A year after I received Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior 1976 at a Billy Graham Crusade, I experienced the unfathomable love of our Lord Jesus and so developed immense zeal for Him. I made the decision to forsake the American Dream and to serve the Lord full-time. I was within about a year of getting my Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology at a highly-ranked program at the University of California San Diego, and had even been accepted at an MBA program at Carnegie-Mellon University—at the time one of the top five Business Schools in the United States. Instead I gave it all up and enrolled at a Seminary in Southern California to get my Master’s of Divinity. Between classes I would go out to the streets of our town and boldly preach the gospel with my powerful bullhorn. But after a single semester of Seminary studies, I was bored to the point of only auditing the courses during the second semester. During the summer after that second semester I took my wife to Indonesia by faith to serve as missionaries without the help of any mission agency, without financial support from any church, and without knowing or receiving an invitation from any church in Indonesia. We ministered in primitive, unreached regions very fruitfully for nearly nine years, with all three of our children born in Indonesian Borneo.
You could say that one thing I had was plenty of zeal for the Lord. But being in my late twenties and early thirties I did not have much knowledge or wisdom to go along with that extraordinary zeal. I made mistakes, some of them quite costly.
Because of my immense zeal for the Lord, while in Indonesia I offended people who I thought were not spiritual. One local leader I offended would later be used by the enemy to persecute us. That was painful especially for my wife, and actually it was not necessary.
Because of our zeal for the Lord, I tried to buy a big movie theater in the middle of town to use as our church. It was a mistake. The whole town rose up in opposition and tried to drive us out of town. I would not try to do the same thing today. Instead I would multiply house churches—something more in accord with the New Testament.
Because in my zeal back then I had devoured as many Christian books as I could get my hands on, I engaged in the unscriptural practice of “strategic-level spiritual warfare” against the territorial spirit I thought was ruling over the region in Indonesia where we were ministering. I paid for that mistake. It’s possible that we are still paying for that mistake, even until today.
Today in the Church scene there are leaders who have great zeal for the Lord, but in their zeal without knowledge have strayed from New Testament Scripture or stretched it beyond recognition. There is Bill Johnson of Bethel Church in Redding, California. Although he teaches some good things, he also teaches “grave-sucking”—the practice of lying on top of the graves of deceased servants of God in an attempt to suck the “anointing” from their corpses.
There is IHOP in Kansas City led by Mike Bickle. Like Bill Johnson, Bickle teaches some very good things. But because of what I would consider his zeal without knowledge, he uses the love story in the Song of Solomon to teach that believers should have a similarly intimate and passionate relationship with Jesus Christ. This can lead to physical intimacy with our Lord such as that between a man and a woman. For me that is a very dangerous direction which will eventually lead to deception.
And so I no longer read “Christian books.” They are written by fallible pastors and servants of God. I have chosen instead to study the Word of God diligently, to divide it correctly, and to understand it for myself. After all, “the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you.” (1 John 2:27)
I speak as one who has personally experienced extraordinary zeal for the Lord—and who has now served Him for 38 years.
As we begin to serve the Lord, we will all make mistakes due to zeal without knowledge. Some will be painful. But it’s not wrong to minimize such mistakes by drawing on the experience of those who have gone before us!