The Counterfeit Church

by Mike Ratliff

4 I heard another voice from heaven, saying, “Come out of her, my people, so that you will not participate in her sins and receive of her plagues; 5 for her sins have piled up as high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities. Revelation 18:4-5 (NASB) 

The world system, for the most part, is extremely tolerant of religion as long as it is not evangelical Christianity. However, it has no problem with that version of Christianity that is politically correct. Many countries in this world have imposed anti-hatred and anti-conversion laws specifically directed against Christianity. Liberalism, ideology, or cultural religions protecting their turf dominate those governments. Even in the United States, a preacher can get in a great deal of hot water with the FBI if someone in his audience becomes offended by the preaching of the truth from scripture about sin and depravity. It appears the deck is stacked against evangelical Christianity.

Those whose faith is weak could become discouraged or angry after reading things like that last paragraph, however, the Spirit-led should not allow our enemies to do that to them. In fact, we have a tremendous advantage over all of the powers of darkness. We have the Holy Spirit, the Word of God and prayer. Any one of those beats any weapon they have. We know Satan is a defeated foe. He attacks us, his demons oppress us, and his seed opposes us, but believers should never fear any of them. The Spirit-led fear God and humbly walk the Walk by Faith. The enemy’s attack is vicious, but as long as those believers are wearing the whole armor of God, the enemy cannot defeat them. (Ephesians 6:10-19) The Christian’s role in this struggle is not to defeat the enemy, but to resist him. It may appear evil is winning this world, but we must remember all believers are citizens of the Kingdom of God. This Kingdom, made without hands, is invulnerable to the powers of darkness and by all evil efforts by Satan’s seed.

44 In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever. Daniel 2:44 (NASB) 

This Kingdom exists wherever God’s people are. The evil in this world appears to be gaining the upper hand much of the time, but that does not mean there is any defeat or diminishment of God’s Kingdom. Throughout the history of the Church, there have been periods of apostasy and persecution, but God has always maintained and protected his little flock of believers. There have been many ebbs and flows of doctrinal purity and pollution. There have been periods of great spiritual awakening followed closely by humanistic encroachment.

At this writing, it appears the Western Church is lurching towards the culmination of a long period of humanistic liberalism. This period of Church history may well come to be known as the era of the “Counterfeit Church.” R. C Sproul called it the “Pelagian Captivity of the Church.” The teachings found in the Western Church are predominantly either semi-Pelagian or Arminian. These doctrinal teachings are humanistic and do not glorify God. While not denying the necessity of grace for salvation, Semi-Pelagianism teaches the human will takes the first steps towards salvation and God gives that grace later. In contrast to semi-Pelagianism, Arminianism teaches that God takes the first steps of grace. This teaching comes from the Remonstrance of 1610, a formal treatise of the teachings of Jacob Arminius (1559-1609). Here are the third and fourth articles of its five points to show how closely it resembles the tenets of the doctrines of grace. However, it still maintains a small island of righteousness for unregenerate Man:

III.That man has not saving grace of himself, nor of the working of his own free-will, inasmuch as in his state of apostasy and sin he can for himself and by himself think nothing that is good–nothing, that is, truly good, such as saving faith is, above all else. But that it is necessary that by God, in Christ and through his Holy Spirit he be born again and renewed in understanding, affections and will and in all his faculties, that he may be able to understand, think, will, and perform what is truly good, according to the Word of God [John 15:5].

IV.That this grace of God is the beginning, the progress and the end of all good; so that even the regenerate man can neither think, will nor effect any good, nor withstand any temptation to evil, without grace precedent (or prevenient), awakening, following and co-operating. So that all good deeds and all movements towards good that can be conceived in through must be ascribed to the grace of God in Christ. But with respect to the mode of operation, grace is not irresistible; for it is written of many that they resisted the Holy Spirit [Acts 7 and elsewhere passim].

That last statement in article four says that Man chooses salvation by either going forward with God in grace or choosing reprobation by resisting that grace. This is a misunderstanding of Acts 7 and therefore, not biblical. Both Arminianism and Semi-Pelagianism teach a doctrinal concept called Synergism, that is, the new believer cooperates with God in salvation by deciding for Christ. Calvinism, Reformed Theology, is the doctrinal system that teaches what the Bible teaches. It teaches that the unregenerate may have common grace, common illuminations, and common affections that are from the Holy Spirit prior to salvation. However, these influences of the Holy Spirit are part of His common work in the lives of the unregenerate in striving with them to draw them to the truth. The unregenerate can and do resist the Spirit, (Acts 7:51) as well as grieve Him. (Ephesians 4:30; Isaiah 63:10) The unregenerate resist God’s grace continuously when they hear the gospel. This is their nature and desire. They can resist this grace because God has not yet made it effectual or irresistible. When He mercifully does make it effectual at the time of His sovereign choosing there can be no resistance. (John 6:37, 39, 44, 63-65; John 3:8; Matthew 11:27; 1 Corinthians 1:9; Acts 2:39, Acts 9; Romans 8:30 Romans 9:11-24; 1 Corinthians 1:9-26; Gal. 1:6-15; 1 Thessalonians 1:5, 6; 1 Thessalonians 2:12; 5:24; 2 Thessalonians 2:14; Ephesians 1:18; 4:1-4, 5; 2 Timothy 1:9; Hebrews 3:1; 1 Peter 2:9; 5:10; 2 Peter 1:3-10)

The Arminians claim effectual grace is resistible. If that is true then Man cooperates with God in this scheme as God issues prevenient grace according to the unregenerate person’s natural ability. However, the Bible teaches that salvation is not via Synergism or outside of God’s grace in any way. God knows Man’s free will is corrupt and not able to choose salvation. The Arminians teach the opposite. Calvinism teaches that God’s effectual grace regenerates the heart of the new believer, which produces saving faith. The new believer must then believe God by exercising that faith. This results in God justifying the believer and declaring him or her righteous. Salvation is a work of God not a work of Man.

Calvinism is the most hated and reviled form of Christianity in the Western Church. The main culprit in this hatred is rampant spiritual immaturity. This breeds ignorance of the truth. I heard a preacher say once the reason he did not preach the doctrines of grace was he did not want to run people off. He preached the Arminian version of the gospel, knowing it was wrong, so he could make it easy for people to believe. He hoped to disciple them later into the truth of the sovereignty of God. This seems despicable to me and revealed a preacher who did not trust the Holy Spirit to do His work of conviction of sin by striving and drawing God’s people to the truth so they are ready for effectual grace. Salvation that sticks comes from preaching the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit. The fifth point of the doctrines of grace, Perseverance of the Saints, makes it clear those God saves are His forever. However, those who make professions of faith by hearing the Arminian gospel believe they are responsible for it. Some of them are genuine believers, but the majority of them are false converts. Statistics bear this out as those who regularly attend those churches make up much less than half of those who have “professed faith” in their gospel.

The Counterfeit Church is all about numbers and hates Calvinism because it is not concerned about that at all. The Calvinistic conception of Christianity is to serve the Lord in preaching the gospel so the elect can hear and obey. The Mega-Church movement’s fuel is easy-Believism. This doctrine of salvation does not require repentance from sin or submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Of course, those who believe they choose their salvation do not tend to do that anyway. However, when God’s effectual grace comes upon a person there is repentance, self-denial, and dying to self as God quickens the unregenerate spiritually dead unto a regenerate new disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ. Those who gather in those easy-Believism Mega-Churches are after self-gratification. The disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ is a new creation who is in the midst of God’s spiritual maturity growth project designed specifically for them. The false professors (the self-focused false believers) try to be Christian and feel better by developing a more positive self-image. They are religious for self. They see the doctrines of grace as old-fashioned and not politically correct.

The Counterfeit Church is all about getting. The genuine Church is all about serving and glorifying God. Several years ago, I went to a Ratliff family reunion. While there, one of my cousins told me his dad had a stroke and was in a hospital in Tulsa. My uncle was 86 years old and everyone knew he was not going to last much longer. I had an overwhelming conviction to go see him. I had some meetings in Tulsa scheduled for that week so I knew I could get time to go see him while I was there. I asked if it would be okay. My cousin beamed. He said his dad would love to see me. Monday morning I asked my boss if I could take off early one of those days I was in Tulsa so I could go see him. He thought that was a great. The next day I was there and my boss kept reminding me to hurry up so I could go see my uncle. If you are getting the picture I was participating in a divine appointment of some kind then you have it right. I got directions from my boss to the hospital then drove over there. I found it with no problem. I parked my car then walked into this huge building. I had absolutely no trouble in finding his room. My aunt was in there as I walked in. She hugged me and told me she had been hoping someone would come see him because he was terrified of dying. That puzzled me a little because I thought he was a believer since all of his brothers and sisters were. I sat next to him. He grabbed my hand and squeezed it as if it was a life preserver and he was a drowning man.

I asked him several questions that led into the Evangelism Explosion method of sharing the gospel. We talked for a couple of hours. My hand felt numb. I laid the gospel out for him as clear as I could. He looked at me with a strange look and said, “I have heard that before, but I thought there was more to it than that.” I assured him that was all there was to it. I asked Him if he was ready to surrender to the Lord and accept Him as savior. If he could have jumped out of the bed to pray with me, he would have. I prayed for him first then we prayed together. At the end of that prayer, he let go of my hand. My aunt had been sitting there listening the whole time. She was weeping. My uncle was beaming. I stayed until they brought his dinner to him. I hugged him and walked out of the room. My aunt walked with me. She said she was so pleased I had come because he had been so scared and the gospel was exactly what he needed. Then she said something that really struck me. A pastor from their town had come to see him. I asked why he had not shared the gospel with him. She said that all he could talk about was how God had made him rich and wanted to make my uncle healthy and wealthy as well. She said he did not have anything to say that my uncle needed to hear. My dad came to visit my uncle the next day. He called me at work after he got home. He said my uncle was a changed man. I was still amazed at how all that worked out. My uncle died the next day. I was a pallbearer at his funeral a few days later. The Counterfeit Church is not genuinely Christian. It is helpless to meet the spiritual needs of people like my uncle.

God set up the divine appointment with my uncle. The Holy Spirit was striving with him. That was why he was terrified. God put me in that circumstance specifically to present the gospel to him. God’s effectual grace did the rest. The prayer was simply my uncle’s act of exercising his saving faith God had given him. I will see my uncle again in Heaven. Praise the Lord! However, unless that pastor with his health, wealth, and prosperity gospel repents he may not be there. In fact, I believe he will have a great deal to answer for when he stands before the Lord.

The Counterfeit Church is humanistic instead of spiritual. It is easy to join, but will not satisfy any of your spiritual needs. Its worship is self-edifying. The gospel is replaced with “societal relevant” advice, drama, dance and worldly music. The whole project is designed to make people feel better about themselves. This church could be either Semi-Pelagian or Arminian. Both cast doubt on the veracity and validity of scripture. This produces liberalism. When a Christian climate of liberalism exists then anything goes. One product of this is the health, wealth, and prosperity churches that are entirely humanistic and soft of the gospel.

Since God woke me up by guiding me into being Spirit-led, and doctrinally pure I have become heavily convicted about the spiritual condition of the Church. It breaks my heart. I am convinced God put that there because He is broken-hearted over its condition as well. However, He is not powerless to do anything about it. In every age of the Church, those the Lord raised up ably met the heresies of Satan’s “Counterfeit Church.” As those reformers spent their lives shining God’s light into the darkness of deception the enemy did indeed fight back, however, God’s Kingdom will never be defeated or destroyed because it is eternal.

The Church as a whole seems to have lost proper focus. It should be intent on God’s glory, but that is not the case anymore. This is a symptom of spiritual immaturity. As stated earlier, Satan has always attempted to counterfeit the true Church. He knows he cannot steal any genuine believers out of it, but He can mire massive numbers of God’s children in spiritual immaturity and bondage to fleshly pursuits. He is able to do this because these believers give him permission to do so as they serve their Idolatry of the heart rather than surrendering to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in those areas. Those who believe they came to Christ as a decision by their own free will shall also believe they are responsible for their own spiritual maturity. However, in fact, they are only responsible for cooperating with God in humbling themselves and surrendering to the Lordship of Jesus Christ as the Lord builds their faith through tests and trials. Those believers who are discipled correctly will understand their salvation was a gift of God who regenerated their hearts by His effectual grace. The discipler should make it clear to his disciples how spiritual growth takes place. The discipler should teach those in their care how to pursue God and live for His glory. The alternative is a great deal of wasted time in self-focused religiosity.

The Counterfeit Church is Man focused. There are many flavors. Some of these false churches are completely mired in the health, wealth, and prosperity gospel that is no gospel at all. Others focus on false views of salvation. They add works such as baptism to the gospel message. Some will put further self-focused burdens on new believers by telling them they must speak in tongues or their salvation is not genuine. Some teach there is no Trinity. There are many more. All versions of the Counterfeit Church have the same root though. That root is a firmly held belief that sinners cannot be required to do what they are not able to do. Of course, it should be obvious, that type of reasoning is not of faith. Instead, it is an outcome of selective rationalization. The Bible clearly teaches no sinner is able to obey God, but He does require obedience. Those who object overlook God’s grace. God commands obedience then gives grace to those who willingly believe so they can obey Him. Salvation is our prime example of that. It is no different after salvation. The Spirit-led believer became a mature Christian by surrendering and obeying God fully empowered by His grace. Those who do not believe God works this way miss the entire process as they pursue religion and self-gratification from everything except the presence of God.

What is the Counterfeit Church? It is Satan’s attempt to minimize the glory due God by deceiving people to oppose the genuine gospel by creating “reasonable facsimiles” of it. These false copies are similar enough to deceive their adherents while deviating enough to fool them into remaining spiritually immature. These false gospels keep their victims mired in self-focus. The true plan of salvation as presented in scripture, the doctrines of grace, is reviled in every way possible and is portrayed as not politically correct, old-fashioned, and out of touch with post-modernistic reality. There are many of God’s chosen in the Counterfeit Church. However, their doctrinal impurity has caused them to have a false view of God and His ways. This has downgraded their spiritual discernment. God is actively pursuing to awaken those who are captives of the Counterfeit Church. He desires all of His chosen to live for His glory and thereby find fulfillment in Him. The Counterfeit Church attempts to present itself as providing blessings that rival fulfillment in God Himself to those it has captured; however, it is completely incapable of doing so. Thankfully, its days are numbered. (Revelation 18)

I am convinced the Western Church is on the verge of a Great Awakening. We will either repent then submit to our Lord completely or He will replace us. We must pray for God to put his hand on and raise up those who will preach and teach the doctrines of grace in the power of the Holy Spirit. That means many Christian leaders must repent by learning to walk by Faith rather than using selective rationalization. We must pray for God to call His chosen out to the Counterfeit Church. We must pray for those false preachers and teachers to be effectively silenced as the true gospel is proclaimed everywhere in the power of the Holy Spirit. We must ask God to break the hearts of the chosen who are involved in the Counterfeit Church. We must pray for the fear of God to come upon us all as we repent of not being the maturing Christians we are all called to be.

Soli Deo Gloria!

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