Inspiring Lines from Robert Philip’s Life of Whitefield

“Look where I would, most were drowned in tears. The word was sharper than a two-edged sword. Their bitter cries and tears were enough to pierce the hardest heart. Oh what different visages were then to be seen! Some were struck pale as death, others lying on the ground, others wringing their hands, others sinking into the arms of friends, and most lifting up their eyes to heaven, and crying out to God for mercy. I could think of nothing, when I looked at them, so much as the great day! They seemed like persons awakened by the last trump, and coming out of their graves to judgment!” Whitefield, 177

“The chief characteristics of this work [revival], at its commencement, were,—
“1. a melting down of all classes and ages in overwhelming solicitude about salvation;
“2. an absorbing sense of eternal realities, which banished all vain and useless conversation;
“3. a self-abasement and self-condemnation, which acquitted God of all severity, whatever he might do;
“4. a spirit of secret and social prayer, which redeemed time for itself under all circumstances; and
“5. a concern for the souls of others, which watched for all opportunities of doing good.” Philip, 149

“You might have seen thousands bathed in tears.” Whitefield in Scotland, 295

“Mr. Whitefield’s sermons were attended with much power; particularly on sabbath night about ten [pm].” M’Cullock, 296

“People sat unwearied till two in the morning.” Whitefield, 297

“If I trace myself from my cradle to my manhood, I can see nothing in me but a fitness to be damned.” Whitefield, 4

“He often makes me bold as a lion; but I believe there is not a person living more timorous by nature. I find a love of power intoxicates even God’s dear children. It is much easier for me to obey than govern. … I cannot well buy humility at too dear a rate.” Whitefield, 365

“It is nothing but this flesh of ours, and those cursed seeds of the proud apostate, which lie lurking within us, that make us think ourselves worthy of the air we breathe.” Whitefield, 378

“All that people do say of me, affects me but little; because I know worse of myself than they can say concerning me. My heart is desperately wicked. Was God to leave me I should be a remarkable sinner.” Whitefield, 384

“Oh, I am sick—I am sick—sick in body; but infinitely more so in mind, to see so much dross in my soul.” Whitefield, 456

In Ireland, “We sang, prayed, and preached without molestation; only now and then a few stones and clods of dirt were thrown at me. … Volleys of hard stones came from all quarters, and every step I took a fresh stone made me reel backwards and forwards, till I was almost breathless, and all over a gore of blood. … A christian surgeon was ready to dress our wounds, which being done, I went into the preaching-place, and [preached]… The next morning I set out for Port Arlington, and left my persecutors to His mercy, who out of persecutors hath often made preachers. That I may be thus revenged of them, is my hearty prayer.” Whitefield, 375-377

Lively Preaching
“Mr. Betterton’s [the actor] answer to a worthy prelate is worthy of a lasting regard. When asked ‘how it came to pass that the clergy, who spoke of things real, affected the people so little, and the players, who spoke of things barely imaginary, affected them so much,’ he said, ‘My Lord, I can assign but one reason; we players speak of things imaginary as though they were real, and too many of the clergy speak of things real as though they were imaginary.’” Letter of Whitefield, 556

“I wish whenever I go up into a pulpit, to look upon it as the last time I shall ever preach, or the last time the people may hear.” Whitefield 556

“Would ministers preach for eternity, they would then act the part of true christian orators, and not only calmly and coolly inform the understanding, but by persuasive, pathetic address, endeavor to move the affections and warm the heart. To act otherwise bespeaks a sad ignorance of human nature, and such an inexcusable indolence and indifference in the preacher, as must constrain the hearers to suspect, whether they will or not, that the preacher, let him be who he will,—only deals in the false commerce of unfelt truth.” Whitefield, 557

“Every accent of his voice spoke to the ear; every feature of his face, every motion of his hands, every gesture, spoke to the eye; so that the most dissipated and thoughtless found their attention involuntarily fixed.” Quoted from Gillies biography, 558

“Awkwardness in the pulpit is a sin—monotony a sin—dulness a sin—and all of them sins against the welfare of immortal souls.” Philip 560

Power in Preaching
“The real meaning of [the Bible] may be honestly given, and yet their true spirit neither caught nor conveyed.” Philip, 212

“[Preaching] will not be heard as His counsel or consolation, unless it is spoken with something of his own love and solemnity. He is the Spirit of power, and of grace, and of love, as well as the Spirit of truth and wisdom; and therefore He is but half copied in preaching, when only his meaning is given. That meaning lies in His mind, not merely as truth, nor as law, nor as wisdom, but also as sympathy, solicitude, and love for the souls it is addressed unto. … They can hardly be said to the words of the Holy Ghost, when they are uttered in a spiritless or lifeless mood.” Philip, 212

“A minister ought to be as much ashamed, and more afraid, of being unbaptized with the Holy Ghost and fire, as of being ignorant of the original languages of the Holy Scriptures.” Philip, 214

“No phrase occurs so often in his journals as, ‘preached with much power; with some power.’” Philip, 216

After listening to Gilbert Tennent preach, Whitefield wrote, “He convinced me more and more, that we can preach the gospel of Christ no further than we have experienced the power of it in our hearts. I found what a babe and novice I was in the sight of God.” 166

Preaching Without Notes
“I love study, and delight to meditate. Preaching without notes costs as much, if not more, close and solemn thought, as well as confidence in God, than with notes.” Whitefield, 330

Advice to Other Preachers
“Put them in mind of the freeness of God’s electing love, and be instant with them to lay hold on the perfect righteousness of Christ by faith.—Talk to them, O talk to them, even till midnight, of the riches of His all-sufficient grace. Tell them, O tell them, what he has done for their souls, and how earnestly he is now interceding for them in heaven. Show them, in the map of the word, the kingdoms of the upper world and the transcendent glories of them; and assure them all shall be theirs, if they believe on Jesus Christ with their whole heart. Press them to believe on Him immediately. Intersperse prayers with your exhortations, and thereby call down fire from heaven, even the fire of the Holy Ghost.” Whitefield to Howell Harris, 131

Political Preaching
Whitefield preached “thanksgiving sermons for the victories at Crevelt, Cape Breton, and on the defeat of the Russians.” Philip, 457

On the Preacher Speaking About Himself
“There is one peculiarity about Whitefield’s sermons… which I should like to commend, if I could do so wisely. I mean—his modest egotism in preaching. He is for ever speaking of himself when he touches any experimental point, or grapples with a difficulty. … He thinks aloud about himself, only to enable others to know what to think about their own perplexities, dilemmas, and temptations. He shows them his own soul, merely to prove that “no strange thing has befallen” their souls.

“The following is a fair specimen of his egotism. ‘I despair of no one, when I consider how God had mercy on such a wretch as I, who was running in a full career to hell. I was hasting thither; Jesus Christ passed by and stopped me. … I despair of none of you, when I consider, I say, what a wretch I was. I am not speaking now out of a false humility, or a pretended sanctity, as the Pharisees call it. …” Philip with Whitefield, 574

“Surely I shall appear against you at the judgment-seat of Christ; for these diversions [wrestling and other sports] keep people from true christianity, as much as paganism itself. And I doubt not, but it will require as much courage and power to divert people from these things, as the apostles had to exert in converting the heathen from dumb idols.” Whitefield, 109

“[After the sermon] we retired and sung a hymn; and some ladies having the curiosity to hear us I took that opportunity of dissuading them against balls and assemblies.” Whitefield, 130

An advertisement in the New York newspaper in the 1730’s: “We hear from Philadelphia, that since Mr. Whitefield’s preaching there the dancing school and concert room have been shut up, as inconsistent with the doctrines of the gospel; at which some gentlemen were so enraged, that they broke open the door. It is most extraordinary that such devilish diversions should be supported in that city, and by some of that very sect, whose first are an utter detestation of them.” 174

In 1753, “the owner of the play-house was made so uneasy by a sermon against theatrical amusements, that he pulled the roof off the building, to put an end to them so far as he was concerned.” Philip, 412

“The grand secret of Whitefield’s power was, as we have seen and felt, his devotional spirit. Had he been less prayerful, he would have been less powerful. … His face shone when he came down from the mount, because he had been long alone with God upon the mount.” Philip 565

“[Whitefield’s letters] are only surpassed by Luke’s ‘Acts of the Apostles.’” 566

Personal Character
“How do I pity those who complain that time hangs on their hands! Let them but love Christ, and spend their whole time in his service, and they will find but few melancholy hours.” Whitefield, 131

“I would fain die blazing.” 330

“Where was I on Saturday last? In hunger, cold, and thirsting; but now I enjoy fullness of bread, and all things convenient for me. God grant I may not, Jeshurun-like, wax fat, and kick! Perhaps it is more difficult to know how to abound, than how to want.” Whitefield, 373

“Nature loves ease; and as a blind zeal often prompts us to speak too much, so tepidity and lukewarmness often cause us to speak too little.” Whitefield, 386

“He was neat in the extreme in his person and every thing about him. … Not a paper might be out of its place, or put up irregularly. Each part of the furniture also must be in its place before we retired to rest. There was no rest after four in the morning, nor sitting up after ten in the evening. He was scrupulously exact to break up parties in time.” From Whitefield’s servant Cornelius Winter, 566

Robert Philip, The Life and Times of George Whitefield, 1837, reprint 2007 by Banner of Truth, 588 pages.

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There is No Fear of God Before Their Eyes

False religions are known by the fear they create. ATR creates a dreadful fear—a habitual nervous condition; an inability to look at the facts because of constant uncertainty; a worldview of hopeless, helpless resignation to “fate” as controlled by a body of random disembodied ancient people. But the demons were clever enough to offer the people a kind of hope. If there was no hope maybe the absolute despair would drive them insane too quickly. A student of African voodoo and witchcraft realizes that there is a “solution.” Some men and women have been given unusual powers to communicate, see, and persuade this invisible, numerous parliament of souls that decides the fates of millions. These men are called sangomas in many Bantu languages or witchdoctors in common English.

Voodoo deals almost entirely with earthly problems such as how to accumulate more than your neighbors, how to protect yourself from sickness, and how to solve family problems. In every case the believer learns from childhood, helped onward by his naturally sinful heart, that the spirits must be feared because they are directly causing all our discomfort. Witchdoctors aid and abet this misplaced, sinful fear by shouting the implication that they alone can deliver the poor person from his fear and uncertainty.

Fear is a powerful psychological force. It has driven decisions throughout history bringing about needless divorces, violent assassinations, and pointless wars. Every demonic religion capitalizes on these fears, but the most base deprive their adherents of any eternal consciousness. False religions can be judged by how narrowly they bind their people. If a dark power is able to keep millions of people from even pondering eternity, though God has set it in our hearts (Ecc. 3:11), then how evil must that power be!

Islam and “orthodox” Judaism are both terrible religions because they come right up to the Lord Jesus and then disown Him for who He really is. Yet ATR is far worse because in this vile system, the horizon of man’s interests never rises to something beyond himself unless it were an invisible spirit somehow blocking him from getting a more comfortable lifestyle. By trapping humanity apart from the great concerns of humanity, by blinding their eyes from any hope of relating to and adoring something outside themselves, ATR dehumanizes the ones it enslaves. This single factor explains the endemic poverty of Africa. The proverbial problems of the continent speak to the baseness of the religion. Thus, Christian love for anyone trapped in that error will labor to cut the cords binding the poor sinners even though the bonds may be ever so many or even if the one bound has an irrational affection for the dark ropes that hold him fast.

The majority of Africans are still bound today. I just returned from speaking with a few Venda women who were watching via a smart phone a false pastor as he said among other things, “You are the Word of God, the living and breathing Word of God.” When I asked them why they were watching this particular pastor rather than any other pastor, they explained that even though he has a “church” 5 hours away, they would prefer to drive to him because he has the power to help them. One of the ladies then explained, “Sorcery is alive among we black people, but not among you white people. That is why we must find the most powerful prophet. He can heal me when I’m sick because I can’t afford the doctor.”

Could any other bond except fear hold them to this commitment? Though they are both poor, they will find transport and then give offerings because they are afraid that otherwise they will meet an early death, or lose a child, or a job, or a spouse. When I told them that Jesus was a Prophet who said that “Many will seek to enter and will not be able,” they were unimpressed. Immediately they diverted the conversation. When I asked them to read, “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire,” they dodged the topic again. Neither the terror of fire nor the warnings of our Lord could awaken even a moment’s interest in these self-professed Christians. Our conversation went on for some time, but it was like Christian trying to awaken the three sleepers as he walked to the Celestial City.

Those who follow ATR are driven by fear, but not the fear of God. Their capacity for being awed at transcendent glories—even their own prophesied, imminent, eternal demise—is lost. In its place is the shallow worry about moving to a larger house. The fear of God requires thought about His Person and an accompanied dread about meeting such a Judge with such a heart as he knows himself to have. If you think that is similar to a modern American who cares almost nothing for eternity, you might justly see a similarity because all false religions distract men from the most vital themes. But the religion of spirits and ancestors and voodoo is lost even more deeply in the woods. Not all false religions are equally damaging in this respect. They may all lead eventually to damnation, but the walls built by some are higher and thicker than others.

Southern Africa’s Christianity is the old religion with makeup. It is a demon with a painted face. It is the chief cause of poverty. It is the dominant religion commanding respect over South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Botswana. It should call for your pity and prayers if you have been awakened. Africa is not the dark continent because African people are inferior, but because the religion that has held sway here for millennia has not been in a substantial way replaced by the one true religion. As Paul told us about the Jews and Greeks outside of Christ, “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

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“Who would think it possible that a person… should speak in the compass of a single week (and that for years) in general forty hours, and in very many weeks, sixty, and that to thousands…” Rev. Henry Venn (Quoted in multiple sources.)

In 33 years of preaching, George Whitefield preached 30,000 times. That is 2-3 times per day for his entire life. Approximately 10 million people heard him speak in person. Along with numerous other preachers, among whom he was the most prominent, God used Whitefield to change the English-speaking world.

Rev. 14:6-7 And I saw another angel flying in midheaven, having an eternal gospel to preach to those who live on the earth, and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people; 7 and he said with a loud voice, “Fear God, and give Him glory…”

God made Whitefield as if to prefigure the future angel He would send to the world. In that way and according to His plan, God revitalized whole countries in the English-speaking world of the 18th century through the work of preachers among whom Whitefield was chief.

For this biography I leaned chiefly on Robert Philip’s The Life and Times of George Whitefield. Other sources such as Dallimore’s brief, one volume work and single chapters in Murray’s Heroes were very helpful.

The Life of George Whitefield

  1. 1714 December 16, George Whitefield was born to well to do parents in Great Britain.
  2. The youngest of 7 children, his father died when he was two.
  3. As a child, he would act in plays with unusual skill in drama.
  4. 1732 Because the family business suffered, he was forced to enter Oxford by serving other rich students.
  5. 1733 He joined the Holy Club started by John and Charles Wesley brothers. John was 11 years older and Charles 7 than Whitefield.
  6. Through the influence of the club, he practiced the most intense discipline hoping to save his soul.
  7. He stopped eating fruit and gave that money to the poor. Journals
  8. “I chose the worst sort of food… My apparel was mean [plain].”
  9. When not fasting, he ate sugarless tea and coarse bread.
  10. Charles Wesley invited him to breakfast and loaned him Scougal’s The Life of God in the Soul of Man.
  11. 1735 After months of doubt, fear, and fasting, he was converted at 20 years age of after reducing himself to a sickly condition.
  12. 1736 He was ordained at 21, 14 months after conversion, and preached his first sermon in the Anglican Church.
  13. Almost immediately other churches requested him to come preach there as well.
  14. Before he was 23 he had decided to be a missionary to America, and he was preaching more than 5 times every week.
  15. 1738 First tour of America.
  16. 1739 When the ministers will not open up their churches for him after he returns from the US, he stands in the fields.
  17. He was led by Howell Harris in this practice and he in turn led both Wesley’s.
  18. “It was a brave day for England when Whitefield began field preaching.” Spurgeon
  19. “Prayer meetings were for Whitefield… the finishing school of his ministerial education. … God hangs the greatest weights on the smallest wires.” Robert Philip
  20. He preaches for 20,000 poor laborers at a place called Moorfields.
  21. 1739 Second preaching tour in America.
  22. He meets Benjamin Franklin and Jonathan Edwards.
  23. Miraculous interest in the colonies. Nathan Cole wrote his famous account. (Murray’s biography of Edwards, 163-164)
  24. Edwards’ account of Whitefield. (Ibid., 162)
  25. 1740 Begins plans for an orphanage.
  26. 1741 Controversy with John Wesley over election.
  27. The separation was initiated by Wesley, but 10 years later, they were able to minister together again.
  28. 1741 November, 26 years old marries 36 year old Elizabeth James—“No beauty, youth, or riches…”
  29. He had already been rejected by a girl who testified that she could not take the difficult life he was called to.
  30. He met and married Mrs. James within one week preaching twice per day the first week he was married.
  31. After their first week together he left to preach in London.
  32. 1741-1742 Revival at Cambuslang, Scotland.
  33. 1742 Preaches again at Moorfields at 6:00 am (often he preached there at 5:00 am.).
  34. He chose Moorfields at this time because it had a great fair with entertainment distracting men from thinking about their souls.
  35. “I was honored with having a few stones, dirt, rotten eggs, and pieces of dead cats thrown at me, whilst engaged in calling them from their favourite but lying vanities.” Journals
  36. His opponents sent a man with a drum, another with a trumpet, and several with whips.
  37. One playwright wrote a perverse play that attacked his character and played it all through Great Britain.
  38. Popular songs were written to mock him, and he would often hear children singing these songs.
  39. 1743 Trial at Hampton: Whitefield finally prosecuted those who were persecuting them.
  40. At Hampton, they had thrown a Mr. Adams into the sewage pit twice because of his preaching. Many others were assaulted as well.
  41. This kind of treatment fills his life and the other early Methodists who called sin by its name and boldly preached the new birth.
  42. 1743 He begins the first Methodist denomination (before Wesley).
  43. 1744 His four-month old son dies.
  44. 1744 Whitefield is attacked by two assassins who beat him.
  45. 1744-1748 He preaches in America for the third time.
  46. 1748 For rest, he traveled to Bermuda, but preaches twice per day for a month.
  47. His sermons ranged from 1 to 3 hours. People stood to listen or sat on the ground because they were overwhelmed with God and truth.
  48. 1751-1752 Fourth preaching tour of America.
  49. 1752-1754 Preaching tour through the British aisles.
  50. 1754-1755 Fifth trip to America.
  51. 1755-1763 Preaching tour through the British aisles.
  52. 1757 While preaching in Ireland, merely “a few stones and clods of dirt were thrown” at him during the sermon. But afterward when he tried to leave hundreds of Catholics hit him with stones and beat him until he nearly died.
  53. 1763-1765 Sixth trip to America.
  54. 1768 His wife Elizabeth Whitefield dies at 63.
  55. 1769-1770 Seventh visit to America.
  56. 1770 30 September: He died when he was 55.
  57. He preached the day before his death on 2 Cor. 13:5 and several said it was the best sermon he ever preached.
  58. He preached again at home while trying to make it to bed.
  59. He asked John Wesley to preach at his funeral, and Charles Wesley wrote a 536 line poem in honor of his friend.

Lessons from Whitefield’s Life

  1. Self-denial marked his life from his childhood to death.
  • He made it to Oxford by serving rich boys.
  • He gave away his furniture even though he had little left to use.
  • The immense wealth that passed through his hands did not allow him to buy his own home.
  • The other Methodists were known for sacrificial living as well.
  • He usually rose at 4:00 am, and he sometimes preached his first sermon by torchlight at 5:00 am.
  • Before conversion, he woke up early, read many books, and refused games, all hoping to work for his salvation.
  • After conversion, he began studying the Bible on his knees.
  • Often he studied at 4 or 5:00 am. So intense were his early years of study that most of his preparation for future sermons came from that early preparation.
  • He commonly preached in snow, rain, hail, and while rocks were flying.
  1. In an age filled with nominal Christianity, he insisted on both true doctrine and an experience of a changed life.
  • “What I have been chiefly concerned about is, lest any should rest in the bare speculative knowledge, and not experience the power of [the doctrines of grace] in their own hearts.”
  • “I find no such enemies to the cross of Christ, as those who keep up the form of religion, and are orthodox in their notions, but are ignorant of an experimental acquaintance with Jesus.”
  • Though great crowds came to hear him, he wrote, “I have always found awakening times like spring times; many blossoms, but not always so much fruit.”
  • On his second visit to America in particular, he seemed to assume pastors were unconverted unless they gave evidence otherwise.
  1. Preachers should pray and hope for spiritual power when they preach.
  • What can explain the numbers who came to hear him over the span of decades? Many times his congregation was estimated at over 20,000 people, and once a historian said 80,000.
  • God gave Whitefield a trumpet for a voice—incredibly made for open air preaching.
  • “No phrase appears so often in his journals as, ‘preached with much power; with some power.’” Philip
  • Cambuslang revival: He preached three times on the day of his arrival in Scotland.
  • The last sermon ended after 11:00 pm.
  • Then his friend began preaching.
  • That weekend he preached to 20,000 people in a field, “In my prayer the power of God came down and was greatly felt. In my two sermons, there was yet more power.”
  • “You might have seen thousands bathed in tears…”
  • On Sunday the entire day was filled with preaching and the Lord’s Table.
  • “People sat unwearied till two in the morning.”
  • Those scenes stayed with his ministry and other Methodist preachers for 30 or more years.
  • The chief marks of revival under Whitefield (Philip, 149):
    • A melting down of all classes and ages in concern for their salvation.
    • An absorbing sense of eternal realities.
    • Self-abasement and self-condemnation.
    • Secret and corporate prayer.
    • Concern for the souls of others.
  1. God uses broken tools.
  • Whitefield was a baby-baptizing Anglican.
  • He did not fight to end the slave trade. Instead he purchased slaves.
  • With such a busy schedule, he did not spend much time with his family.
  • When he had a chance to support the conservatives in Scotland, he chose a more ecumenical path that greatly discouraged and distracted the evangelicals.
  • He admits later in life “I have likewise too much made impressions my rule of acting.”
  • Yet regardless of these errors, divine power attended his ministry for decades.
  1. Jesus Christ’s honor and the souls of men were the supreme objects of his affections.
  • “I hardly ever knew him go through a sermon without weeping…sometimes he exceedingly wept, stamped loudly and passionately, and was frequently so overcome, that, for a few seconds you would suspect he never could recover; and when he did, nature required some little time to compose himself” Cornelius Winter (Whitefield’s assistant during his later years.)
  • Whitefield while preaching: “You blame me for weeping; but how can I help it, when you will not weep for yourselves, although your own immortal souls are on the verge of destruction, and, for aught I know, you are hearing your last sermon, and may never more have an opportunity to have Christ offered to you?” Quoted by Spurgeon in Lectures
  1. He held the same doctrine, practice, and schedule for his entire Christian life.
  • He arrived at conversion and field preaching early in life.
  • From that time to the end of his life he was known for preaching the new birth.
  • Though Charles Wesley changed his doctrine to become more Biblical, Whitefield is practically the same from the beginning to the end.
  • His life repeats the same themes for 34 years: preaching, travel, persecution, and popularity.
  • His schedule of early rising and often preaching was held nearly without any interruption his entire life.


  • God chose to reveal Himself to this man and through him to a number of nations.
  • Shortly after Whitefield’s death, the violent revolution erupted in France.
  • However, England was spared at least in part owing to the evangelical awakening led chiefly by Whitefield
  • That same awakening bore fruit in the modern missions movement when Carey left England in 1792, just 22 years after Whitefield’s death.
  • It is not too much to find a line of gracious providence from those who have been converted in the last 100 years among the Tsongas and Vendas back to Whitefield’s powerful preaching.
  • May we not then pray and hope for such power again?


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Book Review: John G. Paton by Paul Schlehlein,320_.jpg
Schlehlein, Paul. John G. Paton: Missionary to the Cannibals of the South Seas. Banner of Truth, 2017, 186 pages.

John Paton’s life was so full of excitement and surprises, that Paul Schlehlein chose only the ripest fruits from Paton’s tree to put into this book. It is a highlight reel of the most inspiring, convicting, and Scriptural moments from Paton’s long life. It is like a cup of black coffee because it should shake us from the sleep that steals constantly and insensibly over our souls. Schlehlein has no time for anything except the most interesting, gripping details because he has to take an important cache of primary documents and squeeze them into a book that anyone can both start and finish.

The Table of Contents
Introduction: A note about sources and some reasons to read this book. This introduction begins the steady stream of primary source quotations that are one of the greatest benefits of the book.

Chapters 1-4 cover Paton’s life chronologically.

Chapters 5-10 cover missions philosophy through the lens of Paton’s ministry. This section moves this book out of the biography category and into missions and theology.

Appendices 1-4 include a timeline of Paton’s life, a family tree, a missions hymn, and an interesting review of “Paton’s eloquence.”

Bibliography: This is what I read first, then the introduction, and then the appendices. The bibliography is broad including out of print sources, topical studies (like Paul Moon’s book on Cannibalism), theological resources, numerous historical accounts from around the globe, and even a few novels! The breadth of reading by the author shows up constantly through the pages of this book.

Four Reasons for Five Stars

  1. Few people know much about John Paton.

He and his family members were great soldiers for Christ, but very few modern Christians know as much about Paton as they do about modern celebrities. It would be great to read his 538-page autobiography, and if you read this shorter book, you might find the strength to pick it up! For example, at 34 years old, John married the 19-year old Mary. He then left a ministry with hundreds or even thousands of people to move to a poor and dangerous island. His wife’s mother once wrote a 46-page letter to her daughter! He dug a well with his own hands that resulted in many coming to Christ. And many other fascinating details.

  1. There is more Scripture in this biography than most (all?) on my shelves.

No authors are neutral, but at least this one has the right bias and seems to glory in it. From the introduction to the last appendix there are well-chosen cross references. He includes verses like Bunyan in Pilgrim’s Progress so that they flow naturally and illustrate the points perfectly. This book has a Christian and missionary agenda which will inspire every believer.

  1. This biography is a concentrated philosophy of missions wrapped in a readable package.

Schlehlein deals with such a broad array of missions-related issues offering both historical and Scriptural rationale that nearly every question that is being debated in missions today is dealt with in one way or another both by Paton’s venerable example as well as the author’s own years of experience in rural churchplanting. If you are interested in missions or if you are helping to guide your church in missions, then this last section will not only rivet your attention, but it will give both Scriptural and historical basis for your missions decisions.

  1. The lively style is both engaging and challenging.

This is not a sleepy book because the author is obviously alert to the great realities of God, Christ, and eternity as well as a lively, pictorial style. Even spending a few minutes with this book will remind the reader of other worthwhile authors from Thomas Watson to Doug Wilson.

Some great lines:

“I calculated that the blood of more than one hundred martyrs and missionary pioneers had been shed to bring [the island] Church into being.” xviii

“Homes full of spiritual life will invigorate the church.” 6

“When the Scriptures and the Spirit work in tandem within the human soul, women are raised in honour before their families, not lowered as slaves in the harems of their husbands.” 63

“Little did [Paton’s] father know that by training his son he would be training islands of cannibals.” 85

“To avoid all risk is to avoid the Christian life.” 123

“Paul the missionary never gave statistics, but Luke the missionary historian did—though mostly in round numbers to communicate such data is valuable, but not that valuable.” 164

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Justification by Faith is Not Enough

The glorious truth of justification by faith is being rightly emphasized and popularized today by movements such as Together for the Gospel, The Gospel Coalition, and in southern Africa, Sola 5, an association to which I am glad to belong. In Peter’s first epistle, you could find support for this kind of ministry several times.

…knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, 19 but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. 20 For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you 21 who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.
1 Peter 1:18-21

 …and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.
1 Peter 2:24

For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit;
1 Peter 3:18

When Peter writes again to this same group of believers just before his death, his greeting is baptized and drips with gospel glory.

Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ,
To those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ:
2 Peter 1:1

Peter loves the gospel, but in his second epistle he surprises those of us who have sympathy for centering our lives on the gospel. The second epistle deals broadly with Christian growth—traveling on the road to Heaven more so than entering at the gate, fighting with sin more so than enlisting in Christ’s army, the process of a child’s growth more so than the moment of a baby’s birth, sanctification more than justification.

It is not hard to see Peter’s focus on Christian growth in the second letter:

2 Peter 1:2-4
• One long sentence.
• How may we find great spiritual blessings like Christian grace and peace?
• These come from theology—a knowledge of God (1:2, 3, 4).
• These promises help us to “escape the corruption that is in the world.”
• These words describe a process of growth and change.

2 Peter 1:5-11
• With all your strength add these 7 virtues on to your faith.
• Work, work, work—the language of synergism, we are cooperating with God.
• Work hard to make sure that you have been called and chosen (1:10).
• By hard work you can expect entrance into God’s kingdom.

At the end of the letter, the last verse he writes before his crucifixion proves what was on his mind.

…but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.
2 Peter 3:18

What is most remarkable though is how strongly Peter feels about Christian growth or fighting with our sin in order to become like Christ.

Therefore, I will always be ready to remind you of these things, even though you already know them, and have been established in the truth which is present with you.
2 Peter 1:12

Peter always reminds them of the necessity and the means and the results of Christian growth. Even though they have already been taught, he is going to keep on pressing these same points to them.

I consider it right, as long as I am in this earthly dwelling, to stir you up by way of reminder, 14 knowing that the laying aside of my earthly dwelling is imminent, as also our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me.
2 Peter 1:13-14

Peter: “My brothers, this is what you will get whenever I have a platform.”
Christians: “Aren’t you always talking about this?”
Peter: “This will be my main theme until I die. Write it on my tombstone.”

He was willing to repeat this one section of God’s truth so often that after he was dead and gone, none of them would ever forget what he constantly talked about.

And I will also be diligent that at any time after my departure you will be able to call these things to mind.
2 Peter 1:15

The phrase “these things” is found 5 times in chapter one (1:8, 9, 10, 12, and 15) and it is implied in verse 11. It refers to working hard to add the virtues to your faith. What are these things? Christian growth or sanctification or holiness. Peter has a fixation that has become his own personal, doctrinal emphasis. He gives us an inspired example of a pastor who chooses a certain great theme to mark his life and ministry. Paul’s life was marked by justification by faith and missions. John’s life was marked by love. At least in the second epistle, Peter closes his life with an emphasis on true, Biblical holiness.

These verses make me think that Peter would not have joined a gospel-centered movement because he thought justification was necessary, but not sufficient. With power he preaches faith alone in Christ alone, but when he dies, he wants the people to remember to work with all their might for greater godliness.

If those verses were paraphrased and read in public in some modern settings, Christians hearing it might say, “That’s legalism!” Whatever the contemporary Christian would say, the ancient Christian said, “These things must never be forgotten.”

Related articles:
Putting Legalism to Good Use
Good Works Aren’t All Bad
The Temptation of Eve Is Really About Legalism?

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The Biblical Basis for the Three “Self’s”

New Testament churches should be autonomous. Autonomy comes from two Greek words: autos (self) + nomos (law) = Each group is ruled by itself. Church autonomy does not mean freedom from God, but from other churches. Autonomy does mean submission to God directly without control from any man outside the local church membership.

When Paul planted churches, each one was independent or autonomous. In Paul’s 12-15 years of missionary service, the book of Acts records 14 churches that were planted, but there were probably more.

  1. The first missionary journey, 7 churches: Salamis (13:5), Paphos (13:6-13), Perga (13:13; 14:25), Antioch of Pisidia (13:14-50), Iconium (13:51-14:5), Lystra (14:6-20), Derbe (14:20-23).
  2. The second missionary journey, 7 churches: Troas (16:8; 20:6-12), Philippi (16:12-40), Thessalonica (17:1-9), Berea (17:10-14), Athens (17:15-34), Corinth (18:1-18), Ephesus (18:19-21; 19:1-41).
  3. The third missionary journey: No new churches are recorded in this journey.

Each of these churches stood on its own without government, finances, or oversight from other places. This is implied throughout the record of the missionary journeys (Acts 13-21). In modern times, this independence is commonly divided into three categories called the “three self’s.”

They met their own financial needs without depending on other groups for support.

  • The church at Ephesus learned from the beginning to take care of its own financial problems (Acts 20:35).
  • Paul told Timothy to train the church to support its pastors (1 Tim. 5:17-18).
  • Even though churches at Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea were living with “deep poverty” they still took the initiative to support poor Christians (2 Cor. 8:1-4).

They made decisions in their own local church without taking directions from a structure of churches or offices above them.

  • The churches that Paul started on his first missionary journey, all had elders to lead them (Acts 14:23; 20:17).
  • Titus appointed elders to lead each church on the island of Crete (Tit. 1:5). These leaders were taken from the churches themselves.

They evangelized their communities and even sent missionaries without expecting other Christians to do that work for them.

  • The church at Antioch was started in Acts 11:19-26. By Acts 13:1-3, they were sending missionaries from their own congregation.
  • The churches that Paul established on his first journey evangelized the lost around them so that “the churches were being strengthened in the faith, and were increasing in number daily” (Acts 16:5).
  • The church at Thessalonica was started in Acts 17:1-9. By 1 Thess 1:8, less than a year later, they too sent out evangelists to cities around them.
  • The church at Philippi was started in Acts 16:12-40. By Phil. 4:14-18, they took the initiative to support Paul and his team in order to plant more churches.

Each local church should take responsibility for itself just like each husband and wife must take responsibility for their own home.

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Should a New Believer Wait Before Being Baptized?

The Christian church marks its members by baptism. Luke records the historical accounts in Acts while the gospels contain commands to baptize. The epistles reference baptism occasionally—twice in Romans, 10 times in 1 Corinthians, and once in Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, and 1 Peter. In the New Testament, baptism is referenced explicitly or implicitly nearly 100 times in Scripture. Yet two difficulties arise for today’s pastor. When should an adult be baptized? What requirements should be made to ascertain whether this person meets the Bible’s requirements? Then, for other reasons, children are difficult. In a society where many people are Christian, their children should be expected to anticipate baptism and full acceptance as fellow believers. Many young children ask for the privilege of Christian baptism.

  1. Should we baptize on the same day as they did in Acts?

In the book of Acts, new believers received Christian baptism even the very day that they were converted. On the day of Pentecost, 3,000 were baptized immediately after they believed. Cornelius was baptized on his second birthday. Most remarkably, the Philippian jailer showed his faith through baptism in the middle of the night along with the members of his family. Because of this pattern, some pastors baptize as soon as they hear that a person has believed the gospel.

However, in the first century, conversion would have been strange and costly. Believers often suffered in their family as our Lord predicted (Matt. 10:34-36). They also saw from the very beginning that the best Christians were often incarcerated (Acts 4:3; 5:18), or stoned (7:58-60), or driven from their homes (8:1-4). Not only were they in danger physically, but also the first believers had to leave a system they were familiar with risking rejection, humiliation, and loss of friendships. These scenarios still exist in some places today such as Islamic nations, or certain elite social groups around the world that are dominated by unbelievers. In the cases of children of Christian parents or members of a society where Christianity is common and accepted, the setting of the book of Acts is foreign. The differences should restrain our urge to baptize the same day.

  1. Should pastors judge the faith of those who want to be baptized?

No pastor can stop himself from judging, nor should he. If he accepts all those who simply ask to be baptized, then he is excluding all those do not ask. His test simply requires that someone say, “May I be baptized?” Not all people can (babies) or will (atheists) ask this question, so he has made his judgment. If he accepts all those who profess to believe in Jesus, then that is his test. If he only accepts those who are “serious,” then his judgment is given to all those who can impress him in whatever way he may be inclined. If he requires believers to complete a new members’ class, memorize a catechism, accept the church statement of faith, or wait a prescribed period of time, then he makes his judgments on those bases. But no one who baptizes is free from judgment.

Nor should they strive to be free from discernment since this is a mark of spiritual maturity (Heb. 5:14). Pastors must watch over the souls of their members (Heb. 13:17) which is yet another Biblical command to make righteous judgments. John the Baptist judged those who came to him for baptism.

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance;” Matt. 3:7-8

They wanted to be baptized, and he said in effect, “You’re not ready yet.” Each believer should examine himself before joining in the Lord’s Table (1 Cor. 11:27-28), and therefore, pastors should speak to Christians if they know of a sin that may bring God’s judgment on that church member.

  1. What harm will come from waiting before baptizing someone?

If baptism is valuable, then that value is withheld. If baptism is profitable, then that profit is temporarily denied. If baptism “appeals to God for a good conscience” then that conscience is put on hold. Baptism opens great benefits to the believer as well as the church.

  1. Baptism strengthens the faith of the one who is baptized. This symbol is commanded because it requires a public, bodily response to Christianity. A statement like that cannot easily be forgotten, but rather it will speak repeatedly to the soul, “You have given yourself to Christ.” If it is good to obey the Lord’s command, then blocking someone from obedience to that command is serious.
  2. Baptism encourages the believers who hear the testimony and watch the new convert. If there were no strength in solidarity, why are Christians commanded to gather together? Universal experience shows that we are pleased when others join in the cause to which we have devoted ourselves.
  3. Baptism allows the new convert to take part in the blessings of church life. If the Lord’s Table is not important, then why did He leave it for us until the end of the age? If it is important, then it is important for the new believer. A Christian who serves his church is more blessed than the one who does not, yet before baptism teaching, responsibility, authority, and public participation are forbidden since he is not yet united to Christ (that we know of).
  4. Baptism opens to the local church a new member who can help carry the weights of that assembly. For many smaller churches those weights press down on just a few people.

Requiring someone to wait before baptism places all these benefits out of reach for the present time. Perhaps the benefits need to be withheld because it is not yet clear if the faith is temporary or lasting, but there is a cost incurred when a pastor holds off for the present time. When a young man begins to invest for retirement, he must wait until he has found the right vehicle for those funds, yet at the same time in waiting he loses the benefit that accrues exponentially from investing early.

  1. What harm will come from baptizing them quickly?

At the church we planted in Elim, I just made a list of 16 people who were baptized, who later fell away. The church now has about 30 members, so that is a significant portion. What happens to the other Christians when they see people come into baptism lightly and leave the church laughing?

  1. A general attitude of irreverence may develop where holy things are taken by people with dirty hands and then cast away a short time later. We must not give dogs holy things, and what in the local church is more holy than baptism, the Lord’s Table, and the right hand of fellowship as a brother?
  2. Church members may learn to distrust the pastor’s discernment and his commitment to a pure church over a large church. Since a true pastor is not driven by numbers, what message does this send to the people? Is the culture known for speaking the truth regardless of the circumstances? If not, then the pastor is in danger of gullibility, a simple-minded approach which Paul and Solomon condemn (1 Cor. 14:20; Pro. 1:22-33).
  3. Hasty baptism may encourage the sinner to trust in works and ceremony. Every sinner is a natural born legalist who wants to find some physical act on which to place his trust. Without patience, Christian baptism may send people to Satan.
  4. Hasty baptism may decrease the zeal with which the sinner fights for the Kingdom of Heaven (Matt. 11:12). Why should he give diligence to make his calling and election sure if the pastor is already pretty sure? If he is baptized too quickly, the devotion to Scripture and memory and attendance, may decrease once he has confidence.

Waiting is a fruit of the Spirit of God who is never in a rush. Christianity wants deep roots, lasting foundations, and members who have counted the cost.

  1. What should a pastor look for?

Neither side is safe, but a pastor must at least be aware of both sides. Baptism is a sign of faith. Like a road sign it speaks to all who pass by that this person is a believer. So no one should be baptized who does not show signs of life. If the farmer cannot see a blade, he has no confidence that life is there.

Does the new convert understand the gospel? Can he answer the questions, “How did God save you? What does it mean to be a Christian? What verse from the Bible gives you hope that you are God’s child?” Does he speak well of the Cross? Does he speak in shame about his sin?

Working with his understanding, the New Testament offers several lists of virtues that will mark the lives of true Christians.

  • The Beatitudes in Matt. 5:3-12
  • The Fruit of the Spirit in Gal. 5:21-22
  • The List of Virtues in 2 Pet. 1:5-7

If I cannot see some evidence from these lists in the life of the person who wants to be baptized, then I should wait, and I should tell them explicitly to look for evidence that “the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” If a man is “in Christ” what might the fruit look like? Eagerness to hear preaching, memorize verses, read the Bible, attend prayer meetings, associate with strong Christians, leave sin, speak humbly about himself, share his faith, join a church, submit to baptism, follow the advice of those who are more mature, separate from false religions, see his own sin before it is brought to his attention, and show interest in the growth of others. Such marks of grace can often be seen most clearly by those nearest to him, so parents, spouse, and employer could be asked if they recognize any of these signs of grace. I have also asked people directly about themselves, “We do not want to discourage you, nor do we want to give you confidence prematurely. Do you see evidence in your own heart that a miracle has happened?”

This kind of judgment is subjective, yet the general principles are objective. They may change in specific applications since there is such a wide diversity among those whom God saves, but the major idea will not change. A person should not be baptized until we have reason to believe that he has obtained genuine saving faith. Though only God will know for sure, we are not absolved from responsibly affirming their testimony.

  1. May a child be baptized?

Since children are still maturing, they may more easily mistake desire to please their parents, or youthful interest for attention, or the early longing to be adults. Therefore, pastors should look for significant evidence that jejune motives are subservient to a real change of heart. I know a good number of pastors and their wives who gave testimonies and received baptism before 12 years of age and still have not wavered from that testimony decades later. While some churches may choose to safely avoid the dangers of baptizing a false convert by having a general policy of “Only Over 18,” in the case of these young Christians, they would have made them wait for 7-10 years before receiving the very real benefits that come with baptism. Is that really the wisest way to bring children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord?

Policies help administrators, but we are keeping a greenhouse, an arboretum. Trees differ in glory like stars. Local government is more helpful here than federal.

In general, children should not be baptized until the accumulated weight of parents’, pastors’, and teachers’ testimony combines with their own account of grace to give us hope that, though they are young, they have truly entered at the narrow gate. Judge righteous judgment is our Lord’s command, and an extra Biblical policy seems to be there to make it easier for the leadership, not necessarily more accurate in exercising discernment.


Pastors have a responsibility to baptize only those believers who have a credible profession of faith because they must watch for their souls and guard them from profaning the assembly of the Lord. If a creditor must be paid on the exact day (Pro. 3:27-28), then let us offer the means of grace to all who have the marks of grace without putting them in a holding pattern. Philip baptized many true believers, but one Simon. This principle is abused by too many churches who naively accept the simplest professions. Apparently, these pastors and Christians do not expect the grace of God to make noticeable differences, or else they are in a rush to report decisions. Because of these abuses, patience is the wisest course of action while the pastor watches for fruit that the person not only understands the doctrine, but has experienced real regenerating power. Since each individual is unique, a church policy should be general rather than specific.

Each new baptism is a judgment call gained by listening to their words and watching their lives. The more grace we see, the greater our confidence is in affirming their faith by immersing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

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A “Christ-centred” Church

Tonight, I went to a miracle crusade at a church that advertises itself as “Christ-centred.” Alpheus, the pastor at Elim, as well as another member, Steven, came with me. There are a few short videos posted on Facebook. Here are a few quotes from the speaker:

“I just prepared my message while sitting there during the songs.”

“I like EFT machines (credit card machines) because Satan cannot tear them up like envelopes.” [The group had just purchased one of these machines for use during their offerings.]

“The demon in her said, ‘She will never give [money in the offering]!’
I said, ‘Satan, out!’ And then she gave!”

“Sometimes you need to tell your wife, ‘Shut up!'”

“AIDS is a spirit, a demon.”

“Your aids is not because you were loose.”

“I cast the spirit of stinginess out of that tither’s envelope.”

There was no mention of the cross or repentance or humility.

I went to this crusade because Steven’s mother has been going to this church and is unable to see the errors. Also, I had previously met one of the pastors who claims that he “hates” the prosperity gospel and only preaches repentance and Christ crucified. This pastor was sitting in the crowd when I arrived, and here is the letter that I sent to him tonight.

Dear Mr. ______,

Well, the way prosperity teachers always handle me is they don’t talk to me anymore once they realize that I know they really love prosperity and money more than Jesus Christ. So if you don’t want to contact me anymore then I know that you know that you are in that group as well.

But if you really do love the Lord Jesus and not the wicked, false, Satanic doctrines that were preached at that conference tonight, I will be glad to see you again in the future. Nothing would encourage me more than to talk to you if you were willing to make a break with such a terrible religion. My friend, I reach out to you in compassion and hope that you are not lost to Christ, but your soul is in great danger as long as you play around and hold hands with such terrible false teachers.

You said you love evangelism, but there was no evangelism tonight – no cross of Jesus! No command to repent! No warning of the fires of hell!

I should close with hope and prayer that we will talk again because you are not entirely controlled by the demons that control that wicked religion. I shall wait eagerly to hear from you.


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The 95 Theses Against the Prosperity Gospel

To be nailed to the doors of any church with a name like “Glory Barn” or “Fire Tabernacle” or “Holy Ghost International Centre.”

Prosperity Gospel

  1. The prosperity gospel urges men to love money, comfort, or things of this earth whereas Jesus Christ and the apostles command men to lay up treasures in Heaven (Matt. 6:19-21), set your affections on things above (Col. 3:2), and count the Son of God as your treasure (Matt. 13:44).
  2. Doctrines such as the wrath of God, repentance, and humility are practically unknown in most churches in Africa.
  3. Men are encouraged to wear armbands for protection as if the “pastor” has some radiating life force that will protect them.
  4. Selling holy water bottled as salvation is a form of witchcraft.
  5. Promoting the pastor as a mediator between God and men is a form of witchcraft.
  6. Manipulating every text of Scripture so that it bears on earthly comfort or success is a form of witchcraft.
  7. Advertising public religious meetings with promises to be delivered from poverty, lack, sickness, disease, and barrenness is a form of witchcraft.
  8. An insult is done to the Word of God when a great amount of time is taken on the offering so that the minds of the hearers are dull during the sermon. Or when the sermon consists so greatly of discussions of things of this life that it amounts to another attraction of men’s hearts to money.
  9. I have been in several public “Christian” meetings where the offerings occupied more than 45 minutes of the time. Other pastors have told me that this is common in their region as well.
  10. Signs that advertise voodoo and witchcraft are practically indistinguishable from signs that advertise “Christian” crusades.
  11. A pastor at a funeral for the chief of the village in which I lived preached before hundreds of people that God was going to bring them all “blessings.”
  12. A crusade I attended in the village featured a dozen or more pastors from our village sitting in the front row. The preacher had the audience stand and shout if they wanted a new Toyota.
  13. A popular preacher in Zimbabwe promised a large crowd that money would be deposited in their bank accounts and would show itself by text messages to their phones.
  14. A pastor at a large church in Waterval invited a guest speaker from Nigeria. Though the pastor told me privately that he only preached the gospel, that evening the visitor told us only about money and success. He paused in the middle of his sermon to declare that he was healing a person in the audience who had a pain in her side.
  15. A man with pictures of his pastor all through his house and four on his vehicle, answered me with only four words when I asked when he was born again: “I am rich now.”
  16. A pastor at a crusade told the audience, “It’s boring in Heaven.”
  17. A man who worships at a prosperity church told me that they preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, but when I went to one of their services, there was no mention of repentance, humility, or the cross of Christ.
  18. The prosperity gospel teaches men that they have power and authority to create their own realities. It feeds their natural pride and lust for authority and control.
  19. Pastors are either indifferent to false doctrine or positively opposed to learning doctrine. They desire certificates to show that they are learned, but they have no interest in the actual teaching itself.
  20. A popular church near our house has two, 2-meter-high pictures of the pastor on the door. Inside, there are 4 more very large pictures of the same man including one about 3 meters high behind the pulpit.
  21. Church leaders commonly do not know where books of the Bible are, have not read the whole New Testament, and read their Bibles randomly.
  22. Church leaders sometimes gather the church around money.
  23. Pastors seek the most bizarre teachings and stunts in order to gain attention.
  24. The words of our Lord, “With God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26) are usually taken to mean “We can all be rich and comfortable!” rather than, “God can save any sinner regardless of how hopeless it looks from man’s point of view.”
  25. Verses like “Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out” (Deut. 28:6) are separated from their context where Moses warns the people for 54 verses about the dangers of God’s curses on the people of God if they disobey.
  26. The false teachers prey on women (2 Tim. 3:6) by appealing to their sinful fears.
  27. Instead of pulling the meaning out of the text and offering the plain sense of the Bible to the people, prosperity preachers bring their own meaning to the text and offer those contortions to the people.
  28. Prosperity churches are by far the most common in the rural areas. Over 20 pastors and missionaries spread out over southern Africa from Tanzania to Mozambique, to Zambia, to Zimbabwe have all told me that nearly every pastor believes in prosperity.
  29. Prosperity preachers are not interested in theology. Though many of them are poor, generally, they will not read good books even if they are given for free. They will agree on any number of superficial points, but they are not able to explain what they believe about nearly every major doctrinal term in Scripture. Nor do they care to learn.
  30. The theology of prosperity has no respected standing or acceptance in church history at all.

African Traditional Religion

  1. Traditional religion in Africa “is purely eudemonistic, the religious ceremonies having as their sole aim material benefits connected with the terrestrial life, e. g. abundance, health, peace, and good sleep!”[1]
  2. Since prosperity theology is concerned with material benefits, it has the same goal as ATR.
  3. In ATR, the gods have physical power, but they do not rule or govern the world by laws. By so teaching men, the demons of this religion have robbed men of the very categories needed to produce science, technology, and cultural progress.
  4. The gods, which are nothing more than the spirits of the ancestors, expect obedience to traditions which means the way things were done when they were alive. But since these ways are passed down orally and not literally, and since lifestyles can shift from one generation to the next, ATR thus imprisons the mind in a free-flowing bondage to the ancestors.
  5. Syncretism is the blending of pagan religious customs with Christianity. Often the religious customs are couched in terms of culture, so that to oppose the practice is to oppose the culture. Those who don’t really want to change, can hide themselves behind their culture as if it has not been influenced by the religion.
  6. Syncretism is very common in southern Africa. This is not surprising since many peoples around the world have responded to the Christian gospel with a blending of the new message with their old, useless way of life that they inherited from their ancestors. The OT Jews blended religions (2 Kings 17:32-33, 41). In northern Africa, Islam was blended with ATR.
  7. Like many false religions, ATR can absorb other religious ideas without changing much.
  8. Many men are pastors, but they still share a fear of spirits, and their ministries are often dominated by discussions of what the spirits have done, and how to get around the spirits.[2]
  9. Sermons and books from professing Christians that treat topics around spirits, generational curses, witchcraft, and traditional practices are not built on a Biblical theology.
  10. The goal of ATR is the same as the prosperity religion: health, wealth, and comfort.
  11. The authority of ATR is the same as the prosperity religion: traditions, visions, personal impressions.
  12. The means of ATR is the same as the prosperity religion: certain rituals and words.
  13. The mediator of ATR is the same as the prosperity religion: powerful men who have a special connection with the spirits.
  14. Famous pastors teach that men are little gods. In ATR the distinction between gods and men is very thin, so too in prosperity theology.
  15. A pastor near Harare told me that it is very common to see Baptists in Zimbabwe go to prophets in order to have a blessing placed on their job or car or family.
  16. Africa’s problems come from false religion. If every person were a true believer, the continent would have no serious problems.
  17. Even though all cultures and religions outside of Christianity are useless ways of life (1 Pet. 1:18), professing Christians will not accept this message happily even though it may allow many other people to remain trapped in a false religion.
  18. Though Scripture commands us to fear God alone (Pro. 1:7; Luke 12:5), a fear of witchcraft is very common among professing Christians.
  19. When problems come in life, the immediate response of many who attend church is to trace the cause to the work of evil spirits.
  20. ATR finds its greatest concern with poverty whereas Jesus warned that Satan’s great work was to steal the truth of the gospel from the hearts of those who hear it (Matt. 13:19).
  21. ATR has no category for an immutable, absolute, single Spirit who controls the entire world. Because of this demonically structured worldview, it is particularly difficult to receive the most basic teachings of Christianity even though the superficial aspects of Christianity can be added to the previous way of life without much chance.
  22. ATR destroys personal responsibility because the sinner is taught to blame the spirits for everything. In ATR, poverty doesn’t come from my own foolish choices, but from the capricious whim of dead people.
  23. ATR destroys knowledge and certainty because the world is not controlled by unchanging laws from the mind of an absolute Creator.
  24. ATR destroys the impulse to art because there are no transcendental glories in this religion.


  1. The ecumenical attitude that allows men to be counted as Christians without a Biblical test of their faith accepts Christianity that is really nothing more than syncretism.
  2. Refusing to mark false teachers while claiming to preach the gospel yourself blurs the definition of the gospel.
  3. When ridiculous, unchristian things are said and done, the majority of pastors remain silent. They do not follow our Lord who rebuked the Pharisees publicly (Matt. 23) nor Paul the apostle who named false teachers (1 Tim. 1:20).
  4. During church services, crusades, and on television, the speakers will commonly refer to everyone present as a Christian or a believer or someone receiving God’s blessings.
  5. When a speaker gives false teaching from the pulpit, the church members are silent.
  6. New churches start simply because one man wants more power, not because he believes or practices anything different from another church.
  7. Most pastors are prepared to unite with anyone who can help them financially regardless of their beliefs.
  8. If a pastor does have a doctrinal statement, then usually it is broad enough to allow fellowship with any false pastor who merely calls himself a Christian.
  9. Though Paul tells us to mark and avoid false teachers (Rom. 16:17), most people ignore this teaching and condemn those whom they think are “judging.”
  10. When a pastor does speak boldly about false teachers and the purity of the gospel, nominal Christians will accuse him of sinfully judging.
  11. Many prosperity pastors will talk as agreeably as possible until you mention the names of prominent false teachers and denounce them as children of hell (Matt. 23:15), pigs (Matt. 7:6), and dogs (2 Pet. 2:22). They will try to be agreeable with everyone (Luke 6:26) including enemies of the cross of Christ (Phil. 3:18).
  12. Even if one church or denomination does not openly practice the worst parts of prosperity theology, they quietly accept those who come from false churches as if they were true Christians.
  13. There seem to be three broad groups of churches in Africa: prosperity churches, churches that teach and love the 5 Solas of the Reformation, and churches that sometimes speak truthfully and sometimes speak about prosperity. The first group contains unbelievers, the second group—though very small—believers, and the third group is so close to the unbelievers that their conversion is doubtful.

Positive Confession

  1. The prosperity gospel encourages men to “speak faith,” to claim healing and deliverance, to shout the divine name in prayer, to repeat the divine name many times, and to talk much of such broad topics as blessings, success, power from God, and greater works.
  2. “God-talk” offends the one true God since it takes His name, words, and works in vain.
  3. All of these practices are condemned in the 3rd of the 10 Commandments and Jesus’ teaching on prayer in the Sermon on the Mount.
  4. Pastors intentionally use vague terms in order to sound “Christian” while still tickling people’s natural desires. “Power meets Power.” “The Year of Moving to Higher Levels of Maintaining Them.” “I have the grace, you can’t stop me!”
  5. Churches take vague extra-biblical themes like “The Year of Fulfillment” that are intentionally chosen to move the people to think about prosperity, but they do not choose obvious Scriptural themes such as “The Year of Repentance” or humility or exalting Christ or preaching the gospel.
  6. Biblical prophets denounce specific sins, but the average pastor talks generally about blessing and peace and comfort (Jer. 6:14).
  7. The false gospel is so prevalent through media and churches that many people are afraid of speaking realistically about sin, its consequences, or the actions of sinners.
  8. Their loyalty to positive confession permits them to overlook all the passages in Scripture that have to do with God’s judgment, retribution, and curses.
  9. In the average church today, the pastor repeats certain terms that indicate his theological location. Blessing, success, prosperity, the next level, and nearly any other word that sounds positive. Biblical expressions like “You will be the head and not the tail” (Deut. 28:13).


  1. Pastors prepare their “miracles” as if they are entertaining people.
  2. Some pastors promise to perform grotesque and absurd “miracles” like causing people to vomit blood, to experience a full pregnancy in 3 days, or even to heal people with Doom bug spray.
  3. Pastors entertain people by “casting out demons” using the same hand motions and phrases that other pastors use. They manipulate the circumstances in order to look like a show.
  4. Some pastors are even visible on the internet “throwing the Holy Ghost.” I have also seen that in smaller crusades in the village.
  5. Many people involved in these miracles are merely acting.
  6. The miracles that many churches practice heal invisible problems rather than healing visible diseases like leprosy (Matt. 8:3), calming storms (Matt. 8:26), and raising the dead (Luke 7:14-15).
  7. The miracles come at the end of the services as a climax to an evening of entertainment rather than before the preaching as the apostles often did. In Scripture, miracles did not overshadow the preaching of the gospel (Acts 3:1-12; 8:6; 13:11-12).
  8. If they really have this miraculous power, then why do they not heal everyone at the hospital or clinic? If they say, those people cannot be healed because they have no faith, then does that mean that not one person in the hospital has faith? If so, then they are adding insult to those who are injured.
  9. The natural, God-given intelligence of men is insulted by the fanciful nonsense that is authoritatively offered as miracles and works of God.

The Fruit of the Spirit

  1. Pastors are commonly boastful and full of challenges and envy even though these are marks that someone is walking in the flesh (Gal. 5:26). Many small churches are started that have the same theology as every other church, but nevertheless they cannot unite because each “pastor” wants to have the eyes on him.
  2. The first word of the Sermon on the Mount calls for humility, but pastors would prefer to be seen in flashy suits, hold microphones rather than wear them, and print large pictures of themselves.
  3. Many pastors speak about themselves. When their people are asked about conversion, they commonly respond with some work that they have done, and very rarely mention anything about Jesus Christ.
  4. The pastors do not model humility because they are unconverted. Also, they realize that the people will not be attracted to humility because they themselves are proud.
  5. The pictures that are used to promote churches draw attention to the pastor’s power, authority, and ability.
  6. The pastor is always presented as the great visionary, the man who is greater than the church members, the one who can bring down power from God.
  7. Verses having to do with women pastors or the control that God established over tongues in the church are ignored and contradicted.
  8. Pastors threaten people who leave the church that they “are leaving the umbrella of protection” so they may lose a job, have a health disaster, or even die.
  9. Several of the richest pastors in South Africa—the richest country on the continent of Africa—come from the poorest countries like Malawi and Nigeria.


  1. When pastors should be known for preaching the gospel, hating sin, identifying false teachers, and supreme love for the Lord Jesus Christ, they are instead known for their clothes, lifestyle, money, swagger, influence, and uncanny ability to discover new ways to bind men’s hearts to this earth.



[1] Junod, vol. 2, 428.

[2] From the first sentence of the first page of Olukuya, D. K., Power Must Change Hands. 2010, page 1 and throughout the book. See also Maimele, from the title and throughout the book; Masuka, T. P. from the second sentence of the book and throughout. In fact, the majority of books that I have seen by African pastors all are dominated by discussions of spirits.

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Hidden in the Past, Yet Now Revealed

The mystery of Christ, …in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit;
Ephesians 3:4-5

I [Jesus] will utter things hidden since the foundation of the world.”
Matthew 13:35

The church is a new covenant body (Eph. 3:1-5). The glorious truths of Ephesians 2:11-22 were not known in the Old Testament. Specifically, universal access to God through Christ—the genius of the church—was at best a shadow in the OT. The purpose of this article is to list some of the similarities and differences between the two bodies along with some practical consequences and interpretive guidelines. Failing to think carefully about this, many preachers try a verse on their congregation simply because it has a positive ring to it.

Similarities between the church and the nation of Israel

  1. They both worshipped Jehovah.
  2. They both were saved by grace alone through faith alone.
  3. They both loved God’s Word.
  4. They both were saved from a state of total depravity.
  5. They both held to a Christian worldview which includes the philosophical basis for a Christian culture.

Between these groups are the vital similarities that will make analogy not only possible, but highly profitable.

Differences between the church and the nation of Israel

  1. Israel was not in Christ, but believers are united to Christ (Eph. 1:1, et. al. Around 30 times in Paul’s epistles).
  2. The church is part of a New Covenant of life that God made with man (2 Cor. 3:6); Israel was part of a ministry of death (2 Cor. 3:7).
  3. The law and prophets administrated Israel’s relationship with God (2 Cor. 3:7); the Holy Spirit administrates the church’s relationship with God (2 Cor. 3:8).
  4. Israel only had a shadow of the heavenly things (Heb. 8:5); but the church has a “more excellent ministry” and a “better covenant which has been enacted on better promises” (Heb. 8:6).
  5. Israel’s covenant was temporary because it became obsolete and grew old and disappeared (Heb. 8:13); the church however has a new, better Covenant (Heb. 8:6, 7, 8, 13).
  6. Israel had Moses and Aaron who served as the prophet and priest (Heb. 3:1-5; 7:11); but the church has Jesus Christ who serves these roles infinitely better (Heb. 7:24-27; 8:1-2)
  7. Israel did not have the Holy Spirit dwelling in each believer; but all true Christians have the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13).
  8. Israel had specific laws directing the society and government but very little emphasis on the thoughts of the individual; Christians have very little emphasis on the society and government but specific laws directing the thoughts of the individual.
  9. Israel was bound together by ethnicity including bloodlines, language, and culture (Ezra 9:1-5; 10:1-5); the church is bound together by faith in Christ (Gal. 3:28).
  10. Israel circumcised only male descendants whether they wanted it or not (Gen. 17:10); the church baptizes all true believers (Mark 16:16).
  11. Israel’s citizens were in the nation unless they did something to take them out; the church’s members are out of the family unless they do something to get in.
  12. Israel’s punishments were largely temporal and so were their blessings; the church’s punishments are largely spiritual and eternal and so are their blessings.

Dangers in emphasizing the similarities

  1. People will be accepted as Christians the same way a next-door neighbor is accepted as a citizen.
  2. The temporal blessings will be emphasized at the cost of emphasizing the spiritual blessings (See Eph. 1:3-14).
  3. Churches will begin to focus on societal change according to the laws of the OT rather than preaching the gospel according to the NT (the social gospel).
  4. Pastors will search the OT for a verse that they can easily twist for their purposes (eisegesis). This error can happen either way, but it is especially dangerous if we emphasize the similarities.
    • Deut. 28:13 The Lord will make you the head and not the tail,
    • Isa. 54:17 No weapon that is formed against you will prosper;
    • Gen. 12:2-3 And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; 3 And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse.

Rules for interpreting the OT

  1. Always search for the author’s original intent.
    • Who wrote this?
    • To whom did he write?
    • What was the specific issue being addressed?
    • What did the original readers think when they read it?
  2. Master the new covenant. Study the NT so well that you can immediately smell the wrong interpretations.
  3. Examine the context before and after that specific verse. Often the verses used by false teachers are clearly explained if the context were read.
  4. Preach fairly from all of God’s revelation. For example, Deut. 28:1-14 are the blessings, but the next 54 verses are terrifying judgments!
  5. Look for cross references in the NT that explain this verse.
  6. Remember that Scripture generally talks more about the differences between Israel and the church than the similarities.
  7. Find the Biblical analogy from OT Israel to the NT church.
    • Read the OT passage carefully in its context.
    • Pull out the major principles from the passage.
    • Apply that passage to the church in light of the NT teaching on that principle.

Pastors in poorer areas often gravitate around OT passages like planets around the sun. They are bees looking intently for the nectar of some earthly promise in the law or the prophets. Imitating their elder brothers from TV ministries, the people hear “no weapon formed against you shall prosper.” That supposedly means, witchcraft, failure, joblessness, and barrenness are about to be banished. “You shall be the head and not the tail” means that positions of comfort, power, and authority are coming to me. False teachers have an uncanny skill for discovering earthly comfort where no apostle ever saw it.

While these seven principles are a simple sketch of a solution, if pastors followed even them, whole trailers of sermonic rubbish would be stored safely in theological landfills. The discussion itself serves as proof that preachers should be instructed before they herald. They should be disciplined before they run. They need guidance lest ever more the blind lead the blind.

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