More than three decades ago, brethren knocked doors in Western Pennsylvania and set up several Bible studies. A few hours later, a lady with whom an appointment had been made called the church building and said that she had decided to cancel the meeting. I said that she had seemed interested earlier and asked if something had changed her mind. She replied that she had been in touch with her “leader” and that she was advised against it.
Who was her “leader”? Was she a member of a cult? Whatever she meant remains unknown since she offered no further explanation, but it is very possible that the individual who put the kibosh on the Bible study kept her out of heaven.
This past week a woman from the area called us to inquire about worshipping with us. She needed transportation, and we told her we thought we could arrange it for her. That evening we visited her, and she acknowledged that she did not know anything about us and was another religion. We told her she might attend and then decide if she wanted to return or not. She agreed but then called the next day to cancel. Her son, who ignored us during the entire visit, insisted that she not come—even though they were not attending anywhere and had been graciously invited. She said she could not convince them to let her come.
A third situation also occurred a number of years ago when I was driving a man to his radiation treatment. We discussed some things about the Bible for a few minutes, and then he entirely shut down. “I don’t have to study the Bible,” he insisted. He explained that he trusted the priest who had studied the Bible for years. “He’s a smart man; he went to seminary. I listen to what he says.” All of these have one thing in common. They all involve listening and following a human being rather than the Bible itself. It prompts the question: “Who are you following?”
1. Some follow tradition. To many people, Christianity is not a way of life (‘the way”); it is merely a matter of tradition. They were raised in a certain church; they have always attended that church, and even if they seldom attend, they still count themselves a member of that church. Their religion is more of an identifying tag than an indication they follow God. On one occasion I baptized a high school junior—with her parents present. Afterward, they told her that she could not worship with us any more—that they had their “own” church. The young lady was quite incensed. I made an appointment to talk to their “pastor,” and he confided that the family was just a “cultural” one, meaning that they were only nominal members. In other words, the family had no genuine commitment to their “own” church; they just did not want their daughter attending anywhere else. One uncle was a preacher for that religious group, and it probably didn’t look good for her to be elsewhere.
The same thing happened with another high school student. His parents seldom worshipped, but they too disliked the idea of a family member “defecting.” Circumstances do change. One college student began worshipping with us on one occasion and continued, obeying the gospel after a few months. Had she done so while in high school, her parents might have objected, since both sides of her family went back several generations in the same religion. Now that she was an adult, however, and on her own, they never offered any objections. In fact, they worshipped with us when they visited her.
Saul, the zealous Jew and persecutor of Christians, could have told the Lord Jesus that he preferred to follow the tradition of his fathers rather than become a Christian. If he had, the world would have been deprived of the apostle Paul, defender of the faith. What is the value of blindly following tradition and closing one’s mind to the Scriptures?
No one, on the Day of Judgment, is going to be asked, “How well did you keep your family tradition?” Do people really expect that Jesus will be happy with those who never opened the Book or studied His Word? People read magazines and newspapers faithfully, they watch television incessantly, yet somehow they think it is proper to ignore the only communication that God ever gave to us—the Holy Bible. If they knew the Scriptures better, they would know that they will be judged according to what is written there (Rev. 20:12-15).
The same thing applies to those who were members of the churches of Christ but seldom attended worship and were never involved in the work of the church. How woefully inadequate will it be to tell the Lord in Judgment, “I kept my family’s tradition; I never became a Jehovah’s Witness or 7th-Day Adventist”? Jesus might answer: “Have you never read: ‘If you love Me, keep My commandments’? (John 14:15). You never made it a point to remember My death each first day of the week, let alone act as a functioning part of My body.”
If we are all going to be judged by the Word of God (John 12:48) (and we are), isn’t it necessary to know what it says? How are we to live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God if we have never read its words?
Family cannot save anyone. Only Jesus has the power to save people from their sins (Matt. 1:21). To paraphrase what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:13: “Was mother crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Uncle Bob?” One and only one person deserves your undying allegiance—the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
2. Some follow a religious leader. It may be the priest, the rabbi, the pastor, or the preacher that some devote themselves to obeying. If Preacher Ted or Pastor Ned say something, that settles the matter, so far as some are concerned. They are trusting in men rather than in God. The folly of such an approach to Christianity is clearly seen in the fact that human beings have a distinct disadvantage—they are human. How many people trusted in Jimmy Swaggart, hanging on his every word? How many had complete confidence in Jim Bakker? Even the apostle Paul said to follow him as he followed Christ (1 Cor. 11:1). “It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in men” (Ps. 118:8).
Have people forgotten the lesson of Jonestown in Guyana? Jim Jones turned out to be a seriously-flawed individual, and all of his followers (except a handful of survivors) joined him in “revolutionary suicide.” How is it that some are more devoted to a man than to Jesus Himself? Once again, the answer lies in the fact that people are following people more than what the Holy Spirit revealed to them in the Word. Like the man of God in 1 Kings 13, they are listening more to the old prophet than to God.
For that reason the Bereans searched the Scriptures daily to see if Paul was teaching correctly or not (Acts 17:11). John had warned brethren that they needed to try every spirit, and the Ephesians were doing just that. Jesus commended them for testing those who said they were apostles but were not. They proved them to be liars (Rev. 2:2). The fact is that some men will lead people astray (2 Peter 2:1; Acts 20:28), and the only way to avoid such a possibility is to know the Word. To ignore the Bible and trust some man instead is not only risky but foolish. The only man you can trust with your salvation is Jesus, who was God in the flesh (John 1:14).
3. Some follow their own will. Some have not made themselves captive to family tradition or to following one leader, but they are prisoners of their own thinking. This may take place in one of two ways.
Some place all their trust in themselves instead of God (Pr. 3:5-6). They reason that what they think is right—because they thought it! Anyone who is full of that much pride is not likely to ever be poor enough in spirit to enter the kingdom of God (Matt. 5:3). These individuals make religious decisions in the absence of knowledge. They know a few passages of Scripture, and they think they can justify themselves before God one day, but they are deluding themselves because it is not possible for man to be saved by his own righteousness (Isa. 64:6). “There is none righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10).
Another form of self-deception involves those who have convinced themselves that God is talking to them. He assures them that they are saved even though they have never done what the Bible says they must do in order to be forgiven. In the first place, God is not speaking to anyone today (for daily guidance or any other purpose)—directly. He promised to guide the apostles into all truth (John 16:13), which He did (Jude 3). If all truth had been revealed, what could the Holy Spirit be revealing further? How can one have more truth than all truth?
To safeguard the gospel message, Paul told the Galatians that anyone who taught them something contradictory should not be believed: “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:8). That goes for oneself, also. Anyone who thinks God “has revealed to him” a message that contradicts God’s Book obviously did not get that message from God. When the Word was completely revealed, the means of revelation ceased (1 Cor. 13:8-10). God is not providing salvation in any way other than through Christ; those receiving “new revelations” are self-deluded.
Following tradition, some man, or one’s own inclinations (even if attributed erroneously to the Holy Spirit) will not save anyone. The only infallibly safe guide is to follow the teachings of Jesus and the apostles, which have been revealed in the New Testament (Acts 20:32).
Several years ago, during a Gospel meeting held by brother William Cline at Eagle Lake, Florida, a married couple presented themselves at the close of the Lord’s Day evening services. After they expressed regrets for arriving late, they began to distribute cards. The cards bore the “two most important scriptures in the Bible,” according to the two late visitors.
The two Scriptures on the cards were John 3:16 and 1 John 4:1-3. These two people were devotees of the Pentecostal movement. They may have intended to visit the Assembly of God Church which meets around the corner from the Eagle Lake congregation but had stopped too soon. They said the Spirit led them to us.
I began a discussion with the couple, and before long brother Cline joined in. The couple misunderstood 1 John 4:1-3, and that misunderstanding became the center of our discussion. They claimed to have the Holy Ghost in a very special way and asserted that He spoke to them, revealing the true meaning of the Word of God.
They attempted to use 1 John 4:1-3 to teach that one had to confess verbally that Jesus has come in the flesh. That confession must be made in prayer to the Holy Ghost so that the Holy Ghost could be tried. If one followed these three steps, then the Holy Ghost would reveal the meaning of any portion of the Word or provide an answer to any query.
The couple also said they could not sin at all because of having the Holy Ghost. Brother Cline and I used Scripture to show them they did not have the Holy Spirit in the same way the apostles had the Spirit—and that the Spirit does not speak directly to men today. We also used 1 John 1:8-10 to refute the idea of perfectionism (living sinless).
We tried to set up a time for further discussion, but the couple refused. Most distressing was the way they blocked logic from their minds.
When asked to answer an argument from Scriptures, they bowed their heads and mumbled a prayer that began, “Blessed Holy Spirit we confess that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh.” At that point their words became incoherent. After finishing they would raise their heads and say something like, “The verse doesn’t mean what it says.” I tried to convince them that illumination of the Word by the Spirit is unnecessary by showing that I, who disavowed such power, could understand a verse exactly. I said Jude verse one teaches Jude was the Lord’s servant. They said they would have to ask the Holy Ghost before they could tell me whether Jude 1 teaches that Jude was the Lord’s servant. This response stunned me.
The man accused brother Cline of using a devil’s trick because he pointed out that the force of the Greek in the present tense construction of 1 John 3:9. Apparently they did not know that the Spirit originally used Koine Greek to write the passage. The man also mangled 1 John 1:8 by claiming that he had sinned in the past, and it was on his record, but now he was unable to sin. He said this was the true meaning of the passage.
When asked for their name and address, the couple said that they had to ask the Holy Ghost for permission; then they began their ritual. A short while later, the man lifted his head and said, “I can’t get a yes from the Holy Ghost.” His wife nodded the same. To this day I don’t know where they came from nor where they have gone.
Recently, a leader of the Boston Discipling Movement made claims of special Divine guidance. He claims to be led by the Spirit of God in the decisions he makes and in the rules he gives. He also claims the Spirit helps him to lead a perfect, sinless life. This type of thinking calls for more dramatic pronouncements; so “hold onto your hat! You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”
Then the Lord said unto me, “The prophets prophesy lies in my name: I sent them not, neither have I commanded them, neither spake unto them; they prophesy unto you a false vision and divination, and a thing of nought, and the deceit of their heart” (Jer. 14:14).
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EXCERPT from the IOWA MESSENGER
[Editor’s Note: The preceding article and this one both relate to the third point made on page two. This one is from Mike’s December, 2008 newsletter.]
Lanell has been influenced by the Pentecostals and has been attending various Pentecostal congregations in town. He believes that God gives him visions and speaks to him….
I then asked him how God revealed to us whether a doctrine was true or false, and he replied that he will ask God to tell him with some sign…. So we discussed how the Word of God is the only mode given to us today to know God’s will and that if a doctrine is not found in the Bible, then we can know it is false….
Lanell was shocked to learn that there is only one reason for divorce and couldn’t believe that a loving God would force him to stay in a marriage he didn’t want. He said, “How could I serve such a God? That’s not the God I know.” That’s because he has created God in his own image—like the majority of denominational people.
[Additional editor’s note: Isn’t it interesting that he claims the Holy Spirit guides him—but he did not know what the Holy Spirit taught about marriage and divorce?]