Satan’s Strategies: Erring Methods
October 11, 2016
One of Satan’s most successful strategies has been convincing Christians that the church and other activities of God’s people must be accomplished through human programs using clever, practical methods. By “program” I mean a planned, organized, human-controlled method of accomplishing God’s purpose usually initiated without God’s direction and not founded in God’s word. It is using the world’s mode of operation and claiming that it is God’s way.
Anything that originates in man’s ingenuity and not the leading of the Holy Spirit will elevate people and only indirectly accomplish God’s purpose while allowing Satan to have a foothold in it. God has provided a simple, manipulation-free, way of accomplishing His will through the church, His people, as led by the Holy Spirit. God spoke to Zerubbabel about how the temple would be rebuilt saying, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts” (Zech. 4:6). It is also by His Spirit, not by human power or might, that the Lord will build His church.
Before I get into this let me answer the question “Who are you to be telling us about how the church should function?” I believe I have some authority to share on this subject because as a former traditional pastor I made all of the mistakes I refer to and I am learning from them. I have been seeking God’s will for His church for 53 years. That seeking brought me to a point where I realized that selfish motives were governing my ministry. God had to deal with me about those motives that caused me to make ministry about me instead of about Him and His will.
So, I speak out of brokenness coming from traveling the road I now expose. I do not reject all traditions outright but simply do not let traditions trump the clear revelation of God’s word (Matt. 15:3, Jesus). The Bible calls our faith “the way” and we need to find out what that way is (Acts 9:2; 19:9).
With that in mind, let me list some methods that are considered spiritual and biblical by most modern Christians but are foreign to the Bible.
1. A professional ministry -- Almost all Christians assume that there are specially gifted people who do the work of the ministry and should be paid to do so. You will not find this concept in scripture. All of the saints are called to do the work of the ministry. Ministry is not a profession but the calling of all believers (Eph. 4:12, 16). Yes, there are specially gifted people who equip us for ministry but they do not do so for profit (Acts 20:33, 34).
2. One person usually referred to as the pastor who leads the professional ministry -- The concept of one person being the primary leader of a church is foreign to the Bible (Acts 20:17, 28; 3 John 9, 10).
3. A “church building” where this “ministry” takes place -- The church described in the Bible did not have special buildings called churches or sanctuaries but met in informal places such as private houses (Acts 5:42; Rom. 16:5; Col. 4:15; Phil. 4:22; Philemon 1:2; 1 Cor. 16:15).
4. Organized services -- Today most church “services” are organized from start to finish but the early church met in a spontaneous atmosphere where all could contribute to the gathering and no one person dominated the fellowship. There was occasional teaching and preaching by the apostles but the gatherings were usually sharing times for all participants. This included singing, sharing, testimonies, lessons, spiritual gifts and much more (1 Cor. 14:26-33; Eph. 5:19-21; Eph. 4:16; 1 Cor. 12:4-7).
5. Church growth methods, fundraisers and other methods used to pay for the mandated programs -- Giving in the New Testament was for the needy and there was provision for occasional gifts to those who labor in the word. The New Testament shows that tithing was not a practice of the early church because it had no need of it. Giving was from the heart (1 Tim. 5:17; 2 Cor. 9:1-5).
6. Divisive tactics not founded in God’s word such as the “shepherding” movement of the 70s, the prosperity imbalance, or the hyper-grace movement of recent years.
The church is very simple. It is people coming together under the Lordship of Christ to be led by the Holy Spirit toward God’s eternal purpose. The church is spiritual and supernatural, not manmade and natural. Only Christ can establish and build the church because He is the One who paid the price for her freedom and lives to bring her to her full destiny in His Father.
Some of us mistakenly define the church as a recognized institution with the proper status in the eyes of the establishment. You will hear someone ask, “Who is your covering?” and to them that covering must be an established organization. That concept goes counter to everything I see in God’s word about the church. The church is simply the people of God coming together under His covering for His purpose and led by His Spirit.
We have complicated the matter by making the church something it was never meant to be. Most people think of a church as a building in town that is the center of many activities and programs under the direction of a pastor and his staff. Because it is called a church, has tax-exempt status and is recognized by the state it has validity in people's’ eyes. The Bible knows nothing of this building-centered, government-approved approach to church. The concept of partnering with the government would have been anathema to the early believers.
Neither is there ever a mention of a pastor leading a church or having a staff. The church is always led by a plurality of older men who lead by example not preaching (1 Peter 5:1-3; Acts 20:17, 28; 11:30; 14:23; 15:4, 22; Titus 1:5, 7; 1 Tim. 3:1; 4:14; Eph. 4:11; James 5:14, etc.). The church is a family with the older ones leading by example and all seeking to follow Christ.
Let me take you to a passage from Ephesians 4:14:
“...so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.”
A literal translation of this verse reads like this:
“So that we may no longer be children, tossed here and there by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human gamesmanship, and crafty use of erring methods.” (my emphasis, my translation)
God’s people often remain children far too long because they are tossed around by the winds of doctrine as leaders use their natural human craftiness resulting in the use of erring methods. The methods being used are often designed to build up a human program and the people or person behind it. The error is in the motivation behind the method. Does it glorify the Lord and build up His children, or does it glorify an influential leader and the programs surrounding his ministry? God’s ways are designed to glorify Him by helping His children grow up “into Him who is the Head, into Christ” (Eph. 4:15).
This verse is not merely referring to deceitful men leading us astray. It may well refer to well-meaning teachers who, because of misunderstanding, use erring methods that are not the ways of God but centered in the ability of men. When we forsake the leading of the Holy Spirit we fall into “erring methods” because anything that is not initiated by the Spirit will result in error. Alexander Pope was right when he said, “To err is human.” When we fall to the level of fallen humanity we will begin to err and the results are not divine and they do not produce the will of God but the fallen inclination of human nature.
In the Garden of Eden Satan used this attack on the first woman. He somehow convinced her that her judgment was better than the clearly stated judgment of God. She fell for it and humanity has been falling for it ever since. Leaders who say they are doing the will of God while initiating everything from their own strength, ability and cleverness are falling for the same temptation of the enemy. They think they know better than God and they should know better.
So, what is the clear position in the Bible concerning how the church is to form and function? Jesus promised that He would send the Holy Spirit to lead and guide His disciples, then and now, into the truth. He promised that “he will teach you all things” (John 14:26). He went on to say, “...he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak…” (John 16:13).
Then He gave a clear warning in the form of a commandment: “And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (Acts 1:4, 5). They were promised the Holy Spirit and then ordered or commanded not to leave Jerusalem but to wait for the Holy Spirit to come.
The significance of this is that Jesus knew that their natural abilities were not enough to do what He was calling them to do. They needed the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit to tackle this supernatural assignment to begin and complete the work of founding and serving the church. Jesus made it very clear that the work they were about to embark on could not be accomplished by human ability but would have to be accomplished in the power of the Holy Spirit. Many of today’s preachers act like what we would expect if the disciples had ignored Jesus’s command to wait for the Holy Spirit and simply went out on their own to attempt to build the church using their own ingenuity. They are doing it in their own power and often the results prove it.
The Holy Spirit came on Pentecost and filled the disciples with the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Peter preached one sermon in His power and three thousand people responded in faith and the church began. It continued to build the same way. Paul did not build the church or churches. He preached the Gospel, people were saved by the Spirit’s power and churches were created. Paul never appointed a lone pastor, nor did he oversee any building programs. He always allowed the Holy Spirit to guide what was happening.
It is still true today that the church is the work of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “I will build My church” (Matt. 16:18). Through the Spirit He continues that work of building His church. Nowhere in scripture do we see any one person building the church. The church is God’s holy, precious thing and touching it with human hands is a grave sin. Paul warns of this error in 1 Cor. 3:10-15. He emphasizes that each believer should “take care how he builds upon it” (v. 10). We are not allowed to use the wood, hay and stubble of human effort but are encouraged to build with the gold silver and stones of God’s nature. In other words, it is His church and we need to touch it with care.
The churches that started under Paul’s ministry were started and guided by the Holy Spirit. Notice that Paul’s ministry began when the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (Acts 13:2). The brothers then laid hands on them and sent them forth. Later we read statements like these: “And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia” and “And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them” (Acts 16:6, 7; my emphasis).
The Holy Spirit was in charge of directing the development of the church. This work was not accomplished by a board of trustees or a committee using man’s organizational skills. Jesus will build His church if people will simply step out of His way.
Satan’s strategy is to move us to build something that deflects the glory away from Christ. He wants all the glory and he encourages us to use his methods to attempt to build Christ’s church. That in itself should alert us to the serious problems we cause when we ignore what the Spirit is saying to us.
These methods are so ingrained into the understanding of the traditional church that it will take a major paradigm shift for modern Christians to see the importance of returning to the simplicity that is in Christ. It may take devastation to wake us up. I hope not. What I do know is that Christ will not abandon His will for His church. He will continue to insist that we abandon our erring methods and allow Him to build His church His way.
Jesus told His disciples that “...when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). His directions were quite clear and yet several years later we see them staying in Jerusalem. Then in Acts 8 we read: “And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles” (Acts 8:1). It would appear that God allowed persecution to scatter the believers in Jerusalem so that they would go into Judea, Samaria and to the rest of the world.
We find that the Gentile church in Antioch was founded by people who scattered because of that persecution (Acts 11:19, 20). Will it take such persecution to bring the church to a place that they will be led by the Spirit in building His church? Will it take devastation to awaken the organized church to the need of the organic church that is led and empowered by the Holy Spirit?
As we observe the political developments in our country it is not an exaggeration to say that it may well be that we see the beginning of conditions in America that will bring us to our knees. We need to fall on our knees before our King and let Him take the reins of His church once again. I hope it doesn’t take persecution but the Lord loves us and He disciplines those whom He loves (Heb. 12:11).
We have not known such persecution in America but we may have to face it unless we repent and abandon ourselves to the Lord of the church. I encourage you to open your spiritual eyes and see the true condition of programmed Christianity and begin to let the Holy Spirit return us to simple, living, Spirit-empowered life in Him.