If you've been a Christian for a minute or you've had some mentors to disciple you in your faith then there is a high probability that you can spot the lie. When a pastor tells you to "plant a seed" financially because God WILL reward you. That's the lie. When you read a book that says you can change your thoughts and you can renew your mind so that you can be your best self. That's the lie.
After a minute they become easy to spot. But that's not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about the things that aren't technically wrong but they aren't technically right either. They have a messy gray area that either lukewarm Christians or spiritually secular people tend to thrive in.
This series is about the things that are actually hurtful, though they look and seem like they might be helpful. This is a 5 part series that will cover things from pastors, to spiritual gifts, to language, and some mentality issues. In other words,
We goin' places.
Today we are covering Steven Furtick. He's widely known and internationally acclaimed pastor of Elevation Church in North Carolina. He's also the theological backing behind their equally famous band, Elevation Worship.
I want to start by first saying, Steven Furtick and Elevation church were hugely influential in my own personal faith in Jesus. When I first became a Christian, a lot of the churches I had ever seen or known were led by men who were reverent but never joyful. Most religious services I'd seen were highly structured and god-awful boring. So when I first heard of Elevation, I fell in love because pastor Furtick was happy. Whenever he preached, he was actually joyful about his topic. In my mind Jesus is the best thing that has ever happened to me so my own preaching reflects that. There is a place for reverence but there is also a place for genuine excitement and happiness on stage. I would n0t be a pastor myself if it weren't for his preaching and teaching. For that, I will forever be grateful for his ministry and his faithfulness in where God led him.
It is my personal conviction that in the 10 years since I started listening to Elevation, Steven Furtick has finally drifted over the line from unhelpful into hurtful. In previous years, I might have recommended people listening to him or downloading Elevation's app, but I can't really do that in good conscious anymore. It's not because he makes a lot of money or because he seems to be a celebrity pastor, although this things are worth discussing.
It's because what he teaches leads people to a false sense of who God is and what their lives ought to be.
There are multiple examples of this in his teaching but I'm going only going to use one as my case study for time's sake. I've got more but I'm just here to make a point.
The miscommunication of theology
In a sermon he did on January of 2020, Pastor Steven preached on the Holy Spirit. You can watch the full message HERE. In that message though, he says that "Jesus didn't leave the disciples, he changed forms."
The idea of God changing forms is actually a heresy called Modalism. It's the idea that the God in the Old Testament evolved in Jesus and then Jesus changed into the Holy Spirit. This was rebuked and denied in the early church father Origen and at the Counsel of Nicea in 325 for several reasons.
The first is that if God does change, then he must be missing something necessary and therefore, not perfect. You only change when you are trying to improve, which God cannot do because of his inherent perfection.
The second reason is that the Bible is explicit in that God has different persons but one being. Modalism indicates that it is one person that changes manifestations. Think of one actor on a stage playing different parts by putting on a new mask.
Here's the helpful part: Pastor Steven probably and in all likelihood, didn't mean it like that. He probably isn't thinking about modalism. He's probably talking about the fact that the person the disciples were experiencing was going away and a new person (the Holy Spirit) was coming. 1 being (God), 3 persons (father, son, Spirit).
Unfortunately and ultimately, that doesn't matter because he said the phrase "God changes forms." That's the hurtful part. People who have not done research into church history or aren't theologically sound are going to trust him to tell them what is truth. The brother of Jesus warns pastors of this in his letter when he says,
"Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness."
Pastors and preachers don't have the ability to just say "oh never mind what I meant was..." because, by the time people leave church on Sunday, their theology is already defined. Theological murkiness allows people to add spiritual baggage that God never intended. That is where people get harmed. They continue in paths they should not be going because of either carelessness or willful ignorance.
Pastor Furtick is still an amazing communicator. Probably one of the best speakers on the planet right now. He's still joyful and wonderful to watch. I love his energy and the vibe he brings to the stage. He still loves Jesus and loves to reach people.
But he's hurtful, not helpful. So it's time to let him go.