When people ask me, “What’s the biggest problem in the church?” I always say the same thing: The absence of discernment. That is the biggest problem in the church because if you can’t discern the truth with the Word of God in your hand, with the Bible in your hand, if you can’t discern the truth, you can die of 1,000 heresies. It’s like having spiritual AIDS. People who have a deficient immune system can die of 1,000 illnesses. The church can die of 1,000 heresies if it can’t exercise discernment. This is always the issue.
And part of the responsibility of ministry is the positive side to instruct with great patience, as Paul said to Timothy. But the other side is to reprove, rebuke, and exhort, and use the Word of God to do that. And to exercise discernment is at the very heart of Christian living because Christian living is a reflection of Christian thinking, and Christian thinking must be attached to sound doctrine, and that’s where discernment begins.
It is very evident that a massive part of professing Christianity lacks discernment. And so the effort is to help you to be discerning. We know there are people who are deceivers, and they know they’re deceivers. They’re false teachers, and they know they’re false teachers. They’re in it for the money, and they know they’re in it for the money.
We also know there are people caught up in the movement who are deceived and may not know they are deceived. They are brands that need to be snatched from the burning, to borrow the words from Jude. There are leaders who need to be confronted and exposed, and there are unwitting leaders who need to be helped and encouraged and know the truth.
We want to be like the noble Bereans. We want to search the Scripture and see if these things are so, measuring everything against the Word of God. And as I said a minute ago, you really are the chosen. You have a special call for this Time. This has never happened to my knowledge in the church in my lifetime, where people have come together to think about this issue.
How big is it? It’s a massive issue.
So what we want to do in these days together, and to do it faithfully, and to do it lovingly, and to do it compassionately, but to do it in a very straightforward way, is to help you see the issues for what they are and be discerning. And you then become a force of folks who can help other people to see the light.
I want you to open your Bible to Leviticus chapter 10. It is in Leviticus 10 that we find the portion of Scripture which is the source for the title of the conference, “Strange Fire.” The highest duty and the highest privilege, the most essential behavior, and the supreme responsibility for humanity is to worship God. Let me say that again because you may have been distracted in turning to your passage. The highest duty and privilege, the most essential behavior, and the supreme responsibility for humanity is to worship God.
The Father seeks true worshipers. Believers in the gospel, in the Lord Jesus Christ, are those true worshipers. This is, then, our eternal duty, and privilege, and priority. In fact, any glimpse into heaven in the book of Revelation will reveal that all who are there, both saints and angels, are glorifying God, giving Him honor. The most serious activity anyone will ever do is worship. The most serious activity anyone will ever do is worship.
And not only in heaven, but even on earth. When you come together and you say it is for the purpose of worshiping God, you have just pronounced upon yourself an urgency, and a severity, and a seriousness in the very activity in which you engage. Nothing is more serious than worship. I’m afraid in our culture, worship has become frivolous, superficial, shallow, trivialized.
This is the most serious activity anyone will ever do, worship God. We are called to worship in spirit. That means with our emotions and with our human faculties. But we also are to worship in truth, and that is according to revealed Scripture. We are to worship with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. We are to worship in love, because we are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. The whole being, everything we are, is to be wrapped up in loving worship of God according to His revealed truth.
God established worship in Israel right here in the book of Leviticus. The early leaders of worship who came before God on behalf of the people were priests. And it really officially started with Aaron in the economy of Israel. Aaron is first called in Exodus chapter 29. He is consecrated in Leviticus chapter 8. And he is going to be the head of a priestly family, and they will have the responsibility of being the worship leaders for God’s people.
In chapter 9 of Leviticus, Aaron offers a sacrifice for the people to God according to God’s prescription. Aaron was told that God would respond positively when he offered that sacrifice according to the mandate that God had given. In Leviticus 9:6, “Moses said, ‘This is the thing which the Lord has commanded you to do, that the glory of the Lord may appear to you.’ Moses then said to Aaron, ‘Come near to the altar, offer your sin offering, your burnt offering, that you may make atonement for yourself and for the people; then make the offering for the people, that you may make atonement for them, just as the Lord has commanded.’ ” God had given command and Aaron was to follow that command and make that offering. And if he did it according to the plan that God had revealed, the glory of the Lord would appear as a response.
If you drop down to verse 22 of that same chapter, “Aaron lifted up his hands toward the people, blessed them, stepped down after making the sin offering and the burnt offering and the peace offerings. Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting. When they came out and blessed the people, the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people. Then fire came out from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the portions of fat on the altar; and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces.”
Aaron did what he was told and what God promised happened. If he did what God told him to do in the offering of the sacrifice, the glory of God would appear. He did that, “the glory of the Lord – ” verse 23 “ – appeared to all the people.” And then God Himself sent down fire to consume the sacrifice because God was pleased with that sacrifice.
That brings us to chapter 10. “Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took their respective firepans, and after putting fire in them, placed incense on it and offered strange fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them. And fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Then Moses said to Aaron, ‘It is what the Lord spoke saying, “By those who come near Me I will be treated as holy, And before all the people, I will be honored.” ’ So Aaron, therefore, kept silent.”
He had just seen his two sons incinerated. “Then Moses said to Aaron, ‘It is what the Lord spoke saying, “By those who come near Me I will be treated as holy, And before all the people, I will be honored.” ’ Moses also called to Mishael and Elzaphan, the sons of Aaron’s uncle Uzziel, and said to them, ‘Come forward, carry your relatives away from the front of the sanctuary to the outside of the camp.’ So they came forward and carried them still in their tunics to the outside of the camp, as Moses had said. Then Moses said to Aaron and to his sons, Eleazar and Ithamar, ‘Do not uncover your heads nor tear your clothes, so you will not die and he will not become wrathful against all the congregation. But your kinsmen, and the whole house of Israel, shall bewail the burning which the Lord has brought about.” Called to national mourning over this. “You shall not even go out from the doorway of the tent meeting or you will die; – ” the tabernacle, “ – for the Lord’s anointing oil is upon you.’ So they did according to the word of Moses.”
Aaron was obedient and God consumed the sacrifice. His two sons were disobedient, and God consumed them. I don’t want to go into all the detail of this. Suffice it to say that when you come before the Lord, you better honor the Lord. You better come in a way that is consistent with His will and revelation. This is what it means to worship in truth.
Now the sons of Aaron were very honored men, very respected men. They were priests of the one true God. The oldest was right in line for the high priest’s responsibility, next in line. Moses was their uncle. Their names headed the list of nobles of Israel in Exodus 24. They were very respected men. Apart from Abraham and Moses, they are the only ones named in Scripture the first time Scripture refers to the leaders of Israel. They were really – apart from Aaron and Moses, I mean – they were the only ones named, these two sons, when the first list of the leaders of Israel were named. And that’s in Numbers and that was really the Sanhedrin, the first 70 elders. They were not sinister. They were not wicked. They were not usurpers. They were honored men.
With the 70, they were given the privilege of coming up Sinai part way to watch from a distance as God spoke with Moses. That is a great privilege because the people were not allowed to go near the mountain, even the animals were not allowed to go near the mountain, according to Exodus chapter 19. Everybody was to stay very, very far away. People off in the desert watching the fire and smoke on the mountain while Nadab and Abihu were invited to come up. And according to Exodus 24, they saw God and they ate and drank. Privileged men, closer to God than anyone else. Only Moses would be considered closer. They seemed so secure, so secure.
And then it happened, verse 2, “Fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord.” Moses said, “Because they had come before Him in an unholy way and offered strange fire.” We don’t know what the strange fire is particularly. I think the best assumption that it’s fire from another source than the required brazen altar which God Himself from heaven had ignited. They were to take their fire from the brazen altar which God had personally lit in some supernatural way. Obviously, they brought fire from some other place, some other source. It might seem like a minor matter. It might seem to the carnal, casual, self-indulgent, flippant generation like ours that this is really a severe overreaction. Well, why does God care where the fire came from? Isn’t that a minor detail?
The same fire that ignited the sacrifice in 9:24, torched them in the 10th chapter. This is sobering and this is terrifying. It’s reminiscent of God killing Ananias and Sapphira in front of the congregation in Acts 5 because they lied to the Holy Spirit about how much money they got when they sold their property. That also might seem to a casual, carnal culture a little overreaction, or a great overreaction. But let me just make it simple for you. The most serious crimes against God occur in corrupt worship. The most serious signs, the most serious crimes, rather, against God occur in corrupt worship.
Turn, if you will, just for a minute back to the 32nd chapter of Exodus, Exodus chapter 32. I have so many things to say, we’re going to ramp up and go a little fast here. But I know you remember the story of Exodus chapter 32 because it’s the story of the golden calf. Verse 4 of that chapter, this is Aaron now who has led this.
“He took from their hand, and fashioned with a graving tool and made into a molten calf; – ” all the gold the people had brought “ – and they said, ‘This is your God, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.’ ” The golden calf was a false representation of the true God. And the people, as it tells us in verse 6, “rose up, offered burnt offerings, peace offerings; sat down to eat and drink, rose up to play.” They were worshiping the true God in a false form, transforming the glory of God into a blasphemous misrepresentation and image.
And you know how the story went. It was a disaster for them. There was a massive slaughter. People were killed on the spot. Brother rose up against brother with a sword and hacked his own family member to death, carrying out the mandate of God to punish the worshipers who had corrupted worship.
I just want to repeat that again. The most serious crimes ever committed against God are committed in corrupt worship. That takes us to the point where we need to say the modern movement continually dishonors God in its false forms of worship. It dishonors the Father. It dishonors the Son. But most specifically, it dishonors the Holy Spirit. Irreverent ideas, irreverent actions, untrue beliefs, false claims, false promises, fleshly behaviors, all these things are attributed to the Holy Spirit, but they are a dishonor to Him that they would even be identified with His name. It’s more strange fire and the sad thing is it’s ground for judgment.
God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, the triune God is not to be trifled with. It is dangerous to all who offer strange fire. It is dangerous to all who offer corrupt worship. It is dangerous to declare things that the Holy Spirit has not done, has not said, would not participate in as works of the Holy Spirit. That is not a small matter. It is a radical seriousness in dishonoring the Holy Spirit that apparently escapes these people.
It’s a tragic thing. In some ways it’s so ridiculous you might laugh at it. It is a tragic and agonizing irony, frankly, that those who claim to be most devoted to the Holy Spirit, those who claim to have a corner on His power, those who claim to be experiencing His presence are following patterns that blaspheme His name, and that are the same as those who are engaged with demons.
Attributing to the Holy Spirit deeds He did not do, words He did not say, experiences He does not author is a very serious crime, a very serious crime.
Am I discrediting everyone in the modern church movement? No. I think there are people in the movement who desire to worship God in a true way. They may be caught up in this false worship, as well, because intention is not enough. The movement itself – listen carefully – offers nothing to true worship. Can I say that again? The movement itself has brought us nothing to enrich true worship.
Why do I say that? Because the new movement as such has made no contribution to biblical clarity. It has made no contribution to biblical interpretation. It has made no contribution to sound doctrine. We have had an accurate biblical interpretation long before the 21st century started. We have had strong doctrine long before. We have had going back in the steady stream of faithful men, all the way to the apostles, a clear stream of truth that gives us a full rich understanding of the Word of God.
That is why a Christian today can go back and read the apostles, and then go back and read the Reformers, and read the Puritans, and follow the flow of the truth through history, and find richness, and understanding, and clarity on every issue going all the way back. They didn’t add anything to that. They brought in chaos, confusion, misrepresentation, and misunderstanding.
Do some in the new church apostacy believe the truth? They do. Do some hold a sound theology on some issues? They do. But none of those true understandings have come to them through that movement. The true understandings have always been there in the long line of godly preachers and teachers that God has used to keep the truth and to keep the church on track. The movement adds nothing to that. It detracts and it confuses. It is not a source for any advancement of our understanding of Scripture or sound doctrine.