Tom Chantry at The Cripplegate has written a very good essay titled Occam’s Razor and the Perpetuity of Evangelical Scandal
In it, he states logically and simply that if people would simply stop accepting at face value the proclamations of celebrity pastors and the like that they are Christians, lives would be made easier, and minds would be more at ease.
In summary, Mr Chantry said that when a megapastor, such as the types like Mr Furtick, Mr Driscoll, or Mr Stanley, teach something that isn’t in the Bible, or otherwise make an outrageous statement, the thinking goes something like this:
“What?! How could Pastor So-and-So say that? He says he’s a Christian, so how can he not know that isn’t the truth?! Since he says he’s a Christian, we have to find out what he really meant. It must be a mistake, or he said it because he must be temporarily under the influence of NyQuil. Of course he is a Christian (because Pastor So-and-So says he is) and Christians would know better than to teach that. Oh, no, what can this mean?”
Mr Chantry wrote:
When well-recognized evangelicals – particularly those who have never made any significant contribution to or defense of biblical doctrine and piety – make asinine statements about the gospel or engage in stunts which contradict all the tenets of Christian virtue, why do we feel the need to cover their indiscretion with a cloak of good Christian motives? They themselves rarely seem to desire this! The complex logical gymnastics by which we defend the men while questioning their words and actions are based upon one obstinate presupposition: because these men are evangelicals, they must be received as brothers in Christ and granted every advantage of our most gracious instincts. This is, I suggest, a needless assumption which we ought to simply shave away. A great many evangelicals are simply not saved.
You know, most people who say they’re saved, are not saved. Am I pessimistic? Is Mr Chantry mean? Do I propose to “judge the heart”? Is he “judging their motives”? No. Jesus said that many go on the broad way to destruction and few find the way to salvation. (Matthew 7:14). Jesus followed that statement immediately in the next verse, saying
Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. (Matthew 7:15)
In the New Testament ‘false prophets’ are pastors, a word we’re more familiar with today. Or they are teachers.
If someone says to me that they are saved, I don’t dismiss their statement, of course. But I do not accept it at face value, either. I listen to testimony, I watch for fruit, I reserve comment or opinion on their self-proclamation until I see one way or another which way their wind blows. That takes time.
And even then, if the person is a layperson, I rarely come to a final conclusion, because I can never be 100% sure, unless they overtly deny a foundational doctrine. Jesus will make that pronouncement on His day. Only if someone is a pastor or teacher at the highest levels with a following or influence, and they say something incontrovertibly against a foundational doctrine, (like when Billy Graham says we can go to heaven without knowing Jesus; or the wild abuses against the Spirit of Benny Hinn or Joyce Meyer, or the greed with which a Joel Osteen bows to Mammon), then it’s understood in my mind that someone with the Holy Spirit in them would never teach that or say that. Ever.
Mr Chantry spelled out three simple tests to help people understand whether to call someone a brother.
After all, the Scripture does suggest that there will be certain signs which, while they do not allow us infallibly to identify each true believer, will give us a sense of who should and who should not be called a brother. Let us consider three of the very simplest:
Here they are in one-sentence form. Please read his essay so as to see the scriptures and explanations in full. It is very helpful.
1. Actual believers will understand, confess, and defend the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. (See, for instance, I Corinthians 15:1-5.)
2.Actual Believers will decisively reject all counterfeit gospels. (See Galatians 1:6-9.)
3. Actual Believers, while not morally perfect, will care about holiness and will strive to live according to God’s commands. (See I Corinthians 6:9-11.)
In his Handout Church History Lecture series, John Gerstner said in 1990,
How goes the Gospel in the world at the end of the twentieth century? There is no way of getting full or accurate statistics (though there are many useful attempts). One can only make educated guesses. Mine is that the vast majority—maybe 90 percent—of professing Christendom does not profess Christianity. Or rather, it does not understand the Christianity it professes.
Most of the people who profess Christ do not believe the essential doctrines that set one apart as a regenerated, saved Christian. Therefore do we need such hand-wringing when a megapastor says something “asinine” as Mr Chantry put it? Do we need to perform rhetorical gymnastics to try and parse what the megapastor really meant? Do we need to run around Henny Penny like our hair is on fire? Or do we simply say, ‘That is the way of the world. Jesus told us this ahead of time.” (Matthew 24:25).