Evaluations to Help with the Discernment of False Teaching

By Greg Robertson, M.A., M.Div.

This document had been removed from this website because a group that was promoting these teachings in Indonesia, YASKI -- part of the Far East Broadcasting Corporation -- told the Thorn Street Chronicles that they were repentant and would no longer spread these teachings. In the August 2002 YASKI NEWS publication, however, the YASKI organization boasts of how it sponsored two "sisters" from The Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary to come to Indonesia and spread their teachings through radio, preaching, and book and bookmark publication. It is our belief at the Thorn Street Chronicles that such teachings promote a man-centered spirituality no different in essence than Roman Catholicism and thus they are a serious threat to a true understanding of the Gospel and can cause a person to think they have become acceptable to God through their own righteousness and spiritual fervor instead of through faith in the completed work of Christ for our salvation. Of course that is all based on the presupposition that the Scriptures are the only reliable norm for faith and practice.

We believe that when the Gospel is at stake, it is a sin for Christians to remain silent. Thus, the document is back.

[See "Loving and Hating" In this short devotional reading, Dr. Martin Luther shows that the worst evil is false teaching.]

Jesus compared false doctrine to leaven, or yeast. It only takes a very little yeast, but the whole loaf of bread is affected. False doctrine, in a contemporary illustration, can perhaps best be compared to a computer virus. I added this illustration because as I was writing this paper, [my secretary] received an email. It seemed very interesting and friendly. It was a very short email with an attachment. Here is what it said:

“Hi! How are you?

“I send you this file in order to have your advice.

“See you later. Thanks”

Wow, it sounds great! First, the person who sent the email shows personal interest in my well being by asking how I am. Then the person asks for my advice – that means he or she must like me and must respect my opinion. Then the person closes with a friendly “See you later,” and a polite “Thanks.” What could be wrong with that?!

As soon as [my secretary] told me about the message, I jumped out of my seat, raised my voice a few notches and commanded her not to open it. I did not ask her politely, I commanded her! I told her it was a virus and that I already had experience with it last week. She also discerned that it was a virus – that is why she told me about it in the first place. I told her the details about it last week when I received it at home. Based on her knowledge, [she] now has the gift of discernment about that particular virus.

Meanwhile, I was behaving like there was a fire in the building. We first tried to call [Jane] to alert her about the danger, but she was not available. So I ran downstairs to the main floor and got the attention of everyone in the room, telling them not to open any attachments if they get the email asking for their advice. To some, I may have seemed like an alarmist, taking them away from their work to attract attention to myself about something they were not interested in or perhaps even doubted was true.

In this case, everyone listened, and as far as I know, the virus was not allowed to get a foothold. Within the last week or so, others have also warned of the same virus.

Unfortunately, my “emergency” concern about false doctrine coming to Indonesia from the USA is usually perceived as the rantings of a problem child. A computer virus, at worst, can only destroy valuable information, but doctrinal viruses can destroy souls for all eternity – the father of lies created them.

In one way, there is a big difference between the virus in a computer and a doctrinal virus. The doctrinal virus is alive, in a sense, although in spiritual terms it would be called dead. The doctrinal virus has a deceiving spirit attached to it. The deceiving spirit can argue, reason, and lie – and it can be very convincing. In fact, according to Scripture, if we do not love the truth, God may supernaturally empower a deceiving spirit to be irresistibly convincing. That is why it is so important for Christians to be committed to the truth of God at any cost.

Let me give you one example of evidence that a doctrinal virus has already gotten foothold in the Indonesian and worldwide body of Christ – The Jabez Prayer. This is a short prayer that someone in the Bible by the name of Jabez had prayed. Dr. Bruce H. Wilkinson wrote a book that has sold multiple millions of copies and has attracted the attention and altered the practice of millions of Christians all over the world. It is really a simple prayer that asks for blessings and protection from God. In some ways it mirrors what we call “The Lord’s Prayer” – “Give us this day our daily bread,” etc. The book is called The Prayer of Jabez: How to Get God to Bless Your Life. Sounds good, right? What people do not realize is that a dangerous spiritual virus may be hiding behind the cover.

In some cases praying the prayer may be harmless. Christians have used the Scripture in their prayers since the beginning. In truth, we could say that liturgy falls into that category. When it comes to liturgy, however, Christians usually recognize how it can go wrong and some completely reject it, believing that God cannot be worshiped in such manners. Most liturgies incorporate the Lord’s Prayer and that brings me to a question. If evangelicals reject liturgical worship, which incorporates the Lord’s Prayer that was given to us by Jesus, why are they now willing to incorporate the Prayer of Jabez, not only into their worship services, but as a daily chant that is supposed to gain power and blessing from God?

First, it can turn God [from man's perspective] into a non-personal being Who can be manipulated and controlled by the repetition of a formularized prayer.

Second, it seems to be based in a Roman Catholic doctrine and spirituality. The difference is that the Roman Catholics repetitiously use the Lord’s Prayer or a prayer to Mary or to a saint. Although Protestants have for many years pointed to the Catholic practice as being wrong, the same thing is now happening in Protestant churches, but with the prayer of Jabez. 

Discerning Christians also have other complaints about the Jabez prayer fad. Information may be found at: http://www.behindthebadge.net/articles/a69.html or http://www.crossroad.to/articles2/Jabez.htm

Evaluations of some authors of materials that have been published and distributed in Indonesia through YASKI

Loren Cunningham – The most well known person in the group is the founder of Youth With A Mission (1960). Before he founded YWAM he was an influential youth-leader in the Assemblies of God (AOG) denomination with a background of several generations in Pentecostalism. Ironically, the AOG was later to write a tract, condemning the YWAM practice of Shepherding. In the Shepherding practice, leaders became firmly seated in the place of the Lord and those lower than them in the hierarchy were forced into complete obedience to their wishes. Many who resisted this system were believed to be demon possessed and were subsequently dealt with on that basis. Unfortunately, the theology (virus) behind the practice was never sufficiently addressed and removed from the organization, so it has in recent years resurfaced as a new paradigm for the church and the rise of apostles and prophets.

In his book Is That Really You God? Hearing The Voice of God, he tells of how his grandfather heard the voice of God calling him to preach the Gospel. He obeyed and left his wife and children behind so he could become a traveling preacher. His wife died a while later and most of his children denied the Lord because of his blasphemous actions. Loren uses his grandfather as an example of the long-running Cunningham skill at being able to hear God’s voice.

Early in his life Loren was being trained in his grandfather’s tradition. In the above-mentioned book he explains how, as a child, he had lost a five-dollar bill. He reports that God spoke to his mother and told her that it was under a bush. They both ran down the street looking for a bush and found the lost money, just where God had said it was.

This tradition of communicating with God is the motivating force behind YWAM’s move into a school system, although the original purpose for the organization was to allow kids to get involved in missions without having to spend years in school. Now, more than forty years since the beginning of YWAM, there is much boasting about the size and growth of the University of the Nations. The original emphasis of YWAM was to go directly into missions without training, but now the exact opposite is in place and a person can join YWAM to get training and indeed must attend a Discipleship Training School and a School of Evangelism before being allowed to join YWAM full-time staff.

One of the most influential occurrences in YWAM’s early years was when Loren met a New Zealand couple named Jim and Joy Dawson. Jim was destined to become an influential member of the International Council and Joy, who was well schooled in a mystical intercessory prayer method, reinforced and helped Loren develop his skills in hearing God’s voice. Supernatural things were happening in hearing the voice of God and although there were mistaken notions and wrong messages from time to time, overall it was working for the good of the mission. When the first school began in Lausanne, Switzerland, Loren’s goal was to teach kids how to have holy lives, which was considered necessary before God would use a person, and how to hear God’s voice, which was considered necessary to know what God’s will is and what to do next in the missionary endeavor.

Loren believed such training would be more useful to kids than if they were to get a thorough education in Scripture and theology from a seminary or Bible school. A deep, two-way communication with God through intercessory prayer, and a sanctified Christian life were the foundation stones that became cemented into the YWAM building. Those two things became the controlling influences throughout the new YWAM system.

Moral Government Theology (MGT) was the perfect “system” to get people sanctified. The MGT tenet that there is no sinful nature in man, took away what was perceived to be a major stumbling block and excuse for the common sinful indulgence observed in other Christian groups.

Two people who became fundamental for the teaching of MGT were Harry Conn and Gordon Olson. They began teaching the YWAM kids their brand of Christian faith according to the precepts of Moral Government Theology (MGT) [Note: Finney and the older form of Moral Government Theology believed in God's absolute foreknowledge and differed with the YWAM form of the teaching on significant issues]. MGT is a form of systematic theology that denies God’s foreknowledge; maintains that God changes His mind; teaches that there is no sinful nature inherited by man; that there is no imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the believer; that the death of Christ on the cross was not a payment for sin; and that to believe man is saved by faith alone is a teaching of deceivers. The system, by and large, grew out of a loathing and strong rejection of strict Calvinism, with its doctrines of predestination, limited atonement, perseverance of saints, total depravity and irresistible grace.

After Christians outside of YWAM became aware of the theology that was being taught within the organization, and began writing against it in the 80s, the YWAM leadership responded with a complete lack of honesty, even accusing them of fabricating stories. I wrote a testimony for the book Lead Us Not Into Deception, which was written by Dr. Alan Gomes of Talbot Theological Seminary and published in 1986. To prove that the leaders in YWAM were “bearing false witness,” we included a section of photocopied letters and other documentation of approximately thirty pages. The documentation and testimony together, proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the MGT was present all over YWAM.

The attitude Cunningham showed to Dr. Gomes and others is also seen in his book, Hearing the Voice of God . In it Cunningham disobeyed some seasoned missionaries he had visited as a teenager, apparently because he felt he knew more than they did about a situation in the mission field. He also rejected the advice of his leader, Tom Zimmerman in the AOG, and subsequently was defrocked and went out to officially start YWAM. It seems that Loren’s skill at hearing God’s voice from an early age placed him above his more experienced superiors.

It is ironic that YWAM leaders adopted an almost unknown theology and taught that those who disagreed with them or disobeyed them were, or could become, demon possessed. When I was in YWAM we were taught that our spiritual leaders were like an umbrella over us and if we disobeyed or disagreed with them, we removed ourselves from spiritual protection and were thus open prey for demons, devils and delusions. (By the way, this is a common, manipulative tactic in cults.) Apparently the principle did not apply to Loren before he started YWAM and after he started YWAM he was at the top of the hierarchy, so, technically, he did not need to submit to anyone. [In my opinion, this reveals the same kind of spirituality that was present in the Scribes and Pharisees who seemed to be so holy and sanctified during the time of Jesus.]

George Otis Jr –  It was at the YWAM School Of Evangelism in Lausanne, Switzerland (1972), that Otis picked up his MGT views. In 1978 he published his book The God They Never Knew.  His book was a faithful teaching of the Moral Government system and thus viciously attacked and ridiculed the Christ-centered Reformation theology, including the biblical view of salvation. The idea that Christ’s death was a payment for sin was ridiculed as a doctrine of deceivers and the deceived. Although it is clearly a biblical doctrine, Otis blames it for a host of problems among Christians and believes it is not logical or consistent with his view of a loving God.

The person who is well informed about George Otis Jr can see clearly the powerful influence of his MGT views in his present day theology and practice. Unfortunately, millions of Christians, all over the world are adopting his theology and practice as proclaimed today, without ever knowing that the virus he planted in the 70s is still present and doing its work, but all behind the scenes.

There is also strong evidence of dishonesty in the video presentations that Otis has made and generated international fame about – Transformations I and Transformations II. In the first video there is contrary evidence to the claims he made and the awakenings that did take place could very well have been attributed, in his films, to the wrong cause. In other words, he did not attribute the conversions to the preaching of God’s Word and the work of the Holy Spirit, (“Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God!”), but to spiritual mapping, prophetic intercession, persevering leadership and spiritual warfare, which takes the emphasis off God and His grace through the preaching of the Gospel and the work of the Spirit, and places it soundly to the credit of Otis and those who practice his teachings.

One of the places that has been touted as a center of revival and transformation is Columbia [See Califact for updated information on the transformation in Cali, a city featured in Otis's Transformations]. Last month Open Doors sent out a prayer bulletin all over the world because the present situation in Columbia is considered to be one of the worst in the world, deserving the prayer attention of Christians on an international basis. Although the main cocaine dealers have been arrested and jailed, partly due to millions of dollars from the USA to catch them, the flow of cocaine has continued, but now it will be even harder to stop because the business has been diversified into about 200 smaller companies.

John Dawson is the son of the Jim and Joy Dawson who were mentioned above. He tells the story of how God pointed out a girl in a crowd as he got off a plane and said to him, “She will be your wife.” The girl’s name was Julie and he did indeed marry her. Although this “word from God” worked out well for Dawson, many people have been terribly humiliated and proven wrong when they received a similar “word from God.”

Obviously, Dawson, the son of a popular Christian mystic and YWAM foundation stone named Joy Dawson, has also been trained in hearing God’s voice. I first met him at a crusade in Yosemite National Park in the summer of 1973. After I joined YWAM I knew him at the Sunland, California base where he started a Discipleship Training School, which featured George Otis Jr as the expert and influential teacher of MGT. Dawson and Otis have continued their close friendship until this day. They are both close friends with C. Peter Wagner now and lecture in his classes at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. Fuller, although originally teaching that the Bible was the inerrant Word of God, was infiltrated and overcome by neo-orthodox theology. It was a move away from miracle-denying theological liberalism, but it still left the door open to find fault with Scripture and develop a theology based on experience. [Wagner has left Fuller and now lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado, as the Presiding Apostle of the New Apostolic Reformation.]

John Dawson became internationally known for his best-selling book, Taking Our Cities For God. According to Peter Wagner, its best-seller success was partially due to the influence of Frank Peretti’s fictional novel, This Present Darkness, which came out just before Dawson’s book and depicted a small town that was being invisibly controlled by evil spiritual beings, and how the Christians fought them off.

Dawson lives in a nice suburban area overlooking the San Fernando Valley, which is North of Los Angeles. Although he claims in his bestseller that he lives in Los Angeles, the real name of the city is Lake View Terrace. The neighborhood is largely African American now, but it is quiet and calm compared to the gang controlled neighborhoods that African Americans in Los Angeles must endure.

I happened to be on what was called a vicarage (pastoral internship), living in South Central Los Angeles right after Dawson claims that “his city" had been “taken over for God.” In November of the year I was there, the newspaper reported that 800 people had already been murdered in LA County. I was so devastated by my experience in the urban environment, that I was not able to finish the Master of Divinity I had been working toward and only received the M.A. at the time. (I finally returned to seminary to finish the M. Div. and received it in 1999.) Years later I was to read of how the pornography industry in the Los Angeles area was experiencing explosive growth and bringing in billions of dollars. Also, in 1992 billions of dollars worth of property was destroyed and many lives were lost during the L. A. riots. I brought these kinds of statistics up to a friend of mine who was heavily into the spiritual mapping and spiritual warfare ideas, asking him how it could be that these things could happen in a city that had been “taken over for God.” He responded, “Maybe the spiritual wickedness in high places had been bound, but they did not stay bound” [a paraphrase of his statement]. It seems that no matter how many facts contradict a book in today's Christian marketplace, it will still remain as popular as ever.

Kalafi Moala is a former YWAMer who is no longer living for Christ. Kalafi fell away from the Lord and got into all kinds of trouble. Then he came back to the Lord and later decided to leave again. He taught at the YWAM School of Evangelism that I attended in Bozeman, Montana, 1975, and has been a close friend and associate of Loren Cunningham for many years.

Denny Gunderson has spent most of his life in YWAM. He had already been in YWAM for a while when I knew him from 1973 to 1976. The last thing I heard about him was in 1992 when a person in Washington State wrote me a few emails and called me on the phone because of what he believed was extremely abusive and unjust treatment he had received from YWAM leaders, with Gunderson as one of the main instigators.

Such reports are consistent with numerous other reports about abusive YWAM leaders and it is the natural result of the theology that YWAM adopted long ago. It is also consistent with the experience of this author, Greg Robertson, who lived under the theology for 5 ½ years in YWAM before leaders believed I was demon possessed and then turned me “over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh.” If it were legal to kill people in Germany in 1979, I would not be here today to write this! They believed they were “doing God service.”

Dean Sherman has spent most of his life in YWAM and is therefore subject to the thinking of the Moral Government Theology viewpoints mentioned above.

Winkey Pratney wrote the popular Youth Aflame manual in the 60s. The discipleship manual that was at one time published by YWAM contains Pratney’s Moral Government Theology viewpoints. Pratney has been a popular speaker in YWAM for many years.

Charles Finney has somehow become the most popular and well-known revivalist of the 19th century, although there were many others who successfully preached the Gospel and had many converts. At one time I almost worshipped Finney. I still have approximately fifteen books by him in my library, although I now believe his theology has a salvation-threatening virus.  Finney said in his Systematic Theology that the Gospel of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the believer was a completely different Gospel than the one he was teaching. He was right, it is! Finney is also a teacher of the Moral Government view of atonement. His Arminian view that God predestined man to be saved “according to His foreknowledge,” has been a point of tension with the contemporary MGT teachers who believe that God cannot know the future unless He has predestined it. In 1976, a Bethany Fellowship edition of Finney’s theology had his views of foreknowledge conveniently abridged.

Keith Green was highly influenced by YWAM and became schooled in Finney and the spirituality he promoted. In Green’s tract, What’s Wrong With the Gospel, part 1, he mocked the clearly biblical teaching that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to the believer through faith.

At one time, Last Days Ministries published a tract against Roman Catholicism. Later the organization withdrew the tract and apologized to “our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters.” On the other hand, the organization never apologized for casting ridicule on the idea that, “Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him as righteousness.” The tract Green wrote against the doctrine of imputation is still being translated into other languages and spread all over the world. In Indonesia, YASKI was one of the organizations promoting Green's false teaching.

I have some of Green’s music and still like it. I see myself as one of those who refuses to compromise as he sings about in “No Compromise.” 

Tony Salerno, the main leader of Genesis Force (or Agape Force). In my early YWAM days I knew of him and he was highly praised as a teacher of Moral Government Theology.

Morris Cerullo is a popular teacher among Charismatics, even though he is on record for teaching that Christians are gods and that “God’s purpose from the beginning of creation was to reproduce Himself.”

Basilea Schlink is well known as the leader of the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary in Darmstadt, Germany. I knew of her in the late seventies and heard great things about her and her writings when I was in YWAM. However, I had reservations about the sisterhood because of the highly secretive and “removed from the world” (even the Christian world) society they had created. Within the last few years evidence has come out that portrays the sisterhood as an abusive Christian cult that looked to “Mother” as a messiah figure. She is also on record for praising the dedication of the Nazi Brown Shirts to Adolf Hitler and likening it to the dedication we should have to Christ, as He is known through “Mother.”  [Testimony of sister Charlene.  testimony link There are also other resources about the Sisterhood at the same website. There is also some information at this website, with quotes from "Mother."]

In Summary

Although YWAM, in particular, has become internationally well known as an effective missions organization that teaches obedience to God, sincere devotion, evangelism, and the fear of God, the practice of the organization as a whole has been a different story. I was in YWAM for five and a half years and many people who were already Christians left their churches to join us, but I do not remember even one person who came to Christ and went on to serve the Lord through the organization. I am sure there must have been some converts at other bases [but there were none at any of the bases I worked for].

Although I probably heard a couple hundred messages on “obedience” and the “fear of the Lord,” there was actually an astounding amount of “disobedience” and “lack of the fear of the Lord.” That includes disobedience to the very core statement of the Great Commission, which is touted as the foundation of the organization. Although in the Great Commission we are told to “Go into all the world, preach the Gospel to every creature, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and teaching them all things whatsoever I have commanded you,” the reality was that all we did in YWAM was to go into all the world. A different Gospel was preached, and even it was only rarely preached to outsiders; there was an astounding lack of response; in my 5 ½ years of YWAM experience, not one person was baptized (I am not lying!); and instead of teaching what Jesus taught, in YWAM we were taught the systematic methods of sanctification and deep intercessory prayer. A lot of personal experience and a few verses of Scripture were thrown in here and there to support the teaching, many times taken out of context or otherwise misinterpreted. Jesus also commanded us to have communion services. This is another point of terrible disobedience. In my whole YWAM experience (5 1/2 years) we only had communion three or four times and even those times were devoid of significance.

A Testimony Letter. Read this letter to see what one person experienced after sitting under the teachings of the people mentioned above.

In Conclusion

The following are some relevant questions which may be asked to discern the presence of false doctrine in teachings, tracts, books, or radio broadcasts:

1)      Do they represent God as a God who may change His mind when He learns of new circumstances and events? The God of the Bible knows the future exhaustively and not necessarily because He has predestined all future events as is believed among Calvinists. Just because we cannot explain how He knows does not mean He doesn't know. I cannot explain how God could become man either, but that should not disqualify the incarnation.

2)      Do they make the grace of God dependent upon the works of man? Unfortunately, many Christians today have not done their homework and have no real understanding of the grace of God in Christ. In effect, many believe that their salvation is one way or another dependent upon their performance before God. Their acceptance with God is based upon their works instead of the works of Christ which are imputed to the believer through faith.

3)      Do they promote a subjective “channeling-like” form of prayer-communication with God where the Christian receives special revelations and enlightenment apart from Scripture? The number of cults and world religions that have found their impetus in this fashion are beyond number.

4)      Do they clearly point to the sacrifice of Christ on the cross as the only way of salvation? This is related to point number two. Any material that claims to be telling a person how to be saved should clearly distinguish the difference between law and Gospel, between this world's religions and the Christian faith.

5)      Do they clearly show that salvation is a free gift of God? It is common to see a subtle message that your "obedience to the law" is what saves you. It is clear in Scripture that our salvation is a free gift; there is nothing we can do to earn it. If we could earn our salvation, the coming of Christ into the world along with His suffering, death, and resurrection, would have been completely unnecessary.

6)      Do they create God in the image of man? George Otis Jr says "we can know something about God by looking at ourselves." Such an approach to understanding something about God is completely different than the history of God's revelation of Himself through Israel, culminating in the Person and work of Christ. The only way we can accurately look at ourselves is through the "mirror" of God's self revelation in law and Gospel. It is a mistake of "new age" proportions to begin looking at ourselves to know something about God.

7)      Do they explicitly or implicitly teach that we should seek revelation from God outside of the Bible? Neo-Orthodoxy claims that the Bible "contains the Word of God." We should say that the Bible “is the revelation of God." All truth that is important for us in the spiritual life has been given to us in the Scriptures. The Scriptures are without error and they are infallible. If you follow closely the Word of God and allow it to be a light to your path, you need not worry about going astray. On the other hand, if you follow a person, a school of thought, or some kind of extra-biblical revelation, you should be afraid because your house will be built on sand.

8)      Do they use experience to evaluate or create Christian teaching, or do they use the teaching of Scripture to evaluate a person's teaching and experience? Experience should never be a guide to the Christian Faith. The Christian Faith, the body of teaching God has given us in the Scripture, must be the guide to experience if we are to call ourselves Christians. Multitudes have been lead into all kinds of error because they sought truth in their experiences and thought they found it.