1995, of course, hadn't yet seen GPS devices, so we honestly believed the road we'd taken led to the hotel. But 15 minutes later, as we found ourselves on the bridge crossing the Mississippi River into Arkansas, James remembered that the road split way back near the nursing home. We had stayed on the wider, more traveled road, thinking it would get us to the hotel in downtown Memphis. Instead, it led us to an abandoned dog racing track in another state.
This story fluttered back into my memory yesterday as I thought about the various trends and teachers flooding the evangelical church today. At first, we don't notice any deviation from Biblical doctrine. In fact, we see these trends and teachers attract more people to church, and we conclude that the numbers signify God's blessing. Just as James and I assumed the broad, more populous road would take us to Mom's hotel, so evangelicals trust these popular movements and teachers to lead them to spiritual truths.
But often, the popular route ends up miles away from truth. Things that appear to be Christian may actually lure people to a counterfeit spirituality. And popularity may, to our surprise, even serve as an indication of deviation from truth. Consider this passage from the Lord's own Sermon on the Mount:
13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” ~~Matthew 7:13-27 (ESV)
The narrow gate squeezes out false doctrine. Though it's so much easier to jump on whatever bandwagon comes to "a church near you," Jesus holds us accountable to examine the quality (rather than the quantity) of each program and teaching. Beth Moore and Rick Warren, for example, may inspire millions of people to buy their books and attend their speaking engagements, but they manipulate Scripture to preach a false gospel of narcissism instead of elevating the Lord Jesus Christ. Similarly, the Gay Christian Movement concentrates on rewriting God's Word for the sole purpose of legitimizing their sexual sin.
And on an on the deception goes, slowly and subtly leading evangelicals away from the Biblical Christ into a parody of Christianity as lifeless as those dog racing tracks in Arkansas. Perhaps my attempts to demonstrate how various trends and teachers steer people in wrong directions appear unloving and unnecessarily divisive as I "rip" cherished teachers and ideas. But love, if it's genuine, warns people that they misread maps and follow the traffic on the wrong road.