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Christian Ideologues

proud and haughty

By Dennis Pollock

The word ideologue is defined as an often blindly partisan advocate or adherent of a particular ideology.” We see this in American politics all the time. Most of the Republicans will side with the standard Republican perspectives instinctively, and most Democrats will hold to the Democrat viewpoint in perfect lockstep on virtually every issue. And if there is a new issue in American politics, it will not take very long for the Democrats to decide the official Democrat position and the Republicans to determine the official Republican position, and once these viewpoints are established, nearly every Democrat and every Republican in the Senate and Congress will vote almost unanimously as their party insists. These are perfect examples of the definition of an ideologue – someone so entirely partisan that they will never dare stray from the official party line.

But in this study I want to talk about Christian ideologues, followers of Christ who place themselves in one theological camp, and believe all that their particular party” believes, say all the things that are endorsed and approved by their group, and never vary even for a moment. The only preachers they will ever listen to are members of their own camp, the only books they will ever read are written by their own approved list of ministers, and they will often spout, nearly word for word, the viewpoints and official doctrines and opinions of the Christian camp to which they belong.

I guess we are all guilty of this to some degree, but I have to believe that I am probably not nearly so much of an ideologue as most. This has to do with a couple of distinctives in my own life. First, I have never belonged to a particular denomination. I have attended Baptist churches, Charismatic churches, Bible churches, and Pentecostal churches. I have appreciated sermons and messages from ministers as diverse as Charles Spurgeon and Kathryn Kuhlman, from the Assembly of God minister, Kenneth Hagin to the Presbyterian pastor, James Kennedy. Second, I read the Bible a lot, and generally, whenever I start to settle down into a distinct theological camp, before long I run across passages of Scripture which push me in the other direction.

Church Ideologues

Let s look at one such area where we see this phenomenon of Christian ideologues in the church today. In the last generation we had a movement which made a powerful impact upon many Christians defined by its emphasis upon faith. Appropriately it became known as the Faith Movement” or frequently the Word of Faith Movement.” Ministers of this persuasion preached much about the importance of faith. They especially emphasized faith for physical healing and for deliverance from poverty. They sometimes pushed the idea of faith for financial blessings so hard that their message was known as The Prosperity Gospel.” Others referred to them as peddlers of the health and wealth gospel.”

For many Christians, this group was beyond despicable. They were carnal, they were stupid, they grabbed a few isolated verses and turned selfishness into respectability, and greed into virtue. People wondered aloud how any Christian in their right mind, who had even read the Bible a little bit, could fall for such nonsense. These were surely the Elmer Gantrys” of Christianity, the lowest of the low, the most foolish and deranged cult ever to surface in the Christian church. Whoever heard of such carnal and unspiritual ideas?

But many people did embrace this movement, in fact millions. Many churches that focused on faith, healing, and prosperity sprang up and grew into the tens of thousands. As for me, I ve never been all in on this message, but on the other hand I ve never totally rejected every aspect of it either. Despite some of the bizarre styles and ways of many of the preachers of faith and prosperity, I could never get around the truth that of all those who preached faith and healed the sick in the Bible, Jesus did so more than anyone else. Every time I would get sickened at a rash teaching some charismatic preacher pushed, I would read in the gospels of Jesus saying things like: And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive” (Matthew 21:22) or: If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes” (Mark 9:23). These verses, and so many other similar ones, did not push me into the Word of Faith” camp entirely, but they kept me from being overly critical and dismissing out of hand everything these men and women were saying.

No Getting Around It

Clearly the Bible does teach faith and does not just suggest or imply it. Rather, it definitely states that prayer plus faith can bring us blessings that we could never receive apart from a posture of believing. As I look back over the last generation of faith teachers and preachers, of books, recordings, and videos about faith, I cannot help but feel that overall, this movement has benefited the church. There was a time when Christians never prayed with faith, and felt it was totally presumptuous to ever ask God for anything with any degree of faith. We were just supposed to throw up our prayers” to God and hope that He, in His mysterious, sovereign will, might decide to answer. The Scriptures, and especially the words of our Lord Jesus, simply do not reflect this. Faith can and does make a difference. As a result, although I could not agree with everything some of these faith teachers taught, (and I found some of their strange mannerisms unappealing) neither could I relegate them to being a deceived cult, without any Biblical basis for their assertions.

On the other hand I often felt that many of the adherents of the faith movement were so totally blinded to any other aspect of Biblical truth that they were forced to twist the Scriptures or simply ignore certain passages and verses in order to maintain the official party line.” A perfect example of this is the Book of Job. Most people connected with the faith movement absolutely hate the book of Job. The preachers will almost never preach it nor will their adherents ever mention it. The story of Job just does not square with their idea that Christians should always be healthy and prosperous, and that if we are not, we must not be walking in enough faith. The Book of Job clearly tells us that God allowed the devil to trouble Job with failing health and sickness for a time, and also to strip Job of nearly all his possessions. Such an idea is totally unacceptable to our faith movement” brothers and sisters. They are convinced that with just a little faith we can send sickness away at its first appearance, and that poverty is something no Christian should ever have to deal with, not even for a single day.

Explaining Job

So how do the faith folks get around the Book of Job? As mentioned, one way is to simply ignore the book – never preach on it, never write about it, act as though it were not there. But many realize that some people are going to bring it up, and so they have put together the official position of their movement on the thorny issue of Job and his sufferings. They have decided that Job s problems were all his own doing. They take the entire Book of Job, all Job s health problems, all his tragedies, disasters, and poverty, and boil it down to one verse, where Job declares For the thing I greatly feared has come upon me, and what I dreaded has happened to me” (Job 3:25).

You see,” they will tell you,” Job was walking in a lack of faith. His problems had nothing to do with God or God s plan. He was living in fear and not in faith, and therefore his lack of faith caused all this misery to come upon him!”

There are all kinds of problems with this position. First, the Bible tells us that Job, after his terrible losses, declared: The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21). So here is Job s view of the situation – God gave, and God took away. And what does the inspired Scripture tell us about this declaration? Was it good theology or total deception to suggest that God had given him all his blessings and now God had taken them away? In the next verse we read: In all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong” (Job 1:22). In saying that God had taken everything from him, Job was not charging God with wrong; this was in fact the case. Job did not say, Well, I really blew it! I let my faith slip and all of this misery is due to my pathetic lack of faith.” No, it was not! God had given and God had taken away.

But even more important than this passage is what we read at the end of the book. After constantly complaining about God s treatment of him and wishing he could have an audience with his Creator to air out his grievances, God shows up and asks Job question after question. Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” “Have the gates of death been revealed to you?” “Does the hawk fly by your wisdom” “Have you an arm like God?” And on and on God goes asking question after question, to show Job how puny he is and how little he knows. After this lengthy list of questions, Job repents and tells God that he now abhors himself.

Holding to the Party Position

But if the ideologues in the faith movement are correct that all Job s problems came from his lack of faith, then God could have saved a lot of time and gone straight to the problem, and told Job,” My son, you simply didn t have enough faith.” Of course, this is ridiculous. No serious thinker could ever hold such a superficial and shallow view of the book of Job. Yet nearly all in the faith movement believe this strange notion, because it is what they have been taught to believe; it is the official party position” and they will not dare to deviate from it.

Another example of a Bible passage they will never mention is the apostle Paul’s declaration: "But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil…” (1 Timothy 6:9,10). This flies in the face of the doctrine that God wants all His children to be millionaires and billionaires, and to have every single possession that their hearts could ever wish for or lust for. And so the ideologues in the faith movement do what ideologues always do – they will ignore those truths (and Bible verses) that do not line up with their established beliefs and promote those that do.

I have used the faith movement as one example of church divisions where camps line up on one side or the other and place things in such stark, black and white contrast that they believe that anyone who is stupid enough to be on the other side is naïve at best and of the devil” at worst. In fact there are many other camps and groups within the body of Christ where Christians line up pro and con on various Biblical issues.

Being an ideologue is comfortable. You do not have to think very much. Most of your thinking has already been done for you by those who have come before you and who lead your movement. But you never see the whole truth; your vision is always partial and fuzzy. What brings us out of blind ideology is a reverence for Jesus Christ and a devotion to the word of God above everyone and every movement. Jesus tells us, And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ” (Matthew 23:10). As followers of Jesus, the One who died for us and rose again, we need to read our Bibles without our rose-colored glasses, or green-tinted glasses, or our American-tinted glasses, or (name your favorite Bible teacher or group) tinted glasses, and find out for ourselves what the word of God actually says. And when it moves us back to center from a particular perspective, we must not resist. It is the truth which makes us free, and that truth is the whole truth, not some particular movement s partial truth.

Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would lead us into all truth – not any denomination or movement within the church, but God the Holy Spirit would lead, and we are to follow. God, save us from becoming Christian ideologues!



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