On Christian Ministries and Biblical Balance
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.”
12 Replies to “On Christian Ministries and Biblical Balance”
Hi Bill, congratulations on “nailing it”. I for one certainly appreciate all the prayer, research and effort you put in before committing fingers to the keyboard. I’m no brilliant theologian by any stretch of the imagination. Most of your other readers & supporters would run rings over me with their knowledge and understanding. Having said all that, I appreciate the BALANCED APPROACH you give to all the issues that you publish on. Unlike your detractors, you put up some pretty solid bibliographies to support your arguments. I also thank you for taking the time with some issues to offer further clarification or suggested reading for folk like me who don’t always fully comprehend a first or second time examination of one of your articles. Bill if I can offer one bit of encouragement to you; it appears that there are extremists “in equal numbers” on both sides of any issue aiming for the target on your back! Keep up the good work Bill, and KEEP DISHING IT OUT! Best wishes and many blessings, Kel.
P.S. Thank you again for “all those juicy articles” on difficult Bible Passages. They’re a great resource !!!
Many thanks indeed Kelvin. Bless you.
Even the Bereans checked one of the greatest Teachers of all, and that being the Apostle Paul. We too need to follow their example.
Acts 17.11 NIV. Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and EXAMINED THE SCRIPTURES EVERY DAY TO SEE IF WHAT PAUL SAID WAS TRUE.
New Living Translation says, ‘They searched the Scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth.’
Yes Bill we will pray for you, your ministry and for each other.
Thank you Kelvin for your reply to Bill’s article. I totally agree with your comment. I continue to pray for you Bill that you may continue to challenge and encourage us.
“Signs and wonders” of themselves are no guarantee of the divine origins of the power of those who perform them [ Exodus 7:8-12,22; 8:7; Revelation 13:11-15]… The “plausible” is by no means always “God’s honest truth”. The Holy Spirit is also the Spirit of Truth [John 16:13,14] – Biblical laws of evidence and testimony are not foreign to His work and His teaching of Christ’s people…
Another great article that makes one think rightly.
Bill; I used to be a member of a local Evangelical Baptist Church and I’ll never forget a certain discussion I had with a Roman Catholic Priest about his own church and his opinion re the Pentecostal Church and the Charismatic Church, and right at the end of our discussion the priest told us – in a rather condescending tone :
“I would rather be an Atheist than a Charismatic or a Pentecostal Christian”.
I asked him: are you serious? he answered – Yes, of course I’m serious.
And Just to make sure I heard him correctly I asked him again. Yes! he said.
It was so easy to conclude – but I did not – that every RC member thought this way.
Absolutely correct. These are tough times for Christians of all types and, just as was prophesied, because iniquity abounds, the love of many goes cold. More and more, however, I see Christians starting to understand how we need each other and are reliant on others who believe, whatever church they belong to, for justice and mercy.
As I have often said, finding fault in humans is like shooting fish in a barrel. The question is, with so much fault in people, what do we do about it? Some say you don’t clean your fish before you catch them but my experience is many who say this don’t clean the fish at all and the result is the fish end up rotting. The leaven (infection) of sin can very easily contaminate those around which is why we are told we do have to deal with it.
We are all at fault and all need Jesus’ sacrifice to redeem us. Just because someone else’s fault is different to our own that does not mean we should criticize unless, of course, we are doing it for the benefit of the person themselves – to help them overcome. That is, in fact, what the scriptures ask of us and is what helps to prevent the rot.
We all, however, simply don’t know what we don’t know and so it is vastly easier to see faults in others than in ourselves. If we could easily see our own faults we likely would not have those faults. This is why Jesus told the Pharisees that if they admitted they were blind they would see but because they say they already see, their blindness remains. This is why the instruction from Jesus is to not judge others until we remove the log from our own eye so we are then capable of seeing clearly so as to remove even the (painful) splinters from other’s. Jesus was not telling us to leave the log in our own eye nor to leave the splinter in other’s nor to remain blind. He was telling us to be absolutely sure we do righteous judgement. We are taught elsewhere in scripture that the ability to judge righteously, just as was with Moses, is what will be required of us in the kingdom.
It is Satan, and those who are influenced by evil, who are our accusers. We are meant to do justice but to also to love mercy because all people are potentially of great value to God. He has gone to incredible trouble to make us and redeem us. When Jesus gave Himself as our ransom He gave Himself to those who accuse and attack the brethren – both in the world and the religious leaders, and they did to Him whatever they wanted. This means that we should be able to see that God would do anything to save us, and we are meant to do likewise, and that God has covered us for our faults, and that the wrath of God has been justified against the accusers of the brethren just as it is justified against all those who oppose God. What Jesus has done has made the division, between the two groups of people, stark as it has to be for one group to become the children of God and the others to go into perdition.
What the prophesies tell us is that, as we approach the Messiah’s return, the divisions will become increasingly obvious and there will no longer be any space for fence sitting.
Great article again Bill.
I’m right with you on not going to extremes. In fact spending time researching the many denominations, and taking a glance at the history of the reformation, and other separations has humbled me.
However, I have to ask, what can be said about a WOF celebrity who promises healing in God’s name, but really only in exchange for money? What about when you give all your money, and don’t get healing?
Does that have even a speck of resemblance to the Gospel? Or to Christ’s miracles?
Indeed Christ both healed everyone who asked Him, and then exchanged his life to pay for our sins!
I know it’s not really fair to compare anyone to Christ (nor is it a contest), but sometimes it seems less a question of being a heresy hunter, and more about calling out blatant lies and deceptions?
I can’t say anything about claims to genuine healing by these faith healers, but I think there are enough publicly documented examples of people who haven’t been healed, people who have faked healing, people who have believed in their healing, only to discover the hard way that they were wrong, and examples of people who have been refused healing.
But maybe I’m putting too much faith in secular journalism there too!
I know I’ve seen with my own eyes no shortage of attempts to ‘declare’ healing in Jesus name, but not one even mildly interesting example of genuine healing.
Maybe it’s not my place to say. But these healers and teachers have to answer to God in the end, and I know I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes.
I’ve seen plenty of broken hearts. I’ve seen young teenagers ‘slain’ in the Holy Spirit, or speak in tongues… who within a year or two walked away from the church, followed after the offers of the world.
I don’t think charismatics, in general, are of the Devil, or anything like that. But I think there are individuals within the movement who use the faith of sincere believers to turn a profit, and that’s despicable.
You are right that God used Balaam, but that doesn’t mean that Balaam had God’s favour, and it certainly didn’t mean he was saved!
Now I wish I could edit that last sentence:
“You are right that God used Balaam, but that doesn’t mean He saved his ass!”
Dear Bill, I see from two comments above, first Kevin then Pieternella in support. Add my hear hear to that Bill. I’m sure there are many more who support you and do not write a comment.
Keep doing what God has called you to do
God Bless you & your endeavours