Recently I was researching information on a prominent American pastor. I won’t say his name here, but his church has about 30,000 members and he is a frequent speaker at conferences and conventions across denominational lines. His numerous books are best-sellers in Christian and secular bookstores. Some observers regard him as this country’s foremost evangelical preacher. There is only one problem- his belief about God is not biblical. He does not believe in the most fundamental Christian doctrine: The Holy Trinity. So we have to ask: Is this man’s church, and others like it, a true authentic movement of God- or a counterfeit?
In the past several issues of this newsletter we tracked sign posts of genuine movements of God. Any movement where God’s spirit is authentically at work should exhibit all or at least some, of these indicators. First, we simply defined a God movement as an outpouring of the Holy Spirit in a specific time and place, sent by God the Father and focused on Jesus Christ, which produces all or some of eight specific characteristics. Let’s first review the ones we previously addressed and then look at the last four.
We began by looking at the internal preparations necessary for a God Movement to occur in an individual, a church, or a nation. (1) True God movements produce strong commitments by Christians to prayer and genuine reliance on God’s power for spiritual living. Likewise, (2) we stated that God movements result in sincere expressions of personal confession of sin, repentance, and accountability by Christians indicating a deep desire to walk closer with Christ.
In our last installment we explained how genuine God movements (3) tend to produce visible increases in local church attendance and renewed interest in vital worship experiences. The style, in my opinion, is irrelevant to the authenticity of the worship of the people. We also stated that (4) God movements motivate and enhance Christians’ expressions of Christian stewardship. Giving, earning, saving, spending, and even making a will are all related to our stewardship of the resources God has entrusted to us.
This time we look at the final four markers of true movements of God.
5. Great emphases on Scriptural truth and personal Bible study.
The pastor we mentioned above is a star in the religious world. However, can any movement whose doctrines are not confirmed in Scripture be real? I would say no, a real movement of God always produces greater interest and adherence to sound biblical truth. It also motivates believers to search the Bible and apply its truths to their lives.
6 A greater awareness and involvement by Christians in cultural, economic, social, and political issues that impact the moral and spiritual life of their community.
Sometimes I think Christians live in a ghetto. I mean we so often isolate ourselves from society that we make no impact on it. We complain a lot about the moral and spiritual state of our nation and community, but do little about it. A true movement of God motivates Christian people to get more involved in civic, cultural, and political issues of the day.
7. Dramatic demonstrations of reconciliation, restored relationships and the strengthening of marriages and families among Christians.
Perhaps the saddest cases I have seen in my experience as a Christian have been those when fellow believers divide and churches split. Usually the conflicts are over unessential issues, like music or worship styles. Occasionally they involve doctrinal issues, especially if a zealous faction pushes its theological agenda on a resistant church. Other times splits result from power grabs within a church body.
Any movement that tends to draw battle lines between followers of Christ is suspect. On the other hand, one of the most dramatic indicators that God is moving in a people is that harmony prevails and broken relationships are restored.
This is true in families as well. Hurting marriages are healed and children are reconciled to parents when God’s people pray and turn to him. Any movement that does not seek to build and strengthen family bonds is not of God (some cults even consciously seek to break them up).
8. Finally, and perhaps most telling, is that true God movements demonstrate prolific evangelistic activity at the personal, church, and community levels resulting in salvation conversions to Christ.
Many churches and Christian organizations focus on specific forms of ministry or to specific groups. For instance, some churches primarily minister to young families. Some minister to people in need. Some do relief work among disaster victims. These are all good, but, in every case, evangelism should be a significant part of the overall program. True movements of God inevitably result in people repenting of their sins and coming to Christ as Savior and Lord. Unfortunately, the tendency in churches is let this dimension of ministry slide. In fact, evangelism may be the hardest aspect for any church to maintain.
As one commentator said: “In 2000, it was interesting to read the studies which Willowcreek and Saddleback conducted after their twenty-fifth and twentieth years respectively in ministry. They both realized and conclusively documented that for evangelism to stay even with the other purposes of the church, they had to put twice as much energy and effort toward this discipline as they did the others.” (Rod Earls, Associational Director of Missions, Central Valley [CA] Baptist Association)
Some spiritual movements and leaders look good on the surface. They may have dynamic leaders who preach eloquent sermons and sell a lot books. However, what is needed today among Christians is discernment. Each of the eight characteristics we discussed indicates that God is at work in specific movement. A genuine movement may not exhibit all of them, but if none, or only even one or two, are evident, its methods, goals, and purposes should be examined to make sure they are in line with God’s.
© 2011 Tal Davis