From the time I read parts of his first lesson I hadn't felt 100% peace about Brother Swain's (not his real name) free Bible study. But right after I notified Brother Swain that I couldn't continue with his study group, a forgotten word the Lord gave me came back to mind: By the time the second lesson arrived, I would have no further doubts as to whether or not to continue with it. It was then I realized that my earlier uneasiness about the course might have been the Lord steering me away from a tangled web of religious mishmash. I had a fleeting vision of being pulled away from a mushy swamp before my foot could get bogged down in it.
Many Christians long to go deeper with the Lord in a well-watered place, which is green and lush. Spiritual deserts do need watering, but ground soaked to saturation with no drainage outlet becomes a swamp. Christians can get so obsessed with plumbing for profound truths in the most obscure morsels of Scripture that they get mired down in a lot of religious mysticism. Mysticism is an allegorical (symbolic) approach to interpreting Scripture, beyond what a plain reading of it would bring to mind. For example, I recall one lady, "Sister Sue" applying a symbolic meaning to the camels Rebekah rode upon to meet Isaac, her bridegroom. Sister Sue interpreted the camels as analogous to the trials which convey a person to the end of their life journey. That was very long ago, but even then I wasn't completely convinced that interpretation was of the Lord. God bears us. God carries us (Isa.46:4). Period. This lady's gloomy outlook made her interpretations gloomy. She was very much a trial-oriented individual and seemed to put more faith in trials to perfect a Christian than anything else. Sister Sue and her husband were both of a very sad disposition most of the time, mourning at the altar instead of rejoicing in the Lord. Very little of the "deeper meanings" they shared with the congregation were of a cheerful nature. The pastor soon dealt with how this man and his wife were making the atmosphere of the church dour and heavy with their morose religious mysticism.
Mysticism is a deceiving religious spirit. When the Holy Spirit gives us a special word through Scripture, it is for the purpose of breaking the fetters of oppression which bind us, not to bring us deeper into captivity to it as cults do. At the outset of His brief earthly ministry Christ declared that He came to comfort those who mourn and liberate those who are bruised (Isaiah 61:1; Luke 4:18). I have found "deeper" teachings in newsletters which extol the saving power of crushing, brokenness, and tears. Well, there was plenty of that around BEFORE Christ came! Religious mysticism teaches Christians that it is wrong to want to be happy. Instead, they should stay poor and attract all the trials they can, and even welcome the prospect of suffering through the Great Tribulation, etc. Christ's mission, so simply (not mysteriously) stated by Jesus Himself is often hidden under a tangled heap of mysticism which calls good bad and bad good. And the all-sufficiency of Christ's finished work on Calvary is either ignored or regarded as incomplete by those who teach that while we are saved by grace through faith, supplementary suffering on our part is necessary to perfect our own salvation. Through the offering of Jesus Christ God hath perfected one and for all those who are sanctified (Heb.10:14).
In the name of enlightenment, Christian mystics complexify the simplicity of the Gospel. Their endless study is a deep labyrinth of microscopic contemplation. They can forget we are here on the earth to spiritually water others. Deeply introspective spiritual philosophers can lose the larger picture of the simplicity of Christ and His call to be a blessing in ways both spiritual and practical. What began as a childlike, spiritual walk of joy can end up a hair-splitting intellectual head trip leading to nowhere. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity (brotherly love) edifies (build up the Body of Christ) ( I Cor.8:1)
The Bible speaks of "ever learning, and never coming to the knowledge of the truth" (II Tim. 3:7). I heard it said more than once that some people overeat junk food because they're looking for basic nutrients their body isn't getting enough of. Could it be possible that some are stuffing themselves with a lot of goofy doctrines because they are missing the mark in understanding what Jesus is all about?
One of my very best spiritual counselors, "Brother Bob", had a childlike simplicity about his ministry which did far more for folks than most of these spiritual mystics are able to do. Brother Bob would simply pray for people on the phone or in small groups. He would share portions of Scripture the Lord brought to mind which were relevant to their personal situation. If Brother Bob commented on the Scriptures, it never bordered on the bizarre. Not once did he ever try to control anybody or cut anyone down as being unspiritual compared to himself. Through his Christlike ministry he chased away spirits of gloom and defeat. He didn't attract more bad spirits through gloom and doom mysticism. He didn't tell anybody they had to give money or suffer on a lengthy fast to merit favor with God. He taught us to look in the mirror and see a redeemed son or daughter of God, who was loved on that basis alone.
The devil just loves religion because it serves as a smokescreen for his program of minimizing our effectiveness in the earth. So long as Bible study is done with the wrong motive and with the aim of constructing cultic doctrines, the devil doesn't mind using this tactic to distract believers from God's real (and forgotten) purposes in their lives. Engaging in theological hair-splitting is time-consuming and fruitless, and satan knows our time on earth is limited. Just as it is harmful to load up on too much rich food, there is such a thing as spiritual gluttony which can slow a Christian down. A spiritual glutton is caught up in his own private smorgasbord of introspective insights, which may contain just enough truth to camouflage a bit of brainwashing. All the weighty "new revelations" the teacher tries to stuff into a truth seeker's head can so clog up a Christian's consciousness that God can scarcely break through his fog to speak directly to him anymore. The teacher has, in effect, usurped the Holy Spirit's place as security guard of that person's spiritual treasure house. The teacher has, like Jiminy Cricket, become the conscience of wooden puppets. Through his indoctrination, he tries to supplant the Holy Spirit as the judge of right and wrong doctrine. And should God Himself wish to personally interact with the individual, the "student" could very well reject the Voice of the Good Shepherd as being deception.
Assimilating a vast hoard of "deep" spiritual philosophy can easily be confused with maturing as a Christian. This can lead to neglect of the Lord of the Book, as the Book itself becomes the object of the Christian's attention and devotion. Personal relationships and practical ministry to others can be neglected as precious hours are wasted in analyzing and dissecting texts, and petty quibbling over the subtle nuances of obscure verses. Spiritual control freaks might even question your devotion and love for the Lord should you in good conscience disagree with their lengthy dissertations and interpretations of Holy Writ.
Some might think I stopped taking lessons from Brother Swain over a triviality, but I will never compromise my belief in the utter sovereignty of God. Brother Swain thinks that ever since the founding of the Church, God no longer has the right to say "Thus saith the Lord" in prophetic messages. This, despite the fact "Thus saith the Holy Ghost" is uttered by Agabus, a New Testament prophet, in Acts 21:11. The Holy Ghost is a member of the Godhead, just as the Father and the Son are (Acts 5:3-4). When Ananias lied to the Holy Ghost, he was lying to God. God is One God manifested in three Persons, and they are in unity with one another (I John 5:8). God is the Lord, so why is it wrong for a New Testament prophet to utter "thus saith the Lord" when he delivers a prophecy? I Peter 4:10-11 mentions the exercising of spiritual gifts: * * *As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. IF ANY MAN SPEAK, LET HIM SPEAK AS THE ORACLES OF GOD; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability that God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.* * * I looked up the word "oracle" and it meant "a divine revelation". Divinely imparted prophecies are not to be despised, or belittled as insignificant (I Thes.5:20).
Brother Swain believes that God speaks to the Church only as a corporate body, instead of as individual children of His. Brother Swain doesn't believe God would ever address individual Christians as "my son" or "my daughter" in prophecy. But how would he explain II Cor. 6:17-18? In that passage, God promises we would be called His sons and His daughters if we would live lives separated unto Him. The very first prophecy I ever received came minutes after my Baptism in the Spirit back in 1970. Nobody told me to do it, but I broke into ecstatic singing in tongues. Afterward, the pastor uttered these words: "My daughter, you have praised me.". On the way home I asked my new church friends about the significance of that message. I learned that it was a manifestation of the Biblical Gift of Prophecy. And I was SO thrilled that the Lord God had actually called me "his daughter". Before, only the servanthood of Christians had ever been emphasized in churches I'd visited
All the members of the Body of Christ are corporately seen as one body by God, but we are not a congealed conglomerate. Brother Swain thinks individual ministries belong exclusively to the Old Testament. In an ideal world, all ministry would be a team effort carried out in harmony through a unified, loving body. But God uses what is made available to Him. In some areas of the earth it is hard to find a church which lives the New Testament vision of being a Church community knit together in brotherhood, rather than being a formal religious organization. Many preachers have, like the Apostle Paul, been imprisoned or otherwise cut off from attendance of assembly fellowship. Paul ministered and wrote while in jail. John was isolated on the Isle of Patmos. But he was still able to write down the Book of Revelation for the benefit of his far-flung brethren. So would Paul in prison or John on Patmos have been classified as a "one-man show" which did not qualify as a valid Church Age ministry? That's ludicrous. Individuals matter very much to God.
Brother Swain believes in the decrease of individual personality (see Col. 2:18-23). Truly there is no place for personal pride, since Christ gives us everything we have and we are all important to God's plan. There is a false teaching going around today which is cloaked in what at first glance is Biblical humility. But it is a trick of the devil to paralyze the Body of Christ to keep it from moving in the Gifts and developing its individual ministries to the fullest potential. I hear and read much these days about "lose your identity" for Christ's sake. But are His best interest served when a soldier He sends into battle retreats into seclusion in the name of false humility? "Lose your identity" is one of the catch-phrases of a mind-control cult. It sounds oh, so, humble, but it should raise a red flag whenever you hear it. Unfortunately, that phrase started being heard at the very church where I'd received the Baptism, but only after warring factions began to creep up within our small assembly.
A whole group of immigrants might take the Oath of Citizenship all at once, and a group of people might even repeat "the sinner's prayer" all at once. But God writes down our names one by one as we personally repent and receive Christ as Savior. We come to Christ as individuals, and as individuals we will stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ to receive our rewards. One Scripture which speaks of our unique individual relationship with God is found in a context where Christ is addressing a group of assemblies, Revelation 2:17: He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it. * * *Notice, no one will know your new name in glory except you and the Lord. I won't know it, Billy Graham won't know it, your pastor won't know it. Your new name on that white stone will be a secret between you and God. Many of us might live in cramped apartment blocks now, and some of us even have to share houses with other families because of sky-high rents. But in heaven, each of us will have our very own mansion. In the Father's House are many mansions (John 14:2). God is not going to warehouse us all en masse in one big regulation army barracks.
Yes, it was the principle of "God is sovereign" which made a bell go off over that Bible Study Course. Brother Swain strongly implies that God can't do this and God can't do that. Although God does not violate the principles of His Word, He doesn't have to answer to earthly Bible teachers or stay within the boundaries of their little boxes. If God were accountable to some man's private interpretation of the Word, that would mean that the theologian is lord, just like a politician has his "handlers" who tell him how to deliver his speeches. Earthly kings might have advisors, but God doesn't need human beings to tell Him how to run His program. That's more ridiculous than a baboon trying to teach Einstein the laws of physics. God does whatever He pleases (Psalms 115:3; 135:6; Dan.4:35).
I kept getting the impression the Bible study course was all about mind control. Brother Swain picks a single thread out of the fabric of Scripture and weaves a rope out of it to lead vulnerable souls into captivity to his own theology. Out of a couple of pet points he forges a handle to keep a grip on other people's thinking processes.
God has indeed spoken unto us in these last days through His Son, but Brother Swain is not His sole representative. The canon of Scripture is closed. But God the Father can still speak to hearts through the Holy Spirit, and that in no way takes away from Christ's role as Mediator between us and the Father. Words of prophecy in the church do not carry the authoritative weight of Scripture, but they can be accepted so long as they pass the discernment of the Holy Spirit and they don't conflict with "It is written". God is free to speak to His sons and daughters today to build them up in the faith. What mortal would dare try to fence the Lord in and say: Thus far shalt thou go and no further?
It's one thing to share beneficial insights with others, or to teach by personal experience and example. It's quite another to sit in the pilot seat of someone else's spiritual discernment. That's the Holy Spirit's job.