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General Council of the Assemblies of God 2017 – Sin in the camp – Part II

The Church Growth philosophy initiated by Norman Vincent Peale, developed by Robert Schuller, and massively marketed through the organizations of Rick Warren and Bill Hybels now dominates the evangelical scene in North America and many other parts of the world. The movement’s philosophies, methods, and techniques are pervasive, unchallenged, and saturate the evangelical narrative being presented in substantially all denominations and fellowships. The Assemblies of God must be included in that number.

To understand the extent to which the Assemblies of God has fallen in step with the Church Growth orthodoxy, one need only look at the program for the General Council’s next biennial gathering to be held in early August 2017. The theme is “Influence Conference – Influence Your Community.”[1] To accomplish its agenda, the various breakout sessions contain a variety of subjects that would thrill the hearts of the most ardent promoters of the philosophies, methods, and techniques of the Church Growth movement.

Breaking the 200 Barrier, Breaking the 500 Barrier, Breaking the 1000 Barrier, Coaching Crisis, Coaching Forum, Coaching Teams, Coaching Transitions, Community Engagement, Contemporary Worship Voice, Creative Arts Administration, Developing Small Group Culture, Discipleship Pathway, Generosity, Intergenerational Worship, Leadership Development, Leveraging Technology to Build Spiritual Communication, Maximizing Church Space, Multi-Site/PAC, Self-Leadership, Service Planning, Team Building & Staffing, Urban Ministry, Vision Casting, Volunteerism.[2]

Such Church Growth indoctrination is leading to a declining and powerless church, and the Assemblies of God is not an exception. Compared to the previous ten years (1995-2005), the Assemblies of God has experienced significant declines over the last ten years (2005-2015) in conversion growth and Holy Spirit baptisms. Water baptisms were barely above breakeven, but Sunday morning church attendance increased almost 12%.[3]

Instead of mimicking Church Growth methods, techniques, and philosophies, the Assemblies should once again return to a right understanding and practice of New Testament Christianity which allowed it to become the largest fellowship of Pentecostal believers in the world during its first one hundred years of existence. The Assemblies must expose and expel the worldliness that has crept into its fellowship because of its association with the Church Growth movement and incorporation of its methods and practices. I would suggest a good place to begin is the implementation of the following list of teaching/training sessions at future General Council gatherings and in the various district meetings in the interim.

• Making room for the centrality and dominance of the Holy Spirit in worship/preaching services
• Revitalizing Sunday School and other Christian education initiatives
• Defending the Faith – Training our youth and young adults to counter the attacks on Christianity by a hostile secular/humanistic culture
• Preserving religious freedom
• Seeking revival
• Focusing on the fundamentals of Pentecost so important in the end times
• Understanding and combating the dangers of the New Age, cults, and worldliness in modern culture
• Preaching on prophesy, signs of the end times, the great apostasy, and nearness of the rapture
• The warfare of faith – Ephesians 6:12-18

But even more disheartening than the topics taught in the breakout sessions is the almost unbroken roster of Church Growth seeker-sensitive advocates invited to speak for both the General Council’s main sessions and the breakout training sessions. In addition to three General Council session speakers from the top leadership in the Assemblies, there are three other General Counsel session speakers not affiliated with the Assemblies of God. All are heads of mega churches and disciples of the Church Growth movement. A fourth General Council meeting speaker is Jason Frenn who is a missionary evangelist with the Assemblies, but he is also a good friend to and frequent speaker at some of the largest Church Growth seeker-sensitive churches in America.

Robert Morris – Gateway Church, Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex

The apparent keynote speaker at the GCAG 2017 is Robert Morris, senior pastor of the 36,000 member multi-campus Gateway Church.[4] Gateway closely follows the Church Growth movement’s formula, and Morris frequently speaks at many other seeker-sensitive mega churches such as Rick Warren’s purpose driven Saddleback Church. One is known by the company he keeps, and for Morris that company also includes Bill Hybels, Perry Noble, and Tim Ross, all speakers at Gateway Church’s 2012 Alpha Summit. Each man is an adherent of the Church Growth movement and its seeker-driven model of doing church.[5]

Bryan Koch – GT Church, Decatur, Illinois

Bryan Koch is the lead pastor of 3000 member GT Church. From a quick reading of the church’s website, it appears to follow the Church Growth seeker-sensitive model.[6]

Kendall and Starla Bridges – Freedom Church, Carollton, Texas

Kendall and Starla Bridges pastor Freedom Church. The second line of the church’s mission statement says, “The Vision of Freedom Church is to be a church of influence. A church that cannot be ignored by its community.” [emphasis added] This fits in nicely with The General Council’s 2017 theme of “Influence Conference – Influence Your Community.” The church’s website also reflects trademark seeker-sensitive elements such as contemporary music with full band, rock concert styled lighting, casual dress (“blue jeans were made in heaven”), and tightly scripted “70 minute services from start to finish.”[7] No time there for the moving of the Holy Spirit.

Jason Frenn – Assemblies of God World Missions missionary evangelist

The fourth General Council speaker comes from inside the Assemblies of God. Frenn appears to be quite comfortable ministering at seeker-sensitive churches. Since his first appearance in 2009, Frenn has spoken many times on Robert Schuller’s Hour of Power broadcasts from Chrystal Cathedral prior to its demise.[8] Frenn also has spoken at Warren’s Saddleback Church.

In addition to General Council speakers, there are a number of well-known speakers for various breakout and other sessions to be held during the General Council gathering. Three are particularly disturbing.

Rick Warren – Saddleback Church, Orange County, California

Space does not allow discussion of the list of offenses committed against the Church of Jesus Christ by Rick Warren. Much of the last two-thirds of Evangelical Winter was devoted to detailing the apostasy caused by the Church Growth movement’s Warren, Hybels, and their predecessors Peale and Schuller. Warren and like-minded church leaders have enormously advanced the anti-biblical, humanistic, and New Age friendly Church Growth movement; made friends with and legitimized false religions; introduced heresies and false doctrines into the church; and led the American evangelical church into a death spiral of powerlessness and apostasy. It is utterly appalling that the leadership of the once venerable Assemblies of God have allowed Warren to address the Assemblies not once but numerous times including the upcoming General Council in 2017.

Mark Batterson – National Community Church, Washington, D.C.

Batterson is the author of The Circle Maker, a bestselling book that is rapidly invading many evangelical churches and which has inspired the practice of prayer circles. Praying in circles is has become all the rage in many Evangelical churches. People are taught to draw circles around the things they want, or even to walk in circles around the things they are sure the Lord ought to grant them. In either case, they are to pray around those things and in that way to claim them for the Lord. Batterson bases his prayer technique on a story of the life of Honi Ha-Ma’agel, a Jewish scholar who lived in the first century B.C. On one occasion according to the Talmud, it was well into winter and God had not sent rain to the land of Israel. Honi drew a circle in the dust, stood inside it, and informed God that he would not move until it rained. God responded to Honi’s demands and sent rain. From this story Batterson conceived the idea of praying in circles. But Batterson’s prayer circles are drawn from a tradition not found in the Bible. Prayer circles are anti-biblical because they violate those principles of prayer that are found in the Bible. Batterson has substituted fables about prayer for sound biblical doctrine.[9] What possible thing of value could Batterson teach those attending the 2017 General Council?

Priscilla Shirer – Author, speaker, actressS

Shier credits Jan Johnson with speaking “wisdom into my life that was extremely pivotal in my life—personally and in ministry.” Johnson professes to be an evangelical Christian but writes about, endorses, and promotes the practice of contemplative prayer. She says, “Contemplative prayer, in its simplest form, is a prayer in which you still your thoughts and emotions and focus on God Himself. This puts you in a better state to be aware of God’s presence, and it makes you better able to hear God’s voice, correcting, guiding, and directing you.” However, contemplative prayer practices closely mimic New Age and Eastern meditation techniques and can quickly lead to putting the mind into a neutral, altered state. Those practicing contemplative prayer are encouraged to achieve inner stillness through meditative, mantra-style practices such as taking a word or syllable and repeating it over and over. Johnson states that, “The repetition [of a word or phrase] can in fact be soothing and very freeing, helping us…to empty out our crowded interior life and create the quiet space where we can dwell with God.” In her books and writings Johnson frequently quotes various contemplative prayer teachers, New Age sympathizers, and mystics. Although Shier has written a book on how to discern the voice of God, one questions her own discernment when she engages in and advocates the practice of contemplative prayer that is closely associated with New Age and Eastern meditation practices.[10] Can the General Council not see the dangers of such speakers who teach false doctrine and anti-biblical practices at its biennial assembly?

Influencing the world but seeking the world’s wisdom

The evangelical church is also told that it should learn from those outside the church on how better to minister to the world. It is interesting to note that the same week that keynote speaker Robert Morris will be addressing those assembled at the General Council in Anaheim, his Gateway Church in Dallas will be participating in Bill Hybel’s annual Global Leadership Summit whose theme is “Everyone has Influence” and which features twelve speakers of which only two purport to be ministers of the gospel. [emphasis added] If Hybel’s prior conferences are an indication, the profession of Christianity is certainly not a requirement to be a member of Hybel’s panel of speakers. [For a list of Hybels’ 2016 conference speakers, see “Take Heed that no man deceive you – Part V.”][11] It is apparent that the leadership of the Assemblies of God wholeheartedly agrees with Hybels that the church can learn much about doing God’s work by listening to the wisdom of worldly leaders. This is indisputably confirmed by our examination of the agenda for the General Council of the Assemblies of God 2017.

Are you beginning to understand the direction the Church Growth movement’s leadership is taking the evangelical church? It’s all about influencing the world. We are told that the church can influence the world if we will only bend a little, make a few compromises, and show some tolerance for another point of view. As Warren wrote in The Purpose Driven Church, “Sometimes you need to give the unbeliever some slack in order to reel them in.”[12] “Slack” in the seeker-sensitive model of doing church means attempting to entice the sinner through the church’s doors with whatever bait works and then focusing on meeting his or her felt needs.

According to the Church Growth narrative, the church can and must influence the world. But its version of influence is wrapped in accommodation, tolerance, and worldliness, not in the work of the Holy Spirit and a faithful presentation of the powerful soul-saving Word of God. Consequently, the world has influenced the church which has led to spiritual poverty and powerlessness. Therefore, a large number of evangelicalism’s local churches, denominations, and fellowships have become frail vessels depleted of their spiritual vitality within and have lost power to speak truth to the larger culture without. This quest for influence with the world is also occurring in the Assemblies of God. This has brought sin into the camp, and its leadership must recognize the source and take decisive action to expose and banish it from the fellowship.

What is the only remedy for this great tragedy besetting the evangelical church in America and Western civilization? It is a revived church. For those Christians of our day who are in anguish at the sad spiritual and moral condition of the church and the nation, there is perhaps no verse that is relied upon more than 2 Chronicles 7:14 when seeking revival and restoration. It is often called the revival verse.

…if my people who are called by my name shall humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. [2 Chronicles 7:14. KJV]

Notice that there are four conditions that must occur before revival will happen: humility, prayer, seeking God’s face (presence), and turning from sin.

Here we must return to the story of Joshua and the Israelites following their defeat at Ai. What did Joshua do following defeat? He humbled himself, prayed, and sought the return of God’s presence among the Israelites. Was that enough? No, the fourth requirement for revival and restoration was still missing. They had not turned from their wicked ways and were accursed because sin still resided in the camp, and God’s presence and blessing was not restored until the sin in the camp was removed.

While many in the church are dabbling with other gospels and seeking other Jesuses, there is a faithful remnant that is hungering for revival of the church in America. But God’s power and presence will not return until all four of His requirements for revival are met. This compels those seeking revival to recognize, expose, and expel sin residing in the camp. To do so the church must have bold preachers and lay men and women full of wisdom and the Holy Spirit, and who have humbled themselves, are praying for revival, are seeking the face of God, and who confront sin within the church while at the same time preaching the uncompromised message of Jesus Christ to a hurting, lost, and hell-bound world. Our only hope is for the Holy Spirit to be poured out afresh on all of His people who love Him and obey his commandments.

Larry G. Johnson


[1] Influence Conference – Influencing Your Community, General Council of the Assemblies of God 2017. July 19, 2017).
[2] Ibid.
[3] Larry G. Johnson, “The Assemblies of God 2007 and 10 years later – Part I,”, March 10, 2017.

The Assemblies of God 2007 and 10 years later – Part I

[4] Gateway Church. (accessed July 20, 2017).
[5] Ken Silva, “Robert Morris teams up with Hybels, Noble, and Word Faith preacher Tim Ross,” Apprising Ministries, February 26, 2012. (accessed July 20, 2017).
[6] GT Church. (accessed July 20, 2017).
[7] Freedom Church. (accessed July 20, 2017).
[8] “Jason Frenn speaking at Saddleback Church,” YouTube, October 11, 2012. (accessed July 22, 2017).
[9] Tim Challies, “Don’t Pray in Circles,” Challies, January 10, 2014. (accessed July 20, 2017).
[10] LT Editors, “What your church needs to know before doing a Priscilla Shirer Study,” Lighthouse Trails Research Journal, Vol. 5-No. 4, (July-August 2017), 8-9.
[11] Larry G. Johnson, “Take heed that no man deceive you – Part V,”, October 7, 2016.
[12] Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Church, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995), p. 216.

General Council of the Assemblies of God 2017 – Sin in the camp – Part I

I have loved and been a part of the Assemblies of God for seven decades. In recent years I have watched as the Assemblies have followed the downward path chosen by numerous other evangelical denominations, fellowships, and churches. This is the path of accommodation and tolerance of sin and worldliness in their midst. It is one thing to privately believe there is sin in one’s camp, but to say this publicly is a much more serious matter. Many critics will argue that such a public declaration causes division and strife, but the Bible is plain with regard to sin, both in and outside of the church. Paul warned the church, “And have no fellowship with the unfaithful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.” [Ephesians 5:11. KJV] To reprove means to scold or correct, usually gently or with kindly intent. It is with kindly intent that I make this matter public.

In Part I we will examine the modern deception and seduction of the church that coincides with the end-times event called the great apostasy or falling away. In Part II we will consider the direction of the Assemblies of God in light of our discussion in Part I.

Separation of God’s people

God’s solution for the church in dealing with sin has always been separation.

Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” Therefore, “Come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.” And, “I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” [Ephesians 6:14-18. NIV]

In the Old Testament, God demanded complete separation of the Israelites from other nations because their “corrupt lifestyles and religious practices would influence his people to rebel against him and abandon their faith in him.” When the Israelites cross the Jordan to possess the promised land, God commanded the complete destruction of all of the Canaanites and even their animals.[1] The complete destruction was necessary to guard the Israelites from the overwhelming wickedness of the Canaanite peoples. “God knew that if those ungodly nations had been allowed to remain in the land, they would have influenced the Israelites to adopt their immoral practices of worship, follow their false gods, and commit all kinds of other sins that were common to the people of Canaan.”[2]

Following their first victory at Jericho, the Israelites marched on Ai, but the men of Ai routed the Israelites and killed thirty-six of their number. When Joshua saw what had happened, he tore his clothes, fell face down, and was greatly grieved, especially at the dread of God’s displeasure. [See Joshua 7:6-9]

And the Lord said unto Joshua, Get thee up; wherefore liest thou thus upon thy face? Israel has sinned, and they have also transgressed my covenant which I commanded them…Therefore the children of Israel could not stand before their enemies, because they were accursed: neither will I be with you any more, except ye destroy the accursed from among you. [Joshua 7:10, 11a, 12. KJV]

God was telling Joshua and the Israelites that there was sin in the camp, they were defeated because of it, and he would not be among them until the sin was removed. Achan’s theft of gold and silver and the consequences thereof was a warning to the Israelites. God’s people cannot commit or allow sin to continue in their midst. Sin that is allowed to remain and fester in the church will compromise God’s blessing or cause it to be lost altogether. God will not bless His people if sin is not removed from their midst, either individually or as a group. Just as the sin of Adam and Eve affected all of mankind, the sin of one or a few in the camp affects not only those who are guilty, but the entire camp suffers as well if sin is allowed to remain. May we liken the camp to the family, the local church, a denomination or fellowship, or perhaps the entire body of Christ dwelling within a nation?

But the proponents of modernized Christianity argue that we live under the new covenant and reject God’s Old Testament demands of separation of the church from the world because they believe such separation is not consistent with God’s love, righteousness, justice, and hatred of evil found throughout the Bible. They believe the Old Testament standard of separation inhibits modernized Christianity’s efforts at influencing the world which they view as necessary to fulfill the great commission in these modern times. However, Donald Stamps wrote in his commentary that, “Deuteronomy 20:18 expresses the lasting Biblical principle that God’s people must separate themselves from ungodly behavior and resist the evil influences of worldly cultures.” [emphasis added] Although Christians are living under the new covenant, the destruction of the generation of the Canaanites is a prophetic symbol pointing to God’s final judgement on the unrighteous and all worldly powers.[3]

In the New Testament God still requires His people to remain separate from the world. But the separation is not from nations but separation (1) from world systems (by which is meant the “beliefs, lifestyles, and God-defying ways of doing things”), (2) from those in the church who are disobedient and defiant toward God and refuse to turn from their own ways, and (3) “from false teachers, churches, or religious systems that promote ungodly beliefs and deny the truth of God’s Word as revealed in the Bible.”[4]

Modernized Christianity and the loss of separation from the world

What is this modernized Christianity that has not only allowed but invited sin in the camp? Once again I must return to A. W. Tozer’s scathing condemnation of the loss of separation between the world and many evangelical churches, denominations, and fellowships in America.

The Christian faith, based upon the New Testament, teaches the complete antithesis between the Church and the world…It is no more than a religious platitude to say that the trouble with us today is that we have tried to bridge the gulf between two opposites, the world and the Church, and have performed an illicit marriage for which there is no biblical authority. Actually, there is no real union…When the Church joins up with the world, it is the true Church no longer but only a pitiful hybrid thing, an object of smiling contempt to the world and an abomination to the Lord…

Christianity is so entangled with the spirit of the world that millions never guess how radically they have missed the New Testament pattern. Compromise is everywhere. The world is whitewashed just enough to pass inspection by blind men posing as believers, and those same believers are everlastingly seeking to gain acceptance with the world. By mutual concessions men who call themselves Christians manage to get on with men who have for the things of God nothing but contempt.[5]

In 1985, Dave Hunt and T. A. McMahon wrote The Seduction of Christianity – Spiritual Discernment in the Last Days[6] which attempted “to identify the worldly ‘folly’ being embraced by today’s church not merely as immorality but as an even more seductive and destructive form of worldliness: the cultivation of occult powers attributable to human potential and its concomitant evil—the idolatrous deification of self.” [emphasis added] Hunt pointed out in his subsequent book that this seduction was prophesied by Christ and His apostles. Its fulfillment would be the greatest apostasy and deception in history, and it would occur in the last days just prior to His second coming. The greatest danger faced by the church in those last days was not persecution but seduction. The book caused a firestorm of controversy. Some called it the most important Christian book in decades while others called it the most divisive and destructive.[7]

Restated, this modernized Christianity is the cultivation of New Age and elements of Eastern religions through the human potential movement and deification of self through Christian humanism. These two forces began merging in the 1950s and became known as the Church Growth movement by the 1970s.

The substitution of man’s efforts to replace the redeeming work of the cross appears to be one of the great failings of the Church Growth movement and its seeker-sensitive churches. Paul’s second and final letter to Timothy warned of what many churches would be like the last days, “Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.” [2 Timothy, 3:5. KJV] Three hundred years ago Matthew Henry wrote of Paul’s warning. “In the last days would come perilous times, not so much on account of persecution from without as on account of corruptions within…A form of godliness is a very different thing from the power of it; men may have the one and be wholly destitute of the other.”[8] [emphasis added] This is an apt description of much of the Church Growth movement and its many seeker-sensitive churches.

This loss of power began as some leaders of the church first opened the door to the New Age/New Spirituality. It began in the 1950s with the theology of Norman Vincent Peale and was conveyed through his hugely popular book The Power of Positive Thinking. Peale preached a unique blend of humanistic psychology and occult beliefs and practices of the New Age, all wrapped in a façade which he called “practical Christianity.” His theology became the foundation for the therapeutic gospel of the seeker-sensitive Church Growth movement. Peale’s practical Christian living was indisputably New Age, a Christianized version of New Thought taught in the occultic writings of Florence Scovel Shinn during the early part of the twentieth century.[9]

Robert Schuller was perhaps Peale’s greatest admirer and practitioner of Peale’s methods. Peale’s “positive thinking” became Schuller’s “possibility thinking.” Schuller’s connections with various New Age spokesmen and promoters were well known before the 1980s. One example was Schuller’s long and much-publicized association with prominent psychiatrist Gerald Jampolsky, a well-known teacher and practitioner of the New Age based “A Course in Miracles.” Schuller is widely considered to be the father of the Church Growth phenomenon and the first “megachurch” and “seeker-friendly” church pastor. To spread the Church Growth philosophy, Schuller established the Institute for Successful Church Leadership, and Rick Warren and Bill Hybels were early graduates of Schuller’s school.[10]

Without doubt, Warren and Hybels are responsible for the vast expansion of the Church Growth movement and its Philistine philosophies and methods throughout evangelical churches in America and other parts of the world since the 1980s. Much of the great apostasy that blankets the church has arisen from the teachings of the Church Growth movement. The following is the essence of the Church Growth movement’s apostasy which I described in Evangelical Winter.

The cross upon which the Son of God was crucified stands at the crossroads of history and the story of mankind. Its stark and demanding message is an irritant in the soul of sinful man. For many its message is too confrontational, an agitant, inconvenient, an offense, something to be mocked or shunned. In modern times the way in which the cross is perceived by many who profess allegiance to Christ has also changed. The message of the cross has been muted if not altogether silenced to minimize its offensiveness in churches filled with people trying to decide if Christianity is right for them. Others have rewritten its message to smooth its abrasiveness and soften its demands by making it a thing of comfort and beauty instead of and instrument of death to self and hope of life eternal. The old message, having been modernized and adapted, seamlessly blends with the world’s fascination with humanistic concepts of self-esteem instead of the reality of the fallen nature of man. The new cross at its core rests on ego and selfishness and is the great enemy of the old cross of Christ.[11]

The deceived church seeks influence with the world

The dominant opinion that has captured most of modernized Christianity in the West is that the Church Growth movement and its modern seeker-sensitive methods of evangelism will usher the church into a new day of Christian influence with the people and affairs of the world. Six decades ago Tozer used the following terms to describe the church’s entanglement with the world: “joining up with the world…seeking to gain acceptance…mutual concessions…getting on with men.” Modern evangelicals have changed the terminology but it still speaks of its entanglement with the world: seeker-sensitive, modern methods of evangelism, attractional, ecumenical, peace, accommodation, tolerance, and unity. But the evangelical church’s quest for a new day of Christian influence with the world is nothing more than an age-old seductive and destructive form of worldliness in the church.

I do not remember the source, but I recall that many years ago Dave Hunt also wrote that he believed there would be a few denominations and fellowships that were not likely to fall to the deceptions and seductions of the enemy during the apostasy of the last days. Among those he included the Assemblies of God. It grieves me to say that I believe Hunt has been proven wrong about the Assemblies of God, particularly over the last decade or so. It would appear that the Assemblies of God is also unashamedly carrying the Church Growth movement’s banner of seeking influence with the world. This is confirmed by the theme of the General Council of the Assemblies of God’s 2017 biennial gathering titled “Influence Conference – Influencing Your Community.” The sin in the camp of the Assemblies of God will be examined in Part II.

Larry G. Johnson


[1] Donald Stamps, Commentary – Spiritual Separation for Believers, The Full Life Study Bible – King James Version – New Testament, Gen. Ed. Donald C. Stamps, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Bible Publishers, 1990), p. 2210.
[2] Stamps, Commentary – The Destruction of the Canaanites, The Full Life Study Bible, p. 374.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Stamps, Commentary – Spiritual Separation for Believers, The Full Life Study Bible, p. 2210.
[5] A. W. Tozer, God’s Pursuit of Man, (Camp Hill, Pennsylvania: WingSpread Publishers, 1950, 1978), pp. 115-116.
[6] Dave Hunt and T. A. McMahon, The Seduction of Christianity – Spiritual Discernment in the Last Days, (Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 1985).
[7] Dave Hunt, Beyond Seduction – A Return to Biblical Christianity, (Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 1987), p. 1)
[8] Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1961), pp. 1896-1897.
[9] Larry G. Johnson, Evangelical Winter – Restoring New Testament Christianity, (Owasso, Oklahoma: Anvil House Publishers, 2016), pp. 125, 137.
[10] Ibid., pp. 148, 157.
[11] Ibid., p. 274.

Summer Sabbatical

Beginning this week I will be taking a summer sabbatical from posting articles on I plan to return again in the early fall. I hope you have a wonderful, relaxing, and blessed summer.

Larry G. Johnson

“Please, may I…?” – Part II

In The Permission Society, Timothy Sandefur wrote that there are two ways for government to regulate the actions of people. The first is the nuisance system which states that people have a right to freely act however they choose unless it will harm someone else. This includes one’s free choice as what to do with their property unless it harms his neighbor. The drawback of this system is that it is reactive. On occasion the danger of harm may be of great magnitude, either immediately or cumulative over time. Under these circumstances, the nuisance system does not preemptively protect a neighbor. On these occasions it may not be possible for the harmed neighbor to be adequately and/or timely compensated for his loss.[1] Where the potential for this type of harm is present, the deficiency in a reactive nuisance system can be mitigated through prudent but infrequent intervention and prior restraint.

The second system to regulate actions of people is the permit system which forbids people from doing anything with his property unless approved by the appropriate authorities. The permit or “prior restraint” system is proactive and does not allow a person to act until he meets the requirements dictated by the governing authorities.[2] Sandefur lists six destructive consequences of the permit system.

1. “Rent-seeking” – Even under a permit system, the laws of supply and demand continue to operate. Permits become valuable because everyone cannot have one, and in a business environment time and money are spent to acquire and preserve the coveted permit. Since the 1930s, the power of government to redistribute wealth or opportunities has grown exponentially “either by transferring money from some people to others or by granting licenses to do profitable things that are otherwise illegal.” Payments to government in whatever form they take (fees, concessions, etc.) are a form of rent charged for the privileges dispensed by government, i.e., rent-seeking. The government uses these rents for purposes that may or may not be worthwhile, but it is the government that decides what those purposes will be, right or wrong, without consultation with the electorate. And the rent received by the government will ultimately be paid by the citizens themselves.[3]

2. Knowledge problem – The permit system is based on the faulty assumption that government officials and bureaucrats in charge of granting permits have the knowledge and information necessary to make the right choices when deciding what should and should not be permitted. If the regulators/permit issuers make wrong choices, they are seldom held accountable.[4]

3. Enforcement by unelected bureaucrats – Once issued, the privileges granted by permits must be monitored and their limitations enforced. Permit issuance decisions based on vague or confusing laws or criteria effectively delegate power to administrators and judges to enforce the terms of the permits even though their decisions may be arbitrary, irrational, unfair, and pose a conflict of interest. It is difficult and extremely expensive to challenge the decisions of unelected bureaucrats and their self-created fiefdoms which have become a hostile fourth branch of government unaccountable to the electorate and certainly not envisioned by the Constitution.[5]

4. Corruption and forced concessions – Officials with power to issue permits and regulate the execution of the services granted by those permits are in the position to demand something in return. The first amounts to blatant corruption when government officials solicit and receive innumerable forms of personal gain or favor in exchange for permits or regulatory approvals. The second type is the demand by government for concessions to the government to advance or accomplish some governmentally-determined general social need, e.g., the surrender of a portion of one’s property in exchange for permission to sell or develop the rest.[6]

5. Violation of illegal requirements – Some permit requirements may be illegal in themselves. When a permit holder violates the terms of the permit, he is considered to have violated the law. Yet, the terms violated may themselves be a violation of the law. Effectively, it is difficult for the permit holder to defend himself against violating the terms of the permit by challenging the illegality of those requirements.[7] In other words, the permit holder cannot get beyond being judged guilty of violating the illegal conditions of the permit.

6. Innovation is stifled – Sandefur believes that the most troubling aspect of the permit system is that it stifles innovation. He calls innovation a fragile and elusive quality, a potential, a chance for the future. It can’t be quantified, measured, qualified, or justified. Innovation is vital to a growing and robust society. But the permit system often wants people who want to “start a new business to prove to the satisfaction of the government regulators that there is a ‘public need’ for the business before the person may set up shop.”[8]

If the citizens of a society value their freedom above all else, then the drawbacks of a pervasive permit system are fatal to freedom and the survival of a society. Article V of the Bill of Rights states that men should not “…be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

This concern for the inalienable right of property is not just an academic exercise. The loss of this inalienable right impacts virtually every individual citizen in ways that are often lost in the daily information overload amidst the fast-paced buzz of life. The following example is just one of many well-intended actions of social engineers that erode the fundamental freedoms associated with one’s property and possessions.

Tulsa’s governmental fix for food deserts

A Tulsa City Counselor proposed that the City of Tulsa impose a moratorium on new grocery stores in council districts with food deserts, an area deemed to be deficient in full-service grocery stores. Counselor Vanessa Hall-Harper believes that a moratorium would solve what is believed to a problem of too many small grocery stores which prevent developers and larger full-service grocery stores from building in areas of the city considered to be food deserts. She claims that a lack of full-service stores is contributing to the decline of general health conditions in these areas.[9]

Hall-Harper cites one example in which a few of her constituents protested the issuance of a permit for a new Dollar General store in North Tulsa which they feel is inadequate. She believes this type of store discourages the building of full-service stores in so-called food deserts.[10] It would appear that for Hall-Harper and the protesters, investment of private funds in the City of Tulsa are to be dictated by political concerns and agendas as opposed to free-market forces.

But this is not government over-reach according to Hall-Harper. She says that the moratorium would be temporary and that it wouldn’t target any specific store or chains. “In my opinion, developers should work with communities.”[11]

The larger concern is that proposals of this nature have become typical of the thinking of elected government officials and especially bureaucrats who have become virtually independent and unanswerable to the electorate. Instead of a free society, we have become a “Please, may I…?” society. In a free society, a mom-and-pop grocer or a Dollar General are free to survey an area, determine if there is a need, and find an economically viable way to meet that need. These entrepreneurs must still consult local authorities about zoning matters, building permits, and the like. But, in a “Please, may I…?” society, they must also consult the local social engineers to determine if the individual or business owners’ plans fit in with the social agenda for the betterment of the community (as determined by the permission givers), even if the supposed betterment infringes on the rights and bank accounts of certain classes of citizens.

Who will be hurt by the City of Tulsa social planners’ scheme to address the lack of supermarkets in certain parts of Tulsa? The real victims will be the mom-and-pop grocers who have dreams of owning their own business, a grocery store that may one day grow into supermarket. Another victim will be the Dollar Generals of the world who research an area and determine that there are sufficient potential customers who desire what they have to offer. The local community will suffer because it will be deprived of another business to supply them with what they want and need and who will also benefit from jobs created for the area’s residents. The land owner who wants to sell his property to Dollar General will suffer because he will lose the proceeds from the sale of his land, and the contractor who would have built or remodeled the building for Dollar General will suffer of a loss of revenue because the project is prohibited.

Such arbitrary actions of government (city, state, and federal) stand in opposition to the inalienable right of property which transcends even the Constitution’s documentation of those rights. These actions have a chilling effect on developers who may be disinclined to begin future projects for fear of payments that will be extracted by government officials in the form of concessions and fees to meet some unrelated social need identified by social planners in exchange for permission to do business. This is little more than a legalized form of extortion, i.e., protection money paid to government. But the greatest damage among both the populace and government officials is the loss of the simple concept of freedom upon which the nation was founded.

This article has very briefly dealt with matters pertaining to the loss of freedom to do what one wishes with one’s property and possessions. This loss of freedom has occurred because the emergent permission society is dominated by a government and its bureaucracies that have intruded into the private and business affairs of the citizenry.

As discussed in Part I, the permission society began with the massive intrusion of government into the lives of its citizens during the 1930s under new, liberalized interpretations of the general welfare clause of the Constitution. Concurrently, government expansion began in Roosevelt’s New Deal years and accelerated with Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society of the 1960s. However, the exponential growth of government intrusion into the minutest details of the daily lives of American citizens has become suffocating over the last two decades.

Perhaps the best summation of the outcome of massive governmental intrusion comes from Alexis De Tocqueville in his 1835 Democracy in America. He had a prophet’s foresight into the reasons for America’s loss of freedom as it slides into the permission society whose destination is socialism and inevitably totalitarianism.

We forget that it is, above all, in the details that we run the risk of enslaving men…Subjection in the minor things of life is obvious every day and is experienced indiscriminately by all citizens. It does not cause them to lose hope but it constantly irks them until they give up the exercise of their will. It gradually blots out their mind and enfeebles their spirit …

I may add that they will soon lose the capacity to exercise the great and only privilege open to them. The democratic nations which introduced freedom into politics at the same time that they were increasing despotism in the administrative sphere have been led into the strangest paradoxes. Faced with the need to manage small affairs where common sense can be enough, they reckon citizens are incompetent. When it comes to governing the whole state, they give these citizens immense prerogatives. They turn them by degrees into playthings of the ruler or his masters, higher than kings or lower than men. Having exhausted all the various electoral systems without finding one which suited them, they look surprised and continue to search, as if the effects they see had far more to do with the country’s constitution than with that of the electorate.[12] [emphasis added]

As noted in Part I, the intent of the Founders in proposing the addition of the Bill of Rights to the Constitution was to foster greater trust in government by adding language to limit or restrict the ability of government to abuse its powers by infringing on the inalienable rights of its citizens. But the leaders of American government over the last century have so eroded the meaning of the Constitution and the intent of the Founders that trust in government is at an all time low. Once we trusted in God from whom those inalienable rights flow. We are now told that we must trust in the leaders of the permission society from whom all privileges are dispensed to the greatest number for the greatest good.

Larry G. Johnson


[1] Timothy Sandefur, The Permission Society, (New York, London: Encounter Books, 2016), pp. 28-29.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid., p. 29.
[4[ Ibid., p. 30-31.
[5] Ibid., p. 32-34.
[6] Ibid., pp. 34-35.
[7] Ibid., p. 35.
[8] Ibid., p 36.
[9] Jarrel Wade, “Grocery store proposal on tap,” Tulsa World, May 9, 2017, A-1
[10] Ibid.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Alexis De Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Gerald E. Bevan, Trans., (London, England: Penguin Books, 2003), pp. 807-808.

“Please, may I…?” – Part I

The word inalienable (a.k.a. unalienable) has numerous synonyms: unchallengeable, absolute, immutable, unassailable, incontrovertible, indisputable, and undeniable are just a few. This is the word Thomas Jefferson chose to describe the rights of all mankind in the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Because this phrase has become so familiar to many of us who have read and revered these truths for a lifetime, they tend to become somewhat of a cliché devoid of the rich meaning and implications that are still applicable in measuring the degree to which modern government accomplishes its purpose. First, men have certain rights which are absolute. Second, these absolute rights are not bestowed by government but endowed by their Creator. Third, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are just three among other inalienable rights. And fourth, these inalienable rights are incapable of being alienated, surrendered, transferred, or altered.

In 1789, the first ten Amendments to the Constitution of the new republic memorialized several of these inalienable rights. The purpose of the Bill of Rights (the Amendments) is found in its Preamble. Congress wished to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers by proposing a Bill of Rights that would add “further declaratory and restrictive clauses” to the Constitution to improve public confidence in government. In other words, the Congress was asking the various states to ratify these Amendments to further restrict governmental abuse and thereby increase confidence in government. The Amendments described several of these rights and their associated freedoms.

Freedom or privilege?

Timothy Sandefur’s book The Permission Society describes how the ruling class has turned America’s constitutionally-guaranteed freedoms into privileges. Sandefur says that to be free means that one is able to make his own decisions, but Sandefur emphasized that such freedom did not mean that one had a right to do whatever he pleases regardless of the harm caused others. Rather, freedom meant that a person was able to follow his own will and choices with regard to his person, actions, possessions, and property without having to obey the arbitrary and rapacious will of others.[1]

To the degree that we must ask someone else to let us act, we do not have rights but privileges – licenses that are granted, on limited term, from someone who stands above us.[2] [emphasis added]

When the citizens of a free society reach a point (or a degree) that their right to act according to their own will and choices is outweighed by the privileges granted by their government and its complicit bureaucracies, then it is no longer a free society but a permission society. In such a society the citizen no longer boldly proclaims “I will…” but with hat in hand and eyes downcast, he shuffles up to his betters and mumbles “Please, may I…?”

This change of condition does not happen all at once in a free society. Rather, it occurs much the same way as a cancer attacks the body. The symptoms are minor at first but grow to the point of consciousness that something is not right in the body. In the early stages of moving from a free society to a permission society, the social planners provide soothing promises and placebos to soften the minor discomforts and inconveniences of life in a permission society. But in time as a society surrenders ever greater amounts of its freedom, the will to act by citizens holding the cherished but distant memory of freedom becomes too weak to resist their ever growing bondage to the rulers of the permission society. A free society can be saved only by radical surgery to remove the spreading cancer of the social planners and their bag of privileges to be bestowed to the inmates of the permission society.

Government fails when it does not accomplish the purpose for which it was instituted—to secure the inalienable rights of its citizens. In this two part series, we shall look at how the American government over the last century has eroded this confidence in government by not only failing to secure these inalienable rights but which has aggressively abused those rights for its own purposes. Specifically, we shall look at those inalienable rights associated with property which have been greatly abused by a heavy-handed, oppressive government and its supporting bureaucracy.

The inalienable right of property

We begin with a quote from an address by Abraham Lincoln to the New York Workingmen’s Democratic Republican Association.

Property is the fruit of labor. Property is desirable, is a positive good in the world. That some should be rich shows that others may become rich, and hence is just encouragement to industry and enterprise. Let not him who is houseless pull down the house of another; but let him labor diligently and build one for himself, thus by example assuring that his own shall be safe from violence…I take it that it is best for all to leave each man free to acquire property as fast as he can. Some will get wealthy. I don’t believe in a law to prevent a man from getting rich; it would do more harm than good.[3]

Lincoln’s short homily on the value of property as a positive good and an encourager to industry and enterprise is important. Lincoln’s words regarding property are admirable but utilitarian by nature. Those words do not rise to the status of an inalienable right as defined by the Constitution. The inalienable right to have and use one’s property as he desires is more than something with a calculable valuable that can be weighed in the balances against some competing thing.

Richard M. Weaver wrote that, “Almost every trend of the day points to an identification of right with the purpose of the state and that, in turn, with the utilitarian greatest material happiness for the greatest number.” Weaver argues that private property is the last metaphysical right remaining because it does not depend on some measure of social usefulness that can be bent to the greatest good for the greatest number. State control of the material elements of a society positions it to allow the denial of freedom, but private property and personal income stand as a bulwark and provides a “…sanctuary against pagan statism.”[4] The biblical worldview which was the foundation of Western civilization led to boundaries on the power of the state. As a result the power of government to dictate or interfere with private transactions was limited which supported and encouraged economic freedom.[5]

Beginning of the permission society

Prior to 1936, the U.S. Supreme Court held that:

The preservation of property…is a primary object of the social compact…The legislature, therefore, had no authority to make an act divesting one citizen of his freehold, and vesting it in another, without a just compensation. It is inconsistent with the principles of reason, justice and moral rectitude; it is incompatible with the comfort, peace and happiness of mankind; it is contrary to the principles of social alliance in every free government; and lastly, it is contrary to the letter and spirit of the Constitution.[6]

Beginning in 1936, the Supreme Court’s liberal interpretations of the “general welfare” clause of the Constitution have dramatically enlarged the powers of the federal government and encroached on fundamental property rights through its welfare programs.[7] This liberal interpretation significantly expanded what the legislature could do with regard to providing for the “general welfare” of the United States.

The debate as to the meaning of the “general welfare” clause began with Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton and continues until the present day. Rather than continue the argument, let us evaluate the outcome of the distortion of the meaning of the “general welfare” clause which began in the 1930s. The results of this new liberal interpretation have caused an unprecedented assault on right of private property through:

• Eminent domain laws
• Diminution of the right of contract and obligations thereunder
• Oppressive income and property tax systems
• Onerous limitations on the possession and use of property through regulation[8]

It is in this last area of limitations on the possession and use of private property that the “Please, may I…?” society has evolved and replaced freedom with privileges. This assault on private property occurs through excessive governmental regulation which is fostered by a pervasive humanistic worldview. Humanism is intrinsically socialistic. A socialistic government allows its humanist elite to level society by their attempts to parcel out the greatest material happiness for the greatest number. This is accomplished through an onerous regulatory process which is the skeletal structure of all socialistic governments.[9] One example of this monolithic regulatory umbrella is found in Humanist Manifesto II as it proposes to create an international authority to control the environment and population growth.

…the door is open to alternative economic systems…The world community must engage in cooperative planning concerning the use of rapidly depleting resources. The planet earth must be considered a single ecosystem. Ecological damage, resource depletion, and excessive population growth must be checked by international concord.[10] [emphasis in original]

Yet, at the same time, the Manifesto self-righteously states that, “…bureaucratic structures should be held to a minimum. People are more important than…regulations.” In spite of these platitudes, calls for minimal regulations are disingenuous for humanists know that cooperative planning is code for regulation, and socialistically-oriented societies require massive amounts of regulation.[11]

In both Part I and II of these articles, our discussion is limited to loss of the inalienable right of private property through regulation in which one’s ownership and use of his or her property is no longer an inalienable right but a privilege to be dispensed by government. Such regulation has allowed unjust confiscation of private property without due compensation, limitations on the use of one’s property (which is in effect a taking of private property), and devaluation of private property through regulatory excesses. In Part II, we shall look at the two principal means by which government may regulate the actions of people and the consequences of each. One supports freedom and the other champions privilege.

Larry G. Johnson


[1]Timothy Sandefur, The Permission Society, (New York, London: Encounter Books, 2016), p. ix.
[2] Ibid.
[3] W. Cleon Skousen, The 5000 Year Leap, ( National Center for Constitutional Studies, 1981), p. 173.
[4] Richard M. Weaver, Ideas Have Consequences, (Chicago, Illinois: The University of Chicago Press, 1948), pp. 131, 134-135.
[5] M. Stanton Evans, The Theme Is Freedom, (Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing, Inc., 1994), pp. 299-300.
[6] Skousen, The 5000 Year Leap, pp. 173-176.
[7] Ibid., p. 173.
[8] Larry G. Johnson, Ye shall be as gods – Humanism & Christianity – The Battle for Supremacy in the American Cultural Vision, (Owasso, Oklahoma: Anvil House Publishers, 2011), p. 249.
[9] Ibid., p. 254.
[10] Paul Kurtz, ed., Humanist Manifestos I & II, (Buffalo, New York: Prometheus Books, 1973), p. 21.
[11] Johnson, Ye shall be as gods, p. 255.