I am very concerned about something and would like to ask you about this. The small church of Christ where we attend recently hired a minister. We have no elders, just a group of several men who chose this preacher. He and his wife are very nice and people oriented. His sermons so far have been scriptural, but his wife gave me her blog site and told me that I might want to use some of her writing in the weekly bulletin. Upon going there, I noticed that she and her husband were involved in Theophostic Prayer Ministry. I have never heard of this and was wondering if you had. I read about it from the web site, but couldn't understand what it was. It just didn't sound right to me. Shouldn't the Bible be all we need to teach us how to pray? I know we all need to pray more and be informed about prayer, but I am concerned about this. My husband and I plan to talk to the minister to ask him about this, but I just wanted to know more before we did. Also, I see where he has, in the church he formerly attended, took part in Community Prayer Partners with gatherings of many denominations and groups. We are confused. No one else seems concerned about this, shouldn't we be? Thanks for taking the time to read and hopefully be able to answer this for us. We don't like to rock any boats, but we believe in sound doctrine and are just very confused.
There are times when boats ought to be rocked and this is one of them (see: "When Good Men Do Nothing.") I had not heard of this before, but that isn't surprising, there are many things I had not heard of before. What was surprising is what I learned about this teaching. It is rare to see a uniform condemnation of an organization by both secular writers and writers from many different denominations.
Early Warning Signs
Just a glance at their web site told me that this group was trouble, even before I dug into their teachings. First, I noted that this group sells its teachings:
"Please know that you are not getting a full explanation of each of these principles and may come to an inaccurate conclusion without reading the fuller section. You are invited to purchase the Basic training seminar (13 DVD sessions and the Basic Training Manual) risk free."
While I'm not opposed to someone offering training, say in learning a language, becoming a counselor, it does cause alarm when a group claims to teach how to pray for a fee. The gospel is to be presented freely. "Did I commit sin in humbling myself that you might be exalted, because I preached the gospel of God to you free of charge" (II Corinthians 11:7). A warning sign for false teachers is that they attempt to make money off of their followers. "But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber" (II Peter 2:1-3). The word translated as "exploit" here literally means to make merchandise of people.
The other initial warning sign is hinted at here by stating that there is hidden knowledge which you can't learn on your own from the Bible. This is disturbing in an approach that claims to be biblically based. It smacks of Gnosticism which told its adherence that the Bible was incomplete and only select people are given access to the hidden knowledge which makes the Bible clear. "O Timothy! Guard what was committed to your trust, avoiding the profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge -- by professing it some have strayed concerning the faith" (I Timothy 6:20-21).
In addition, there is strong control exerted over its teachings.
"There are NO ministries, counseling centers, churches or individuals who represent this ministry other than this site alone. Websites, ministry centers, churches or any other identity or person that suggest they are associated with, represent, or are affiliated with this ministry are misrepresenting themselves. If a website, church, counseling center or individual references, displays or uses the name Theophostic Prayer Ministry they should only do so as an indication that they are using the principles taught by this ministry and not because they represent or affiliated with this ministry. If they are not following the specific guidelines and principles taught by this ministry or if they are mixing TPM with some other form of counseling or ministry then they are NOT doing Theophostic Prayer Ministry. If any website, counseling center, church or individual is using the name Theophostic to advertise or draw attention to their website or physical location they do so in violation of trademark law."
In other words, this group claims to be sole teachers of this method, of which they claim ownership, and no one else is allowed to teach the method to others. Again this marks the teachings as man-made and not biblically based.
But these are just warning signs, now that we are on guard we can examine what is being taught carefully under the light of God's word.
The Statement of Faith
Like many man-made organizations wishing to present themselves as religious, this group issues a statement of faith. In it, you will find that they believe and teach that people are saved by faith alone.
"It is the privilege of all who are born again of the Spirit to be assured of their salvation from the very moment in which they trust Christ as their Savior."
They also believe that people are born with inherited sins.
"Since all people are born in a fallen state, separated from God, those who do not respond in faith to God's gracious free gift through Christ live in a fallen state and will be eternally separated from God in an eternal hell."
Neither of these is surprising because the founder and owner of this organization is a Southern Baptist. Parts of the Baptist Faith and Message are quoted in the Statement of Faith.
A bit later, however, we find that this Statement of Faith separates the concepts of regeneration, justification, sanctification, and glorification. Of sanctification it states,
"Sanctification is the experience, beginning in regeneration, by which the believer is set apart to God's purposes, and is enabled to progress toward moral and spiritual maturity through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit dwelling in him. Growth in grace should continue throughout the regenerate person's life."
Thus sanctification is not a point in life but a process of change. If such were true, then how could Paul state to the ex-sinners in Corinth, "And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God" (I Corinthians 6:11).
But worse is this statement:
"Theophostic Prayer Ministry assists in this sanctifying work, but is in not in any manner all that is involved in the sanctifying process. Sanctification is a work of God and a cooperation of man."
While disclaiming to cause sanctification, they are claiming that they are a part of the process. Makes you wonder how anyone was ever sanctified before this process came on the scene which no ones else is supposed to know without payment or teach without this company's permission.
The Secular View
Among the secular writers, there is a condemnation of Theophostic Prayer Ministry's methods. Theophostic Prayer Ministry is actually its current name, it used to be called Theophostic Counseling. In essence, the method is a form of regression psychotherapy where a person is supposed to go through past memories and find memories that have been locked away from the conscious mind. The form of psychotherapy has debunked because it has been proven that therapists accidentally insert false memories into patients because they "know" that traumatic events "must" exist to cause current errant behavior. Patients are eager to please, wanting release from their problems, and end up creating false memories which the psychotherapist then locks onto and reinforces by giving these memories credence.
"The main thrust of Smith’s argument is that for Christians to benefit from what Christ accomplished on the cross, they must deal with their woundedness by remembering the past. And since Smith says that all people carry wounds from their childhood, everyone must go through a prescribed process of remembering and dealing with these wounds." ["Theophostic Prayer Ministry"]
Notice the assumption that past trauma must exist in everyone.
Claims of Direct Involvement of God
I have not read the Theophostic material directly, other than what they have posted on their web site. However, I found several critical reviews which give interesting quotes about the system by people who have studied it.
"Theophostic is a prayer ministry, "a process of divinely accomplished miracles" (Genuine Recovery, Dr. Ed Smith, p. 5). During the process, Jesus Christ speaks directly to the hearts and minds of wounded people, exposing the specific lies that bind them. When this occurs, recovery is immediate, not gradual, and permanent — that is, recovery is "genuine" as opposed to progressive. "If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed" (John 8:36). This does not mean that the person is suddenly free from all of life’s issues, problems and concerns, but from the lies that bind them in that specific memory." [A Biblical Evaluation of Theophostic Ministry by the Staff of Community Evangelical Free Church, Elverson, Pennsylvania, September 28, 2001].
"I have witnessed the Spirit of God use Theophostic Ministry to accomplish this [freedom from lies and pain] hundreds of times" [Genuine Recovery, p.10].
"Most truth is given cognitively through a teacher or preacher passing it from their mind to the recipient's mind. Theophostic Ministry is the process of God speaking directly to the hearts and minds of His wounded little lambs. True sheep still hear His voice" [Genuine Recovery, p.6].
Thus we find that the founder of this method claims by using his methods, God will directly and miraculously alter a person's view of past wounds. It is convenient to label something that is not measurable or verifiable as a "miracle." Especially when we know that God has said the miraculous gifts have ceased (I Corinthians 13:8-10). But also notice the subtle claim that God requires the use of teaching outside the Bible to accomplish a change in man. This is contrary to what Paul said, "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work" (II Timothy 3:16-17).
Claims to be a God Directed Addition to the Scriptures
"I do believe that God provides His Church with new insight in new methods and applications of leading people to Jesus and into healing" (Genuine Recovery, p. 6).
He does not claim to have received a direct revelation from God, but he seems to state it every which way but that this method is from God. Indirectly, he is claiming that the Scriptures alone are insufficient to lead people to Jesus and to be healed; thus, directly contradicting Peter. "Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust" (II Peter 1:2-4).
The idea of continuing revelation contradicts Jude's assertion, "Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3).
Claims Scripture is Insufficient
"No one, including myself, can talk me out of the lie — only Jesus can. Not even memorizing Scripture can." ["Beyond Tolerable Recovery" basic training videos].
Teaching Scripture is against Theophostic rules.
"They should not be giving you truth..." ["Beyond Tolerable Recovery" basic training videos].
"If they are telling you what they think God wants you to know, then they are not doing Theophostic Ministry" (Genuine Recovery, p. 2).
"Somewhere along the way the Church exchanged experiencing Jesus (faith) with learning about Jesus (cognitive)." ["Beyond Tolerable Recovery" basic training videos].
Paul said, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek" (Romans 1:16). And "For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe" (I Corinthians 1:21).
Claims that Change is Outside the Individual's Control
"If I have to expend energy in maintaining my pain control or behavior, then I have not truly received healing" [Genuine Recovery, p.16].
"Recovery is not building strong defenses against the lies or controlling undesirable behavior. Genuine recovery is freedom from the lies that control and dictate such behavior" [Genuine Recovery, p.10].
"If a person is truly recovered, then relapse should not be a concern…" [Genuine Recovery, p.12].
Compare this to Paul's warning, "Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall" (I Corinthians 10:12). And Peter warns we must be on guard, "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour" (I Peter 5:8). But Dr. Ed Smith opposes the notion that anyone can work out their own salvation.
"Dr. Smith expands his criticisms to include all spiritual exertion — both exertion on the counselor’s part to diagnose a struggler’s problem, and exertion on the struggler’s part to overcome his problem. He likens such spiritual exertion to the works-righteousness attacked by Paul in Galatians" [A Biblical Evaluation of Theophostic Ministry by the Staff of Community Evangelical Free Church, Elverson, Pennsylvania, September 28, 2001].
Which is interesting because it was Paul who said, "Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure" (Philippians 2:12-13).
Teaches Once Saved, Always Saved.
"When someone becomes a Christian, his spirit alone is made new — but this newness is absolute and complete. There is nothing "old" still about the spirit. It is totally righteous, Theophostic teaches. Even if a Christian acts unrighteously, this does not affect his soul’s righteousness." [A Biblical Evaluation of Theophostic Ministry by the Staff of Community Evangelical Free Church, Elverson, Pennsylvania, September 28, 2001].
"We are not in the process of becoming like Jesus but rather are on a journey of discovering who we are in Him." ["Beyond Tolerable Recovery" basic training videos].
"We already are like Jesus; we just don't know it." ["Beyond Tolerable Recovery" basic training videos].
"I am in Christ and what I was before (lost, depraved, sinful) has all passed away (in my spirit man) and all things have become new whether or not I believe it, feel it, or know it. My lies tell me I am shameful, guilty, imperfect, less than others or unacceptable. God's Word says I am redeemed, perfect, righteous and holy. Who are we going to believe?" (Beyond Tolerable Recovery, p. 204).
This directly contradicts Paul's statement concerning the purpose of the church, "that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head --Christ-- from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love" (Ephesians 4:14-16).
That there is a danger of losing one's salvation is clear. "For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame" (Hebrews 6:4-6).
I find Theophostic Prayer Ministry to be a money-making operation for a false teacher who uses a blend of Baptist and Methodist views to create a system that contradicts the Bible.