Smoke and Mirrors Christianity

By Kit Olsen

The Christian church was founded by the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers that Jesus Christ gave to her. These men were divinely inspired to preach the gospel and teach the Scriptures. They were given the ability to do this by Jesus Christ who gave gifts to men (Ephesians 4:8). He imparted, to specific men of the first century, special abilities to carry out their duties as apostles, evangelists, pastors and teachers.

And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-13).

These gifted men relied primarily on the abilities given to them by Jesus. They had access to Scripture, but in a limited way. The only ones who had copies of the Old Testament in the first century were the Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes and very wealthy families. The apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers had extremely limited access to the Old Testament. Their reliance was mostly on the “manifestation gifts” given to them by Jesus rather than on their personal study of Scripture.

The Hebrews who believed in Jesus Christ had a background in Scripture, but the Gentile converts did not. The Gentile converts who pastored churches like Titus, relied solely on the gifts given to them by Jesus through the apostles and what teaching they received at the hands of the apostles. The first converts (Hebrew and Gentile) had the “manifestation gifts” imparted to them by the apostles as Timothy did by Paul:

“For which cause I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee through the laying on of my hands” (2 Timothy 1:6).

The “manifestation gift” that Timothy received from Jesus to perform his duties were imparted to him by Paul. Only apostles could impart the “manifestation gifts.” This is why Paul wrote to the Roman Christian saying he desired to visit them so he could impart the pneumatikon charisma to them (Romans 1:11).

The ministry gifts were imparted by the pastors (presbytery) through prophetic utterance and the laying on of hands:

“Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery” (1 Timothy 4:14).

This was the method in which the ministry gifts were imparted by the apostles and pastors to converts. We understand that the “manifestation gifts” could only be imparted by the apostles from the ministry of Philip, the evangelist. He preached the gospel in Samaria and performed numerous miracles.

Many believed in Jesus and were baptized but none of them received the Holy Spirit or were given any of the “manifestation gifts” (Acts 8:5-13, 16). Peter and John went to Samaria and prayed that the converts would receive the Holy Spirit. They prayed and laid hands on the converts who then received the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:14-17).

Simon the magician saw this and asked to buy from Peter the power to do the same. Peter told him to repent (Acts 8:18-24). Paul also explained that men with specific gifts were given to the church in his first letter to the Corinthian church:

“And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondly prophets, thirdly teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, divers kinds of tongues. (1 Corinthians 12:28).

As previously noted, Jesus gave the church men who had specific gifts to build-up the church. Paul told the Ephesians that the apostles, prophets and teachers were given to the church. Here Paul adds miracle workers, healers, helpers, governors and lastly men who could speak a known language which they did not know how to speak.

The gift of being able to speak an unlearned language was given for two reason—as a sign to unbelievers (1 Corinthians 14:21-22) and to share the gospel with people who spoke foreign languages (Acts 2:8).

Today all evangelists, pastors and teachers in the Western nations have total access to Scripture from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21. Most evangelists, pastors and teachers in the second and third world countries have total or partial access to Scripture. They do not rely on divine inspiration to perform their duties. Instead they must study Scripture daily (Acts 17:11) to show themselves approved (2 Timothy 2:15).

The Holy Spirit teaches them, but His teaching is not given without intense study of Scripture and prayer because it is Scripture that is inspired by God and “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  It is the inspired Word of God that equips not only the evangelists, pastors and teachers in the church but also all believers to do good works.

We know this is so because Paul commended the believers at Ephesus:

“So now, brethren, God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you the inheritance among all them that are sanctified” (Acts 20:32).

He did not commend them to the apostles, evangelists, pastors or teachers. We see that believers of the first century were moving away from the authority of the apostles, evangelists, pastors and teachers when Paul was on his way to Rome around 65 AD.

They were at that time living by the authority of Scripture—the Old Testament and the New Testament which was nearly completed. Even though few Christians if any at all had the complete New Testament, excluding the books of John and Revelation (which were written about thirty years later), they had enough to carry on the work of the ministry.

Paul was admonishing his flocks to move away from apostolic authority to the authority of Scripture. In his farewell message to the believers in Ephesus (Acts 20:17-35) he prophesied that after he departed evil men whom he called “grevious wolves” would become members of their congregation and they would not spare the flock. These men would teach “perverse things” in order to “draw away the disciples after them” (v. 30).

He commended them to God and to the “Word of his grace” that is Scripture (v. 32). He did not commend them to the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers because believers are to rely solely on the authority of Scripture (Sola Scriptura).

It is clear to us today that believers cannot rely on the authority of men who call themselves, apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers or the Vicar of Christ. Too many who have claimed to have been given divine insight, knowledge, visions and revelations from God have made errors in doctrine and the alleged messages from God. The history of the church is littered with hundreds of false prophets and teachers, founders of cults, and men and women who claimed they were given special messages, visions and revelations.

When believers follow “prophets” who claim they have been selected by God to reform the church or start a new church they are easily victimized. Instead of accepting the word of the “prophet” that he has been given a “new revelation” by God, they are to test the spirits (1 John 4:1).  If anything the “prophet” says contradicts Scripture he must be rejected. And if he claims he has a “new revelation” that does not contradict Scripture his “fruits” must be examined (Matthew 7:15-20).

Is a so-called prophet, preacher or teacher made excessively wealthy by collecting money from his congregants? Is his standard of living similar to or less than the average of his congregation? Or is it far greater? Does he emphasize self-righteous authority? Is he proud with a need to control others? Does he have numerous people who serve him or does he serve those around him, like Jesus did ?

The way to be great is not to claim a special revelation from God or to claim to have new knowledge, or to have been chosen by “God” to start a new church with a new doctrine. The way to be great is to be a servant to all:

“But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25-28).

Spiritual leaders who seek to be great in this life (on a pedestal fawning attention and adulation) are treading on territory fraught with smoke and mirrors Christianity. Instead of being  great men of God, they are often backslidden believers who have forgotten God’s admonition to walk in humility.

“God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble. Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time” (1 Peter 5b-6).

Does this truth mean that virtually every pastor or teacher we see on television or various public platforms is not being led by the Holy Spirit? Or did some of them attain fame and great wealth without seeking it? Surely some are genuine in spirit and intent; their accolades come from heartfelt dedication to reach a broad audience with the truth of God’s Word. But as many can attest, far too many “wolves in sheep’s clothing are roaming the air waves seeking those whom they can devour.

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8).