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Chapter 1: Try the Spirits

Rev. Jason Kortering

Stormy winds are blowing over the ecclesiastical waters today. Doctrines which the Christian church has professed for centuries are being cast aside with blatant disregard. It is no longer humiliating for a clergyman to be labeled a heretic; it has become a mark of distinction, a symbol of pioneering in the effort to make the gospel relevant in our day. One accusation after another is hurled against the Christian church, charging her with being out of step with our times. Because the times have changed, it's assumed that the gospel must change with it.

We live in a day when as never before we have to heed the words of the Apostle John, "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: and every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist whereof ye have heard that it should come: and even now already is it in the world." I John 4:1-3.

The amazing thing is that these winds of change are blowing up storms in every sphere of life.

Oh, I know there are the radical theologians who have become more daring than others. Listen to one example:

"We are now living in a time when the whole inherited body of our theological language is disappearing into the past and a new history is dawning in our midst before which theology is increasingly becoming speechless. The Christian can no longer find security in an absolute sovereign God who exercises a beneficent and providential government over the world. Theology must resolutely confine the Christian name of God to the past and wholly refrain from proclaiming his redemptive presence in our historical present."

This is the voice of an outspoken advocate of the God is Dead movement, Thomas J. J. Altizer in his book, "The Gospel of Christian Atheism."

Lest we think that such a departure is far removed from us we had better take another look into the seminaries of traditional orthodox and conservative churches. Very few of them are faithful to the historic Christian faith. The road of apostasy begins with what seems to be an insignificant doctrinal departure, but such a departure leads swiftly and surely to the same place, a denial of God!

Let me illustrate this a moment. Some time ago there appeared in the Reformed Journal articles by Prof. Harold Dekker of Calvin Theological Seminary. This institution historically stood upon the Reformed Confessions as e.g. The Canons of Dordt. Professor Dekker wrote,

"There are therefore three senses in which we may legitimately speak of the atonement as being universal in design, i.e. the sufficiency, and availability of salvation for all men and the divine desire that all will receive it. The only point at which Scripture and the Reformed confessions point to a limited design in the atonement is at the point efficacy. Only there can a doctrine of limited atonement be formulated which does not do clear violence to Biblical teaching concerning the universal love of God."

Mind you, God has sufficient love for all men that He has made salvation available for all of them. In this love God desires to save all men, yet He saves only a few. If this is true, why not be honest enough to say, such a God is dead! He cannot save those whom He desires to save.

We ask, Why should these winds of change blow so strongly today? There can be only one answer, the Word of God is no longer considered the only infallible rule for faith and life. The Bible is not treated as the reservoir of God's perfect revelation which, as John Calvin expressed it in his Institutes, are the spectacles with which alone we can see properly the purpose of God for all things.

Sometimes students express more openly and bluntly what their professors teach with subtlety. It's interesting to observe student publications and writings from this point of view. Frequently, in their zest to write something bold and different, such students reveal the nature and character of their seminary instruction. It is significant that much of student writing focuses as an attack upon the Bible itself. Let me give two illustrations. The first is from a letter written to Dr. Carl Mclntire editor of Christian Beacon, by two students of the Lutheran Theological Seminary of Mt. Airy, Pa. In this letter, published in the Christian Beacon, they give vent to their hatred for the Word of God. "From objectively studying both Scripture and the history of Christianity, we hold that all fundamentalist and Bibliolatry are one of the grossest forms of pagan superstition. All major non-Christian religions believe in such literal inspiration bunk... The Bible may be viewed as a witness of the apostles and other godly men to the revelation of God in history, but it is not an infallible holy textbook" Derisively, they suggest, "Since you take the mythological story of Noah's ark literally, cute, go find your ark, get into it, and sit in the dung of the hippopotamus which you believe was in there for 40 days and think a little; the Christian church and the American people will never be deceived by such foolishness."

With more suavity and yet heading in the same direction are the words of an article published in the Stromata a student magazine of Calvin Seminary. There student M. Hoogland wrote concerning the errors of the Bible. His point was that the Holy Spirit was not concerned with these "errors," but only the content of the message. He wrote, "It must readily be admitted that the Bible nowhere explicitly claims to be infallible. Why then should we be so upset when someone suggests the possibility that certain narratives of Scripture are not historically accurate and are not meant to be." He concludes, "Is the doctrine of infallibility essential to Christianity? By this time the answer to be given should be evident." Obviously his answer is no.

The Psalmist emphasizes, "If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?" Psalm 11:3. This applies equally to the present controversy within the church world. If the Word of God is no longer considered to be the divinely inspired Word of God, there is no touchstone for truth and error. The inevitable result is that error is exonerated as the truth, there is no more a dividing point between the truth and the lie. Isn't that apparent today? This applies to the doctrinal position of most any church. The winds of change have blown many a church off its historical foundation. Confessions are no longer taught and professed. In the words of J. Carson Blake, "A confession is not a monument, but the tool for the present mission of the church. It is not good Calvinism to let one document stand for three centuries." Even today the Roman Catholic church has an appealing sound for many a Protestant ear when she insultingly cries out through the voice of the recent Vatican Council, "Oh, churches that are so far and yet so close to us. Churches for whom our heart is filled with longing. Churches, the nostalgia of our sleepless nights. Churches of our tears and of our desire to do you honor by our embrace in the sincere love of Christ, oh may you hear, sounding from this keystone of unity, the tomb of Peter, apostle and martyr, and from this Ecumenical Council of brotherhood and peace, the loving cry we send to you."

Then one departs from the truth and holds to doctrines that are in direct contradiction to the Word of God, the result is that his walk of life shall bear a similar evidence of corruption. I need not press this point, it is all too apparent today. Mind you, the so called, new morality is not the product of heathenism, but the illegitimate offspring of what calls itself church. Surely God is not mocked, for when man denies that God is the only absolute sovereign God Whose grace alone can and does change the heart of the elect sinner who is redeemed through the blood of Calvary, God gives them over to a reprobate mind. "Professing themselves to be wise, they become fools and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, through the lusts of their own hearts." Romans 1:22-24.

What are we to do about this situation? When the stormy billows of false doctrine and immorality crash about us, what is our calling? Shall we close the hatch and sink deeply beneath the turbulent surface and find security in isolation? Shall we try to run away from it all and nurse our wounded spirits in the bowels of past glories? No, my friend; that may seem appealing, but that is not the calling of the faithful church. Rather, the church of Jesus Christ is to enter into the storm as a battleship that is anchored firmly to the Rock of Ages, our Lord Jesus Christ as He has revealed Himself to us in His Word. Only then can we oppose the enemies of the truth, and sound forth in clear and certain words the pure preaching of the Gospel and not be dashed to pieces on the rocks of unbelief. When we do this we can be certain that our eye will be focused upon the beacon light of God that directs us safely to the haven of rest.

The faithful church must try the spirits whether they be of God!

We are confronted on every hand by the false spirit, the spirit of antichrist.

This spirit is a triple-headed monster. In the first place, this evil-spirit is strategically directed by the personal devil. Ever since the devil was cast out of heaven, upon the ascension of Jesus Christ, he is busy persecuting the "woman which brought forth the man child... and to make war with the remnant of her seed which keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ." Rev. 12:13-17. The devil uses as his emissaries the heathen world of unregenerate men. Psalm 2:2,3 describes this form of attack, "The kings of the earth set themselves and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his anointed saying, let us break their bands asunder and cast away their cords from us." It is furthermore evident from Scripture, that not only the devil and heathen kings oppose the church, but also many who pose as "Christians," who have a form of godliness, but deny the power thereof. II Timothy 3:5. We read in II Thess. 2:3, 4, "Let no man deceive you by any means; for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed the son of perdition; who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called god, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God." This text indicates to us that the spirit of antichrist will be manifest in the midst of the church, assuming a pious and religious form. The nominally Christian church will produce this "son of perdition."

This spirit of antichrist is in opposition to the true God and to His Christ. Very cleverly he directs his line of attack not in bluntly saying there is no God and there is no Christ; rather he changes the Scriptural idea of God and Christ into one that flatters fallen man. The truth of the sovereignty of God and the binding power of His divine law upon every creature lowers man into the dust. The spirit of antichrist is determined to change this. He comes with flattering words and presents a god that is loving to all creatures and would like to bring all creatures into his kingdom if only they let him. God is universal Father according to this spirit of antichrist His Fatherhood is presented to us in His son. Jesus Christ Jesus did not come to atone for the sins of His elect, no; this spirit tells us that Christ came to teach and show us by very deed how we are to live together. Basically this spirit of antichrist denies Christ! It is anti, against Christ. The belief of antichrist is that Man with a capital M, especially in the Man Jesus, is able to overcome the curse of death by his own cunning ways, by scientific advancement, by social evolution, by international diplomacy. Yes, we are to look for the kingdom of God upon earth, as all men will eventually beat their spears into plowshares and their swords into pruning hooks. We are to concentrate upon feeding the earth's millions, instead of trying to destroy them. We are to remove racial prejudice, and not distinguish between the Negro race or white race; rather we are to speak of the human race. We are not to categorize men by religious affiliation, we are not to speak of Protestant or Roman Catholic, rather of the one universal church of Christ. The ecumenical spirit reasons that the five main religions of the world are basically alike. Whether one is a Buddhist, a Confucianist, a Mohammedan, a Hindu, or a Christian, one thing is common to all, they all have a great leader, they all advocate human decency, therefore they all must live in peace together. The only difference between the world's great religions is that of geographical origin. Essentially they are all alike.

Neither is it strange that the faithful church will not be allowed to live in the sphere of this false spirit of antichrist. Perhaps you observe that if this spirit is so genial, they will certainly permit the true church to live along side the rest of the religions of the world. If this is your conclusion, it is wrong. The reason is simple. All the world's religions including false Christianity, agree in this, that the main ideal of man is to establish the kingdom of peace in this world through the means of universal brotherhood. The true Christian church cannot agree with this. The faithful church must condemn this false view of history. The Gospel of Christ is not universal brotherhood through a general fatherhood of God. It is that man is fallen into sin and an object of divine wrath. The only hope for fallen man is that his sins are covered by the redemptive blood of Jesus Christ. Because this is the Gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven, the true church is forced to condemn the sinful approach of the false church, she must expose this as the lie, and without wavering refuse to cooperate with any program that advocates this false gospel.

Because the true church cannot compromise and speak the same language as the spirit of anti-Christ, anti-Christ will oppose the faithful church.

This is happening today. It is important that we are able to discern this great struggle. Right now the spirit of antichrist is using a soft approach in her attempt to destroy the church. It stands to reason that even as Nebuchadnezzar offered to the three friends of Daniel another opportunity to bow down to the beast, so today, the spirit of antichrist would rather overcome the true church with subtlety than outward bloodshed. History shows us dearly the line of attack. First the devil lulls the church to sleep, his pet expression is, "It doesn't make any difference what you believe, just so you believe." Lethargy, doctrinal indifference, gross ignorance of the Word of God, constitute the first signs of the false spirit creeping into the church.

Next, if we are no longer concerned about the Bible, the arch enemy lays his attack upon the Word of God itself. Of course, if he is to destroy the church, he knows all too well that he has to destroy the principle truth that the Bible is the infallible Word of God and all that the Bible teaches is truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Very gradually he begins to sow seeds of doubt concerning the Word of God. The devil smiles when he hears seminary professors and future ministers cutting the Bible to pieces, calling one part myth and another part fable. When he has thoroughly poisoned the church with this, then the conclusion inevitably follows; the lie is sown and no one can keep it out. Soon the very fundamental truths of the Word of God are being denied. Creation is replaced by evolution. The fall of Adam is considered a story about pre-historic man. The miracles are stories that excite the imagination of children. The truth of the virgin-birth points out in "mythological dress" that Christ was born with "heavenly" ambitions. You see, when the lie is made to be the "truth" then the "church" has become false and the spirit of Christ no longer dwells there, Rev. 2:5.

It is important that we try the spirits.

There is only one true spirit, that is the Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ poured out upon the church on Pentecost. The Spirit of truth that dwells in the church maintains the gospel of truth. Principally that Gospel centers in Jesus Christ. The faithful church preaches the gospel that salvation is realized only through the covering of the atoning blood of Christ. God eternally willed to glorify Himself in the salvation of His church through Jesus Christ. In this counsel of election, He decreed that the whole church would be redeemed unto glory through Jesus Christ. That salvation has been accomplished. Principally that salvation is realized at the cross. All the elect have been redeemed, for Christ arose from the dead. This resurrection was God's seal of approval upon Christ's perfect work. This Christ, who knows His Sheep with an everlasting love, now sends forth the call of the gospel to efficaciously draw all those for whom He died into the perfect fold of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Whence do we know this spirit? Only one place my friend, that is in the Word of God. The Bible is the Word of God. Because God inspired the Word, it is infallible, without error. All the truth of salvation is written clearly within its pages. May God give us childlike faith to bow in humble reverence before His Word.

We must expect persecution. Christ did not promise His church an easy road. He tells us, "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you, not as the world giveth, give I unto you." John 14:27. That peace is not external; Jesus also said, "I came not to send peace, but a sword." Matt. 10:34. Prior to the return of our Lord there shall be great tribulation for the faithful church, Matt 24:21, 22. Yet, we have peace in our hearts, as Christ Himself assures us, "Let not your heart be troubled, ye believe in God, believe also in me...I go...I will come again unto you that where I am there ye may be also." John 14.

Many people are confused in our day. Some are outside the church, some are within the church. The tempest is increasing in its fury as the last days are upon us. May God give you His grace that you may not be tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine, but that you may set your eye upon the Word of God as a beacon that guides you to the eternal Haven of Rest.

Try the spirits whether they be of God!

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Last modified, 26-Apr-1998