Charting a Course for the Church
Part X: Following the Narrow Way

by Rev. Sterling Durgy

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The allegorical method of interpreting Scripturei was common during the time of the Protestant Reformation. The Protestant Reformers objected to this method, however, because those who used the allegorical method frequently read-into the Scriptures what they wanted Scripture to say. By doing so, they also led people away from the true meaning of Scripture.

While there isn't a revival of the allegorical method as such in our time, the tendency to impose an imaginative interpretation upon Scripture has become common again. We might call this the fanciful interpretation of Scripture. It is practiced by those who label themselves "evangelical" as well as by "liberal" Christians who reject the full authority of Scripture. Both groups claim that their teachings are "prophetic," "Scriptural," and "orthodox." Both appeal to the past to justify their interpretations. Both also tend to appeal to "new revelation." Both, nevertheless, ignore the traditional interpretation of Scripture for one that is "new."

The real appeal of this "fanciful" method of interpreting Scripture is in the three trends in modern culture that we discussed in the opening of this series: The belief that if something is successful (in worldly terms) it is morally correct and/or evidence of the blessing of God (American pragmatism); the belief that forward progress in all human affairs is assured, so that anything new (including an idea or value) is automatically better than anything that is old; and the belief that truth is verified through feeling, so that if we are comfortable with a belief, it is true and it is confirmed by God (in the words of a popular song, "it can't be wrong if it feels so right"). If something is successful, new, and feels good today, chances are there will be a large, receptive audience. This is not, of course, a blanket condemnation of anything that meets these three criteria, which are not wrong in and of themselves. Rather, it is a recognition that they are not accurate measures of truth and spirituality.

The determination to use these three as measures of spiritual truth stems from the desire to create a religion that is comfortable and self-serving. There is a general resistance to the Gospel that only appears to come from the culture of any specific time and place. The real resistance to the Gospel is far deeper, rooted in human opposition to the rule of God. We should not be surprised by this, for it is one of the clearest and most basic teachings of Scripture. Isaiah wrote, "All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way . . ." (Isaiah 53:6). One of the ways we "go our own way" is to create our own religious truth and our own Gospel. It is part of human sinfulness - rebellion against the righteous rule of our Creator over our lives. This leads to the desire to accumulate teachers who say what is comfortable rather than what is true before God. In the ancient world this provided some of the motivation for creating gods in the image of animals and human beings. Contemporary religious beliefs do not tend to be expressed in carved idols, but arise due to similar motivations.

One movement that has arisen for this reason in our time is the "Word of Faith" or "Word-Faith" movement, sometimes called the "Health, Wealth, and Success" or "Name-it-and-claim-it" movement. The influence of this movement in American Christianity today is enormous. Much of what the teachers of this movement proclaim is blatantly unorthodox. But they appeal to the desperate hopes of those seeking escape from illness and poverty, and to the pride and greed of others. One of the hallmarks of this movement is an interpretation of Scripture that, while not deep or sophisticated, nevertheless involves a large number of Scripture verses. The sheer number of Scriptures quoted to support the movement seem to give it credibility, even though careful Scripture study shows that their teachings are often contrary to Scripture.

The "Latter-Rain" (LR) movement, also called the "Manifest Sons of God" (MSOG), "Kingdom Now," or "Dominion" movement, arose in the mid 20th century. In our time, it has close ties to the Word of Faith movement. Representatives teach that there will be a second, superior Pentecost just before the end of the world in which the Spirit of Christ will be "birthed" (a New-Age term) into the church. They teach that the resulting church will take over the world politically to prepare for the bodily return of Jesus Christ. There are many variations of these teachings based upon misinterpretations of Scripture that fool the ignorant and the unwary. However, it fits neatly with American pragmatism, it is "new," and it makes those who follow this movement bold and proud. In other words, it makes them feel good. The growth of this movement is often blamed upon "post-millennialism." However, traditional Christian post-millennialism, as held by many Christians in the past and represented by such individuals as the late Dr. Lorraine Boettner, really has little in common with LR/MSOG teachings. LR/MSOG is, in many ways, a modern Christian revival of the Jewish "Zealot" thinking of the first and second centuries A.D. - whose adherents believed that they were responsible to bring God's Kingdom to earth, and who believed that God would give them miraculous help in their military efforts to establish Jerusalem as the capitol of the world.

Perhaps the most influential of these inter-related movements, however, has grown out of the Church Growth movement. This movement started as an attempt to make evangelism and missions more effective by learning from those who were successful in their missionary ventures and by applying the lessons learned from secular disciplines. This is a legitimate approach for those who keep rigidly within the bounds of the teachings of Scripture, and it has produced some helpful insights. Unfortunately, while maintaining that it is strictly orthodox and opposes heresy, some in the movement are promoting a steady stream of imaginative and unorthodox teachings.

Chief among these is Dr. C. Peter Wagner of Fuller Theological Seminary. Dr. Wagner is very open about his belief that Christian theology is determined by experience. He quotes Ray Anderson's statement with approval that, "ministry precedes and produces theology, not the reverse" ii Thus Dr. Wagner endorses a "paradigm shift" in which Christians adapt a view of the world more in line with Eastern mysticism. He teaches the practice of "identificational repentance" in which Christians repent for the sins of other people and even people of the past in contradiction of such clear Scripture as Ezekiel 18, 33. He also promotes "spirit mapping" as a technique of spiritual warfare. Spirit mapping attempts to define and displace the demons that rule a specific geographical area of the world. It is a technique that depends upon occult knowledge and is part of "preparing the world for the return of Jesus Christ" that is consistent with latter-rain/MSOG theology. However, even many of those who do not adopt the unique techniques of Dr. Wagner and his followers subscribe to the basic Church Growth premis that numbers determine success. Also, they have promoted a view of evangelism and missions that makes them the controlling factor in all Christian theology and practice. Once again, this reduces "success" not only in these endeavors but in all the church's life to a matter of numbers.

Dr. Wagner worked closely with the late John Wimber, founder of the Vineyard movement. Wimber promoted what he called "experiential Christianity." He believed that the work of the Holy Spirit today should be as visible and tangible as it was in the New Testament church - or perhaps more so. He believed that "signs and wonders" would accompany God's people and that extraordinary spiritual experiences would be commonplace. Along the way, Wimber associated himself strongly with the Mike Bickle's LR/MSOG "Kansas City prophets," especially Paul Cain. At a Vineyard prophecy conference held in 1989, Cain said,

"God is raising up a new standard, a new banner if you will, that's going to radically change the expression, the understanding of Christianity in our generation..." iii

This statement voices the views of many people within the Christian community today who are determined to do what would have been unthinkable to earlier evangelical Christians - abandon traditional, orthodox Christianity for "new-revelation" and mysticism.

These views, based as they are upon aggressively promoted yet fanciful interpretations of Scripture, can only find a welcome reception in a church that is not careful about its orthodoxy; a church that has forgotten the apostolic testimony, the apostolic teaching, the apostolic example, and the apostolic charge; a church that has lost faith in her message. These views and others like them, can also only exist in a church that is drifting; one that is driven, like society around it, by worldly success, blind faith in human progress, and good feelings. Our Lord is worthy of better, deeper, and more faithful service.

Thomas Oden says of our time, "It is the winter season for rigorous Christian teaching. But it has been through many winters before . . . There is much stormy winter ahead. Only the hardiest may survive . . . Spring will come, but only to those who have survived the winter." iv


i "Allegory" is a form of teaching in which the characters, things, or events are symbols used to represent something else. Aesop's Fables are allegorical. For instance, in "The Tortoise and the Hare," the tortoise represents persistence and reliability. John Bunyan's famous Pilgrim's Progress is an allegory in which a man's journey represents the Christian life. The problem at the time of the Reformation was not that some Scripture was thought to be allegorical, some Scripture is. For example, the apostle Paul clearly uses allegory as a teaching tool in Galatians 4:21-31 and parables are allegorical. It is that the allegorical method was widely and carelessly applied to all of Scripture in an attempt to discover "hidden meanings" in the text. This began with the Alexandrian school of interpretation that arose in the second century A.D.

ii Wagner, C. Peter. Confronting the Powers. Ventura, California: Regal Books, 1996, p. 44.

iii Paul Cain, "You Can Become the Word!," Vineyard Prophecy Conference, 1989, as cited by Jewel van der Merwe in "The New Order," Discernment Ministries, Lapeer, Michigan, p. 7.

iv Oden, Thomas C. After Modernity . . . What?: Agenda for Theology. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992, pp. 198-199.

First printed in The American Night Watch Newsletter, Volume VII, Part 2, February 1999.

Copyright 1999 Sterling M. Durgy. All Rights Reserved.

The American Night Watch is a trademark of the Christian ministry of Sterling M. Durgy.

Scriptures taken from the New American Standard Bible, Copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968,1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Permission is granted to reprint this article as long as the copyright is included, this statement is included, and the article is not sold to the recipients.

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This page was last updated October 22, 1999.