National Youth Leaders Are Lacking In Sound Biblical Judgment And Discernment

“There is a sad lack of serious and strong biblical leadership from those who are supposed to lead the flock as undershepherds of the Great Shepherd.”

(See Acts 20:17-38; 1 Peter 5:1-4, 2 Timothy 4:1-5)

My intent last week was not to single out House Studio as a unique aberration occurring within an otherwise strong denomination.  Rather, it was to show that it is yet another symbol of the many institutions within the Nazarene denomination whose leaders are failing miserably in their responsibility to maintain a strong biblical basis for what they do.  Whether it is Nazarene Publishing House, Barefoot Ministries, YouthFront, Nazarene Theological Seminary, or some other Nazarene universities, districts and churches around the country, there has been a serious breakdown of leadership, and those in leadership will be held more accountable by God than those who are not.  There also seems to be a total reluctance to name false teachers no matter who they are, and when some of us do call them out, we are labeled as “hateful”, “unloving”, “unChristlike.”  But worst, there are many wolves in sheep’s clothing right within our own walls; they are masquerading as angels of light; and they will be exposed by the light of truth.  The only other possibility is that these leaders, in spite of their Master’s degrees in theology, are utterly bankrupt in their biblical understanding and need to get into the word of God.

In my last post, I answered Chris Folmsbee’s question, “So, tell me, why should I care about this controversy?”  The controversy he was referring to was regarding the new book by Rob Bell, Love Wins, and I posted my entire response on his blog.  Since then, after 42 comments from various people, both for and against the new book, the blog moderator decided it was time to terminate the “conversation”, which of course he has a right to do.  He/she said:

“Looks like we’ve passed any potential for this to continue being a constructive discussion. Thanks all for participating!”

Well okay, House Studio.  End the conversation that you and your emergent friends always proudly state is what you seek to have all the time.  It is disappointing once again, to see another group that promotes emergent ideology and mysticism back off when we ask questions that are looking for specific answers that are not shaded in mystery.  We have exposed your agenda in the past, and we will continue to expose it to as many Christians as possible.  After all, you are playing around with the minds of youth, and that is a heavy responsibility.  My suggestion for resignation is still something Mr. Folmsbee ought to consider.

Well, now it seems Mr. Folmsbee’s colleague, Mike King, President of YouthFront, has weighed in regarding the Rob Bell “controversy.”  Apparently, Mr. King cannot spot a false teacher as well, and would not want to call them out if he did.  Here are his words from his latest blog post:

IS Jesus Christ Lord? Love Wins…

Without wading into the Love Wins conversation too deeply (a conversation that has been going on for two thousand years, by the way) I will add a thought about the context of what I see.

I have watched with a sense of sadness at the labeling and demonization of each other around this issue.  I was sitting in church yesterday thinking about what is going on.  If one confesses “Jesus Christ is Lord” we (those who confess Jesus Christ as Lord) should, despite our differences in theology and doctrine, at least acknowledge each other as sisters and brothers.  Yes, let us have disagreements, but please do it without labeling, dismissing and demonizing the other.

To me this feels like two fans of the Kansas City Chiefs hating each other because one fan believes the offense is the key to a future Super Bowl Championship and the other fan believes that the defense is the key.  To declare the other “not a true fan of the Chiefs” would be absurd.

Of course, I am not saying these issues being discussed around “Love Wins” are trivial and don’t really matter.  They matter immensely, but let us learn how to seek first to understand before being understood.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love.

Where there is injury, pardon.

Where there is doubt, faith.

Where there is despair, hope.

Where there is darkness, light.

Where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,

grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;

to be understood, as to understand;

to be loved, as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive.

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,

and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

Amen.

END QUOTE

This is utterly ridiculous.  I understand Mr. King is an adjunct professor at Nazarene Theological Seminary and a graduate.  Is this the best biblical analysis he can do, that one only needs to proclaim that Jesus is Lord, and everything else is fair game?  So I can therefore say “Jesus is Lord”, but go on doing anything I want, even if it is in direct contradiction to Jesus and the apostles’ doctrine?  I am amazed he would say that, and surely he does not really mean it, does he?  This is the typical disdain for scripture and doctrine that the emergent church crowd has, and instead, they love the touchy feely, emotion driven, let’s all get along theology that has no origins in scripture, but from somewhere else, and from someone else.

It’s also interesting that he uses a football analogy, because he simply looked into that old worn out emergent playbook, and all he could come up with is a play that is frankly getting rather old, useless, and predictable.  It only plays well to the choir which I’m sure is cheering and posting congratulations on Mr. King’s blog, but it does not play well with Bible believing Christians.

The playbook’s favorite moves go something like this:

  1. Use emotion and accuse those who expose false teachers of being hateful, or demonizing, or unChristlike,
  2. Twist scripture out of context to lecture us that we should be “loving”, or going about the business of “the Kingdom”,
  3. And finally, don’t use scripture to back up your argument, but instead tell us how you “feel” about it, or give us your own intellectual reasoning that has no basis in the Bible, but in the new spirituality.

For Mr. King and Mr. Folmsbee, and even many of the leadership at Nazarene Theological Seminary, to apparently not see what is going on, is very sad.  They are clearly promoting contemplative spirituality in their alliance with Barefoot Ministries.  NTS has even promoted CS to middle grade students.  This all is happening with the blessing of the president of the school, Professor Dean Blevins, and others, unless they do not know, although that does not seem possible.  Dean Blevins happens to be the Chairman of the Board of YouthFront, how would he not know?  He is also President of the highly ecumenical Religious Education Association. President of NTS Dr. Ron Benefiel must know what they are doing in promoting this contemplative spirituality.   Why, even a class this Spring that teaches future pastors on the practice of Celtic Spirituality, which is rooted in occultism, is acceptable!

It is clear that these leaders are promoting this new spirituality which has no basis in Nazarene Wesleyan theology, and most importantly, no basis in scripture.  It is even ironic, yet not a surprise, that the prayer Mike King quoted is one that is ascribed to St. Francis of Assisi.  St. Francis was well liked by many, but he taught and practiced many heresies, spent much time in solitude and contemplative practices, and the veneration of Mary.  And did you know that he received the blessing of Pope Innocent III to head up the Inquisition, which as we know led to the brutal persecution and murders of many Bible believing Christians?  Yet, Mike King cannot quote anyone else but a Roman Catholic who had no respect for religious freedom?  But it makes sense because the emergent church is bringing in Roman Catholicism to the Nazarene church, including the latest offering of a book that promotes the ritual of ashes to the forehead.

Mr. King, and Mr. Folmsbee, please turn away from these false teachings you are promoting.  If not, please resign your positions, and let someone else take over YouthFront and Barefoot Ministries, someone who will have the Bible as the foundation for all of its activities and programs, not man’s religion.

2 Tim. 4:1-5 I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine.  For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.  But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.

Why We Should Care About The Rob Bell Controversy

(A response to Chris Folmsbee of House Studio and Barefoot Ministries)

Chris Folmsbee is one of the staff people at the House Studio, a division of the Nazarene Publishing House which focuses on books and other materials for Nazarene youth.  He is also director of Barefoot Ministries, and is involved with Youthfront.  The House Studio has already come under criticism for some of its books, including the book 180, which was reviewed by Rev. Peter Migner last year as a questionable book for our youth.  Mr. Folmsbee recently posted a new commentary called 4 Reasons Why I Don’t Care About The Rob Bell Controversy.  Here are the four reasons he wrote, followed by my response which I posted at his blog:

I haven’t followed the controversy over the new Rob Bell book called, Love Wins very close at all.  Honestly, it doesn’t even interest me all that much.

4 Reasons Why I Don’t Care About The Rob Bell Book Controversy

1. It seems small to me.  It seems like we should be having controversies over bigger issues if we re going to have them.

2. It is irrelevant to me.  Granted I don’t know much about the controversy but if it is about what I think it is about (no hell?), it doesn’t change the way I live and the way that I participate with God’s mission.

3. Controversy in evangelicalism often seems more about demeaning people than real dialogue so I am skeptical that I will find meaningful, generous conversation anyways.

4. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen “controversy” from Rob Bell/Mars Hill.  To me, what others have classified as “controversy” is largely a misunderstanding or suspicion and speculation without context – and so I’m thinking this is the same kind thing.

So, tell me, why should I care about this controversy?

Dear Mr. Folsmbee,

Let me try to tell you why I believe you should care.  Although we have never met, I believe it is my duty to point out some errors in your thinking.  I assume you are probably a very nice guy, but this is not personal, but a question of right doctrine and discernment.   First of all, I applaud you for at least having the courage to say what’s on your mind publicly, because apparently many leaders in the Nazarene church do not have the courage to say anything lately. But frankly, I also suggest that you and perhaps the entire staff at The House Studio seriously consider resigning your positions, and letting others take over who might have a bit more discernment in these issues.  If not resignation, a serious amount of prayer time should be taken to ask God for wisdom and a return to strong biblical principles, instead of the type of books such as 180 that are being promoted to our youth.

As to your first point, does this controversy really seem small to you?  I believe matters of doctrine are pretty big issues.  Rob Bell is possibly the most popular national pastor among Christian youth today, including the Nazarene denomination which you serve.  It would seem that you should be prudent in keeping pace with these issues, especially since his books are very popular, as well as his NOOMA videos.  I do want to know however, if you like Rob Bell for what he teaches, and how much you really know about him?

What does it mean to participate in “God’s mission”, as you say?  I have never heard a clear explanation of what that term means, as it is being used frequently within the Nazarene denomination.  It sounds good, but what does that mean to you?  Would not defending the gospel, and scrutinizing a pastor’s teachings with what the Bible says, be part of God’s mission?  That’s what many of us are doing, and why many of us have come to the conclusion that Rob Bell is a false teacher!  Yet you seem to cavalierly brush aside the question of hell as if that is not important!  If Rob Bell is implying that there is no hell as the scriptures teach, and that unrepentant sinners might still get to heaven after they die, don’t you think this is worth investigating, especially by someone who is a youth leader and very influential?

You also say you don’t know much about the controversy.  Well, I suggest that you get to know about it because there’s enough noise being made by many Christians around the country, and if you continue to “not know much about it” and not even check it out, then I ask you again, please consider seriously resigning your position!  In such a position as yours, you ought to know what Rob Bell is teaching, and you ought to be able to articulate clearly to us what you believe about his positions on hell, eternity, and who is or is not saved.  Don’t you think that’s important, especially if it is true that he is preaching another gospel, as many believe he is?

Thirdly, you seem to be implying that criticism of a pastor’s teachings and doctrine is a matter of demeaning him.  Are you familiar with the many passages in scripture that instruct us to defend the faith, to judge what others teach, to reprove and to rebuke those who preach another gospel?  Do you remember when Paul rebuked Peter publicly?  Was he demeaning to Peter?  Do you remember the Bereans, who made sure that Paul was preaching according to scripture, in spite of knowing of his reputation?  If you remember, Paul also commended the Bereans, as opposed to accusing them that they were demeaning him.

Finally, I strongly suspect that if the books listed at The House Studio and Barefoot Ministries are any indication, your organization is heavily supporting the emergent church movement and all the baggage that comes with it.  That movement has been seriously eroding our strong  foundations in the church for a long time, and if proper biblical discernment is not your strong suit, then perhaps its time for new leadership at this organization, as well as at Barefoot Ministries and Nazarene Publishing House.

I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed! For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.  Gal. 1:6-10

Roman Catholicism Being Taught To Nazarene Youth? Part 1

I just finished reading Sacred Life, a book for youth that is available through Barefoot Ministries, the youth arm of the Nazarene Publishing House.  This is the first review of two books from Barefoot Ministries, the other being Sacred Space.  My conclusion after reading them: I do not recommend them, and I am appalled that the Nazarene Publishing House allows these books to be promoted to our Nazarene youth, or any Christian for that matter.

The book is broken up into chapters that talk about: the Jesus Prayer (and the use of the prayer rope), lectio divina, confessions, praying scripture, solitude/meditation, Imago Dei,  journaling, the Roman Catholic priest St. Ignatius and his methods, and pilgrimages. (Among the pigrimages that are recommended is the Taizé community in France, a popular center for contemplative, Eastern-oriented, interspiritual practices).

In the introduction to Sacred Life, I find the following quote of interest:

  • “Not all of these practices will work for each person.  If one does not connect with you, try another.  In time, you will find two or more that will fit well with you.”

The Bible-prescribed discipline of prayer will always work if a person is praying with a sincere heart to God.  So the specific disciplines described in the book are not guaranteed to work, but rather depend on the person?  That does not sound like something God would give us, a method of prayer or worship that will “connect” for some, but not others?

The first chapter talks about the General Examen of Conscience, a part of a collection of a work by Saint Ignatius of Loyola, Spiritual Exercises, which supposedly helps us apply spiritual disciplines in our daily life in order to get closer to God.  The instructions give guided steps on how to do this. This work is becoming ever more popular within the evangelical spiritual formation movement.

What the book fails to tell us is that Ignatius was a mystic, and he practiced mysticism.
Tony Campolo says of him: “The methods of praying employed by the likes of Ignatius have become precious to me. With the help of some Catholic saints, my prayer life has deepened.” Campolo is an ultra-liberal evangelical who supports the emergent church and contemplative spirituality practices; he also likes to repeat the name of Jesus over and over again every morning for as long as 15 minutes!  (from Mystical Encounters for Christians,  Beliefnet).

In his Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius emphasizes purifying oneself through asceticism and using the imagination in prayer (also called visualization or guided imagery, a dangerous practice).
Visualization is not biblical, and we ought to put our faith in God and His word, not using our imagination for extra-biblical revelation. It is not true faith. Instead, God’s word says: So faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:17).

He was also known for enforcing a blind loyalty to the pope.  He said “what seems to be white, I will believe to be black, if the hierarchical church so defines” (Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, Vintage Books Edition, p. 124).  He was the founder of the Jesuit Order, which was known for its brutality in enforcing papal authority. I could tell you more about him, but this is a small picture of someone who is being recommended as a model for youth to follow his teachings.

In the chapter on the Jesus Prayer, the writer describes the prayer as having three levels: The first, verbal repetition of a phrase over and over.  In the second, the prayer is then repeated in the mind over and over without distraction or other thoughts.  The final stage is when the prayer connects the mind with the heart, so that the prayer lives in every heartbeat of the person praying. (p. 21)
Where is this type of prayer instructed for us to do in the Bible?  Nowhere, is the answer.  This is nothing but an extra-biblical, man-created method of prayer that takes the focus away from Christ, and focuses more on ourselves.
What does scripture say?

“But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.” Matthew 6:7

There is no doubt this is vain repetition, and not true prayerful communication with God, as taught in the scriptures.  (On page 22 the writers make a weak attempt to dismiss this biblical admonition, and even suggest that Jesus used this technique, but of course, no convincing scriptural evidence is given).

In Wesley’s Bible comments, he says the following: “Use not vain repetitions – To repeat any words without meaning them, is certainly a vain repetition. Therefore we should be extremely careful in all our prayers to mean what we say; and to say only what we mean from the bottom of our hearts. The vain and heathenish repetitions which we are here warned against, are most dangerous, and yet very common; which is a principal cause why so many, who still profess religion, are a disgrace to it. Indeed all the words in the world are not equivalent to one holy desire. And the very best prayers are but vain repetitions, if they are not the language of the heart.” (Wesley’s Notes on the Bible)

Our prayers should come from the heart, and not from following a set pattern or length to be counted. This is particularly a practice emphasized by the Roman Catholic church, but it is a violation of biblical principles.  Why is this being promoted by Nazarenes, for Nazarene youth?

Worse yet, as part of the Jesus Prayer, it is recommended to use a prayer rope.  In other words: a way of showing us how to pray the rosary, using rosary beads.  Perhaps the authors thought that using a different name for this, and a different device, would not mean the same, but that’s exactly what it is.  They are teaching our youth how to pray the rosary!  Again I ask, where is this prescribed in the Bible?  Nowhere.  So why are Nazarenes teaching this to our youth?

The final chapter I will comment on is the one on lectio divina. I have written about lectio divina before and also critiqued it for its formulaic, method based procedure on how to read and pray scripture.  It was actually invented by the theologian Origen, a heretic who amongst other false teachings, believed that Jesus was a created being.

But do we need this practice to get closer to God and live the Christian life?  The Bible says in 2 Timothy 3:16 that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness”.  God’s word is what we need, not new invented methods that we have to follow and make sure we do them in the proper prescribed steps.

Do we get special revelation from practicing lectio divina, which is not prescribed in any way in the Bible?  Or do we need to simply know that “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes. The fear of the Lord is pure,…”

God’s word is all we need.  It can be dangerous to open our minds and try to listen to God’s voice in this way, because it may not end up being God’s voice suggesting something to us.

What is this growing reliance on St. Ignatius and other Roman Catholic mystics and priests.  Don’t we have enough inspirational Nazarenes from our past and present who can teach real solid biblical truth?  I found out recently that Dr. Doug Hardy of Nazarene Theological Seminary is one of many Nazarene professors who have become deeply involved with Catholic teachings and teachers, including the practices of St. Ignatius. Oh, and don’t forget the Spiritual Formation Retreat sponsored by NTS and featuring Dr. Hardy, just before the General Assembly in June.  And the unbelievable prayer room at General Assembly, with its prayer stations and the continued promotion of Richard Foster, spiritual formation guru, author of the multiple-flawed book, Celebration of Discipline.

The other chapters also teach methods derived from “ancient” tradition.  We as Christians should only be asking one question: is this practice a proper biblically grounded practice?  It does not matter that it is an ancient tradition. So is going to confessionals, praying to Mary, or taking the Eucharist as a direct means of forgiveness of sins.

I don’t care if it’s been practiced for 2,000 years, if it’s unbiblical, reject it or throw it out!  Our answer as Nazarenes years ago was, no!  Why are some in our leadership now bringing in these practices to our churches, and promoting spiritual formation throughout the universities, and introducing these practices to our youth?  Should we expect these to start soon in our area, at some of our Nazarene churches?  Perhaps we need to start asking questions of our leadership in New England.  Have they not become aware of these books?  If so, what do they think?  Why are the writers of this book promoting dubious authors such as Foster.

If these things are okay with you already, then I have not made much impact with this article.  If you are mad at me for writing this, so be it, but it really is time to get the unvarnished truth out, and let Nazarenes, and all Christians, decide if they accept these things or not.  Some will, and some won’t, but no one deserves to be kept in the dark.  We all deserve to know what these things are, and then decide whether we accept them as proper biblical practice or not.

So if this disturbs you about your denomination, Nazarene or otherwise, what will you do about it?  Will you ask questions, or just close your eyes to it as our denomination slowly incorporates Roman Catholicism into its very core?

For a related commentary on this issue, go to “Roman Catholicism Promoted By Nazarene Publishing House” at  exnazarenes blog

Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation. For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him. (I Thessalonians 5:5-10)