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The Hidden Dangers of Extra-Biblical Ministries

In today’s world there is no shortage of people who call themselves “ministers.” You can throw a stick and hit someone who, “has a call to ministry” on their life. But what do they mean when they say they have a “call to ministry” on their life? Do people even understand what Biblical ministry is or looks like? I want to explore these things in this article and examine what Jesus called His disciples, and subsequently anyone who has a true ministry calling, to do for Him.


What do I mean by “Extra-Biblical” Ministries?


The first thing people are going to see when they look at this article is the title. Then they are going to immediately question my sanity. Please allow me to explain what I mean by the phrase “extra-Biblical ministries.”


To understand what an extra-Biblical ministry is, we must first understand what constitutes a Biblical ministry. To answer that conundrum, we will look to Jesus.


Mark 16:15 - 18 And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.” (ESV)


Jesus told the disciples to go and proclaim the gospel. That is the only command in the ending of Mark.

Matthew 28:18 - 20 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (ESV)


In Matthew we have a more rounded out version of the same command as in Mark’s gospel. Here Jesus tells the disciples to go and make disciples, then He tells them how.


If you take both of these commands from Jesus and put them together you get this one simple, yet profound, command.


Go into all the world, proclaim the gospel, and make disciples of all nations.


This is the command of ministry that Jesus gave to the disciples. This is the same command of ministry that is given to all true ministers today.

So, how do I define “extra-Biblical ministry?”


An extra-Biblical ministry, in my definition, is any ministry that loses sight of the original command of ministry and begins to focus on the peripherals, the accompaniments of ministry. These are the extras that go along with ministry but should never be the focus of the ministry. Looking at these two passages, let us see what extras we can find.


Let us first discuss one of the biggest sacred cows in the text and in the church today. I am going to get a lot of hate just for putting this in writing, or even thinking it, but please, before you decide to burn me at the stake as a heretic, hear what I am trying to say. I am, of course, talking about baptism.


Baptism is the believer proclaiming his or her death, burial, and resurrection with Christ. It is a necessary part of the believer’s spiritual life. However, many people have made it much more than it actually is.


Yes, Jesus does say to make disciples and to baptize them. He mentions baptism in both of these passages. I am not downplaying the role of baptism in the life of a disciple. What I am going to say is this, baptism is neither the means by which we are saved nor is it the means by which others may come to salvation and subsequently discipleship.


If it is true that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ, then we must ask ourselves why we have such a high and lofty view of baptism. Also, if baptism is necessary for salvation, what do we do with people who repent moments before they die without time for baptism? Finally, and most compelling, what do we do with the thief on the cross who repented to Jesus as they were both being crucified? There was no baptism for him, yet Jesus told him, “Today, you will be with Me in paradise.”


Now, I don’t know that anyone reading this believes that baptism is necessary for salvation. If you do, hopefully I have given you a little bit of something to think about. But, what about discipleship? Is baptism necessary to live a life of discipleship?


I personally believe that there are certain instances where a person may not need to be baptized in order to be a disciple. I might be wrong, but please let me state my case.

The word baptize comes from a Greek word that comes out of the textile industry. The word means to fully immerse a fabric in a dye until it becomes saturated by the dye. So, if the word baptize means to fully immerse, does that mean that people who have been sprinkled, or had water poured over their heads, are not truly baptized? According to the actual definition of the word that both Matthew and Mark used, that is exactly what it means.


A quick history of baptism will help us understand this more fully.


John the Baptist immersed people, including Jesus, in the Jordan River. This was the normal means of baptism for centuries.


In the 2nd Century AD, we have the Didache giving instructions for baptism in chapter 7.


“Now as regards baptism, thus baptize: having first rehearsed all these things, baptize into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in running water. But if you have not running water, baptize in other water; and if you cannot in cold, then warm. But if you have neither, pour water upon the head three times.”


This is the first recorded statement of non-immersion baptism being allowable in the church. However, we see that it is for extreme cases only; pouring water upon the head three time is only to be used when there is no running water, standing water, cold water, or warm water, or any other water that can be used to immerse the person.


In the 3rd Century AD, Cyprian of Carthage makes the first defense for sprinkling, or aspersion.


“You have asked also, dearest son, what I thought of those who obtain God’s grace in sickness and weakness, whether they are to be accounted legitimate Christians, for that they are not to be washed, but sprinkled, with saving water. … In the sacrament of salvation, when necessity compels, and God bestows his mercy, the divine methods confer whole benefits on believers; nor ought it to trouble anyone that sick people seemed to be sprinkled or affused, when they obtain the Lord’s grace” (Epistle Ixxv.12; ANF, 5.400-401).


What we must see here is that Cyprian makes it a point to say that this should be done “when necessity compels” or when absolutely necessary and all other options are off the table. When there is no other option but to sprinkle a person, then that is what must be done, but it has to be the last option.


The first recorded act of sprinkling a person for purposes of baptism is Novatian in Rome. According to church historian Eusebius, Novatian was “attacked with an obstinate disease, and being supposed at the point of death, was baptized by aspersion, in the bed on which he lay.” Even at this time this practice was immensely abnormal. There were even documented limitations put on Novatian, according to Eusebius, “It was not lawful that one baptized in his sick bed by aspersion, as he was, should be promoted to any order of the clergy…” (Ecclesiastical History, 1955, 266).


Throughout church history the acts of sprinkling and pouring water over the head of someone to be baptized was always considered an abnormal practice. However, in 1311 at the Council of Ravenna, it was officially made a law in the Roman Catholic Church that the person being baptized had the choice between sprinkling and immersion. This continued through the Reformation and still persists in many churches today.


So, I must pose this question.


Are those who are baptized by sprinkling or pouring truly baptized according to the meaning of the word used by Jesus in the gospel accounts, or are they only baptized according to the traditions and laws of man?


I would say that sprinkling and pouring are extra-Biblical means of baptism since Jesus said to immerse.


As a follow-up question to that:


Can those who have been baptized in an extra-Biblical way still be true disciples of Jesus Christ?


I know a lot of good people who were baptized into churches that sprinkled and not immersed as their form of baptism. Many of them I have benefited from greatly in my personal studies. Many of you may have benefited from their teachings as well. I don’t know their hearts, but I would say that they definitely showed the fruits of being true disciples of Christ, even without being fully immersed in water.


How has baptism become an extra-Biblical ministry?


There have been so many people who have gotten so narrow minded when it comes to ministry that they lose sight of the gospel and start to focus on things outside of the gospel proclamation and the making of disciples. One of those areas is baptism. One conversation I had when I told a camp counselor that I felt the call to preach went like this:


Me (13ish years old) *in tears from conviction: “I really feel like God is calling me to preach the gospel to His people.”


Camp Counselor *smiling and happy: “That is great! Really awesome news! When did you get baptized?”


Me *slightly confused: “I haven’t been baptized, yet. I want to, but I just haven’t gotten to it.”


CC *now frowning: “Well, it is hard to know what God wants you to do when you don’t even know who God is. How can you know what to do when you haven’t been fully saved by following up with baptism? Once you get baptized, then we can talk about becoming a preacher.”


I was devastated. At first, I was excited. I had found some purpose for my life. After talking to that counselor, I was ready to call off everything church related. Instead, I went to another church where the gospel was the focus. I got baptized when I was seventeen. That counselor had made a ministry out of baptism that almost made me walk away from my calling.


Let me be perfectly clear. Baptism is important. It is a part of the sanctification process. It is part of becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ. It is one of the things that Jesus commanded to be done to new disciples. Also, and this is my opinion, the means of baptism is not as important as the heart of the baptized person. Whether it is done by immersion, pouring, or sprinkling, if the baptized person does not have a heart after Christ, they are just getting wet and nothing more.


What are the extra-Biblical ministries you are talking about?


I must preface this segment with this statement: I am a continuationist, I do believe that the spiritual gifts still operate in the church and the people of God today. With that said, I want to talk a little bit about some of the accompanying signs laid out in Mark 16. The reason being is that so many people have made extra-Biblical ministries out of these things.


First, there is the casting out of demons. A quick survey of the landscape will show that there are ministries popping up left and right dedicated to “demonic deliverance.” There are classes and workshops for those who want to become “ministers of deliverance.” There is even a movie making its way around movie theaters that ends with a “mass deliverance session” for everyone in the theater.


Many of these “deliverance ministers” cause people to believe that anything wrong with them is some sort of demonic possession. This can be anything from a disease to a sinful lifestyle. This can become especially dangerous when a disease does not respond to medication, or takes longer than expected to respond, and the sick person goes to one of these charlatans thinking they can be delivered from the demon of whatever disease it may be. It becomes even more dangerous when a person lives a sinful lifestyle, let’s say sexual immorality, and goes and “gets delivered from the demon of sexual immorality” yet they never take responsibility for their sin and end up going to Hell for eternity because they were never given the real gospel.


Second, there is speaking in tongues. I know so many ministers, churches, and even denominations who are built around the idea that speaking in tongues is essential to salvation. This is one of the biggest lies ever spoken to believers. Nothing can be further from the truth when it comes to the gift of tongues. In fact, it is just that, a gift; it is not given to everyone in the Body of Christ, but only to those who He sees fit to bestow it upon. Does that mean that people who do not speak in tongues are not saved? Absolutely not! I will fight that lie to my final breath if need be.


Finally, there is the healing of the sick by laying on of hands. Oh, how many ministries have been built around this accompaniment? It doesn’t take much to find out, just turn on your TV to any of the so-called Christian stations and you will eventually come across one of the “faith healers” that have plagued the landscape for decades.


Let me just tell you this, putting your hand against the TV screen while they are praying is not going to get you anything. On the older tube style TV if might have given you a static electric charge, but the newer TVs won’t even give you that much. Going to a “healing and miracle crusade” to have some big-name “faith healer” lay hands on you so you can flop around on the floor for a while is not going to do much for you either.


What about people who experience those things?


I am not saying that these signs do not accompany the faithful proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the making of disciples. But that is the catch. There has to be faithful proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. There also has to be faithful disciple making.


Jesus did not say to seek after these signs. He did not say to follow people who exhibit these signs. He did not say that everyone would experience these signs. He said that these signs would accompany those who believe.

What are we to believe in order for these signs to accompany us? Well, if you are asking that question you are already on the wrong path. It is not for us to seek the signs. Just like it is not for us to seek out serpents to pick up or poison to drink, we should never seek the signs that accompany the believer. It is for Christ to grant the signs in His time and in His way. It is our job as disciples to proclaim the gospel and to make disciples.


How can you say that we should not make ministries out of the signs?


Really it is this simple. Jesus did not command His disciples, and by extension us today, to cast out demons, speak in tongues, take up serpents, drink poison, or heal the sick. He commanded us to proclaim the gospel and make disciples. However, He did say that the signs would accompany the believer.


In other words, it is possible, through the faithful proclamation of the gospel and the making of disciples that people will experience moments when these things happen. Read through and study the book of Acts and you will see documented cases of all of these signs except the drinking of poison without being hurt. However, they were all part of the apostles’ ministry of proclaiming the gospel to the world around them and making disciples everywhere they went.


When we start making extra-Biblical ministries out of things we were never commanded to do, we go outside the realm of the Scripture and into our own flesh. I have only touched a few of the extra-Biblical ministries that I see out there today. There are benevolence ministries, music ministries, building and housing ministries, feeding ministries, and so many others that are doing so many things. I am not saying that any of these are bad in their motives, but they are not commanded by Jesus as part of the ministry.


You see, what must be at the heart of each one of these ministries is the proclamation of the gospel and the making of disciples. If a ministry hands out food every month but they never share the gospel and never make disciples, then they are not fulfilling the command of Christ as disciples. They may be doing good works, but they are not technically doing what Jesus commanded of His people. Now, if that same ministry hands out food every month and shares the gospel with everyone who comes through to receive food and in so doing some disciples are made along the way, then that ministry is fulfilling the command of Christ.


Conclusion


I would love nothing more than to see the church get back to its simple task of proclaiming the gospel and making disciples. I want to see the day that the church is so faithful to the proclamation of the gospel and the making of disciples that people become healed of diseases and infirmities, that people are truly delivered from demonic oppression, and that we can speak in, or understand others speaking in, languages we have never learned.


That is my desire through Red River Ministries. Sometimes part of that process, especially the making of disciples, is to warn people of dangers they may encounter along the way. It is never easy to sit down and write one of these types of articles, but it is often necessary. So many people can be led astray by the wolves in sheep’s clothing that there must be some ministers who are not afraid to stand up and protect the others.

I truly feel that one of the first things we must do to get to that point is to stop giving any credence to those who have made their living off of these extra-Biblical ministries. Stop watching the “faith healers” on TV or going to their crusades or going to the movie theaters to see a movie about demonic deliverance. Stop buying their books. Stop giving them any money of any kind.


Instead, put the monetary support behind those who are spearheading the wave of Biblical Christianity around the world. First of all, make sure you are giving to your local church. If you are not giving to your local church, ask yourself, “Why?” If you do not have a local church, find one that is faithfully proclaiming the gospel and making disciples then give to that local church.


Then, and only then, should you give to parachurch organizations like this one. I am not making a plea for monetary support here, don’t get me wrong. However, I would not be opposed to anyone wanting to donate to this ministry. I would also not be opposed to anyone wanting to purchase one of our books through Amazon or checking out our store page on the website and making a purchase through any of those links. There are many great organizations that would be able to put your donations to use in the proclamation of the gospel and the making of disciples. This is only one of them.


I want you all to remember this one thing, I warn you all because there are too many people who are being led astray. I do not want anyone who is associated in any way with this ministry to fall prey to any of the wolves out there.


Please continue to pray for us. Share this with your friends and family and anyone you feel might be helped by it. Thank you all and God bless you.


Rev. Jerry Crow

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