This article is now available as a free ebook in a variety of formats from Smashwords here
Many gross distortions of Scripture abound in the Church/Christian setting. Different kinds of church settings will tend to have their own “twists” on Gospel truth. Here I am going to deal with a few of them that I find particularly irritating. They annoy me so much because they are so manifestly untrue. Any comprehensive knowledge of the Bible would immediately reveal these things as false. So the fact that they get repeated endlessly to me demonstrates that many Christians fail to pursue any deep knowledge of God’s Word.
1. Lie Number One –
Our General Overseer or Spiritual Leader is perfect, or as good as perfect.
Without knowing who your General Overseer or Spiritual Leader is, or what they stand for, I can tell you outright that this is a big fat lie. Holding to it or in any way living as if this is true is desperately, desperately dangerous, because you are elevating a human being to the position that only God is big enough to fill.
Why it is wrong:
The Bible says in Romans 3v23 that “all men have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. In the Greek, the “fall short” is a present tense indicating that all men continue to fall short of God’s glory – (and by “all men”, it means all human beings, so it also includes women as well!) As Christians, we have to learn to take the Bible at its word. A typical kind of attitude that I have encountered might say that “Maybe most men have sinned and continue to fall short of God’s glory – but our General Overseer is different! Our GO is special!” Or it might say “Yes, we appreciate that our GO sinned before he became so deep with God, but now he has attained such a deep level of intimacy with God that he essentially falls short of God’s glory no longer”
But no, the Bible says “all men” and the Bible means “all men”! And that includes your GO – whoever they may be. They are not perfect. They are not God. Earlier in that same chapter of Romans it states (Romans 3v10) “As it is written, there is no-one righteous, no, not one” . Not a single person stands as righteous before God – no, not one! We all needed God’s grace to accept Christ in the first place, and we all continue to need God’s grace to keep standing. As God’s word says “There is no-one righteous – no not one!”
2. Lie Number Two –
Our General Overseer or Spiritual Leader is God’s chosen “man of the moment”, to mediate between God and man, in practice the “messiah of our Times”.
This second lie follows on quite naturally from Lie Number 1. This is why it is so important to be utterly emphatic about uprooting that first lie. In my experience, no-one will actually use the word “Messiah”. However, in practice, most GOs (and yes, there is more than one!) are treated with that level of reverence – as if there is not already an established Messiah for the Christian faith, One who is sufficient and valid for all time! Additionally, some Christians behave as if rejecting the opinions of their own General Overeer is equivalent to rejecting God Himself, and the opinions, statements and utterances of the various GOs are more referred to and more quoted than the Bible itself. “The GO says this, the GO says that!” This is how in theory no-one will use the word “Messiah”, but in practice these men are treated as if they were messiahs.
Why it is wrong:
This is wrong because in our faith Jesus is the One and only Messiah, the One and only mediator between God and man. 1 Timothy 2v5 says “For there is one God and one mediator between God and man – the man Christ Jesus”. Please notice how your General Overseer’s name does not appear in that verse. Since Jesus’ death and resurrection, He has been the ONLY ONLY ONLY mediator between God and man – He and He alone!
The Bible also teaches us that at the death of Jesus, the veil in the Temple, separating the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Temple, was torn from top to bottom: Matthew 27v51. The Holy of Holies symbolically housed the very presence of God, and was called the Holy of Holies because it was so desperately holy, the holiest part of the holy Temple. The Jewish High Priest himself was only allowed to enter there once a year on the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, to sprinkle the blood of sacrifice to atone for the sins of the people and his own sins, and to offer incense before the mercy seat. This is how special the presence of God was, and how deeply His holiness was to be revered, that only the most holy man of all the people could enter there, and even he could only enter there once a year.
When the veil was torn from top to bottom, this was not a simple curtain, or length of fabric that got ripped. In the Temple of the time of Jesus, it was inches thick – the actual thickness of the fabric itself was measured in inches (for previous veils used in the Temple, they had been even thicker – they measured even metres thick). So it was not that it accidentally got ripped at the death of Jesus – this was the power of God at work. It indicated that now everyone – absolutely everyone could get right into the special presence of God, or into the Holy of Holies. And this is absolutely everyone. Yes that includes women (who were previously excluded from becoming priests under the Levitical law) – and yes that also includes children! So it is not only the General Overseer or the Pastor who can cultivate intimacy with God. Even little small (female) Tosin can presume to go right into the presence of God and aspire to know Him as deeply as anyone else in the universe, not just anyone alive right now, but even anyone who has ever lived (except Jesus of course!) And that is exactly what I do.
This means that to get to God I don’t have to go through your church and I don’t have to go through your General Overseer. By not going through your church I am not rejecting God’s truth for me, nor His truth for the world. I am simply choosing not to go through your church. Frankly, hearing this lie about your General Overseer as a Messiah figure perpetuated in your church is the very reason why I would avoid your church in the first place.
Moses and the Messiah.
One passage that people are always (mis)quoting in this context is the one where some detractors of Moses criticise Moses – and eventually pay with their lives – killed directly by the power of God when the ground literally opened up to swallow some of the detractors, and when fire fell from heaven and killed the other detractors. (Numbers 16)
Firstly, I’m not saying that people should sit around criticising General Overseers for the sake of criticising them. The issue I have is when someone says something that is not Biblical. To me, it does not matter who makes the unbiblical statement. If it goes against the Bible, then it is not true, period – and it should be corrected – no matter who says it. For instance if someone were to say that “failing to tithe would send you to hell” – then to me it does not matter who may have said it. It is emphatically untrue, and it should be corrected. Period. If someone repeatedly makes statements that are unbiblical, or refuses to acknowledge where they are manifestly wrong, then I would question their status as a spiritual leader.
Secondly, the big reason why the comparison between Moses and a General Overseer is a false analogy is because Moses when he lived actually was the only mediator between God and the people of Israel. Because we can now all get to God directly through Jesus, no-one else other than Jesus will ever again have that role of mediating between God and people. That “no-one else” includes your General Overseer. Your General Overseer is not the mediator between God and me – and never will be and never could be – because only Jesus is and could be. Hello?! This is the Bible – basic Bible truth! So the comparison should not now be between Moses and “the General Overseer”, but rather between Moses and Jesus. And sincerely, because we are now in the era of grace, God does not now kill people even for criticising Jesus – and of course Jesus is far greater than Moses “as the one who builds the house has more honour than the house” – Hebrews 3v3 From this, if anything the punishment should be a lot worse for criticising Jesus than for criticising Moses, yet because of this era of grace God does not kill people for the dreadful sin that criticising Jesus must represent so how much less would God’s Spirit kill someone for doing something noble and commendable like standing up for actual Bible truth? I don’t think so.
3. Lie Number Three –
“Rebellion is as the sin of Witchcraft”…
Have you ever heard this one? OK OK, I can hear you all shouting at me – Yes, the Bible actually does say this, that “rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft”. However, it is the context in which it is used that constitutes the lie.
I’ve been in churches (that is, one in particular – ahem!) where they actually preached unconditional submission of the members to the pastors. That is, anything that they could ever dream up whatsoever – they actually taught that the members had to unconditionally obey. To be fair, the requests that they made were not immensely exploitative – far worse manipulations occur in the name of Christ everyday. However I objected to this idea of unconditional submission even on the mere principle. (In practice no-one truly submitted even as much as a third of the time, much less unconditionally, and I doubt that it was seriously expected. But still!) To me, there always, always has to be the proviso that submission can only be requested where what you are doing is actually true and Biblical. And yes, I am allowed to assess with my own mind and my own Bible whether what you are requesting is actually Biblical. That is what it means to be a grown up human being, and it should be a basic human freedom. But no, we were supposed to just accept that anything they could possibly say must be true and right and Biblical – and then they would use this Scripture to back up their viewpoint, that “rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft”, so anyone who refused to submit immediately and unconditionally (to them) was guilty of rebellion, which was like witchcraft. I have previously written a post which touches a little on the subject of witchcraft within the Nigerian Christian community. In short, it is a big deal, it is not an accusation to be taken lightly.
Why it is wrong:
So let’s look at this Bible passage then, about rebellion. (1 Samuel Chapter 15)
The context: King Saul, the anointed king over Israel was told by God to go with the Israelite army to attack the land of the Amalekites, and to kill absolutely everything and everyone, because of the sin that the Amalekites had previously committed against Israel.
King Saul and the army mostly obeyed this. However, the Bible states that they kept alive the best of the Amalekite flocks: the sheep, goats etc, (but killed everything that was worthless) and crucially, King Saul also spared King Agag, the king of the Amalekites.
When challenged about his disobedience, Saul’s excuse was that he and the people had actually saved the good flocks etc to “make a sacrifice to God”. (The Bible passage hints that they had actually saved these flocks etc for themselves). Samuel, the prophet over Israel was not impressed and he said “Obedience is better than sacrifice” – words that contain such profound truth that still resonates for us Christians today. Samuel also said “Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft” .
So then the person who rebelled was Saul, and he rebelled against the express command of God. That is, God directly told him – “Do this!” – and he didn’t.
So notice, it was the King of Israel, that is a leader, physically anointed by Samuel and chosen by God – who had rebelled. It was his rebellion that was as the sin of witchcraft. It was not the individual rebellion of any individual of his people. So what does that mean? That means that leaders can be guilty of this rebellion which is as the sin of witchcraft. The Biblical example of this “rebellion which is as the sin of witchcraft” was a leader of a whole nation. (Some of these Pentecostal denominations number as large as actual countries). So instead of leaders using this verse to threaten their congregations, when they read it they should instead be metaphorically “sitting up” themselves to make sure that they themselves as the leaders are not demonstrating rebellion against God. (However that might actually require people to read the Bible, which is probably a primary problem in all of this.)
Some people like to shout that they are “anointed”. Well this passage shows that even if you have been anointed by Samuel himself as Saul was, that does not automatically sanctify all your decisions, or turn your disobedience into obedience in God’s eyes.
The rebellion that counted was rebellion against the word of God Himself. So, dearest pastor, if I choose not to obey your unbiblical request, I am not rebelling or committing a sin “which is as witchcraft”. By making an unbiblical request, the person who is rebelling against God is you. Leader or no leader – remember Saul was a king, “anointed” or not anointed – remember that Saul was physically anointed by Samuel – the person who is committing a sin “which is as witchcraft” – is you. Even if you were the overall leader of a denomination which was as big as the nation of Israel and you were effectively a king, that would not mean that your rebellion against the word of God would be overlooked. Notice also how the actions of Saul and the people in keeping the best flocks would have resulted in “prosperity” for them all. So just because a leader leads people in actions in which they receive real and tangible benefits, financial or otherwise, does not automatically mean that the resulting “prosperity” is blessed by God, if it results from disobedience to His word.
Now please note that by writing this post I am not in any way trying to encourage you to disobey the leadership in your church. What I am saying is that this verse, that “rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft” is not available to be used the way I have seen it used many times.
After writing this post I came across some more relevant passages on rebellion in the Bible, which I have added here. This is also available as a “standalone” post here
False claims of “Rebellion” in the Bible
Here are some claims of “rebellion” made by characters in the Bible
1. Rehum and Shimshai against the rebuilding of Jerusalem: Ezra Chapter 4, specifically verse 12, verse 19: “… [They] are building a rebellious and evil city…”…”…this city is a rebellious city….”
When some of the Israelites returned from captivity in Babylon, they set about to rebuild Jerusalem, including the Temple of the Lord. And yet they faced great opposition. Rehum and Shimshai writing a letter to the King of Babylon, Artaxerxes accused the Israelites of rebellion. According to their letter, Rehum was a commander and Shimshai was a scribe, both positions of authority. And yet were the Jews acting in rebellion, to either the King of Babylon or anyone else? In fact, they had actually been given permission by King Cyrus of Babylon in Ezra 1v2-4. In fact, this is the very reason why Cyrus had sent them back to Jerusalem.
Furthermore, the Israelites were working to rebuild the Temple for the glory of God. What is the possibility that God would have considered that they were acting in rebellion against Him? Here the claim of rebellion was quite clearly untrue. And yet, that did not stop it from being levied against the Israelites by these people in authority.
2. Sanballat’s letter to Nehemiah Nehemiah 6v6
In Nehemiah, still continuing this same story of rebuilding Jerusalem, one of the enemies of the Jews, Sanballat, sent a letter to Nehemiah, saying that he (Nehemiah) had been reported as planning to rebel…
This was actually a trap, as Sanballat and his cronies were trying to undermine the work carried out by Nehemiah, Ezra and the other Israelites, by making them afraid. Here as before, the accusation of rebellion was totally unfounded.
3. Athaliah and Joash 2 Kings 11 – Treason!
I am always a little disappointed whenever I read the story of Athaliah in the Bible. Here was a strong, ambitious woman of the Bible – however, the disappointment is that, like Jezebel (her mother) she used her power for great evil. When her son Ahaziah who had been king of Judah died, she rose up and killed all his heirs, and installed her very own self as reigning queen! For a woman to reign this way as sovereign remains completely unparalleled in the very patriarchal Old Testament history of Israel (apart from Deborah the Judge, before the period of the Kings, although Deborah was not quite sovereign in the same way). However, one heir remained, Joash, who was hidden with his nurse in a bedroom for 6 years. Eventually Jehoiada the priest put together a coronation to install Joash as the rightful king.
On hearing the noise of the coronation and deducing what was happening, Athaliah tore her clothes, shouting out that treason was being committed! (verse 14) Treason means rebellion against the sovereign. Yet Joash was a rightful heir of King Ahaziah, while Athaliah herself had actually killed his other sons! So who was the one acting in rebellion? Who was the one who had actually committed treason, by killing all the would-be kings? Obviously it was Athaliah herself, however that did not stop her from flinging out this accusation when her own dominance was threatened.
Saul and Jonathan: 1 Samuel 20
In this passage Saul gets angry that David, his great rival, had escaped from his hands by cleverly making himself absent at an important feast. Jonathan, Saul’s son, was David’s best friend, and Jonathan had helped David by making excuses for his absence. Saul sees right through this, and he gets angry at his own son, Jonathan.
Saul cries out to Jonathan: “You son of a perverse rebellious woman!” (verse 30). So here Jonathan is accused of rebellion via his mother.
We have previously seen that Saul himself was described as acting in rebellion by the prophet Samuel. It was against Saul that the famous statement on rebellion was uttered “Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft”. In fact, in this passage he is still clearly acting in rebellion against God as he is refusing to acknowledge the fact that God has taken away the kingdom from him and his own heirs (that is, Jonathan) and given it to David. He thinks that by killing David he will be able to cancel this out, and restore the kingdom to his own heirs. As he goes on to say in verse 31 – as long as David lives, Jonathan has no chance of becoming king himself. So here, who is the very person acting in rebellion – even though he has been anointed king and leader? That would be Saul. And yet, who is the one throwing around the accusation of rebellion? That would be the same Saul! If God looked at Jonathan, would He regard Jonathan as acting in rebellion?
As we have seen from these Biblical examples, this is how it can so easily happen in everyday life. The accusation of rebellion appears to be so convenient to grasp at and fling, like the spear that Saul was ever ready to literally hurl at David, and even at Jonathan in this very passage (verse 33). And yet as with Saul in this passage, as with Athaliah, as these leaders, even anointed leaders like Saul was, are busy throwing around this accusation of “rebellion” – the real truth, the real obvious truth, might be that they are the ones acting in rebellion against God and His truth and His holiness, even at the very moment while they are accusing others of rebellion.
Let us also remember that the New Testament tells us to “test all spirits” 1John 4v1, to make sure that they are of God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. How very very true. So not only am I “allowed” to evaluate the spirit which is behind your request, to see whether it is of God, but the Bible actually instructs me to do this. And then let us also remember the Bereans in the Bible, who were commended for accepting Paul’s word with eagerness, yes, but also for searching the scriptures to see whether what Paul said was true. (Acts 17v11). So you see, there is no unconditional submission there – Paul’s teachings would only be validated if they actually corresponded with the existing Scriptures.
Frankly, dear pastor, it is the same grace of God at work to prevent people from being killed for criticising Jesus, that prevents you from being killed as you shamelessly utter these fat, godless lies from the pulpit. These are strong words, I know, but I believe that the Bible makes it clear that God takes His honour very seriously, and many modern pastors and ministries trample carelessly all over it, an attitude which consistently received the death penalty in Old Testament days, (that is in the period before the era of grace ushered in by the death and resurrection of Jesus). Remember that even that same Moses, because of whom Dathan, Abiram and the others were struck down with death – this very same Moses, the mediator of those days between God and the Israelites, whom God spoke to face to face, clearly, and not in riddles, Numbers 12v8, he himself failed to reach the Promised Land, but died instead, because he failed to honour God consistently before all the Israelites. Deuteronomy 4v21
Bible image by Petr Kratochvil from http://www.publicdomainpicture.net