Why is South Africa so Vulnerable to the Prosperity Gospel? (2) The Legacy of John G. Lake

John Graham Lake (1870-1935) was an American evangelist and leader in South Africa’s early establishment of Zionism and Pentecostalism, which was “by far the most successful southern African religious movement of the 20th century.”[1]

After years in the business world and with no formal theological education, Lake declared in the early 1900’s to have received a direct revelation from God. This would be one of the many questionable claims that marked Lake’s ministry. By 1907, he was a leading figure among the followers of Charles Parham and other Pentecostals in Zion City, Illinois.

A Word About Parham

A quick digression regarding Parham is important. Charles Fox Parham (1873-1929) is considered the founder of the modern Pentecostal movement, 
although his student William Seymour would surpass his influence once the Azusa Street Revival began in Los Angeles in 1906. The modern Pentecostal Movement essentially began on New Year’s Day 1901 when Parham’s students claimed to be given the gift of tongues, which they believed at the time to be the ability to speak in authentic foreign languages. Such claims of Spirit baptism quickly exploded into a revival Parham called the “Apostolic Faith Movement.”

Upheaval soon followed. He was forced to close his Bible school in Topeka, Kansas. Then, in Zion, Illinois, five of his followers were found guilty of beating to death a disabled woman while attempting to exorcise demons. The “Parham cult” was run out of town and soon became a byword for religious extremism. In 1907 Parham was arrested at a hotel in Texas on charges of sodomy and pedophilia. He was never charged. Continue reading

20 Gems on Preaching from Joel Beeke

Dr. Joel Beeke is president at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, a pastor of the Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregation in Grand Rapids, Michigan and editor of Banner of Sovereign Grace Truth.

He’s written many books, including his magnum opus A Puritan Theology, an overview of the Puritans called Meet the Puritans and an invaluable guide for family devotions, Family Worship Bible Guide

Recently I sat with this godly man for two days as he lectured on Experiential Preaching, which he defines as preaching from the heart of the minister to the heart of the people through the Word. Here are 20 insights:

  1. “If there is one book on the ministry you must read, let it be Charles Bridges, The Christian Ministry.
  2. “A Puritan was like Jesus—common people heard him gladly.”
  3. “Of the 75,000 books in our library, we determined the text the Puritans preached about the most was John 17:3.” (This is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.)
  4. “If I go into an old bookstore and find an antique book in good condition, I know the author is Anglican. No one has read it. Puritan books are tattered from being passed around.”
  5. “I started reading the Puritans when I was 9 years old at the advice of my father.”
  6. “The best compliment as a pastor I ever received was from a young, unbelieving girl in my catechism class. She told her mother, ‘The new minister has more concern for my soul than I do.’”
  7. “I’d often rather work with Hyper-Calvinism than Easy-believism. It is more difficult to evangelize the latter group.”
  8. “When I travel, I do lots of reading and writing in airports and planes. Stuart Olyott, a great preacher and friend, does no reading. He only studies people. This is why he preaches so well.”
  9. “My wife calls me her BMW—Best Man in the World.”
  10. “It drives me crazy when pastors release the children to children’s church. Sometimes those as old as 8-9 are leaving the sermon I have prepared for them.”
  11. “Most ministers don’t pray immediately after the sermon because they are more concerned about how they are viewed in their sermon. If you are more concerned about how the Lord fares, you will pray afterward that Satan doesn’t steal the seed away.”
  12. “The average Puritan home had 9 children.”
  13. “For families that don’t yet do Family Worship, I encourage the father to get started by reading to his family a few verses from a Gospel, then using Expository Thoughts by JC Ryle to guide them with warm, biblical insight.” (Get Ryle’s Mark for $.99)
  14. “My pet-peeve is when pastors begin their preaching with humor to lighten up people. Never use humor just to use humor.”
  15. “If people’s natural tendency is to talk about how great a preacher you are, you haven’t preached correctly. After a 19th century pastor preached, people said: “Wow, what a preacher.” After Spurgeon preached, they said: “Wow, what a Christ!”
  16. “Regarding what to look for in a prospective pastor, look at how he treats the children.”
  17. “On Saturday Family Worship, I get the children excited for the Lord’s Day. On Sunday morning, I go to each child’s room and say: ‘Time to wake up; it’s the Lord’s Day!’”
  18. “It’s very important I write. If I don’t write for two weeks, I feel far from God. I am called to this.”
  19. “I always try to be reading one Puritan book at a time because they are so full of godliness and Christ. I have received more from this spiritual discipline than any other in my life.”
  20. “The absence of chastening in the ministry should be a disturbing sign.”

Apartheid and Personal Responsibility

As certain as the world is round, water is wet, and what goes up must come down—racism will exist in this sinful world. Unless one embraces one of several human utopias such as Marxism—which one theologian called an atheistic form of postmillennialism—there will be no complete eradication of the tangled roots of racial prejudice until Jesus comes back.

Racism is simply a lack of obedience to our Lord’s command to love one another as he has loved us. Those who continue castigating others based on their skin pigmentation are destined for perdition and will not inherit the kingdom of God (1Co. 6:9-10). All believers, regardless of race, are baptized into one Spirit (1Co. 12:13). Continue reading

How Should Calvinists Plead?

screen-shot-2017-02-12-at-2-47-12-pmIf you want your son to be a great evangelist, give him the sermons of eminent preachers like Jonathan Edwards, John Paton, John Knox, John MacArthur, John Chrysostom, John Bunyan, John Piper, John Calvin, John Wycliffe, and John Hus.

Also, name him John.

Breaking the mold is George Whitefield, probably the greatest evangelist since the Apostle Paul. His sermons on both sides of the Atlantic are estimated at 30,000. God used Whitfield during the Great Awakening to bring about one of the greatest revivals in the history of the church.

He wasn’t just a Calvinist, he was a high Calvinist. He held the doctrines of grace to the highest degree, including the doctrine of reprobation. “I have never read Calvin,” he said. “My Calvinism comes from Jesus himself.” Elsewhere he remarked: “We are all born Arminians and it is grace that makes us Calvinists.” Continue reading

Preachers Teach, the Spirit Applies, Right?

screen-shot-2017-02-06-at-12-37-43-pmPreachers with little application in their sermons may give the following justification: “It is the Spirit’s task to apply, not mine.” That is, it’s their task to explain “children obey your parents”, not apply by giving practical ways by which to do this. Preachers do the former, the Spirit the latter.

Here are four reasons I find this rationale unconvincing.

First, the greatest preachers in Scripture didn’t teach and then expect their hearers to sort out the application on their own. Jesus warned his disciples about anger without cause (Mt. 5:22). Then he told them what “anger without a cause” looks like practically (e.g. “You’re stupid!”, v. 22). John didn’t urge his hearers to “bear fruit worthy of repentance” and then leave it to the Spirit to apply it (Lk. 3:8). He chopped up this meaty doctrine into four bite-size applications, like “give one of your shirts to the poor” (v. 11), “share your lunch” (v. 11), and “don’t cheat on your tax returns” (v. 13). Continue reading

The Magisterium of Catholics, Muslims, and Presbyterians

I recently heard a debate between two Catholics on the topic: “The Only Good Muslim is a Bad Muslim.” Peter Kreeft argues that Protestants and Muslims are the same in the sense that neither has a central magisterium as Catholics do.
I beg to differ.
I have found in my studies of Islam that Hadith literature is very similar in its breadth and authority over the Muslim as the pope and papal bulls have authority over the Catholic. And my formal studies at a Reformed seminary has made me wonder once or twice if Presbyterians view Calvin as Catholics view John Paul. I admit, there is slight tongue in cheek here, but just a little. To really substantiate a point, a quote from Calvin will always do.
Here’s an example. In a book I read recently on four views of the Lord’s Supper, the Reformed chapter quotes Calvin at least 36 times, only references Scripture twice and doesn’t quote a single word of Scripture until the very last sentence.
I love the doctrines of grace. I also love the Protestant’s historic embrace of sola scriptura, in which an authoritative tradition and an authoritative passage of God’s Word have as much in common as rhapsody and rap. But if Catholics like to quote the Vatican and Protestants the Bible, why so much Calvin from Presbyterians?
Don’t say I’m hatin’, I’m just debatin’,
If peeps at home, like popes in Rome
See Calvin’s dogma, like ex cathedra.
I say all of this because I’ve just finished reading the first couple chapters of To the Ends of the Earth: Calvin’s Missional Vision and Legacy and have wondered if this will be another Praise Fest of John Calvin. The author paints him as a universally maligned man, like the Protestant version of George Zimmerman, but I’m not so sure that Calvin isn’t more chided these days as he is lauded. As one writer recently said, if you’re not a Calvinist these days, you’re inconsequential. Haykin’s grudge against Calvin’s bad press sounds like the athlete who received one comment of negativity and proceeded on his “no one respects me, it’s me against the world’ rant.
I’m not saying Calvin these days is yoga pants. But he’s not bell bottoms either.

Charismatics and Circumstantial Content

Some time ago, Vern Poythress published an article in JETS on the spiritual gifts entitled: “Modern Spiritual Gifts as Analogous to Apostolic Gifts.” Two decades later, these matters are still hotly debated. Just last week I attended a village crusade where the prosperity preacher promised that many in the audience would be given a managerial position in government, “regardless of qualifications. Qualifications do not matter with God!” 

How does one judge circumstantial content if prophesy still exists today? Below, let me interact a little with some of Poythress’s arguments.

Let us now consider the second kind of content, namely, circumstantial content. In this category we have statements like the following. In an American church someone says, “I feel that our sister church in Shanghai is spiritually struggling and undergoing attack.” During a sermon Charles H. “Spurgeon pointed to the gallery and said, ‘Young man, the gloves in your pocket are not paid for.’ ” On another occasion Spurgeon said, “There is a man sitting there who is a shoemaker; he keeps his shop open on Sundays; it was open last Sabbath morning. He took ninepence, and there was fourpence profit on it: his soul is sold to Satan for fourpence!”  

But how do we know if Spurgeon was correct? Was this ever confirmed? And how do we know he wasn’t meaning something akin to what many preachers say: “There are husbands here today who disrespect their wives with their tone of voice.” Or, “some of you love TV more than your kids.” Are we really to equate this with the nondiscursive revelation John received in Revelation? We shall see below the negative implications of the Shanghai illustration,

[Judging] situations like these [is] not as difficult as we might suppose. Many times it does not much matter what we believe. We are free to remain in doubt. And we are well advised to remain in doubt, by virtue of the fallibility of all modern nondiscursive processes. In the cases from the life of Spurgeon, the congregation gets an illustration of the general lesson that all the assembled people are being addressed by God concerning their particular needs and sins. If Spurgeon is right and there is a young man with stolen gloves, the young man knows it and gets addressed very particularly. If Spurgeon is wrong (which he may be in his fallibility), there is no one who is so addressed, but the general lesson for the whole congregation remains. 

So if he is right, the people are helped and  if he is wrong, it was at least a nice story. But just think of the negative ramifications of being wrong. When we pray, it doesn’t end there. We pray for Bob to be saved and hope people will be prompted to give him the gospel. We pray for Sarah’s recovery and expect people to visit her. And, to use Poythress’s example, if we pray for the church in Shanghai that is struggling, we hope it doesn’t end there either. Suppose three widows come up to you after the service and have checks written out to help them in their peril. Now is it as easy to say: “Well, I could be wrong”? This is exactly how so many of the prosperity preachers rake in the dough. “Kojo and his wife will have twins this year!” If he’s wrong, the people were entertained. If he’s right, his bank account gets bigger.

In actuality we are accustomed in many types of situations to respond to doubtful information. After all, a long-distance call is not infallible either. There may be static on the line. The person on the other end of the line may have misunderstood the situation in Shanghai. Or he may be lying about the situation. Or he may have gone insane. Or the voice we hear may be faked by an impersonator. In spite of these problems of fallibility, it is possible to respond properly to a long-distance call. 

This is exactly the point. The man in Shangai, say, is asking for $10k to help his church under fire. But if there is static on the line or questions about his character, sanity and identity, then we do not move ahead. Our confidence is proportional to the information that we have. This is called wisdom and discernment.  All information is vetted, and doubtful information all the more. And since all revelation in the dream, prophecy, tongues category belong in the latter department, is Poythress willing to vet all such revelation to the furthest degree? Is he willing to call the person in error a liar? A false prophet? 

Poythress suggests that Gaffin (cessationist) and Grudem (continuationist) are not that far apart, but after reading this article, I remain unconvinced. 

Suffering Helps Us Perceive God

Screen Shot 2013-09-18 at 1.59.31 PMThomas Case:

Prosperity is the nurse of atheism. When we are prosperous the sense of God is little by little defaced. In affliction the soul is freed from the attractive power of worldly allurements and our thoughts are more serious, clear and capable of divine illumination. The clearer the glass is, the more fully it receives the beams of light.

Thomas Case, A Treatise of Afflictions, 57

Suffering Helps Us See the Vileness of Satan

William Gurnall:

God also allows Satan to trounce some of his saints by temptation in order to train them to help fellow-brethren in like conditions. He allows them to train under Satan’s lash, to get experience in the ways of Satan’s and of their own hearts. All the plots of hell have not so much as shaken God’s hand to spoil one letter or line he has been drawing. The mysteriousness of his providence hangs a curtain over this work that we cannot see what he is doing.

William Gurnall, The Christian in Complete ArmorI:100-101

Suffering Helps Us See God as its Author

Thomas Brooks:

[We must] acknowledge him as the author in all our afflictions: ‘The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away” (Job 1:21). If Job had not seen God in his affliction, he would have cried out, ‘O these wretched Chaldeans, they have plundered and spoiled me!’ Those who see the hand of God in their afflictions, will, with David, lay their hands upon their mouths (2 Sam. 16:11-12). When afflictions arrest us, we shall murmur and grumble and struggle until we see that it is God that strikes.

– Thomas Brooks, Works, I: 294-300.

Suffering helps us make better use of our time

Screen Shot 2013-09-18 at 1.59.31 PMThomas Case:

In affliction God teaches us to redeem the time. When life is tranquil, how many golden hours we throw down the stream that we shall never see again. But O, when trouble and danger come, when the sword is threatening the body, the pistol is at the breast, the knife is at the throat, and death is at the door, how precious would one of those despised hours be! Evil days cry out, “Redeem the time!”

— Thomas Case, Selected Works, A Treatise of Afflictions, 71-72.

Is It Ever Right to Deceive My Wife?

Some time back, a Mr. Johnson wrote a post asserting that it is always sinful for individuals to affirm in speech or action something they believe to be false (I’m using Grudem’s definition here, who believes all lying is sinful but not all deceit). Johnson took his mower to the whole field of lying and in one swath condemned any kind of untruth. My good friend Seth generally agreed with him and took his place in the passenger seat, along with John Murray and Augustine in the back. Interestingly, Johnson first quotes the genre of general principles for his dogmatism (Prov. 6:16). His final conclusion he calls “simple”.

But hold your combine just a minute. Peter encourages us in 1 Peter 3:10: “Let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit”, a direct quote from Ps. 34:13. The heading of this psalm says: “Of David, when he changed his behavior before Abimelech, so that he drove him out, and he went away.”

So David could not have thought of his deceiving act of madness before the king of Gath in the same category as sinful deceit in v. 13. Thus, it’s not that simple. An ESV note for this chapter says David does not “deny the importance of the faithful using of wits in desperate situations.” Perhaps “does this make me look fat” questions from our wives count as desperate situations.

Which leads to Seth’s astute observation: should we be able to lie to our wives so we don’t hurt their feelings? Okay.

Suppose I’m counseling a couple who also happen to be friends with my wife. In our conversation the wife is Jezbellian in her rudeness to me. I know my shoulders are broad enough to carry this offense and that my wife, as the weaker vessel in this regard, will be tempted to retaliate Ahab-style when we meet together as couples later that month. So when the missus asks me how our time went, I say: “It went fine”.

Isn’t this wisdom, an effort to live with my wife “in an understanding way”, as the apostle says in 1 Peter 3:7 just a few verses before the deceit passage? Doesn’t this kind of withholding of truth belong in the same milieu where deceit is legitimate, such as parables, war, and the flea-flicker? Of course husbands should model truthfulness, should not consistently keep their wives in the dark, and should make grand efforts to inform them of their highs and lows.

But is this the case every time? Is this situation to be viewed as sinfully deceitful? I don’t think so.