Monday, June 15, 2009

Avoid Sound Doctrine Ministries Like the Plague!


You've been warned.

Before becoming enmeshed last week in a lordship salvation debate with a confused soul who doesn't really understand the premise of regeneration, I had come across a website purporting to be pro-lordship which was offering free books entitled "Even the Demons Believe". Who can argue with a title like that? Said book has been sitting in my basement bookcase for over a month, whilst I resolved to get around to it one day.

This morning I had to get my brake pads changed (ground themselves right into the rotors, the blasted things) so I read it while drinking swanky coffee in the dealership's Customer Appreciation Department. I already understand that true conversion will always result in fruit, but I figured this book would give me a more concise explanation of the lordship of Christ for future discussions. I tend to go off on tangents, in case you haven't noticed, and that's not a virtue when you're explaining doctrine.

So.....even the demons believe. We all agree so far. The introduction sounded like an even-handed reaction on the part of sincere Christians to emotion-based appeals and easy believism. "Sound Doctrine Ministries" evidently was started to combat the "cheap grace" so rampant in post-modern evangelicalism, and the foreword sounded legitimate enough. I was about 7 or 8 pages in before I started to get the willies. The overall tone of the book is severe - completely joyless. No doubt, the first thing that made me raise my eyebrows (although certainly not heresy) was the following sentence: "Jesus hated His life while He walked on this earth." Really, now? No context for that whatsoever. The Gospels several times mention His joy (Luke 10:21; Luke 15:5; John 15:11; John 17:13) and complete submission to the will of the Father -- which was for Him to live as fully man. Nothing in the Gospels indicates Jesus "hated" His life - there was no sin in Him, and He delighted in doing the Father's will.

Moving on...on the next page, I encounter this gem:
"In the first place, Jesus did not come to make Christians, but disciples. This is an important distinction, mainly because when someone refers to themselves as a Christian they consider it a done deal. But Jesus looked at it differently. He sought to make disciples, and a disciple is someone in the act of continually learning from God...becoming a disciple demands a degree of humility and teachability that being a Christian does not require. A Christian sounds like a finished deal.....a disciple is in the process of being saved and waits for God's "coming of salvation," "revealed in the last time."
(emphasis mine).

"Aha!" said I. "They're confusing justification with sanctification. This could get interesting." Reading on, I learn that being born again is a lengthy process, much like becoming a medical doctor, and we will not really be Christians until we "graduate" and see Christ face to face. "Disciples are individuals that were saved, are being saved and will be saved. Salvation, like discipleship, is a process. God has given us free choice and we can stop this process of saving grace and thus fall away."

Haven't heard that line since Catholic school. Raw deal for that guy on the cross who believed Christ was who He said He was in his last moments, huh? To continue, I learn that if a man then hardens his heart, he cuts off the power of grace and will forfeit eternal life - therefore he must "simply say "yes" to the grace of God every day" in order for God to keep him from falling. So then....who is the one controlling our salvation? Certainly not God, if we can gain it on Monday, lose it on Tuesday....gain it back on Wednesday...only to lose it again on Friday.

Guess what? There's not a Christian alive who hasn't "said no" to God's grace at least one day of his life. That's what makes grace "grace" (def.: undeserved gift; unmerited favor). A true child of God will not stay in a hardened or unrepentant state (Luke 15) - God knows His own. After myriad warnings of all the ways I can lose my salvation, I'm told that I must "make every effort to be saved" and pay the price (after an undetermined amount of time contemplating and counting the cost).

What does that cost entail, you ask? Well, Williams has included a 31-point bullet list of "a few things to consider before [I] make [my] decision to follow Jesus. I'm cautioned to "please keep in mind these are only a few things that [I] should consider long before calling [myself] a Christian."

  • A despising and hating of money [spoiler alert: turns out this group, which is based in Washington, means by this that I should fork it all over to them].
  • A hatred of my time, rest, comfort, fun, and joys [lots of hating going on here already, dontcha think?)
  • A realization that God regrets making me [Wowzers! Don't think I've ever seen Genesis 6:6 taken QUITE that far out of Bible also says He takes great delight in me and rejoices over me with singing - Zeph. 3:17]
  • To work out my salvation with fear and trembling, knowing I could lose it [I swear I am not making this up - do I really need to post all the references that promise the Christian eternal security, assurance of salvation, and perseverance?]
  • To pray all of the time [even while I'm asleep, I gather]
  • To be prepared to stop associating with anyone who claims to be a Christian but is a hypocrite [So I really don't have to deal with my parents! I'm off da hook! I KNEW there had to be a loophole to that pesky 5th Commandment thingy!]
  • Come into the Light where my whole life is open before God and the church [Hmm. Based in what I've read so far, that sounds like a thin veneer for a high control group. Starting to smell like ICOC, me thinks. Spoiler alert: founders were once involved in ICOC. I can smell cults a mile away, I tell you...I'm getting good.]
In conclusion, we learn that "....we cannot hope for a resurrected life without first carrying the cross the Holy Spirit gives us." Shaking head and blinking here. That gives the expression "putting the cart before the horse" new meaning. How can one hope to carry a cross before conversion (becoming a child of God?) Why would the Holy Spirit expect us to "prove" ourselves by cross-bearing prior to being placed in Christ, and where would we get the strength (let alone the desire) apart from a vital union with our Savior?

One thing I learned while writing my own book was that when discussing doctrine and applied theology, your wording must be very, very precise.

The one doctrine of grace that "Even the Demons Believe" handled accurately was Total Depravity. However, even there, Williams says more than the Bible does (in regards to the elect): "God's grace requires full surrender of all pride and self-justification, [true] for God is "grieved" that he (sic) made you. [patently untrue]. As He looks at your life and what you have become "pain" fills His heart." Again, the author is taking Genesis 6:6 out of context and overlooking the fact of God's omniscience - He knows the end from the beginning and rejoices over His elect. He does not wish any to perish, but repeatedly out of love calls men to repentance. This mixing of truth with error is typical throughout the book, and it grieves me that younger Christians might read this and believe it is an accurate representation of lordship (or, worse, an accurate picture of God's view of them).

Williams writes:
"When a man or woman stops carrying the cross, the new life God created starts to die because the old you begins to take over again. If this situation continues long enough, the new life God started totally dies and the person becomes more fit for hell than when God first started. Better that he never even started trying to be a Christian."
#1. 1 Peter 1:23 says "you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God." If God creates a new life, it cannot die. (John 11:26; John 3:36) and no one can snatch that life out of God's hand (John 10:28) because that life is now hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3). See why it's important to read your Bible, and not let pious-sounding purveyors of man-made doctrine confuse you?

#2. Let's look at Matthew 23:15 in context, shall we? "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are." Jesus here was addressing the Pharisees, who were lost and blinded in their own hypocrisy. The warning of being "twice as fit for hell" was not addressed to Christians who had momentarily dropped their "cross"; it was addressed to apostate Judaic teachers who refused to bend the knee to Him as the Messiah. (Ever notice Jesus never threatened Peter with hell, even after his denial?)

#3. Salvation is a work of God. No one "tries" to be a Christian; God draws him (John 6:44). In fact, the Bible repeatedly affirms that man does not seek God on his own initiative (Romans 3:11) because the heart is inherently deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9).

Next, an entire chapter is devoted to "proving" baptism is the "next step" in the process of salvation. Acts 2:36-40 is used as a proof text, and the actual water is declared to be salvific.

(Whew...this is getting complicated! I wonder if that Samaritan woman or the adulteress Jesus forgave...or Zacheus the wee little man or the Extraordinarily Sinful Woman of Luke 7 knew any of this, or that repentance is a threefold process. I think they just came to Christ, broken but in faith.)

On it continues in this vein. If I may state the obvious: This is NOT Lordship. Trust me. I love John Macarthur. I like Paul Washer. Sometimes, depending on what kind of mood I'm in, I can even tolerate Tim Conway (wonderfully balanced message on God's love and holiness can be seen here). All "Lordship Salvation" is, is a recognition that if Christ is our Savior, He is fully our Lord and if we call ourselves disciples, we'll walk in obedience. There will always be some evidence of a changed life in one who has been reborn - sometimes sooner; sometimes later. As I wrote in my own book recently, once you know that love and that unfathomable mercy, you can't help but be changed by it. Obedience is birthed out of gratitude - there's a desire to die to self and to live for Christ. (If living for self were working for us, why would we have become Christians in the first place?) Lordship does not mean you will never struggle with sin, nor is it works-based salvation (the epitome of pride).

Usually, but not always, when a ministry labeling itself Christian gives away books free on the internet, it's a safe bet they're a cult. (Gospel for Asia is one notable exception). A few years ago, an "evangelical" group e-mailed me asking me to translate one of their books into Bulgarian. They turned out to be an esoteric cult based in Korea. (For the price they were offering, I wouldn't have done it even if it had been for Billy Graham!) About 10 minutes of research turned up that these purveyors of the "true gospel", Sound Doctrine Ministries, is a pseudo--Christian cult (their publisher is Carried Cross Books). Many people have shared their testimonies of deceit, manipulation and destroyed lives in online forums; Moriel Ministries discussed the group's red flags as well.

You've been warned. Beware of them. Be Bereans.


4simpsons said...

"I tend to go off on tangents, in case you haven't noticed, and that's not a virtue when you're explaining doctrine."

You too?!

Great analysis. Sometimes the most dangerous books have the veneer of sound doctrine.

Marie said...

That's the thing! Nothing about this book particularly screamed "cult" - not even the cover art - but I was only in a chapter or so before I spotted the Scripture-twisting and rewriting of the Gospel.

It makes me fear for impressionable Christians - that this type of thing will cause unnecessary anxiety - as an extreme reaction to the generally lukewarm and apostate state the Church is now in. Heresy masquerading as conservative dividing of the Word/lordship teaching is not what we need right now.

lyn said...

I noticed this line from the book, "God has given us free choice and we can stop this process of saving grace and thus fall away." It seems the free-will/arminian camp may be more often than not behind many false teachings. "being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." Phil. 1:6 No one can snatch us out of His hand. Seems pretty clear to me.

There are all kinds of deceptive teachings out there, you could swim in an ocean of these false publications. Good advice a Berean!

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

This is sad, because Steve Tsoukalas has some excellent books on Freemasonry, and his "Christian Faith 101" is a really good primer on basic Christian doctrines. (Or did I miss something in it?). He has been a speaker at a couple apologetics conferences we've attended. I'm going to have to check Moriel Ministries' report.

Marie said...

What does Steve Tsoukalas have to do with it?

Marie said...

Oh...wait wait wait.

I just googled "Steve Tsoukalis" and found the confusion -- he has a ministry by the same name, "Sound Doctrine Ministries". His is out of Exeter, New Hampshire.

These dudes, although using the same name, are based in Enumclaw, Washington. This Timothy Williams is the head honcho - it's a church of sorts, and everyone is accountable to him (if he tells you not to disagree and you do, even on biblical grounds, you are too filled with pride).

Anyway, there is no connection between the two groups; don't worry!

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

Maybe we are talking about two different Sound Doctrine Ministries. I just googled and found a couple. Steve Tsoukalas is with

Tell me this isn't the same, please!

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

Your last comment didn't make it before I wrote. You are fast!

Thanks for the differentiation!

robnlex65 said...

There are several groups around the country who call themselves by the Name "Sound Doctrine Ministries" In my early days as a young preacher i even toyed with the name myself. Then I discovered so many others using the name that I changed. One of those ministries is a ministry that works very hard to combat false doctrine and teaching (especially in cult organizations) and while I don't particularly agree with all their teaching, they do a pretty good Job. Thios group you are referring to is not one of those groups though. this seams to be another fringe group starting cult like practices. I get so tired of the "send us $20 and God will send you a blessing" crowd. What< Have we gone Back to selling indulgences? I see alot of those in the Penticostal/Charismatic Movement. Although I really like my Charismatic friends They do need to clean house a bit. I do suspect the group you are referring to may belong to an "Independant" Penticostal or Charismatic group. Keep up the good work.

Marie said...

Thank you, Rob.

Yeah, this group sort of promotes themselves as being a Lordship Salvation group (although I'm not sure they ever used those actual words, and I certainly have no quarrel with the legitimate Lordship position - as espoused by Paul Washer, Tim Conway, John Macarthur and others). From what I could tell in that book, they don't appear to be charismatic.

I was a Pentecostal-wannabe for a few years; still have the scars. I can usually smell Word-Faith doctrine or generic charismania from a mile away. Although like you, I have a few non-cessationist friends who are truly sincere (and biblically literate) Christians. I try not to poke them with a sharp stick. ;)

Jenn said...

Hey do you have the 31-point bullet list you talk about? I'm doing my own online research regarding current allegations about TW/SD/WP and am wanting to get my ducks in a row. Is it in his book?

Marie said...

@ Jenn - Sure; send me your e-mail and I'll scan it.


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