I cannot speak to what is in a person’s mind or heart. My own heart lies to me, it is impossible to know about other people. I write this from a place of sadness. The sort of sadness you feel when others do not live up to your expectations. I recognize that sometimes our expectations are misplaced. We do not always have all the facts and we cannot know all the whys. But we can know something of truth and we can know what we perceive as truth.
I perceive and believe as a fact that visible Christianity has been polluted by many things. There are the obvious and easy to discern, the Benny Hinns of the world. Rob Bell, Brian McClaren, and Mark Driscoll are easy to discern. Bethel and Hillsong too. We can all easily discern the apostasy that is the NAR, that is an easy thing to see unless you are under the spell of it. Nobody that really knows about these things would argue that mainline denominations like the PCUSA and the UMC are not fraught with error and apostasy.
And it is not restricted to just those. Most SBC churches you walk into contain error, perhaps from shallow theological understanding or maybe from lacking the institutional protections to keep error from diffusing from outside to inside. We were reminded very recently that the LCMS harbors significant difficulties in rightly interpreting scripture. We see the PCA adopt all manner of worldly ideology into the core of the denomination's identity and fight over words to diminish it. ECO Presbyterians still struggle from the sin they carried with them when they left the PCUSA. It could be argued the smaller presbyterian denominations like the OPC and ARP have become pietists, unwilling to engage, interested only in keeping the pollution out of their halls.
The first paragraph describes organizations that made a willful decision to abandon truth. The second represents folks that believe they endeavor to keep it out. The second group at least has structure and doctrine that is designed to intentionally thwart error, even if that intentionality sometimes fails. So, there is a difference in error. The first case is willful rebellion the second is a result of the nature of us, the sinners, in places that try to keep error out. Anyone that argues that there is error in the visible church because men are sinful is missing the point, some are by design, and some are a feature of a fallen world.
What of intentionality? I have written for several years and shared my experience with a seeker-sensitive church. The first time I walked into one I felt, and I hate that word, but that was all I had at the moment, I felt that the spirit was not right. I struggled with it, I observed and searched for answers. I had at one point five family members attending that church, I had a dog in the fight. If my feeling was right, I needed to know, if it was wrong, I needed to repent. I watched the church for twelve or thirteen years and all I could nail down was that it was controlling and taking the shepherding concept way too far into manipulation territory.
The only real data point I had to go on for years was the changes I saw in the lives of my family members. I was in the Army, far away, I would visit with them occasionally but I did not attend. I did see the changes in them. I noticed an increase in anger and resentment toward family members that did not attend. All of the friends and all free time were spent almost exclusively with people that attended, with the community. The spirit I saw increasing was not the fruits we are told to expect, rather it was anger, pride and disrespect for family. I watched grown men in the church spend way too much time with young men not related to them. It was off-putting and a little weird.
I watched three of my family leave the church. Each time they were shunned by every one of their friends, in some cases friends they had grown up with. I heard them describe how the church had helped them write letters and prepare speeches about sins and hurts family had done to them. Sins that never occurred. I rescued my mother once from being confronted by such slander. They described sitting in a small community group as a teenager, speaking to other teenagers about “parent wounds” and then having a conversation in community to figure out what that sin committed against them meant. Small hurts, are related through a child’s eye to other children and then analyzed. They related how service to the church, doing what the church said was continually held out as proof of salvation. That if one shirked on assigned tasks then it was perhaps because there was something wrong in their heart.
A pastor named Michael Foster has a lot of experience with the tactics I just described from things he has seen and things people have shared about their experiences in churches. In this video he lays out some of the tactics of manipulators, things always present in cults but often present in churches with flaws. I debriefed every family member of mine that left the church referenced above. I compared what they told me once they escaped with what I had observed with them and what was still occurring. Every tactic that Foster lists in that video was present and more.
Over the years I spoke with every pastor friend I had. Their take on what was going on spoke more about them than their honest evaluation of the situation. One of my former best friends, a pastor, was dabbling a lot with emergent teachers in 2012, he said it was all great. Others, men that have since resisted the siren's call of the ideology of the world called it unbiblical and dangerous. Around 2012 I discovered some work that Chris Rosebrough had done on the subject of seeker-sensitive megachurches. Rosebrough expanded upon the work that others such as Dean Gotcher had done a decade before. Resistance is Futile: You will be assimilated into the community is perhaps the most important work ever done on the subject, explaining the details of the movement's origin. Using the words of the founders of the network that fostered and built all the ‘independent’ megachurches that began popping up in the 1990s Rosebrough laid out the ideology and intentionality of the system. Chris Rosebrough knew that the emergent church was not dying, he understood the connection between purpose-driven error and the seeker-sensitive movement. They knew why the seeker-sensitive movement was built, to change society instead of hearts. He did solid and important work in 2012.
What of the intentionality I referenced at the beginning of this? I have seen the effects of this intentionality on real people in my life, the negative effects in their lives. We can read about what happened at Mars Hill and NewSpring and many others built on the same model. The negative impact on people, the manipulation, and control are undeniable. The stories are everywhere, big and small stories. But what about doctrine, error, and apostasy? We know, because it is a fact, the seeker-sensitive megachurches had a disproportionate impact on the rest of evangelical protestant Christianity. Their music is everywhere. Churches that were not even part of the movement adopted their worship style. Their ideas and language is everywhere. Is it for the good?
Beginning in 2020, if it was hidden or subtle before these churches began to preach from popular books and from concepts from ideology from the world and template scripture on top of it to make it sound like a sermon. In my own observation of the megachurch I talked about earlier the pastors went from twisting Ephesians in 2020, to preaching that they had the truth and you better not listen to others after they received pushback all the way to teaching a different spirit of Jesus in 2023. From error to heresy in three years. That is one example in one medium-sized megachurch but these guys do not operate in a vacuum. They take cues from ideology in culture, they read the same pagan books, share sermon notes and attend the same conferences. If it happened over three years in that one place, it is almost certain it is happening all over.
If the only thing these places did was “assimilate people into the community” and use shepherding as a form of control and manipulation that would be enough for a full-time ‘discernment ministry’ to focus on. They twist scripture to use and control people, it is by design, and it is part of the methodology built into the system from the beginning. However, since 2012 none of the big-name ‘discerners’ have touched the subject. Yes they will go after Bethel or Hillsong because that is easy and obvious. When a big star falls like Bell or Noble or Driscoll they chime in. Those guys too were easy targets. But what of the millions that sit in fog-filled rooms, looking at a big screen and being lied to and manipulated by the community in Christ's name? Do these lies not merit discernment too?
But it is worse. What is the community assimilating these people to do? It is not just doing service that some junior camp director church functionary thinks. They are assimilating them toward social change, a change that does not comport with Scripture. A change that takes its cue from heretics apostates and pagans. In just three years I observed one go from error, to scripture twisting to defend it to full heresy. This is what they are and it is occurring all over and it will, just like music and worship style diffuse to much of the rest of the church.
Chris Rosebrough, God bless you for telling us what we know. Paula White is not a preacher and if she was she is a wingnut. Binny Hinn is a false teacher. Brian Houston is a grifter and an apostate. Thank you for that. What about the stuff that matters? What about the thing that has the inertia, gravity, and weight to affect sound doctrine everywhere? The thing keeping Christians in bondage to manipulators and liars. Why have you been silent on that for eleven years with the exception of when one of them trips himself up? I cannot read your mind nor know your heart. But your silence on this, and the silence of others that have a platform doing discernment work is loud.