Tag Archives: Discernment

Disguised as an Angel of Light

 

In the Appalachian region, where I’ve lived for nearly 40 years, the exposure to television evangelists and preachers is somewhat limited.  For most, there was the widespread Christian Broadcasting Network of the 1980’s, Trinity Broadcasting of the 1990’s, and mostly local offerings today.  However, one constant has remained from the time I was a child until now, 3 years after his death in 2014.  You’d likely recognize this man by his signature red blazer, seat behind a desk with open Bible, oversized glasses, and general grandfatherly appearance with a stack of questions submitted by his increasing flock of listeners.  The teacher is none other than Arnold Murray (1929-2014), pastor of Shepherd’s Chapel, based out of Gravette, Arkansas.

When I was a kid, I thought Murray was a local personality, but came to find out his program is broadcast nationally on small, local stations that have the most impressionable viewing audience.  While aware of Murray for years, it wasn’t until a few years ago that he was brought onto my radar, due to his cult-like following that had dramatically influenced a family friend.  Unfortunately, at the time, there were few resources and limited research available online.  Thankfully, there are a more resources today that would be helpful for a general understanding of what Murray teaches.  I’ve included a few of those links below.

If you were to tune into a random broadcast of Murray’s, it’s possible you wouldn’t find anything major to disagree with, but that’s the nature of a false teacher, to lure the flies with honey, only to have them perish in the end.  Due to the nature of his teaching, each lasting at least an hour, one would have to wade through the archives to pull together evidence of false teaching.Thankfully, I didn’t have to travel far to find and expose his numerous heresies, for that is indeed what they are, making Murray a false teacher.

It’s widely confirmed that Murray holds to Modalism, the denial of the Trinity, instead believing that God exists in 3 different modes, Father–>Son–>Spirit.  Those who hold this, which includes Murray as we will see, believe that the Father becomes the Son and the Son (or Father) becomes the Spirit, it’s the same heresy held by another popular televangelist, T.D. Jakes.  In other words, One God existing in Three modes, not persons.  Because this distinction is not always made clear, one might be able to listen to Murray and hear him refer to Father, Son, and Spirit, as though they were distinct persons, as affirmed in Christian orthodoxy.  But one needs to pay special attention to what it is that he is saying, then the differences become clear.  Murray’s modalism is on display in this first clip, below:

Notice the questioner is presenting his inquiry in terms of Modalism, i.e. “Is the Holy Spirit the Father or the Son?” And “How could the Spirit be holier than the Father?”  As it is presented, there is opportunity for a clear presentation of the biblical explanation of Father, Son, and Spirit, one in their deity, yet distinct in their personhood.  However, that is not the direction Murray goes.  He cites Isaiah 7:14 for the questioner, as evidence that God became flesh, Immanuel, a passage which all orthodox Christians would affirm and the background for such glorious passages such as John 1:1.

However, as with most cults, their teachings use similar terminology, even familiar passages of Scripture, but just like Satan in the Garden of Eden, they distort what God is actually saying.  Note in Murray’s explanation of this passage beginning around 0:51 that he nearly lets the cat out of the proverbial bag by saying the Son is the Father, but clarifies by using a veiled reference to Scripture, albeit twisted,  John 14:9

To be clear, when Murray references Isaiah 7:14, he is not meaning that Christ, God the Son, became flesh.  He means that God, i.e. the Father, became flesh.  This is further clarified in his explanation of John 14:9, that Christ, in Murray’s view the Father incarnate, is in a dimension we can see.  At 1:23 he makes his view clear, “they are both one”.  He does not mean, One God, Three Persons, by this statement, rather he means they are one in the same.  But more on this later on.

The correct answer is that the Spirit is neither the Father nor the Son, but a distinct person in the Godhead in His own right.  See John 15:26, but specifically Acts 5:3-4; Acts 8:29, and Acts 13:2.

Next, another example of this modalistic view, again as presented by the listener.  Notice how this question is framed, “Who is the LORD in the Bible? God or Jesus”  The question starts off by creating opposition of God vs. Jesus, as though Jesus isn’t God.

Murray begins his answer with an appeal to the Companion Bible, developed by E.W. Bullinger, Father of the Bullingerites – ultradispensationalists who create a sharp and distinct boundary between the Old and New Testaments, and Israel and the “Church” logically leading to two ways of salvation and two peoples of God.  I really don’t have an opinion on the Companion Bible and haven’t been able to find any constructive reviews, so I will leave that for the reader to research.  I will add however, that if this study Bible asserts the beliefs that Murray holds, then it should be avoided.

Regardless, Murray states LORD is usually translated Yahweh, though Adonai or El Shaddai is also a possibility.  Most Bible translations point out their translation philosophy with regard to LORD vs. Lord.  The former is the proper, covenant name of God, Yahweh, while the latter is the general name of God, Adonai.

When Murray shifts to his New Testament explanation, we hear, “In the New Testament, Lord, after the birth, was Christ Himself.”

Again, the subtleties of heresy.  This distinction, after the birth, is not accidental.  It’s an intentional clarification keeping in line with the doctrinal teaching of Modalism.  According to Murray’s explanation, Christ could not have been Lord prior to His birth.  Yet this is precisely the claim that Christ makes in John 8:58, “Before Abraham was, I AM”.  Here our Lord uses the Greek phrase ego eimi in the present tense, a statement that carries far more significance than simply I am _____.

Instead, Christ is specifically identifying Himself as YAHWEH, particularly as stated in the passage from Isaiah 40-55; Is. 41:4, 43:10, 13, 25, 46:4, 48:12 (Note that others, including me, have referenced Exodus 3:14; more research on my part is needed to make this connection firm).  In these passages, this phrase is translated identically ego eimi, in the Greek Old Testament translation the Septuagint, the version that those in Christ’s day and our Lord Himself would have used and been familiar with.  Now, a distinction again needs to be made that Christ is not calling Himself the Father, but He is staking a claim to the title of deity, the covenant name of God, YAHWEH.

At 1:15, Murray again makes an appeal to Isaiah 7:14 and declares that God (again, he uses this to mean the Father) and Jesus are the same.

In the next post, to ensure that Murray apologists don’t accuse me of taking him out of context, we’ll look at a full-length teaching hour of Murray’s.  One which has likely been broadcast on a local station near you.

12 And what I am doing I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do. 13 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15 So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.” 2 Corinthians 11:12-15

Resources:

https://carm.org/who-arnold-murray

 

https://www.gotquestions.org/Sabellianism-Modalism-Monarchianism.html

https://carm.org/modalism

http://thecripplegate.com/modalism_oneness_and_td_jakes/

 

The Subtleties of Satan

Recently, during my daily Bible reading, I came across a familiar section in Genesis that caused me to reflect on some common problems in today’s churches.  Both observations occurred in Genesis at the fall of man in the Garden:

Gen. 3:1-5
“3 Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.  He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Note that God’s Word begins here by telling us that Satan, the serpent, was more crafty, i.e., deceitful, than any other beast of the field and we see that certainly played out in his interaction with Eve.  His first words really give us a clue to how he operates even to this day, “Did God actually say?”  This presupposes that God’s Word is spoken (or read) and then Satan cleverly interjects doubt into the truthfulness of God’s Word. This first subtlety that he uses, creating doubt into God’s Word, has done nothing but increase since then, particularly post-Enlightenment (~1650-1800).  We see it played out in everyday life when people doubt God’s stance on marriage between a man and a woman as He has revealed in His Word.  We see it through the promotion of science and evolution to the exclusion of the Bible, doubting then the truthfulness of God saying it is He that has created and sustains the earth.  But we also see it in our churches.  Multiple mainstream “pastors” have created doubt over the existence of Hell, the aforementioned forbiddance of homosexual marriages and relationships, even doubting what the Bible says about Christ’s atoning work on the cross.  Satan’s real subtlety isn’t operating outside our churches, it’s operating within.

But note in this passage a second subtle way that Satan works, “‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”  Where did Satan get this statement?  Whom is he attributing this quote to here? He follows up his doubt of God’s Word with a distortion of what God actually said.  Note carefully how he tries to quote or paraphrase what God told Adam in the previous chapter, “16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:16-17).  God’s command was that Adam (and Eve) could eat of every tree except one, the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  But Satan, in his deceitful way changes that and asks did God really say (the doubt) that you couldn’t eat of any tree (the distortion) in the garden.  Interesting isn’t it.  A subtle creation of doubt followed by a twisting of words can steer someone completely away from what God has actually commanded.  Despite the numerous false religions in the world today which have certainly blinded the eyes of many, the closer one gets to truth, the more difficult it is to spot the deception and the more easy it becomes to be lulled into a false sense of truth and security.  This can be illustrated by the graphic below.

When you start at a known point of truth and begin to deviate from it, before you know it you’re on a trajectory that leads to miles away from the truth, even though it hasn’t seemed like that drastic of a shift.  Thus, the subtlety of Satan.  See, Satan’s best work isn’t done through the promotion of secularism, or false religions (though make no mistake he is working very successfully there), it’s done through deception on the inside of churches.  Just think strategically about this brethren.  If he can create doubt and distortion among the people who have the most access to the truth, then who will be left to point those on the outside toward the truth?  It then becomes increasing important for professing Christians to know their Bibles and diligently hone their gifts of discernment in order to recognize error, not primarily outside their churches, but inside.  The Apostle John makes this exhortation very clear in his first epistle, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” 1 John 4:1

Discernment, Defiled

12 And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword. 13 “’I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. 14 But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality. 15 So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 16 Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth. 17 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.  To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.’” Revelation 2:12-17

In picking back up our series on discernment (See: Discernment Now, Discernment Defined, Discernment Applied), which we paused while reviewing some things from the Desiring God conference, it seems logical to look next at the dangers of lacking discernment, specifically within the Church.  There is a sense today that is prevailing within the modern everyday church that accepts any and everything published, spoken, sung, or written with the label of “Christian”.  In fact, this lack of discernment is not something new, but instead is a prevailing attitude that dates back to biblical times.  The Apostle Paul faced this in Galatia, 6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.” (Galatians 1:6-7), in Colossae, “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ,” (Colossians 2:8) and warned of great apostasy within the Church as written in 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 and 1 Timothy 4:1-3.  Just as it was in Paul’s day, so it was with Augustine, Luther, Calvin, the Puritans, Whitfield, Spurgeon, and this battle rages on among professing Christians to this day.  In fact, it was Spurgeon when faced with the “Downgrade Controversy” concerning the Church of England penned the following:

“We live in very singular times just now.  The professing Church has been flattering itself that, notwithstanding all our divisions with regard to doctrine, we are all right in the main.  A false and spurious liberality has been growing up which has covered us all, so that we have dreamed that all who bore the name of ministers were indeed God’s servants – that all who occupied pulpits, of whatever denominations they might be, were entitled to our respect, as being stewards, of the mystery of Christ.  But, lately, the weeds upon the surface of the stagnant pool have been a little stirred up and we have been enabled to look down into the depths.  This is a day of strife – a day of division – a time of war and fighting between professing Christians!  God be thanked for it!  Far better that it should be so than that the false calm shall any longer exert its fatal spell over us!”     

Charles Spurgeon was exhorting the true Christians of his day to stand up and fight against those who professing the name of Christ had invaded churches and pulpits and were preaching those things contrary to the Gospel.  Several hundred years before Spurgeon, John Calvin wrote, “A dog barks when his master is attacked. I would be a coward if I saw that God’s truth is attacked and yet would remain silent.”  The necessity to weed out those false teachers, writers, speakers, et.al has never been more necessary than today, because just as the Apostle Paul warned, apostasy will increase in latter days.  Yet despite the battles fought by faithful men in the past, today our discernment within the Church has become so lax that false teaching is rarely recognized, though more often embraced.  In his book The Truth War (review forthcoming), John MacArthur points out that “The Church today is quite possibly more susceptible to false teachers, doctrinal saboteurs, and spiritual terrorism than any other generation in Church history.  Biblical ignorance within the Church may well be deeper and more widespread than at any other time since the Protestant Reformation.”  He adds, “I am convinced that the greatest danger facing Christians today has infiltrated the Church already.  Countless false teachers already have prominent platforms in the evangelical movement; evangelicals themselves are loath to practice discernment or question or challenge anything taught within their movement; and many leading evangelicals have concluded no doctrine or point of theology is worth earnestly contending for.”  Our age of tolerance and acceptance has impacted Christianity to such extremes that to question or refute false teaching within the Church is to be considered antagonistic or divisive. 

Which leaves us with 2 options, 1) Become more spiritually discerning, such that those who defile Christ will be identified and removed thereby instituting Church discipline or 2) Face the warning of Peter, “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” 1 Peter 4:17   I fear that we may instead face the latter and be joined with the likes of those at the Church of Pergamum mentioned above in the passage from Revelation

In this letter, which Jesus is instructing John to write, the church has compromised herself allowing heretical doctrines to invade.  In verse 14 we read of those in the church holding to the “teaching of Balaam”, or that which the King James Version calls the “doctrine of Balaam” which is synonymous with the “doctrine of the Nicolaitans” mentioned in verse 15.  John MacArthur identifies this teaching as the attempt of Balaam to prostitute his prophetic gift and curse Israel by having Moabite women seduce Israelite men into intermarriage resulting in a blasphemous union of Israel with fornication and idolatrous feasts.  Interestingly, Jude, who specifically addresses contending for the faith against apostasy and false teaching, mentions this attack of false doctrine promoted by Balaam in verse 11 of his epistle.

In his commentary, Matthew Henry makes the following observation of the Church at Pergamum and subsequently those churches of today that lack discernment and have fallen prey to false teaching, “1) The filthiness of the spirit and the filthiness of the flesh often go together. Corrupt doctrines and a corrupt worship often lead to a corrupt conversation.  2) It is very lawful to fix the name of the leaders of any heresy upon those who follow them. It is the shortest way of telling whom we mean.  3) To continue in communion with persons of corrupt principles and practices is displeasing to God, draws a guilt and blemish upon the whole society: they become partakers of other men’s sins.”  As Henry points out, corrupt doctrine, i.e. false teaching, infiltrates the Church in such a way that it corrupts not only teaching, but worship, and subsequently our interactions within the body.  Likewise, he asserts that we who sit under false teaching are held accountable and therefore wear the label of the heresy of the leaders we follow. 

Note again the warning of Jesus from the passage in Revelation, He is not singling out merely the leader of the Church, but the entire Church.  He rebukes them and threatens war against them with the sword of His tongue unless they repent.  Those that do he will absolve from guilt and restore communion.  Discernment is not something to be taken lightly; it’s serious business when the Word of God is defamed and false doctrine is allowed to cultivate and spread within the Church.  Not only are those that teach it held accountable, but those who sit under such teaching.  Lack of discernment defiles the Church body from within and when it goes unchallenged as MacArthur points out, “breeds more confusion and draws still more shallow and insincere people into the fold.”

Therefore as Christians we have an obligation to develop spiritual discernment within ourselves and within our congregations.  Even more so those in leadership positions have this responsibility as the Apostle Paul points out in Titus 1:9 to “hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.”  Study the Word, devote yourself to it, “practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress.  Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” 1 Timothy 4:15-16