State of the Church part 4: Carnal Carnival, & the greatest sin pastors commit

By Elizabeth Prata

Part 1: Introduction, Love growing cold
Part 2: Are you tending your anchor?
Part 3: The numbers aren't good
Part 5a: When carnality leads to spiritual abuse
Part 5b: Is your church spiritually abusive?
Conclusion: Spiritual Leaders and Humble Relationships

In this part I will take a look at what Paul Washer calls the greatest sin that pastors commit, and how that also is hurtling our brethren toward carnality and eventual cold love. Last, this series will hopefully (by God's grace) discuss how to spot waning love and how frequently these days waning love gives rise to church spiritual abuse.

We have an old man in us that Jesus died to make become a new man when we are justified. (Romans 6:6-7). We still live in the body of the old man but the new man is being sanctified each day as we submit and grow. The saved are still carnal creatures but it should be less so every day. Carnal means indulging our flesh (the old man) and not feeding the Spirit in us (new man). It is incumbent on us to resist the fleshly desires, and to live a holy life. Succumbing to or clamoring for the worldly or fleshly pursuits is never acceptable at any time.

From Forerunner commentary
(Matthew 9:16) "No one puts a piece from a new garment on an old one; otherwise the new makes a tear, and also the piece that was taken out of the new does not match the old" (Luke 5:36). Mark's version of the same parable stresses that the "tear is made worse" when the new patch eventually "pulls away from the old" garment (Mark 2:21). Christ's message is clear: When it comes to doffing the old man and donning the new one, we cannot "mix and match." Successfully mixing them—combining them—is as impossible as serving two masters. We just cannot do it (Matthew 6:24)! The two men represent intrinsically and irreversibly opposing ways of life.
The problem is that when we look to things other than the Bible and Jesus crucified, satan drives a wedge between us and our carnal nature, which is ever-present. It doesn't take much for our carnal nature to raise its head, and then crane its neck, and then start leading us down the broad path. Some believers let it. Once our view becomes distracted and shifts from Jesus, we begin to renew our relationship with the old man in the flesh. Listen to Paul Washer describe the problem. It is a cycle with a terrible end. Please take a moment to watch, it is only 3 min.

Church Leaders Who Permit Carnality from NCFIC on Vimeo.

Mr Washer said that church pastors are increasingly catering to the large group who want the carnal at the expense of the small group who wants Christ. I agree with this. I have seen it all too often. For me, it is like the chicken and the egg. Some pastors introduce the carnal and once tasting, the large group gets addicted. Or some churches clamor for it and sinning pastors find they want their position more than the truth and cave in to their wishes, finding that they like the carnal way too much after all.

Washer mentioned the small group. In the last part I did the numbers. If we take on face value the Barna research stating that 8% of Baptists hold a biblical worldview (and we can because the Barna numbers have remained consistent for 9 years), and we take a small congregation of 200 Baptists, 8% is 16 people. One hundred eighty four people will want the carnal, or at least, accept it. Now, not all of them will want the carnal in the same degree. There are some unregenerate who are all carnal, all the time. There are others who are truly saved but have just started drifting and will not stand for a lot of it, only comfortable dipping a toe into the carnal. But suffice to say, in the last piece we looked at the numbers and we can see the depressing truth of what Mr Washer says: the small group starves while the large group gorges.

He also mentioned something that I've seen is a downward process. He said that sinning pastors try to retain the carnal congregants by presenting ever more carnal means. The issue in many churches today is that pastors and their congregations have become adventure junkies, always seeking the next big thing, then the bigger thing, then the biggest thing. Everything has to be a thrill now. Let me give a few examples.

In a previous piece I wrote on Jentezen Franklin, I quoted him from his book "Fasting: Opening the Door to a Deeper, More Powerful Relationship with God." Franklin said, "When I feel myself growing dry spiritually, when I don't sense that cutting-edge anointing, or when I need a fresh encounter with God, fasting is the secret key that unlocks heaven’s door and slams shut the gates of hell."

Heaven help us when we grow dry spiritually, lacking the latest cutting edge thing! Why do we always seem to need a fresh encounter? Like Jesus grows stale or something?

Here is another example: Mega church Willow Creek pastor Bill Hybels wrote a book called "The Power of a Whisper: Hearing God and having the guts to respond." There are a host of problems with this book which I'll address in another piece. In reference to the issue I am raising issue about adventure junkie syndrome, in his book, Hybels said, "Without a hint of exaggeration,' says Bill Hybels, "the ability to discern divine direction has saved me from a life of sure boredom and self-destruction."

Thank goodness Jesus died on the cross to save Bill Hybels from boredom! His next quote from the same book is more telling. As his second grade teacher assured Hybels that God still speaks to people today as God spoke to Samuel when Samuel was called to the office of prophet, Hybels says,

"I felt a swell of release as I considered for the first time in my seven years of life that perhaps Christianity was more than ancient rules, creeds and other stiff-necked ways." (The Power of a Whisper, 20-21).

By comparison, he makes a believer's staid old faith, prayer, service, obedience seem dry as yesterday's toast.

(PS as an aside, often these adventure junkie pastors selectively clip from the OT and normalize the experience of whom they are highlighting. God audibly calling people as He called the prophets is not the normative NT Christian experience.)

Brethren, if you are in a church that lifts up Hybels as the favorite read of 2011 and legitimizes divine whispers, RUN. You have a carnal pastor feeding you carnal pabulum.

Paul Young, author of The Shack, has the same adventure junkie addiction. The regular old faith that has been good enough for 2000 years is BOR-ing! Here is what Young said on page 178 of The Shack: "For Mack these words were like a breath of fresh air! Simple. Not a bunch of exhausting work and long list of demands and not the sitting in endless meetings staring at the backs of people’s heads, people he really didn’t even know. Just sharing life."

that comment sound more than a bit like Hybels? Satan always tries to get us dissatisfied with what we have, which is a perfect revelation contained in the Bible, but for Hybels, and undiscerning pastors who promote him, the ancient Bible is not enough.

A concern is also in the sly ways these books chip away at solid biblical principles with craftily written statements like Hybels, or these in The Shack such as, "the dusty old King James Bible" or that church attendance is "religious conditioning" or that the term "Christian" is outdated. People may not even be consciously aware of being influenced by these kind of statements. But the cumulative effect is the diminish the Word and heighten the personal experience. This only adds up to spiritual adventure, which equals carnality.

Beth Moore is another one who lives for breathless moments with Jesus, seeking the thrill rather than the faith. She is a big one for always looking for the divine whisper, the personal revelation, having a blast, the heart to heart chat, the date with God to make a snowman. In her book, she wrote, "Christ seemed to say, "Let’s go play." And that we did. I hadn’t been to the zoo in years. I heard about all the improvements, but I never expected the ultimate: Starbucks coffee! (OK, so I don’t have my health issues down pat.) Can you imagine watching a baby koala take a nap in a tree on a rare cold day in Houston with a Starbucks grande cappuccino in your hand? Now that’s a Sabbath moment! God and I had a blast." (The Beloved Disciple, p. 220).

And never mind about the time when she was minding her own business on her back porch and it was as if God raised her up right then to see all the churches of the world through Jesus eyes in another dimension. That must have been quite an adventure.

Rick Warren had an enormous influence on the American church. His 'Purpose Driven Life" was a best-seller for may yars. In 1998 Warren likened Christian life and ministry as surfers riding waves.
Surfing is the art of riding waves that God builds. God makes the waves; surfers just ride them. No surfer tries to create waves. If the waves aren't there, you just don't surf that day! On the other hand, when surfers see a good wave, they make the most of it, even if that means surfing in the middle of a storm.
So, if you can't 'see' the waves or you're just not feelin' it, you 'don't surf that day?' Where is the diligence, the warfare life Paul urged us to stand upon? The armor, the persevering, the slogging? Warren makes Christianity seem like a party of relaxed hang ten folks bounding around in sunshiny days. Carnal.

Who would want to spend half an hour on their knees praying, or a hour in the Bible when you can go to the zoo with God?! Or visit another dimension? Or surf? For all these 'Christian evangelicals,' the Bible is insufficient. They add their experience to the Word and count it as faith.

Jesus said that love would grow cold. It grows cold when we drift away, as in Hebrews 2:1. We start looking at the world which contains satan. Our appetites for the carnal grow. The more carnal we get the less love we have for Christ and for others. You see the authors above substituting the Bible for their own, carnal experiences. Suddenly the Bible is insufficient and the thrill of the zoo, the fast, the whisper is all they clamor for.

Woe to the pastor who offers this poison to the flock. Woe to the flock who accepts it.

Love grows cold because we compromise. Pastors, leaders, deacons are stringing along the sheep on this carnal carnival of heightened biblical insufficiency and exalting personal experience in its place. You can see we have gone from a solid, Christ-centered church in part 1, to drifting away, using carnal means to attract congregants, to diminished numbers of true sheep, to an atmosphere where pastors use carnal means to catch and keep the sheep, and the sheep love it.

Puritan John Owen wrote in The Duty of Pastors,
The first and principal duty of a pastor is to feed the flock by diligent preaching of the word. It is a promise relating to the new testament, that God would give unto his church "pastors according to his own heart, which should feed them with knowledge and understanding" (Jer. 3:15). This is by teaching or preaching the word, and no otherwise.
No other word. Not secular books, not man-made fasts, not "Divine Whispers," not any other word. Pastors who fail in their duty will be called to account. Congregants who stood by will be called to account also. It is a serious thing to set aside our first love and allow ourselves to grow cold while we seek or accept carnality and Bible insufficiency, and substitute personal experience and spiritual adventure junkyism in its place.

"The only hope is a return to Scripture and sound doctrine. We evangelicals desperately need to recover our determination to be biblical, our refusal to comply with the world, our willingness to defend what we believe, and our courage to defy false teaching. Unless we collectively awaken to the current dangers that threaten our faith, the adversary will attack us from within, and we will not be able to withstand." (source John MacArthur). Yes, return to the biblical worldview!

"Yet, surely, there must be some who will fling aside the dastard love of peace, and speak out for our Lord, and for his truth. A craven spirit is upon many, and their tongues are paralyzed. Oh, for an outburst of true faith and holy zeal!" (Charles Haddon Spurgeon)

And what of the churches where the faith and holy zeal is turning cold? All believers are at risk. Part 5 will deal with one of the risk: spiritual abuse.

A craven spirit. Don't let it be you. If it isn't you, but you're despairing of finding a good church to worship in with other like-minded believers, keep praying. Jesus won't abandon you. He will install you in the place He wants you to be. "And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:20b

Part 1: Introduction, Love growing cold
Part 2: Are you tending your anchor?
Part 3: The numbers aren't good
Part 5a: When carnality leads to spiritual abuse
Part 5b: Is your church spiritually abusive?
Conclusion: Spiritual Leaders and Humble Relationships


  1. Would you define the word "carnal", or have I missed it in your article?

  2. Hi Anonymous,

    the word carnal is defined here and its use in the bible explained in a short essay

    I'm sorry for the oversight

  3. In my own words, carnal means that we seek to satisfy "the old man" as Paul described it, i.e, our fleshly desires, our sinful desires. The desires we had before we were saved. "The new man" as Paul describes him in Romans seeks to satisfy Jesus's desires for us, i.e. living a holy life and being transformed away from fleshly indulgences, doctrines, and desires.

  4. Thank you! Once again right on with what is going on.

  5. I've been enjoying your posts. Right on with what is happening in our churches and it is heart breaking to see it happening.

  6. Too funny: I just posted a link to apprising ministries page with this video on your next article. I'm reading them last to first :oD

  7. LOL! thanks for the link by the way :)

  8. Amy thanks. It is a heartbreaking series to have to write but I fervently hope it helps someone or encourages someone.

  9. He makes a good point about attracting people via carnal means; of course you'd end up with a bunch of un-fed, un-educated (Godly educated) folk. Some people say they don't go to church because of all the hypocrites. I say they're not just in church they're everywhere, sadly. The Life of Jesus was given for all of us; none are perfect. Salvation is a free gift but after that, there is a battle to be won, soldier! God goes on before us as we stand firm in Faith! Hallelujah! Teresa Gettel 11/26/12.

  10. Thank you for this powerful word of truth that encourages all of us. I praise the Lord for the wisdom and affirmation that we all need in this battle for our faith - it has given me renewed boldness to stand and speak truth.

    1. You are most welcome, and thank YOU for letting me know the word has strengthened you! May we all stand for Jesus when called upon!

  11. I really needed to hear this. I have been caught up in this carnal Christianity myself, and you have really opened my eyes. I am amazed that I was so blind for a moment, and that I was almost stuck in a trap with no way of freeing myself. You have no idea what a turning point this truth made for me and my life. Thank you for this message, you are very blessed to have such discernment. God bless! :)

  12. Hi Elizabeth,

    I enjoy reading your blog. I appreciate how God is using you to provide knowledge and understanding to the body of Christ. I agree that most of these churches and denominations have gone the way of Cain and their sacrifices are tained, maimed, and torn... I have also heard many pastors (people) state that God does not speak audibly to His people - I refute that because I have been hearing God speak since I was 12 yrs. old while reading Psalm 27:10. When people tell me that they have never heard the voice of the Lord, I wonder if they are truly His sheep?

    Most of the time I have heard God speak through His Word pressing on my heart, but I do have testimonies where I have heard Him audibly and He has manifested himself to me. I often think of the scripture below:

    John 10:26-28 (KJV)

    26 But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you. 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: 28 And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.

    Many pastors & christians are not hearing the voice of God because they have used their own wisdom and decided to use a different (watered down translation) of the Bible. Who are we to change God's Word? Many of the christians are carnal because they are reading a tainted version of the Bible and they are powerless. Only Jesus can open one's eyes to understand scripture (Luke 24:45).

    The sad thing is that many that claim to "know Him" has never heard His voice; therefore, He doesn't know them... The true and living God still speaks to His sheep.

    Have a blessed day!

    Much Love!

    1. HEllo Anonymous,

      You said that you stand by the notion that God still speaks becase you heard Giod yourself. You are saying that your experience trumps holy scripture.

      Yes personal experience NEVER trumps holy scripture. Even Peter, who saw the transfiguration, said not to believe experience and never 'used' his own valid experience to preach, saying the word was more sure. (2 Peter 1:19).

      You hear His voice in the word, not audibly. He has not "manifested" Himself to you. Who are you, Moses? Not even Moses saw Him, no one has seen God at any time. John 1:18.

      You reject the word of the Lord in the bible and reject your pastors telling you the canon is closed and that God isn't speaking. You are in rebellion.

  13. Hello,

    I realize it has been a while since the last comment, but I'm hoping someone can help me understand what Paul Washer means by "carnal". I have read the definition of a "Carnal Christian" but I'm still not quite understanding this term as Pastor Washer is using it.

    Would carnal means to attract people to a church be contemporary worship with fancy video backgrounds (like found on worshiphousemedia)? Would it be putting on community events showing movies (not R rated movies mind you but kids movies)? Would it be having video screens with announcement slides and offering free coffee to those who gather?

    I'm not asking a rhetorical question, I truly want to know what is meant by "carnal means". Can someone give me an example of a church using carnal means to attract carnal men or a church catering to the carnal "members"?

    Thank you and God Bless

    1. Hi Adam,

      Thanks for your question. First, here is a short essay explaining carnality (as opposed to spirituality) from the bible.

      A carnal church is one that attempts to attract and keep non-Christians by offering things the non-saved person likes and wants. It's not only that they focus on entertainment, it is more what they DON'T offer: book-by-book exposition of the word with proper interpetation, convicting sermons, challenging the congregation of their sins, having expectations of a higher standard of holy living, church discipline...all these are dispensed with in a carnal church because the flesh doesn't like them

      Joel Osteen's church is a carnal church even though they don't put on entertainment extravaganzas like Mark Driscoll's or Steven Furtick's churches do. But it is definitely a carnal church for what it LACKS.

      Now, often times it is easier to spot a carnal church because once the doctrinally solid things are done away with, something has to fill the gap. So there are rock and roll concerts, pastors who zipline in to the pulpit across the heads of those in the sanctuary, or pastors who run through fire, or skits and pantomine dance...

      Mark Driscoll at Mars Hill church has structured his entire church and the worship experience to cater to the man who is still in the flesh, by creating a disco-like sanctuary, rock and roll music, and the pastor himself studied cultural comedians to better see how to deliver a message which he delivers comedian style, complete with profanity while wearing ripped jeans and a tee shirt.

      Patterning the church experience after houses of entertainment rather than houses of worship is the example here.

      Carnality is of the world so a carnal church uses worldly means to attract a crowd. The spiritual person seeks the things of God.

      That's it, there are only those in the flesh and those in the spirit. Only two kinds of people and only two kinds of worship.

      It might help to understand what the bible says the church is supposed to be. Here is an essay. Then you will know what a church should not be, once you know what expectations Jesus had in mind for what He wants His church to look like and act like.

      I hope this answers your question...:)

  14. Going to a building to worship does not work. Pastors/Leaders are wolves. Every imaginable heresy is being fed to the congregants.

    1. Anonymous, I don't have an absolute dark outlook as you. Going to a building to worship does work. It worked in the first century when they met in the synagogues and the homes, and it has worked for millennia since. There is no reason why the building should matter, any building will do for worship, and it has. Open air huts, chapels, cathedrals, churches, and rooms in a house, and more, have been perfectly acceptable places to gather. If there is no room or building available, congregants gather outside. The point is to gather to worship the savior. When we do and we worship in spirit and in truth (something the Holy Spirit sees to) it is great. It does "work".

      SOME pastors/leaders are wolves. Not all. To say all are wolves is to deny the very obvious work of God in raising up faithful men, as He has since He first chose Peter. Or even back to Noah.

      Yes every imaginable heresy is being fed to the congregants, but heresy is not being fed to every imaginable congregant. There are scores of pastors laboring in places you don't know, we don't see or hear about, who persevere in teaching rightfully. This is also to the glory of God, who raises up faithful men and keeps them in His hand.


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