What should we believe?
On September 12, 2020, the first-ever English language debate between a message pastor (Jesse Smith of Akron, OH) and an ex-message Christian (Rod Bergen from the Off The Shelf podcast) took place. The discussion was moderated by Jay Cox and Tim Kraus.
This article is one in a series on "Leaving the Message" - you are currently in the article that is in bold:
- The Reasons Why Message Ministers are Leaving
- Leaving The Message
- What We Have Learned
- What should we believe?
- Testimonies of Former Followers
- Biblical resources that have helped us
- Research Sources for William Branham and His Message
- Invitation to Eternal Life
Many people have asked us, both those in the message and those that have left off following William Branham: "What do you think we should believe?"
Those inside the message expect that we are looking for followers (we're not) and those who have left are simply looking for guidance.
Don't follow any man
We are not pointing to ourselves, to any man, or to any church. Paul said that we are to follow the teachings that he laid out in scripture (2 Tim 1:13). Peter said the same thing:
- For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
A minister of the Gospel only speaks authoritatively to the extent that what he says agrees with scripture. But we don't follow these men, we follow Christ. We examine their lives and if they are worthy of being examples of the Gospel, then we may want to imitate them. But we must judge their teaching and their lives by the Gospel as the writer of the Hebrews stated:
- Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them.
We are not to follow a single man but those leaders (plural) that provide a godly example of a Christian life in word and deed. And we are to judge their teachings based on scripture.
Why would you want to leave following one man (William Branham) to follow some other man? Why not simply follow the Bible and compare any man's teaching to scripture?
Believe what the church has always believed
What has the church always believed? What is "Confessional Orthodoxy"? What are the core beliefs of the Christian faith?
Think about the giants of the Christian faith over the past 500 years "of whom the world was not worthy". People like:
- John Wycliffe (1331–1384), English philosopher, theologian, Bible translator and reformer
- Martin Luther (1483–1546), German priest and professor of theology who was a seminal figure in the Protestant Reformation
- Menno Simons (1496–1561), Anabaptist religious leader from the Friesland region of the Netherlands
- William Tyndale (c. 1494–1536), English scholar and translator, convicted of heresy and executed by strangulation (majority of the King James version of the Bible was derived from his work)
- John Bunyan (1628–1688), persecuted English Puritan Baptist preacher and author of Pilgrim's Progress
- Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758), American Puritan theologian and preacher in the First Great Awakening
- John Wesley (1703–1791), English clergyman; founder of Methodism
- Charles Wesley (1707–1788), English clergyman; brother of John Wesley, hymnwriter of Methodism
- George Whitefield (1714–1770), English clergyman; early Methodist preacher and associate of John Wesley
- C. T. Studd (1860–1931, British missionary
- John Newton (1725–1807), Scottish clergyman, author of Amazing Grace
- William Cowper (1731–1800), English poet/author of numerous hymns, including "There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood"
- William Wilberforce (1759–1833), worked to abolish slavery in the British Empire
- Charles Grandison Finney (1792–1875), preacher in the Second Great Awakening, advocate of "New Measures"
- Fanny Crosby (1820–1915), blind American writer of many famous hymns including "Blessed Assurance"
- Robert Pearsall Smith (1827–1899) and Hannah Whitall Smith (1832–1911), leaders in the Holiness movement
- James Hudson Taylor (1832–1905), British missionary to China and founder of the China Inland Mission
- Charles Spurgeon (1834–1892), English Baptist preacher and advocate of Calvinism
- Dwight L. Moody (1837–1899), American evangelist, pastor and educator
- William Carey (1761-1834), A self-taught English cobbler who is considered to be the father of modern Protestant missions.
- John Bunyan (1628–1688), author of Pilgrim's Progress
- Oswald Chambers (1874–1917), author of My Utmost for His Highest
- Billy Sunday (1862–1935), American evangelist and proponent of Prohibition
- Adoniram Judson (1788–1850) – American missionary to Burma
- George Müller (1805–1898), Christian evangelist and Director of the Ashley Down orphanage in Bristol, England
- Eric Liddell (1902–1945), Scottish athlete and missionary, who was forced to choose between his religious beliefs and competing in an Olympic race.
Were these giants of the Christian faith all wrong in their basic beliefs or were they Christians that were required to believe Satanic doctrine as William Branham taught?
- Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Find out what the church has always believed
To followers of William Branham, "theology" is a dirty word. But what is theology? According to Michael Horton:
- Theology simply means “the study of God,” and doctrine means “teaching.” Since the main message of Scripture is the unfolding mystery of Christ, who reveals his Father and reconciles us to him, theology is a central concern of every believer...
- Since God is the author of reality, it is his interpretation that we must pursue...
- The gospel is good news, not good instructions, good ideas, or good techniques. It announces the “new thing” that God has accomplished in history for us and for our salvation. As an effective communicator, God tells us what he is going to do, does it, and then tells us what he did. Doctrine summarizes these divine accomplishments.
- By questioning and testing our interpretation of God’s Word, we come to know what we believe and why we believe it, so that the grammar of faith becomes our own language of worship through which we interpret all of reality and live in the world. Theology is the concern of every believer because it is the grammar of the Christian faith. Learning God’s Word—including its doctrine—is a nonnegotiable responsibility of our new citizenship as Christians. The baptized are privileged and obligated to learn the language of Zion.
- Our English word "disciple", in fact, comes from the Latin noun discipulus, meaning “student.” Thus, Paul writes,
- I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Ro 12:1–2)
Do you know what the church has always believed? Don't you think it would be prudent to find out before you follow one person's view of scripture?
What church should we go to?
People in the message are used to following William Branham but the person we need to follow is the Holy Spirit. We are constantly being asked "If Bro. Branham wasn't the fulfillment of Malachi 4:5, then who is?" Our response is always to ensure we have a proper understanding of Malachi 4:5.
So... if the message is not the way (and it definitely isn't based on our research), where should we go to church? According to what we were taught in the message, all churches outside the message (denominations) are weak, ineffectual and filled with people that are actually worshiping Satan. Is this true? Or could this simply be another false teaching by message ministers?
The message actually checks almost every box for a denomination. And many of the churches preaching the William Branham's message check every box for a destructive cult.
In Paul's day, there were churches that were legalistic like the message (the Galatian church being an example) and liberal churches where people were getting drunk in church (see 1 Corinthians 11:21). There were also lukewarm churches (Revelation 3:14-22) But there were also good churches (Ephesus) and good leaders (like Timothy and Titus).
There is an old song that says:
- The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,
- I will not, I will not desert to its foes;
- That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
- I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.
Jesus will never leave you. If you are a child of God, the Holy Spirit has been promised to lead you. The job of the Holy Spirit is to make Jesus real, and when he is doing that in a church, the result is revival.
According to Tim Keller, a well-known pastor from New York City, when the Holy Spirit is actively leading a church, there are five things the church is characterized by, and it comes directly from Jesus being real:
- 1. The first is transcendent worship. People sense the presence of God. People are there to meet God. The purpose of worship is not primarily teaching or evangelism or fellowship; it’s to worship.
- 2. Secondly, people are interested in and focused on a study of the Word of God. The truth shines in their lives because of this.
- 3. Thirdly, people’s barriers come down to sharing openly with other people because Jesus is real to them, and you no longer have to hide from people, so intimate fellowship and dynamic community and deep friendships develop.
- 4. Fourthly, there is aggressive outreach and evangelism, and many people are converted. People who have no interest in religion at all find themselves attracted to the church and are converted.
- 5. Fifthly, there is a major impact on the society around, turning this society more like the kingdom of God, that is, a society of justice and mercy.
These five things: worship, deep teaching of the Word, intimate fellowship, aggressive evangelism, and compassionate social concern. When you find a church that’s strong on all of them, it’s a sign of the operation of the Spirit of God.
The tendency is for most churches to have one of them only and to be very, very condescending toward anyone else who doesn’t have their one. You see, because if you’re a church with great, sound doctrine, but your worship isn’t very good, your fellowship isn’t very good, your social concern isn’t very good, they look at other churches, and the only thing they tend to look at is they say, “But do they have our sound doctrine?” They’ll reject you, even though in every other area that is strong, they’re weak.
The same thing happens with fellowship and with worship. The one vitamin you have tends to make the church haughty and look down its nose at other people who don’t have their vitamin.
We said when you have all five, it’s a sign of the work of the Spirit, and the five continually change one another. Those five things are actually constantly stimulating each another. You really can’t have one without the others, because real worship always leads to teaching, fellowship, evangelism, and social concern, and real teaching always leads to real worship, evangelism, fellowship, and social concern, and real evangelism always leads, and so on. Those five things are interrelated. When they’re there, they stimulate one another, and they encourage the renewal dynamic.
A church that wants to be this kind of church is ruthless in making sure it is doing what God says in every one of those five areas, that it’s finding people with gifts in those areas and unleashing them to do the work, that it’s stimulating each one of those areas and they inter-stimulate one another. That’s the way it’s supposed to go.
We found a church with all five of these characteristics. But it took us the better part of a year to do it. Is it worth the effort to find a good church? They are out there but you have to go looking.
- The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), 1 Pe 2:21–25.
- The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Heb 13:7–9.
- The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Heb 12:1–3
- Michael Horton, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), pp. 13-24.
- Timothy J. Keller, The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive (New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 2013).