Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
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The Murky Waters of Living Rivers Church

Rev. Martyn McGeown

 

Visitors to the Ballymena Show may have noticed the Living Rivers Church display, with its slogan, "Releasing the Winner in You," balloons, amusement in the form of a man dressed in a bear costume and a DVD showcasing their children’s meetings, "Superheroes." 

Jesus Christ Himself tells us that we should "judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment" (John 7:24). Obedience to Christ’s command involves "testing the spirits" (I John 4:1); "searching the Scriptures daily, whether [these] things are so" (Acts 17:11), and looking to "the law and the testimony" (Isa. 8:20). This is important because the Bible warns us that there will be many false prophets (Matt. 24:24; Acts 20:29-30; II Cor. 11:4; Gal. 1:6-9; Eph. 4:14; II Pet. 2:1; Jude 4).

The leaders of Living Rivers Church are Pastors Paul and Karen Brady. But God’s Word "suffers not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man" (I Tim. 2:12). 

The Living Rivers Church website claims that Pastor Brady has a "powerful" and "prophetic anointing," and even claims that he "received instruction from the Holy Spirit that the ministry should be called Living Rivers." This claim is false because God no longer gives new revelation, as the Bible is sufficient (II Tim. 3:16-17; Heb. 1:1-2).

Article 8 of the Living Rivers Church statement of faith says,

We believe in water baptism by total immersion, in the Baptism in the Holy Spirit as distinct from the New Birth, in speaking with tongues as the Spirit of God gives utterance (Acts 2:4), in the gifts of the Spirit, and the evidence of the fruit of the Spirit. We believe that all of these are available to believers today.

In other words, "Living Rivers" Church is a Pentecostal or Charismatic church. The doctrinal indifference and biblical ignorance of much of Christendom is a fertile breeding ground for Charismaticism. Charismatics claim to make much of the Spirit of God, but their actions and their doctrine promotes a very different spirit from the "Spirit of truth" (John 16:13).

The role of the Holy Spirit is to glorify Christ (John 16:14), for "he shall not speak of himself" (16:13). By putting the Holy Spirit in the limelight, the Charismatics grieve the Spirit because Christ is not glorified. The works of the Spirit include the following:

  • He inspired the prophets and apostles to write the Scriptures (John 14:26; II Tim. 3:16-17; II Pet. 1:21) and thus He "leads us into all truth" (John 14:26).

  • He reproves "the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment" (John 16:8).

  • He gives life to elect sinners "dead in trespasses and sins" (Eph. 2:1) by regenerating them or giving them the new birth (John 3:8).

  • He produces righteous fruit in the people of God (Gal. 5:22-23).

  • He comforts (John 14:16), helps (Rom. 8:26) and sanctifies (I Pet. 1:2) believers.

Such "normal" works of the Spirit are despised in Charismaticism because Charismatics seek the spectacular. The inspired Scriptures are set aside in favour of "new revelation," even if it contradicts the Word of God. The convicting power of the Holy Sprit is denied as men are manipulated to accept Jesus by all kinds of tricks designed to work on man’s so-called "free will." Regeneration is widely believed to be the result of man "accepting Jesus into one’s heart," not the work of the Spirit blowing sovereignly "where he listeth [or wills]" (John 3:8). The testimony of Scripture that the new birth comes "not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:13) is ignored or rejected, since most Charismatics do not believe that God "of his own will begat us with the word of truth" (James 1:18).

According to Charismatics (like the Living Rivers Church), "Baptism in the Holy Spirit" is a post-conversion experience which is necessary to live the "full Christian life." Not to have this "baptism" leaves one a normal—and supposedly impoverished—Christian. The evidence that one has had this experience is tongue-speaking. But the Holy Scriptures do not speak of two baptisms, one "lesser" baptism (regeneration) and a second, greater baptism. There is "one baptism" (Eph. 4:5), a baptism by the Holy Spirit into Jesus Christ and His body (I Cor. 12:13) signified in water baptism, which is administered once. Pentecost with its extensions recorded in Acts were one off events. Pentecost was the outpouring of the Spirit upon the New Testament church (Acts 2). The Spirit was poured out several times in the book of Acts to signify the acceptance of the Samaritans (8:14-17), the Gentiles (10:44-48, 11:15-18) and the disciples of John the Baptist (19:2-6), respectively, into the one, holy, catholic (i.e., universal) and apostolic church of Jesus Christ. There is no need for the Holy Spirit to be poured out in this way today.

The claim of Charismatics that believers today can and ought to speak in tongues is false. The tongues in Scripture were real, human languages. The "tongues" in Charismatic circles are not real languages. No Charismatic has ever been able to speak a language (German, French, Portuguese, Chinese, etc.) without first having learned it. On the day of Pentecost, unlearned men (Acts 4:13) were suddenly able to speak the languages of the nations around them, much to the astonishment of the crowds (Acts 2:6-12). In contrast, today when the Church sends a missionary (Rom. 10:15) it is necessary for him to study diligently so that he can learn the language of the people to whom he shall preach. The Spirit gave tongues in the New Testament church for several reasons:

  • To authenticate the message. In Acts, when the various nationalities gathered in Jerusalem heard the Gospel preached to them in "[their] own tongue, wherein [they] were born" (2:8-11), God converted three thousand souls (2:41). Furthermore, the message of the Apostles was authenticated by means of "many wonders and signs" (2:43). This was the reason why God caused His prophets and apostles to do miracles (Heb. 2:4), and why men are not given the power to do miracles today.

  • To instruct the saints before the New Testament was complete. Tongues and prophecies were given for "edification, and exhortation, and comfort" (I Cor. 14:3). But tongues shall cease (I Cor. 13:8). Even in the apostolic age, tongues which are last in Paul’s list of gifts (I Cor. 12:4-11, 28-30) and were not common to all believers, hence Paul’s rhetorical question, "Do all speak with tongues?" (I Cor. 12:30).

  • As a sign of judgment against the unbelieving Jews. I Corinthians 14:21-22 explains that tongues are a sign of judgment against the Jews. Quoting from Isaiah 28:11, Paul shows that God had through His prophets spoken many times to His people and they had not heeded the warnings. Then God says, "I will speak to you in a strange tongue," signifying that He would send them to Babylon where foreigners would be their masters and where they would no longer hear God speak to them in their language. However, it ought to be noted that the "tongues" in Isaiah 28, Acts 2 and I Corinthians are real languages. There is no evidence in Scripture that the Spirit gives utterance so that His people speak in gibberish.

Charismatics claim to be following the New Testament pattern and they especially appeal to the book of I Corinthians. I cannot imagine why the Charismatics would want to copy the Corinthian model. Of all the churches which Paul addressed, the Corinthians had the most problems and required the most rebukes. The Corinthians were characterised by divisions (1:10-13), carnality (3:1-4), spiritual immaturity (3:1), pride (4:6-7), laxity in discipline (5:1), sexual immorality (6:18), profanation of the Lord’s Supper (11:20), lovelessness (13:1-13), heretical notions concerning the resurrection (15:12) and other sins.

Paul treats the subject of spiritual gifts (charismata) in chapters 12-14 of the epistle. Some points which most Charismatics miss should be pointed out.

First, the Holy Spirit, not man, "divides to every man as he will" (12:11). The Holy Spirit, even in Paul’s day, did not will to give all in the church the same gifts. Because of this difference, the more "gifted" members were tempted to be puffed up and despise those who had received the "lesser gift." In the middle of the treatment of spiritual gifts is chapter 13, where Paul teaches that Christian love is more to be coveted than all gifts of tongues and knowledge (13:1-3). In the exercise of Christian love, the Corinthians were lacking, but they could boast of much tongue-speaking and prophecies. Therefore, Paul urges them to "follow after charity" (14:1).

Second, when it came to tongues and prophecy, Paul urged the Corinthians to prioritize edification. Unintelligible sounds, whether in a real—but unknown—language or in modern Pentecostal gobbledygook edify no-one. There must be an interpreter. Paul writes, "In the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue" (14:19). Irrational emotionalism is not Christianity for Paul commands, "Brethren, be not children in understanding … in understanding be men" (14:20). Paul writes that at the most three people should speak in tongues and if there is no interpreter the tongue-speakers should be silent (14:27-28). It is not to be a free-for-all. Similarly, only two or three prophets should be heard and the message must be "judged" (14:29), not merely accepted uncritically. Moreover, women are not permitted to speak, whether in tongues or in prophecies (14:34). Receiving this instruction—not as human tradition or Paul's opinion (contra most feminists)—as the "commandments of the Lord" is the sign of a spiritual man (14:37). Paul ends the chapter by emphasizing the principle that divine worship is to be conducted "in decency and in order," not in confusion, "for God is not the author of confusion" (14:33, 40). Wild, uncontrolled sweeps of emotion are not from God, in spite of what various Charismatics claim. The Spirit does not cause people to go mad in the meetings, fall over, roll on the floor, bark like dogs or laugh uncontrollably, for "the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets" (14:32), and one aspect of the fruit of the Spirit is "temperance" or self-control (Gal. 5:23). Thus Christ's ministers are to preach that aged men, aged women, young women and young men, indeed all kinds of people, are to be "sober" (Titus 2:2, 4, 6, 12). The Holy Ghost whom Christ gives to His children is the spirit "of a sound mind" (II Tim. 1:7). So, even if spiritual gifts had not passed away, it ought to be evident that Pentecostals and Charismatics disobey the inspired apostle’s instructions concerning the proper use of such gifts.

Living Rivers Church goes beyond the teaching of many Charismatics for the Bradys promote the so-called "Prosperity Gospel," also known as "Health and Wealth," "Name it and Claim it" or "Word-Faith." In their newsletter, Winners' Word (WW), the Bradys write, "... you don't have to be sick, you can be blessed and not cursed, you can be financially blessed by God and you do not have to be poor anymore" (WW, 20 May, 2006).

Similar teachings abound in the Believers Voice of Victory (BVOV) of Kenneth Copeland Ministries, which "Living Rivers" Church promotes. For example, "Healing? It's yours. Prosperity? It's yours. Peace? It's yours. Children? They're yours. If you can find it in the Word of God, it's yours! Grab hold of it!" (BVOV, May, 2006, p. 13).

The heresies of the Copelands (Kenneth, Gloria and also now some of their wider family circle) have been well documented. For example, Kenneth Copeland  believes:

  • God is a physical being about six foot, two inches tall and weighs about two hundred pounds.

  • God lives on a planet which is a mirror copy of Earth.

  • Adam in the Garden of Eden was God manifested in the flesh.

  • God made a covenant with men (initially Abraham) because He needed access to the earth. This "covenant" is an agreement between God and Abraham (and his seed) whereby God agrees to look after Abraham’s spiritual, physical, financial and social needs.

  • On the cross, Christ bore Satan’s nature and, after his physical death, he went to hell for three days to be tortured by demons. Thus, the atonement was not made on the cross, but in hell.

  • In the new birth, a person’s nature is changed from the nature of Satan to the nature of God. Therefore, all believers are gods.

  • Since "the basic principle of the Christian life is to know that God put our sin, sickness, disease, sorrow, grief, and poverty on Jesus at Calvary," believers can claim freedom from sickness and poverty as their blood-bought inheritance.

Has God really promised all His people financial prosperity and good physical health in this life? Can we "claim" health and wealth as our "gospel inheritance"?

The Health and Wealth (HW) gospel tempts many but is cold comfort to poor believers. When afflicted Christians fail to attain to financial prosperity or healing, HW preachers burden them with guilt and fear by suggesting that they have insufficient faith. What a cruel deception! The fact is that Christians have known physical sufferings from the very beginning. Church history, beginning in the book of Acts, demonstrates this. Read Paul’s credentials. He does not boast of his wealth and his carefree life, as do the HW preachers. His service for Christ is shown in his suffering:

Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not? If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities (II Cor. 11:23-30).

Paul knew, unlike the HW preachers, what it was like to be destitute, to be deprived of freedom, clothing, to suffer pain and persecution. Did he lack faith? Only a fool would think he did. How do the Copelands of this world explain such a testimony?

Paul is by no means unique. The writer to the Hebrews describes the lot of many believers.

And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth (Heb. 11:36-38)

These saints had strong faith and the world was not worthy of them. Yet they did not increase in material possessions. How do the HW preachers account for that? The history of the church has shown that it is not the norm for Christians to own the lion’s share of this world’s goods. The Bible does not promise a life free from trouble, but warns of persecution, trials and suffering for Christ's sake (II Tim. 3:12; Phil. 1:29). HW preachers have no message for the saints in N. Korea, Iran, China or other countries where no room is made for them in the earth.

What should our attitude be to such suffering? We ought to pray for our persecuted and suffering brethren. When we do not abound in health and wealth, we ought not mope like spoiled brats because God is not giving us everything we want. Should we not rather see that God is our wise Father who knows what we need? The gospel is not about "faring sumptuously every day" (Luke 16:19) because "the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost" (Rom. 14:17). That is, the spiritual blessings of forgiveness of sins, peace with God and fellowship with our Father in heaven are infinitely more important than whether we live in a mansion or a hovel. None of the miseries (poverty, disease, war, famine, etc.) which the world fears can separate us from fellowship with the Triune God and the spiritual blessings which we enjoy in Christ:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8:35-39).

Obviously, the apostle expected that Christians would face problems, like persecution, famine, nakedness and sword. He did not tell his readers to "rebuke famine in Jesus’ name" or teach them the "power of positive thinking" or "visualisation." Sadly, those who follow the HW movement are told to claim freedom from poverty and sickness, but Paul told Christians that, although these things may be our lot, yet they cannot separate us from the love of Christ, indeed, that we are "more than conquerors," not by being delivered from them, but by going through them.

The motivation behind the HW movement is greed. It is not a coincidence that the leading HW preachers are fabulously wealthy. They are wealthy at the expense of their followers. But covetousness is the very opposite of Christ’s teaching. Exodus 18:21 stipulates that the rulers of Israel should be "men of truth, hating covetousness." In the New Testament, elders and deacons must not be "greedy of filthy lucre" (I Tim. 3:3, 8). Scripture forbids covetousness (Luke 12:15) and teaches contentment with what we have (I Tim. 6:8; Heb. 13:5; Phil. 4:12). Where does this leave people who tell their followers—on the back of receiving their large donations—that they can be rich if only they have enough faith?

In the New Testament Scriptures, disease is a reality. Christians were not, and are not, exempt from this reality this side of heaven. New Testament believers, suffering diseases and infirmities, were not enjoined to "claim healing" in the name of Jesus (cf. II Cor. 12:10; I Tim. 5:23). While we can humbly petition God to remove our burdens (II Cor. 12:8), we must pray subject to His will (I John 5:14). We cannot "name it and claim it" or demand what we want from God as our "right." We have no rights. All we have is of grace. We must never forget that. God, the wise Father, knows our needs (Matt. 6:32-33) and will supply them. He supplies our needs, not necessarily what we think we need. God in His love denies us some good gifts because He knows they will harm us. If God gave us everything we wanted, we would be spoiled.

Living Rivers Church boasts as its slogan, "Releasing the Winner in You." However, such a slogan is contrary to the Word of God. How can sinners release the winner in themselves? This popular psychology is completely alien to Scripture. And remember, that this message is preached by "Living Rivers" to the professing Christian and to the  unconverted. There is no "winner" waiting to be released from the totally depraved sinner. All that the unconverted sinner can release from himself is sin! Jesus speaking of the sinner says that "corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit" (Matt. 7:18). Instead, Jesus teaches "from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: all these evil things come from within" (Mark 7:21-23). Furthermore, the Bible teaches that sinners are "filled with all unrighteousness" (Rom. 1:29), for "there is none that doeth good" (Rom. 3:12). Sinners must forsake their own righteousness (for they have none) and, instead of seeking salvation in themselves, look outside of themselves to the righteousness of Jesus Christ.

For further information on Pentecostalism, see our Cessationism Resources or read the following pamphlets on-line: "Pentecostalism" and "Try the Spirits."