“Saved” Witches and Occultists On The New Middle Way

A popular easy believism writer argues that many Ephesian believers continued practising occult and witchcraft continually for about two years after their conversion and were still supposedly saved:

“Observe also the condition of the believers at Ephesus. Paul ministered in that city over two years. Some believed at the beginning of his ministry; others, later on. They were converted from a lifestyle that included devotion to magical arts based on the gibberish that were written on the statue of Diana in the temple at Ephesus. After believing in the Lord, many, if not most, of those believers (and Acts 19:18 undebatably states they were believers) still continued their superstitious practices. It would be wishful thinking to imagine they did not know such practices were wrong when they accepted Christ and during the two years that many continued to do them. But not until the end of Paul's ministry in Ephesus did the believers finally become convicted about this and confess their sins and burn their books of magic. Theologically, then, this says that there were people at Ephesus who became believers in Christ knowing they should give up their use of magic but who did not (some for as long as two years) but who nevertheless were born again. Their salvation did not depend on faith plus submission to the lordship of Christ over their use of magic.”

This interpretation here is unbiblical in many ways. In Ephesians 1:3-14 and 2:1-19, Paul told the believers there that they were saved. But in Galatians 5:20-21, Paul warned that those who continued to practise witchcraft or occult were not saved: “Idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissentions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you before hand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

Galatians 5:20-21 shows witchcraft or occult is tied closely to idolatry. Other verses which confirm this close link are 2 Chronicles 33:3-7, Isaiah 2:6-8 and Micah 5:12-14. Every pagan idolatrous religion involves occult. Therefore when Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, idolators will not inherit the kingdom of God, the word “idolators” most likely includes witchcraft: “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.” Revelation 21:8 speaks of sorcerers – those involved in witchcraft and occult – being thrown into the lake of fire. Revelation 22:14-15 says sorcerers will be shut out of the heavenly city. Paul would not have told the Ephesians they were saved if they were still involved in witchcraft and its associated idolatrous practices for up to two years.

Acts 19:18-20 says: “And many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds. Also, many of those who had practiced magic brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted up the value of them, and it totaled fifty thousand pieces of silver. So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed.” Note in the original Greek, the words “had believed” are a form of the word “pisteuo” and are in the perfect tense. The perfect tense usually refers to a completed action which has continuing results or effects. In some contexts, the perfect tense focuses on both the completed action and its results. In other verses, the perfect tense focuses not on the completed action but on the state of affairs resulting from the completed action itself.[1]

The perfect tense can refer to an event thousands of years ago or a few minutes ago or any other past time. In Matthew 24:25, the expression “I have told you beforehand” is in the perfect tense and refers to what Jesus said seconds before. In rare contexts, it is even possible that the perfect tense refers to completed present actions.

It is highly likely that the perfect tense of “had believed” in Acts 19:18 is similar to the perfect tense of “has made well” in Matthew 9:22, Luke 17:19 and 18:42 and “has healed” in Mark 5:34, 10:52 and Luke 8:48. These latter 6 usages of the perfect tense refer to actions which were completed a few seconds or minutes before or to actions which were being completed in the then-present or to the ongoing state of being healed which was a result of the completed action which occurred seconds or minutes before or at the point Jesus was saying these words. So the words “had believed” in Acts 19:18 can mean they had first believed a few minutes or a few hours or a day ago or even at that then-present point of time.

Jay Green’s “The Interlinear Bible” and Alfred Marshall’s “The Interlinear NASB-NIV Parallel New Testament” translate the perfect tense of “pisteuo” in Acts 19:18 as “having believed”. The English expression “having believed” is better than “have believed” because the former emphasises the completed nature of the action and/or its results instead of some time factor. In Greek, the perfect tense relates to the nature of the action and has little, if any, emphasis on time.

Acts 19:9 refers to some of the Ephesians believing two years earlier. But there is no reason to suggest that during the following two years when Paul preached the Word continually (see Acts 19:10) that others were not converted also, especially when Acts 19:20 refers to the Word of the Lord growing mightily and prevailing in Ephesus. Acts 6:7 mentions the Word of God increasing when referring to many new conversions occurring in Jerusalem: “And the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.”

It is ridiculous to argue that Acts 19:9 proves people can be continually practising occultists or witches for two years or more after their so-called “conversions” and be saved during the same period. This is because the perfect tense of the verb “had believed” and the broader context of this verse make us strongly doubt that the Ephesian believers mentioned in this verse were saved two years prior to their confession and turning from these Satanic practices. Also, I believe that Luke probably used the perfect tense of the words “had believed” to emphasise the connection between believing at conversion and the post-conversion effects or results or fruit of such believing – confession of and turning from known sin. Note that often one of the main characteristics of the perfect tense in Greek is its emphasis on the effects or results of a completed action. [2]

 

 

Similar to the attitudes of fanatical terrorists

 

To show how wicked the easy believism “gospel” is, we need to compare it to similar attitudes found among Muslim terrorists who wish to die as martyrs. For example, the fanatics, who murdered thousands of innocent civilians in New York in 2001, believed that God would reward them for being willing to die as His martyrs with the following blessings:

 

1.       The forgiveness of all sins.

2.       A place reserved in paradise.

3.       Being crowned with glory with a holy stone.

4.       72 of the most beautiful virgins for wives in paradise.

5.       Being spared the suffering of the grave.

6.       Being spared the horror of the Day of Judgement.

7.       Allowed to bring with him to paradise 70 members of his family. [3]

 

Note that a number of the Muslim terrorists who murdered the thousands in New York, went to a strip-tease show the night before they died. These people obviously thought that if they believed in God and were religious to a certain extent, they could live a wicked life but still obtain all of the above blessings if they died as a martyr.

The Christian version of easy believism also promises:

 

1.       The forgiveness of all sins.

2.       A place reserved in heaven.

3.       Being crowned with glory.

4.       Being spared the horror of the Great Judgement

 

The new middle way is the broad way in disguise

 

In Matthew 7:13-14, Jesus warned us not to follow the broad way that many people follow: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow is the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (N.A.S.B.)

Many or all of the scribes and Pharisees tried to create a way to God that was even more narrow than the one Jesus mentioned above. Referring to the Pharisees and scribes, Jesus said in Matthew 23:4: “For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders…” In Matthew 23:13, Christ stated: “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.”

The opposite extreme occurs today. Many people are trying to follow a supposed middle way between the narrow and broad ways. But such a middle road is really the broad way in disguise. In Greek, the expression “is narrow” is in the passive voice. The passive voice means Another, in this case God, has made the way narrow. So those who try to make the way to God wider than what it is are rebelling against what He has done. Jesus strongly warns all of us in Luke 13:24: “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” The Youth with a Mission leader, Floyd McClung said:

“Counterfeit Christianity

The Bible speaks of two roads: the narrow road which leads to life and the broad road which leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13,14). But many American preachers today are proclaiming a middle road to heaven, a counterfeit Christianity: the gospel of the good life. They preach a gospel of salvation without submission, discipleship without discipline…and reformation without repentance. Counterfeit Christianity teaches that people can receive Jesus as Savior without receiving Him as Lord, and be followers of Christ while still serving themselves. This phony gospel embraces a brand of grace that is a disgrace. It is a religion of carnality, and we must turn away from it.” [4]

Satan is behind the offering of a middle road of salvation. Biblically there is no such road. This supposed middle road is really a part of the broad road. It is attractive to those who wish to “consecrate” self by putting a veneer of Jesus Christ on top. This supposed middle road involves trying to add Jesus Christ as some type of “sanctifier” of one’s continuing treasured sins and idols. Any person on the middle road is either backslidden while still going to church or was never really converted in the first place. Those on this middle road of easy believism and associated disgraced grace are like lambs being led to the slaughter.

The narrow road, which Jesus spoke of as being the only one which leads to eternal life, is not one on which God expects the traveller to continue by their own human resources alone. Philippians 2:12-13 reveals God supplies all of the needed strength and ability to walk on this road.

 

Trying to score more goals by illegally broadening the goalposts

 

Those who preach an easy believism “gospel” are like a soccer team’s supporters who illegally at night broaden their opponents’ goalposts so their own team can score more goals. Such false goals are like false converts.

 

David Wilkerson on many churches in America

 

In modern times, Pastor David Wilkerson has had one of the most successful ministries to rebellious drug-taking youth in American cities. He founded the Teen Challenge ministry which worldwide has helped thousands of drug-takers, alcoholics, prostitutes and other similar people to know Jesus and be free from their bondages. He has also pastored a large church in the most dangerous area of New York in recent years. In 1992, he wrote about the backslidden state of many Evangelical, Pentecostal and Charismatic churches in the United States:

“Much gospel preaching today contains no mention of the cross, no doctrine of suffering, no reproof, no repentance, no hatred for sin, no demand for separation or purity, no call for unconditional surrender to the Lordship of Christ, no daily death to self, no crucifixion of fleshly lusts (i.e. the perverted use of godly natural desires – my added comment), no self-denial, no rejection of the self-life, no warnings of coming persecution and imminent judgement. And most tragic of all, many Christians now prefer to hear about their rights in Christ – and ignore His claims on us.” [5]

David Wilkerson also said:

“Tragically, those in ministry have so watered down God’s truth about self-denial that we have birthed a generation of loose-living, impotent believers who do not understand the meaning of separation from the world. Many of our churches have so mixed worldliness into their messages that Christians can now out-sin the wicked without blushing! In fact, in recent years the world has been shocked and outraged by the filth and corruption in Christendom, and justifiably so.” [6]

Obviously, there are many godly pastors and church-goers in the United States. But in recent decades increasingly the easy believism gospel has been spreading in popularity. One of the main reasons for the spiritual decline Wilkerson mentions above is many American church leaders are infants in Christ who have tried to build large churches by compromising the Gospel with sin.

 

Compromising and watering-down the Gospel

 

Sadly, some present day courses and books about cross-cultural evangelism, evangelism of minority groups, evangelism in general and church growth have taken Paul's principle of adapting the Gospel to the culture of the unbelievers far beyond what Paul meant in 1 Corinthians 9:19-22. Such books and courses suggest preachers should drastically amend the Gospel in order to make the Gospel less offensive to certain targeted groups of unbelievers. But as a result, they end up preaching a different gospel and a different Jesus from the one Paul and the Apostles preached. Paul spoke of different gospels in 2 Corinthians 11:4.

I have known preachers and churches who were greatly attracted to such compromising with the world because often in the early stages at least, large numbers of lukewarm believers and their unconverted friends and contacts were attracted by such modern “gospels”. Such large crowds were regarded as so-called “proof” the Holy Spirit is behind this compromising.

 

One whole package

 

Followers of the easy believism so-called “gospel” claim to be the champions of God’s grace. But in fact, they have a poor comprehension of His grace in numerous ways. For example, they do not understand that because faith (see Romans 12:3 and Hebrews 12:2), repentance (see Acts 11:18 and 2 Timothy 2:25) and turning from sin (see Acts 3:26) are all originated and inspired by the Holy Spirit through God’s grace, it is ridiculous to say that repentance and turning from sin become legalistic works if they are claimed to be essential aspects of the initial receiving of Jesus Christ and His salvation. How can anyone label as “legalistic self-effort” glorious things which God the Holy Spirit initiates and motivates by grace?

By wonderful undeserved grace, the Holy Spirit originates and inspires faith, repentance and turning from sin to God as one whole package in the hearts of those receiving Jesus Christ and His salvation. The Holy Spirit does not initiate and motivate these three things as totally separate items.

The New Testament can just mention we are saved by God’s grace while at the same time implying faith, repentance and conversion. Or the New Testament can say we are saved through faith while at the same time implying God’s grace, repentance and turning from sin to God.

Faith, repentance and turning from sin to God are human responses to the Holy Spirit’s gracious work in people’s hearts. Human beings are not robots. Jesus and the Apostles urged a response of repentance, faith and conversion from their listeners with the underlying assumption the Holy Spirit was initiating and inspiring these elements in the hearts of people.

 

Bible Study Questions

 

1.       Can people be continually practicing occult and witchcraft for many years and be in a state of salvation?

2.       Is there a middle road of salvation between the broad and narrow roads?

3.       Describe the teachings of this supposed middle road of salvation.

 


 

            In church history, there has been numerous other occasions when church leaders have preached a false middle way or have broadened the goalposts in an attempt to claim more “decisions for Christ”. For example in the below, the early church writer Justin Martyr argued that many pagans like the Greek philosophers Socrates and Heraclitus were actually saved Christians. This is even though the latter did not follow the God of the Bible. In his Apology (I, 46, 1-4) written in about 150 A.D., Justin said: “…we have shown above that He (Christ) is the reason (Word) of whom the whole human race partake, and those who live according to reason are Christians, even though they are accounted atheists. Such were Socrates and Heraclitus among the Greeks, and those like them…” Justin wrote some sound Biblical points in some other parts of his writings. But through the above comments, he helped to open the door of compromise to false gospels and the mixing of pagan religion and philosophy with Biblical teaching in following generations in the Church. Justin was an influential writer whom many churchgoers regarded to be inspired by God.

 

 

 


 


[1] Refer to Professor David Black, “It’s still Greek to me” (Baker Books, Grand Rapids, 1998, pages 107-108), Curtis Vaughan and Virtus E. Gideon, “A Greek Grammar of the New Testament” (Broadman Press, Nashville, 1979, pages 149-151) and Richard A. Young, “Intermediate New Testament Greek” (Broadman and Holman Publishers, Nashville, 1994, pages 126-129).

[2] If Luke had not wanted to stress the effects or results of believing in Christ, he could have used the aorist form of the Greek word for believing.

[3] “The Daily Telegraph”, Thursday September 13, 2001, Sydney, Australia, page 10.

[4] Floyd Mc Clung, “Holiness and the spirit of the age”, Word Publishing, Milton Keynes, England, page 42.

[5] David Wilkerson, “Hungry for more of Jesus”, Baker Bookhouse, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1992, page 77.

[6] Ibid.

 

 


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