Thursday, February 2, 2017

Guest Post: Hebrew Roots and the Leaven of Works Salvation- Pt1

Purge Out Therefore the old leaven…     1 Cor. 5:7
The Apostle Paul warned about being tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine (Ephesians 4:14). These days, the winds of false doctrine are blowing hard against the church.
Most people who believe in God have the notion that there are certain things we can do that will please Him, thus improving our position with the Almighty and gaining certain benefits for ourselves. There is some truth to this idea, but there are also serious problems that can result, such as a form of works salvation. We must remember that grace is God’s kindness to the undeserving, and it cannot be worked for or earned in any way (Ephesians:2:8-10).
Of course, true salvation will always have works that accompany it (Titus:2:11-13;3:8). That truth is found in the Scriptures. For example, “Jesus answered and said unto him [one of the apostles], If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him” (John:14:23). Children are instructed to “obey your parents in all things, for this is well pleasing unto the Lord” (Colossians:3:20). In Ephesians we are told that honoring one’s father and mother is the “first commandment with promise” (Ephesians:6:1-2). First John states, “Whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight” (1 John:3:22). Obedience to the teachings of the Word of God indeed produces benefits and pleases the Lord (emphasis added to all above). Jesus accepts us as we are but does not leave us as we were. Genuine salvation produces sanctification and good works as we are motivated by the Holy Spirit.
Asking God for something involves more than just making a request. Yes, Jesus said, “If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it” (John:14:14). Scripture, however, further tells us “Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts” (James:4:3). God’s response to our requests is often dependent upon our motives, our walk with Him, the desires of our heart in conformity to His desire, His will, His grace, His mercy, and so forth. Such conditions challenge the false teachings of the Word/Faith, Prosperity, and Healing preachers, who try to bend certain verses of Scripture into a system of cause-and-effect laws, which thereby appear to turn God into a genie in a bottle who must respond to one’s demands. Supposedly, when a verse is “claimed,” God has no choice but to comply.
Not only is any attempt to interpret the Word of God in such a way that it becomes a system of spiritual laws (or methods or techniques) dead wrong, but it is little different from the beliefs and practices of magic, occultism, and witchcraft. At the very least, it generates legalism. For example, the response heard most often by those who have not been healed after following the teaching of the Word/Faith preachers (as well as the response of the preachers themselves) is that the healing could not take place because there was a lack of faith on the part of the sick individual. Legalism results in this system as individuals are coerced into adhering to the particulars of the false teaching (laws of their own making) in order the get the expected outcome. Furthermore, all of this is akin to “works salvation,” which will be considered later. Another aspect of legalism is creating unbiblical, man-made rules and practices not found in Scripture (Colossians:2:20-23).
Although the errors of the Word/Faith and Prosperity teachings should be obvious for diligent biblical Christians to discern, there is a growing movement that is related in many ways (although far more subtle and seductive) called the Hebrew Roots Movement.
The Hebrew Roots Movement (HRM) is, in general, an attempt by its adherents to draw closer to God by gleaning things from Judaism that are perceived to be biblically significant and valuable. Though the movement includes Jews who have professed faith in Jesus Christ as their Messiah, for the most part, it comprises non-Jewish professing and true Christians (Gentiles). The HRM technically is not a movement as we would normally define one. There is no national organization or hierarchy of leadership among this group, yet there are leaders and writers from diverse ad hoc organizations, churches, and ministries who favor the trend. Within the subculture, churches may be called synagogues, pastors may be called rabbis, Jesus may be referred to as Yeshua, depending on the whim of the leader or leaders. That make-it-up-as-you-go-along concept was demonstrated when one “Christian Rabbi” wrapped a prosperity teacher in a Torah scroll, called the teacher King, seated him in a chair, and had ushers parade him around on their shoulders.
The attraction for many to the HRM is often motivated by a love for the nation of Israel and its culture and traditions. However, those feelings have taken multitudes beyond a biblically acceptable attitude toward things Jewish and into beliefs and practices that are contrary to the teachings of Scripture. For some, the HRM has led them into a gospel of works salvation, which the Apostle Paul warned against and condemned in his Epistle to the Galatians: “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” (Galatians:3:1-3)
So there appear to be three different layers within the HRM: (1) Those who see Jewish practices with the accoutrements as a means of salvation, (2) Those who see some kind of a Jewish lifestyle as a means of sanctification and as a more godly spiritual life, and (3) Those who immerse themselves in Judaism as a way to understand the customs and manners of biblical times. Layers 1 and 2 create huge problems for their followers. They also create “levels” of Christians and a divisive elitism, while layer 3 could simply be called Hermeneutics 101. Layers 1 and 2 employ imitation, but the third layer includes those seeking better illumination and insight into the Word. Most exegetes fall into that third category.
Every sincere believer has been born again spiritually by faith in what Jesus Christ accomplished on the Cross. Eternal salvation is the result. The Holy Spirit then takes up residence within that person and becomes his enabler for living a life that is fruitful and pleasing to the Lord. This is the only way for one to be saved from everlasting separation from God. Nevertheless, there is a certain kind of “salvation” (sometimes referred to as sanctification) that a believer is to work out by God’s grace (Philippians:2:12-13). But again, as Galatians makes very clear, the born-again Christian began in the Spirit, and his life in Christ can be carried out only by the enabling of the Holy Spirit. The flesh cannot please God (Romans:8:8) and, furthermore, it profits nothing (John:6:63).
Many of those who are attracted to the Hebrew Roots Movement recognize that works play no part in the Gospel. Yet all who hold to the various HRM beliefs and practices have succumbed to a form of works salvation regarding their relationship with the Lord and their hope of drawing nearer to Him. For many, there is a false sense that “Jewishness is next to godliness.” Therefore, they see spiritual efficaciousness in Jewish rituals, dietary laws, paraphernalia, and the like. For a number of followers of the HRM, their affinity for such things may be unintentional when it comes to falling back under the Law to achieve righteousness. Nevertheless, it’s a leaven that rises and leads in that direction. No matter how insignificant that leaven may seem, it is at least a rejection of the grace of our Lord: “I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come[s] by the law, then Christ is dead in vain” (Galatians:2:21).
The false teachings found within various groups of the Hebrew Roots Movement run the gamut—from a clear rejection of Christ’s full payment on the Cross for the sins of mankind as necessary and completefor salvation, to the arbitrary guesswork of what laws are to be obeyed, or to a dual-covenant salvation. Within that mix are numerous ideas that are declared to be based upon Scripture but have no biblical basis whatsoever. The HRM, with its Law/works emphasis and inclusion of extra-biblical content, is a major contributor to the last-days apostasy and therefore needs to be exposed and judged biblically. Not every enthusiast holds to all the particular teachings of the HRM, but if the doctrine or activity is unique to the particular HRM group, it is not scriptural.
The following information constitutes much of what is promoted within the HRM. The purpose for its inclusion in this article is to aid in discernment and to offer spiritual protection so that believers might follow the exhortation of the Apostle Paul to the Thessalonians: “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (1 Thessalonians:5:21). This is accomplished by being a Berean, i.e., by searching the Scriptures to discern whether or not what’s being taught is consistent with the Word of God (Acts:17:11).
The HRM, however, thwarts that critical exhortation for discernment. Many followers of the movement are taught that the synoptic Gospels were originally written in Hebrew in a version that was supposed to be superior to the Greek texts, containing Hebrew idioms that provided deeper insights. Since no one has ever produced copies of the original Hebrew language version, adherents are told that much of what has been “missing” can be gleaned from rabbinical sources, even the mystical, occult Kabbalah. The obvious fallacy in this is that it points a participant toward the extra-biblical material and speculations of men in order to supposedly explain the inspired Word of God. This greatly undermines dependence upon the work of the Holy Spirit for a believer’s understanding of the Bible, and it does great harm to the belief in the plenary verbal inspiration of Scripture. Furthermore, those who promote the idea of a necessary original Hebrew New Testament disparage the Greek text of Scripture that God chose in which to originally present the New Testament. Not only is that wrong, but it misses the obvious reasons for a Greek New Testament. Greek was the universal language of that day, understood by both Jews and Gentiles. Hebrew was the language specific to the Jews. The Gospel, however, was not for the Jews only, but God’s mandate to the disciples was that they were to preach it to the Gentiles as well (Matthew:28:18-20). To further compound the error, HRM followers are exhorted to learn Hebrew in order to increase their spiritual understanding and become more like the Jewish Jesus.
The Apostles had a knowledge of Jesus from being with Him when He physically ministered here on earth. Yet Paul wrote, “Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer” (2 Corinthians:5:16 - NKJV). The implication is that a believer’s spiritual insight is far more necessary for understanding and growth in Christ than anything obtained through one’s flesh. In spite of that, the HRM majors in things of the flesh that are drawn from customs and traditions having no biblical support and are centuries removed from the time when Jesus walked the earth.
Going back to the Law has been a problem for Christianity down through its history. From Paul’s issues with Peter (Galatians:2:11-14), to the Judaizers of Galatians, to the obligatory dogmas of Roman Catholicism and the Russian and Eastern Orthodox Church, to the legalism of Seventh-day Adventism and other “Christian” cults of today—all teach abiding by the Law. Yet none teach that a person must observe the whole Law. All are very selective regarding which laws they choose to obey. The HRM also reworks Old Testament observances that only seem to reflect what God ordained. The Passover practiced today, for example, is not the same Passover observed during the Exodus and up until the first century. The contemporary Seder is based on an extra-biblical Jewish tradition that Christians attempt to recreate but that has no meaning for the non-Jew. Those of the HRM however, are not the only people who participate in the Seder. It is widespread among Evangelicals who are attracted to the present-day practice, thinking that it is consistent with Scripture. The biblical Passover celebrated Jewish liberation from Egypt, which does not apply to people who were not delivered from Egypt but from sin. Jesus gave to the Church the Lord’s Supper, not the Passover. Jesus’ death is the fulfillment of the Old Testament practice of Passover (1 Corinthians:5:7). Honoring the Seder ceremony for the sake of witnessing to Jews may be well meaning on the part of Christians who participate but in fact promotes the invented content of the Talmud and sends the message that the Messiah has yet to come.
There is one incontrovertible fact that is ignored by nearly all in the HRM groups. That inescapable fact is that first-century Judaism is not the same Judaism that exists today. In fact, to be correct we would have to refer to Judaisms. There are a dozen or more subcultures and divisions within Judaism today. Orthodox, Conservative, Ashkenazic, and Sephardic Judaisms are only the tip of a very large iceberg. The huge question that the HRM has yet to answer is, Which Judaism? An arbitrary “take your pick” philosophy simply adds to the confusion and chaos.
The representation of the teachings of the HRM as leaven is fitting, as it has been slowly rising within the churches of our day. But there are indications that the movement may increase like a flood. The names of some of those who promote certain of the teachings and practices of the HRM within Christendom have highly influential organizations or ministries. They include Joseph Farah of WorldNetDailyBlood Moons author Mark Biltz, The Harbinger author Jonathan Cahn, pastor John Hagee, blogger and cultist Michael Rood, and pastor James Staley (now in prison for fraud).
There is much more that needs to be addressed regarding the Hebrew Roots Movement, which we plan to continue in Part II. It will include the belief in dual-covenant salvation (one for Jews, based upon obedience to the Law, and one for Gentiles, who receive the gift of salvation based upon the finished work of Christ in payment for their sins); it will also focus on Jewish feast days, the Sabbath, denial of the Trinity, the Worldwide Church of God connection, the elitism that is generated by HRM participation, as well as providing further information.

By T.A. McMahon,
G. Richard Fisher

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Guest Post: Mysticism and the Coming World Religion- Pt3

Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand…Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints.        —Ephesians:6:13, 16-18
And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.      —Acts:2:42
What lies ahead, according to the Scriptures, regarding the increasing development of mysticism today has been addressed in the previous two articles presented in October and November. That’s one of the purposes of biblical prophecy: to have believers “take heed.” But being aware of what’s coming is only part of what God would have us know. There is also the “what we are to do” part. And the good news is that He enables us by His grace and His Holy Spirit.
How we go about our life in Christ is critical. Whether in peace or persecution, in poverty or prosperity, in sickness or in health, our condition cannot determine a response that keeps us from being fruitful, productive, and pleasing to the Lord. That certainly makes no sense to the world and, sadly, many Christians are confused by it. Yet that’s the gist of John:10:10: “I [Jesus] am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” How can persecution, poverty, and sickness equate with an abundant life? That doesn’t seem right, but perhaps one’s definition of “abundantly” inhibits a correct biblical understanding of the word.
If we’re thinking that the abundant life is one filled only with the physical pleasures and provisions of life to the suspension of things not so pleasant or seemingly favorable, we’ve misunderstood John:10:10, as well as other verses throughout Scripture. That erroneous mindset cannot reconcile the joy indicated in verses such as 2 Corinthians:7:4: “...I am filled with comfort, I am exceeding joyful in all our tribulation,” and 2 Corinthians:8:2: “How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality.” Words such as “tribulation,” “trial of affliction,” and “deep poverty” seem at odds with “abundance” and may lead a person to a misunderstanding that could play havoc in a believer’s life in Christ.
Jesus said, “Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of Man’s sake. Rejoice ye in that day, and leap for joy: for, behold, your reward is great in heaven: for in the like manner did their fathers unto the prophets” (Luke:6:22-23). The point of bringing these verses to our attention is because as we draw closer to the return of Jesus Christ, the obstacles, both physical and spiritual, will increase. Many of our brothers and sisters throughout the world are already undergoing horrendous persecution. Where that is limited, such as here in the West, spiritual deception and seduction are running rampant, thereby shipwrecking the faith of multitudes of believers. Ignorance of what the Scriptures teach is a major contributor to said conditions, but there are numerous verses that every biblical Christian needs to understand in order to successfully weather the trials and tribulations that will surely come.
The good news is that God has provided “abundantly” everything a true believer in Jesus needs in order to be fruitful in his or her life in Christ. The Apostle Peter wrote, “According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue” (2 Peter:1:3). “All things” means all things, and therefore that must include spiritual protection in the days that Jesus characterized by declaring, “Take heed that no man deceives you,” and “For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect” (Matthew:24:4, 24). Furthermore, the good news is that the biblical prevention program against being led astray by the cunning deceits of the Adversary is that it is neither complicated nor formidable. Here are the basic elements for preventing being deceived: the Word of God, prayer, and fellowship.
“All things” that the Lord has provided are empowered by the Holy Spirit and enabled through His grace. The preventative process against being spiritually duped isn’t complex, but it does demand a willing heart, a love of the truth, and the exercise of discipline. Avoiding being deceived or seduced by the apostasy must begin with the Word of God and our commitment to it, meaning a consistent reading of the Bible—daily. There is no better habit for the man, woman, and child of God. James gives the primary exhortation for that: “Submit yourselves therefore to God.” (James:4:7) That must include submitting ourselves to God’s instructions. Two things here: we can’t submit to instructions we haven’t read, and submission involves doing what God has instructed.
God’s Word has long been held as a Christian’s authority. Today, although many evangelicals profess that they do believe in the authority of Scripture in matters of faith and practice, in actuality they deny them in practice. A young man who was a local leader in promoting the Emerging Church Movement came in to see me one day. Previous to that, I was praying about how I could explain some things to him and perhaps help him to get back on track with God’s Word. As we were about to start our conversation, I said that I thought it would be very helpful if we acknowledged to what spiritual authority each of us was submitting. With my Bible squarely in front of him, I said, “This book is my authority. What’s your authority?” He looked around, and looked around, as though searching for a response, and then finally said, “My God is bigger than that book.” I wasn’t shocked by his answer because I’ve heard it a number of times. Nevertheless, I followed that by responding that he must therefore have other authorities, and who might they be in whom he was trusting in place of God? Needless to say, our “conversation” went nowhere worthwhile after that.
Most Christians tend to hang on to the belief in the authority of God’s Word, but functionally they bail out on it. That’s because they don’t really believe in the sufficiency of Scripture. That’s unfortunate. It’s also senseless. Why? Because anyone who claims to believe in the authority of God’s Word but denies its sufficiency means he doesn’t believe it has all the answers that it claims. Therefore, if a person feels he must go elsewhere for answers, he’s doing…what? He’s looking for another authority.
It should be obvious that not believing in the Bible’s sufficiency is a rejection of its authority. Again, the Bible makes it absolutely clear regarding its sufficiency. Second Timothy 3:16-17 proclaims: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” These expressions—“inspiration,” being “profitable,” giving “instruction” in order to grow in maturity, and being “furnished” (equipped) for every good work—certainly confirm sufficiency. Ephesians:2:10 spells out a major reason for God making His Word sufficient for every believer: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” And by “all things that pertain to life and godliness,” which we noted in Peter’s second epistle, Scripture is referring to all that is necessary to please God regarding things that have both temporal and eternal value. To what or to whom should a believer in Christ turn for that?
The daily habit of reading the Word of God, recognizing its sufficiency for our growth, maturity, fruitfulness—and then doing what it says by God’s enablement—is necessary for protection against spiritual deception. And that must be undergirded by prayer. “In every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God” Philippians:4:6.
Hopefully, we all realize that when the verse says “every thing,” it means everything. A number of years ago when I was in England I was with a couple of believers, guys I hadn’t met before, but after spending a few days with them, I was stunned by their approach to what we were doing: they prayed about everything. Although I wasn’t used to their zeal for prayer, the way they went about it reflected it as a seamless part of their lives. They prayed at the day’s beginning, prior to a drive to a meeting, for the spiritual blessing of the meeting, thanking the Lord at meals, for those we met along the way, and on and on. I found myself singing phrases from the hymn What a Friend We Have in Jesus: All our sins and griefs to bear. What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer. That experience with them got me both excited and re-invigorated about how important prayer is.
When I came out of the Roman Catholic Church and into a personal relationship with Jesus, it was difficult at first (on my part) to make that relationship truly personal. My early prayer life more closely reflected the rote prayers I practiced for decades when Jesus was hardly a “friend” to me—certainly far less so than His mother. As the evangelical church of late has become enamored with the Church of Rome, many are practicing contemplative prayer, which has been a historic part of Catholicism from the Desert Fathers to the modern-day promotions of mystic priests such as Henri Nouwen and Thomas Merton. Although the claim is that contemplative prayer is more intimate and draws one closer to God, the reality is that it involves hundreds of vain repetitions of phrases and singular words, a process that is condemned in Scripture
(Matthew:6:7-8) and renders intelligent communication totally absurd.
Biblical prayer, on the other hand, consists of a believer’s personal communication with his Creator. Although fully God, Jesus is also fully Man. He demonstrated the intimate relationship we are to have with Him and with God the Father in numerous ways He drew away from the crowds in order to commune with His Father: “And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone.” and at times He “continued all night in prayer” (Matthew:14:23Luke:6:12). Prayer, according to the Scriptures, is set forth as an imperative for the believer. We are to pray “without ceasing,” “always,” “exceedingly,” “night and day,” regarding whatever conditions beset us. We are to pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ (Romans:15:30), for our rulers, as well as for our enemies
(1 Timothy:2:1-2Luke:6:27-28). The simple reason that biblical prayer is so important is that we cannot do anything that has eternal value except by God’s grace, and that is mostly received through prayer.
Specific to spiritual protection we are exhorted to pray “always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints” (Ephesians:6:18). The Apostle Paul asked for prayer “that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men”…declaring that “the Lord is faithful, who shall stablish you, and keep you from evil” (2 Thessalonians:3:1-3). Moreover, and better yet, we have Jesus, who prayed for Peter that his faith would not fail (Luke:22:32), and who now is at the right hand of the Father making “intercession for the saints” (Romans:8:27, 34).
Another necessary element in regard to preventing being seduced or deceived by the increasing apostasy may be the most difficult one to satisfy or maintain. It has to do with fellowship. Scripture declares “Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up. Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone? And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes:4:9-12).
Those verses give simple insight regarding how we should go about dealing with these troubling times that aggressively oppose the Bible’s instructions for living our lives in a way that is pleasing to the Lord. Fellowship with like-minded brothers and sisters in Christ is a major part of the Lord’s instructions, given for our protection, strengthening, and fruitfulness. Ecclesiastes implies that those who disdain fellowship have put themselves into a weak and vulnerable position: “Two are better than one…. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up.” A believer who has no one to support him spiritually will find himself in trouble sooner or later. When any of us gets knocked down spiritually, we need a fellow believer to help us up—mentally, emotionally, and, most important, spiritually. As for those who declare, “The Lord is all we need,” too often, their subsequent thinking is out of line with God’s Word. Jesus said in Luke:6:46, “And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” We as believers need to “circle our wagons” now and in the days ahead. Our best option is in a church fellowship, supporting the leadership that is steadfast and staying the course of God’s Word, and especially—serving the body. When that isn’t an option, we must ask the Lord to help us to find another committed believer or believers with whom we may have a Bible study, with whom we can pray, with whom we might minister to one another, encourage one another, and with whom we can gather together for doctrinal discernment and spiritual fortification. “And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” First and foremost, that third strand must be the Lion of Judah, the Lamb of God, our Lord and Savior Jesus himself.
In summary, the Word of God, prayer, and fellowship are the biblical keys empowered by God’s grace for a believer’s spiritual protection. By His grace, may we be motivated to make these a priority as we see the spiritual darkness overtake the world around us.

By T. A. McMahon

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Guest Post: Mysticism... and Dr. Strange

In the October and November 2016 issues of The Berean Call newsletter, a thesis was presented based upon Scripture and an observation of what has been taking place in the world and Christendom. It is simply this: the coming worldwide religion of the Antichrist is rooted in and will establish itself as mysticism. Definitions of mysticism include: belief that one may attain a direct knowledge of and a final union with God or some Supreme Deity (personal or impersonal) through subjective experiences, altered states of consciousness, meditation, feelings, and occult manifestations. It is the turning from objective reality (reason, true science, facts) to metaphysical assumptions and speculations. Mysticism is believed to be the pathway to the spiritual realm that ultimately controls the physical universe. This article is a review of the latest global promotion of mysticism in the movie Dr. Strange.
Before I became a biblical Christian—one who was graciously saved by putting my faith in the sacrificial death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the full payment for all my sins—I was a Hollywood screenwriter. One of the things I learned in my time at 20th Century-Fox studios and with independent productions was that as a screenwriter my primary objective was entertainment. The formula was hardly complex: the more entertaining the movie, the bigger the box office success. There are many other things that may go into a movie: for example, a message, a teaching, or a political, religious, or philosophical slant. But to the degree that any of those things detract from the entertainment value, they can put financial success in harm’s way. That is a major reason why the majority of theatrical movies fail at the box office.
On the other hand, the movie medium is the most effective vehicle for promoting specific beliefs in the world today, and that potential is not lost on the screenwriter. For example, there are three movies that have had enormous success by featuring a religious teaching and yet lost no enthusiasts because the films were highly entertaining. Star Wars introduced the Force as a spiritual energy field that connects all living things. Director George Lucas wanted to “awaken a certain kind of spirituality in young audiences, suggesting a belief in God without endorsing any specific religion” (The Mythology of Star Wars [2000 documentary]). The ongoing theme of controlling the power of the Force produced occult manifestations throughout the Star Wars episodes such as telepathy and using the mind to manipulate matter. From the late 1970s on, children have been inculcated with “May the Force be with you,” and Yoda’s instruction to Luke Skywalker for manipulating the Force: “Luke, trust your feelings.” Entertaining? Yes. Spiritually seductive? Yes. Antithetical to Scripture? Totally.
In 2009, Avatar (a Hindu term for an incarnated spirit or god) at one point surpassed Star Wars at the box office, becoming the highest grossing film in history. As Star Wars is to Eastern mystical occultism, the movie Avatar is to the largest non-centralized and non-structured religion in the world: shamanism. Shamanism is practiced throughout the globe, from Siberia to the Solomon Islands, from Africa to the Far East. Yet the fact that it functions identically among people groups who have never been in contact with one another confirms that the shaman’s guidance comes from a nonhuman (i.e., spiritual) source. Avatar portrays a litany of anti-biblical beliefs, albeit in a highly entertaining way: through reincarnation, the worship of nature and nature spirits, Gaia as supreme deity, Hinduism, goddess worship, panentheism, the connection of humans and nature, the purity of those closest to nature, and spirit/soul travel. Writer/director James Cameron loaded his film with Hindu nuances (e.g., the blue skin of the Na’vi, akin to the gods Krishna and Rama) and declared that he “tried to make a film that would touch people’s spirituality across the broad spectrum” (The Times of India, retrieved March 20, 2010).
Both Star Wars and Avatar teach various aspects of mysticism indirectly through their focus on the Force and shamanism respectively, but Dr. Strange (the latest of the Marvel super heroes to come to the big screen) is a narrative that specifically and clearly explains mysticism as the story unfolds. A surgeon at the top of his profession loses the use of his hands due to a horrific car crash. Nothing scientifically attempted is able to restore his surgical skills. Dr. Strange, therefore, having lost all but a fleck of hope, journeys to Katmandu. His huge ego, wrapped in a materialist mindset, sets the stage for Mysticism Apologetics 101. There he is led to the “Ancient One,” a sorceress who dismantles his zealous disbelief in nonphysical reality.
Dr. Strange: “I do not believe in fairy tales about chakras or energy.… There is no such thing as spirit. We are made of matter and nothing more.” Brushing his ignorance aside, the sorceress pushes him into experiences and makes pronouncements that have no correlation outside of a mystical worldview. Dr. Strange (and the audience) are taught that “At the root of existence, mind and matter meet. Both shape reality.” Yet we learn quickly that the mystical realm is far more powerful than physical matter, and we follow the path of Dr. Strange, the former hardcore materialist, as he develops into the “Supreme Sorcerer,” supposedly drawing only upon the “good side” of mystical power.
Like the other Marvel movies, Dr. Strange is highly amusing, well written and directed, includes humor, dazzling special effects, and very likeable characters. That’s the good news for the ticket purchaser: you get your entertainment-money’s worth. That good news however is bad news for biblical Christians, those who are aware that the chief mystical ingredients of the Antichrist’s worldwide religion are spreading like wildfire, and who are grieved over the multitude of souls who are deceived in the process. Those ingredients include sorcery (Acts:8:9-11Revelation:9:21; 18:23; 21:8; 22:15), lying signs and wonders (2 Thessalonians:2:9-10Revelation:16:13-14), and a supreme sorcerer-to-come who is empowered by Satan himself (Revelation:13:11-14). Jesus warned that these things would take place just prior to His return (Matthew 24).
Among those who profess to be Christians, confusion is further induced by a myriad of attempts to spin anti-biblical movies as Christian, including the Harry Potter series, which offers pure, unadulterated instructions in witchcraft. Christianity Today, a professing Christian journal that has been fostering the apostasy in copious ways for years, provides an obvious example of sanctifying mysticism in its review of Dr. Strange. Understanding, therefore, that what is taking place is actually a fulfillment of prophecy that will continue its course until Jesus returns, what is a biblical believer to do? We need to know what the Bible declares about the days ahead, and we must pray that the Lord will give us the opportunity to point out these things to people who don’t know what the Scriptures teach, including the lost, professing “Christians,” and sincere but uninformed believers.
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