Now the Holy Spirit tells us clearly that in the last times some will turn away from the true faith; they will follow deceptive spirits and teachings that come from demons. These people are hypocrites and liars, and their consciences are dead. -- 1Timothy 4: 1-2 (NLT)
The modern church has become enamored with the "next big thing" theology. Whatever tickles the ears or sounds good enough, seems to be enough for church leaders to incorporate into their congregations. We saw this years ago with the Purpose Driven heresy and it continues well into today. We must realize that not all heresy appears equal. There are the low lying fruit, such as the Toronto holy laughter debacle and the more recent Todd Bentley fiasco in Lakeland Florida. I say low lying because those heresies should be so obvious that they be rejected out of hand but even those instances drew tens of thousands of people every night. People chasing a spiritual experience without understand the true nature of spiritual warfare. You can chase a spiritual experience and capture it pretty easily but that does not mean that it is from the Spirit of God.
Dear friends, do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit. You must test them to see if the spirit they have comes from God. For there are many false prophets in the world. -- 1John 4: 1 (NLT)
The church throws around the word discernment too easily. Discernment is not intuition. It is not being able to read into things. It is the ability to discern between the evil spirits in the world and the Spirit of the one true Living God. That may sound easy but the vast majority of church-goers currently fall for the more devious types of heresy way too easily. That is because in exchange for worshipping the Almighty God, they instead engage in church worship or pastor worship. Their loyalty is not to God alone but to the building they gather in and the man who stands in its pulpit. The Bible says we cannot have a divided loyalty. It never ceases to sadden me what the people of God will fall for. We have seen holy laughter and latter rain. We have heard tales of gemstones and gold dust being brought to us by angelic beings. We have seen the Todd Bentley violence centered Gospel and the equally absurd New Apostolic Reformation. We have experienced the charlatan fake healers such as Benny Hinn and survived the self-help motivational heretics like Joel Osteen. I have heard that we should not criticize other leaders because we are all on the same team but I say we are not. I am not on the team that leads people down the broad path to destruction. I do not sell temporal prosperity at the cost of eternal life. I do not sell emotionalism as a replacement for a true and genuine move of the Holy Spirit. If this is your best life now then you are going to hell. There are not seven steps to a better you. There is only one step needed to overcome you -- and that is Jesus Christ.
This brings us to the heresy du jour -- the Circle Maker. This was brought to my attention recently and I have done some research but mostly, I just listen to the man who created it. Heresy usually hides in plain sight. You just have to strip away the parts that sound right to get to the parts that clearly are not right. Please, you must realize upfront an important rule about weeding out the leaven in your church or your life -- this is not personal to the perpetrator - only to you. I have heard many nice things about the author of this book and small group series. I am sure Pastor Mark Batterson is a nice enough fellow. As my pastor is fond of saying, you can be sincere and sincerely wrong. I do not question his heart, his motives, or his walk -- I only question his teachings. And believe me, there is plenty to question. For the sake of ease on the reader, any paragraph starting with MB is the words of Mark Batterson from his promo video for the circle maker. Any paragraph starting with AW is my response.
MB -- A few years ago, I discovered the
legend of Honi the Circle Maker. It changed the way I prayed.
AW -- Now to be honest, this alone should be enough to send every true believer in Jesus Christ away from this teaching. Does anyone recognize this Honi the Circle Maker character? What Book of the Bible does he come from? If you are going to "change the way you pray" I would assume as a pastor you would be basing this upon some new scriptural revelation, right? Wrong. Honi comes from what is known as the Talmud and Midrash, which are collections of oral teachings and commentaries on Mosaic Law. Not only are the Talmud and Midrash not the inspired Word of God but quite often they would claim to be correct and God to be wrong. The overarching point here though is why base an entire book, small group curriculum and change in prayer lifestyle upon someone who is not even mentioned once in the inerrant Word of God?
MB -- I started drawing prayer circles around my kids, around the promises in Scripture, around some of the miracles I was believing God for.
AW -- This is always the insidious nature of subtle heresy. It throws in something completely acceptable -- such as needing to understand the promises of God better -- in with some other more suspect material. You see Honi drew a circle in the sand according to the Talmud and prayed to God by demanding rain during a dry season. He petulantly prayed that he would not leave the circle until God allowed it to rain. When it started to drizzle, Honi informed God that the rain was not enough -- he expected more. When it then started to pour, Honi informed God that he expected a calm rain and the legend says God relented yet again. I can see why modern Christianity would want to relate to such a character. The petulance in prayer. The demanding things of God as if He were some cosmic busboy. The never being satisfied and demanding more and more from God. No reverence. No acknowledgement of His sovereignty. No respect. The Talmud continues to say that some wanted to excommunicate Honi for his treatment of God but he was spared because some felt that he "had a special relationship with God." Isn't that how the modern church fancies itself too? That we have a special relationship with God so we do not have to worry about all that holiness and repentance stuff. We can just draw circles and demand what we want!
MB -- You can't just read the Bible! You need to start circling the promises. Listen, start praying wisdom around your kids, start praying power around your problems, start praying with faith around your dreams.
AW -- Actually, you can just read the Bible. It is the primary way that God speaks to us. You can draw circles, squares, or trapezoids -- it doesn't matter. Now, if you want to "circle the promises" so that you remember them better that is fantastic because you need to know His promises when the enemy attacks you.
MB -- Praying through is not just about getting the answer you want from God, praying through is about praying even when you don't get the answer you want.
AW -- Praying through means being able to communicate with God specifically when the answer is no or wait and ultimately surrendering our will to His. While Batterson is being vague here we can assume from his source of inspiration that he is suggesting that we must be like Honi the Circle Maker and simply stay in the circle until we get what we want. Insisting that our will be done is NOT praying through. It is not about what we think we want -- it is about what He says we need.
MB -- Your job is not to crunch numbers and make sure the will of God adds up. You job is to draw circles in the sand. And if you draw the circle God will multiply the miracles in your life.
AW -- My job is to do what? Are you serious? Upon what Scripture are you basing this notion that if I simply draw circles in the sand, that God will multiply miracles in my life? Are you seriously suggesting that if I draw a circle and stand in it and demand that God give me something that He is somehow required to answer in the affirmative? And if He doesn't, I just need to pray through His answer of "no." Does that sound even remotely Scriptural?
MB -- I think that one of my desires is this -- that your small group would turn into a prayer circle.
AW -- This will be the final point I respond directly to. It is an important point because the promo video starts and finishes with a clip of Pastor Batterson kneeling on one knee and drawing a circle around himself three times. Now, in my opinion, radically changing your prayer life to fit a legendary character that is found nowhere in Scripture and who was essentially rude and petulant with God is probably not a good idea to begin with.
For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths. -- 2Timothy 4: 3-4 (NLT)
They will chase after myths. They will chase after legendary stories of interesting characters like Honi the Circle Maker. But in the end there is another side of this story that plays out on the spiritual plane that so many Christians walk in oblivion to. You see the usage of a circle is not new beloved. It has been around for millennia. It is in fact one of the central tenets of witchcraft. In fact, the witchcraft circle even needs to be drawn three times, as demonstrated in the Circle Maker promo video. Now, do I believe that Mark Batterson is practicing witchcraft? I would certainly hope not but we need to get past this arrogant notion that all that matters is our intent. I know some will read these warnings and dismiss them with the haughty notion that what only matters are why they are doing it. It shows complete spiritual ignorance to dismiss out of hand what is going on the spiritual realm as if our intent alone can control it. Prayer circles themselves cannot be found in Scripture. The Wiccans however always pray in circles. The Bible has plenty of Scriptures warning against witchcraft and I think the general sense is to dismiss them because society has turned the concept of a witch as being a caricature that flies on a broom and wears a pointy hat. Or even worse, that witchcraft can be good or bad, such as in the Wizard of Oz. Or even worse still, that witchcraft can be cool and desirable, like in the Harry Potter series. To God however it is always an abomination in whatever form it takes, regardless of intent. The circle to the witch also serves as a portal for evil spirits to enter this world. Now, you may dismiss the demonic activity but you do so without the counsel of Scripture:
For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. -- Ephesians 6: 12 (NLT)
I did not write that we are fighting against rulers and authorities in an unseen world -- God did. I did not write that we war against mighty powers of this dark world and against evil spirits in heavenly places -- God did. Bewitched was a television program -- this is real. I do not have to believe that Mark Batterson is practicing witchcraft. I take him at his word. He was inspired by a story he read outside of the Word of God and radically changed his prayer life because of it. He based it on a legendary character that showed utter contempt for God in the way he prayed. I know this much -- when I hear smooth sounding acoustic guitar in the background and any voice telling me that I can't "just read the Bible" I see a red flag go up. When the next thing out of his mouth is that my job is to "draw circles in the sand" -- the first thing that comes to my mind is high sounding nonsense:
Don't let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ. -- Colossians 2: 8 (NLT)
Beloved, we should know the promises of God better in our lives so that we can more easily defeat the lies of the enemy. Remember, the truly insidious heresy is the one that comes dressed in the name of Jesus without relying on His teachings. It sounds good because it tickles the ears. But it is based on the worst forms of human thinking and can be traced back to ancient witchcraft or modern Wiccan practices. It comes from the spiritual powers of this world and not Jesus Christ. Read the key verses very carefully. The Holy Spirit has instructed us that in these, the last days, many will turn from the true faith. That they will turn instead to deceptive spirits and teachings that come from demons. Do not dismiss this out of hand! What you see in the modern theories of church growth, the purpose driven heresies, and now with the Circle Maker are deceptive spirits infiltrating the church and corrupting the Bride of Christ.
While I was more even handed with Mr. Batterson, the key verses are not. The Bible calls people who promote these teachings as being hypocrites and liars with dead consciences. One version of the Bible says that their consciences have been seared with a hot iron. How can someone stand in a church service watching people roll around on the floor in uncontrolled laughter? Their conscience has been seared with a hot iron. How can someone watch an alleged pastor kick and punch sick people and claim it is the Holy Spirit telling him that is how he is to "heal them?" Their conscience has been seared with a hot iron. How can someone sit through prosperity, self help, and motivational drivel pretending to be the Gospel of Jesus Christ and not walk out in reverence to God? Their consciences have been seared with a hot iron. How can a church choose to distribute to its congregation materials based upon a petulant non biblical character that utilizes pagan witchcraft symbolism? Collective conscience seared by a hot iron. This is the ongoing result of allowing a little leaven here and a little leaven there. A small compromise here and a small compromise there. Anything that is contradictory to the Gospel of Jesus Christ has no place in the church -- period. Draw a circle around that if you have to -- just do not forget it.
Reverend Anthony Wade -- January 4, 2012