Regarding the false and the deceived we could write books upon books and never be done covering all the kinds this world knows. Many have already written on and much has been talked about false teachers and teachings. The darkness won’t quit tweaking and twisting which is why we could never be done warning about all the ways satanic forces deceive. “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” 1 Peter 5:8. God has told us in 2 Corinthians 11:14 that Satan disguises himself as an angel of light, as well as his servants. They do this in countless ways. I want to talk about one of those ways that may not get as much attention but is just as dangerous.
I want to talk about some through-the-back-door approaches the occult is taking to invade many evangelical, Bible-preaching churches today — the teaching of empowerment and identity.
Before I get to that I believe it’s important to first clarify what the occult is, generally speaking. It can simply be defined as, “Hidden, secret and mysterious, chiefly pertaining to the supernatural” and is widely known to include practices such as witchcraft, fortune-telling, clairvoyance, magic, tarot card reading and the list goes on. A lot of us know many of the charismatic churches and obvious false churches that hold to a false gospel like the Catholic churches, Christian Science churches, Mormon churches (and several others) have long embraced some occult type practices to one degree or another. I’m not talking about those churches, although they are also concerning. I’m talking about your evangelical, Baptist, nondenominational churches; you’re straight as an arrow grandparent’s country church that preaches from the Bible and claims the sufficiency and inerrancy of Scripture.
I know personally and hear story after story of churches steadily abandoning their once biblically solid foundation and quickly falling into mysticism and strange doctrines. One wouldn’t think any true church or born again believer would dare touch anything of this nature with a 10-foot pole. Most don’t intend to I’m sure. From what I’m seeing and hearing, as a former Catholic medium who was seduced by the occult herself before the Lord graciously saved me, I’ve sat in some evangelical churches that preached the true Gospel and started to notice this stuff coming in, but as a very light-weight and agreeable version. It sneaks in under the radar to many unsuspecting, well-intentioned people and within the walls of trusted churches-many times entirely unhindered. And unless by God’s grace that it is seen, warned against and snuffed out, it doesn’t take long to spread.
All the practices that can be considered occult, as it is defined, can usually be put in either of these two categories; First, desiring secret knowledge and second, desiring supernatural power. This also goes for every false religion because all humanity, in some form or fashion, desire one or both of these two things. Satan knows that and it seems the lure has been specially designed with that in mind.
Although there are several ways the occult can sneakily enter in, such as through music, like that of Hillsong and Bethel, I don’t want to talk about the music aspect at this point.
We have the full-blown heretics that fill TBN with their heretical teachings of Christ and mysticism. We have Sarah Young and her man-centered and heresy-laden book “Jesus Calling,” Beth Moore and her contemplative prayer practices and visions, Priscilla Shirer and her public proclamations of needing more than Scripture which leads her to teach we are to listen to personal communication from God that, “makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up”. I could go on and on.
Yet with that said, there are churches whose members mostly reject TBN preachers, Beth Moore, Shirer, Young and the like for their “off” teachings, and yet a person could sit in their women’s Bible group and hear the whispers of the occult still blowing through. You sit there long enough and you will hear women say they received a sign from God regarding a decision they had to make. Perhaps the lesson goes in the direction of “know who you are in Christ” but meant in a way that God never instructed on. The focus quickly becomes what God can do for us, but in a way that seems spiritually healthy and “in touch” with God. It gets unchallenged and met with “amens” as others share their experiences of God giving them personal experiences or pep talks. They may start praying to God to hear from Him instead of going to the Word to do so (this is contemplative prayer). They claim God is doing things that are nowhere taught or supported in the Word.
These situations may not scream, “Occult” too many people but every single one connects to the general practices and definition of the occult. Again, the occult is about the hidden, secret and mysterious things of the supernatural. It’s about seeking out the supernatural in ways the Bible never condones.
Going back to what I said earlier about the teaching of empowerment and identity:
I have seen the focus of empowerment as a common thread. Certain teachers today have found a way to take the biblical teaching of the empowerment of the Holy Spirit in believers-meaning we are empowered to love Him and obey Him- and turn it into some sort of man-centered, identity crisis; some attempt to have spiritual encounters/proofs, personal messages, and (never promised) personal blessings from God. It usually starts by sounding very biblical, with a focus on knowing our empowered identity in Christ as believers. Yet, instead of staying on Biblical tracks with it, it slowly veers into dangerous territory.
Not long ago, I sat in a church somewhere in the Bible belt, a Scripture preaching, and Gospel loving church who let in one particular teacher. It was a teacher who persuaded them with such sincerity and convincing manipulation of Scripture that we are to understand all of what empowerment of the Holy Spirit means — and if we don’t, we will not honor God or enjoy the fullness of Christ or spiritual blessings. It started to sound as if we don’t know our identity and keep focusing on it, everything falls apart. They recite the well-known phrase that is based on Scripture, “We have the same Holy Spirit living in us that raised Jesus from the dead.” That is found in Romans 8:11, “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” What a beautiful passage, if we stay within the biblical context, but they don’t.
Before people know it, they have been fed the idea, which is wrapped in some Scripture and Gospel talk, that our identity in Christ is more about expecting the cool stuff, opening our minds to what God might want to do or say to us personally, embracing the mysterious; the things the Bible never said for His Church to focus on. If we reject it and just want to know and obey and preach God’s Word, we have essentially “put God in a box” and have become automatic Pharisees in their eyes.
It started out focusing a lot on Gospel spreading. It was agreeable. It was a community and missionary-minded. It seemed like the punchy evangelical remedy to a church that held sleeping men and seeking women. Soon after the lessons started my husband and I started seeing a shift into what we can do that Jesus did. We can be empowered like Jesus. We can do the same miracles that Jesus did.
Isn’t this some sort of crazy charismatic talk? We know some charismatic teachers, the well-known TBN ones especially, teach that Jesus was a mere man who was empowered by the Spirit while on earth, so, therefore, we are mere men who can be empowered by the Holy Spirit too, doing exactly what Christ did while on earth. That’s heretical. That’s not anything our church has ever condoned or taught before. So as soon as those words left the teacher’s mouth in our little evangelical, solid study group, a bomb just went off for me and my husband. Where did THIS come from? We can do all that Christ did? So, are we to start calming storms now? We were stunned this teaching was staring us in the face. We were even more stunned that all leadership and many others in the groups didn’t even question it and thought we were going to grow so much from it. Bringing up the concerns over and over didn’t help. This teacher’s teachings on Christ and Christianity, to them, are “simply said wrong, but he means this or that.” They were also quick to say, “Look at all he does and says over here and there. He cares about getting the Gospel to people and goes to a good church. He is friends with this trusted pastor and he speaks against false teachers, etc.” Truth is, leadership and many in the church liked his ideas and how he spoke. These people will speak against Joyce Meyers for her unbiblical teachings yet allow this, unfathomable.
I talked with a dear lady whose church studied under the same teacher years before. She said she was greatly concerned and would be praying for our church; she knew the destruction and the downgrade that can happen. In a few years, her church went from solid to completely unrecognizable and compromised. Our church was seemingly going in the same direction.
Give it enough time and little rebuke, it becomes less about the Gospel and more about experiences and personal interpretations. Personal claims of what God has said or done can rarely be questioned, because “how dare we say God can’t do this or that.” People begin to think that focusing on their identity and empowerment, as taught, is spiritually enriching. People want more secret and special knowledge, they want to see more proofs of God’s approval and empowerment in their lives, in ways that are invigorating and unique. They claim to seek more of God but only invite the demonic and ungodly.
So one convincing “evangelical” teacher came in and that’s all it takes, step by step, chip by chip. It weakens and distracts so cleverly and so quickly especially when church leaders are lacking in discernment. Even when they are discerning and see this for what it is, they may hardly say a peep about it because of uncertainty or fear. “Pharisee,” “witch hunter,” “Bible-beater,” “limiting what God can do” cards are quickly pulled out. The church is left without protection from their shepherds.
These teachers subtly and carefully introduce it in your most unsuspecting churches, to the immature in faith, the weak and lost. If we love the church, the truth; if we love the Lord we will prayerfully and carefully watch and warn.
I pray more and more people realize that the occult or pagan practices don’t stay in pagan churches, with the Wiccan or with the fringe. It doesn’t stay within the walls of the known heretical churches nor does it come from just the lips of the most heretical teachers. Demons want to bring it to the best church. It’s not innocent or secondary.
Yes, believers and good churches can embrace these types of things as well and as a result will, stunt their growth, bring God’s discipline even judgment, stumble others and withhold honor due to God. Even after being enlightened to the truth, people have to unlearn and heal from the brainwashing of these abusive teachings.
There is much more that can be said about this. Next time I’ll dive a little deeper into these specific teachings and why they are so attractive, who are the evangelical teachers peddling them and what other things they are teaching after you invest in their material.
“Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” 1 Peter 5:8.
By Gina Cook