pastors or televangelists. That does not necessarily mean that God is always happy with all of them. It just means that God is far more gracious and patient with us than we can sometimes be.
But the fact that some good outcomes can occur does not mean that we throw away all biblical discernment. We must continue to assess all things (even seemingly good things) by the teachings of the Word of God. Once again, two unbiblical extremes must be avoided:
-To uncritically accept everything that is said and done by some Christian leader, pastor or teacher without the least bit of biblical discernment. That is certainly a recipe for disaster.
-To harshly condemn and attack everyone and everything that does not line up 100 per cent with your ‘theologically correct’ hit-list in harsh heresy hunter style. That is also to be avoided like the plague.
The biblical balance seems to be ever elusive but is always what we must strive for. As I just said to another friendly critic on the issue of money:
As I keep saying, there is nothing wrong with prosperity, if we use it for Christ and the Kingdom. If we use it selfishly then it is wrong and sinful. I prefer the biblical balance as found in Proverbs 30:8-9: “Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.” But see more on this here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2012/04/17/the-prosperity-gospel/
Needless to say, I can often get it wrong. I can miss the biblical balance. I can major in minors, or minor in majors. I can go off on tangents or go to extremes. So as always, I covet your prayers that I would get things right in this very public ministry that I am called to. This is especially crucial in light of James 3:1: “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.”