Thursday, May 12, 2016

Christian, Stop Sharing Anna McCarthy's Articles (Examining the Blog "Just a Jesus Follower")


Who's Anna McCarthy, I wondered. I've seen her articles bouncing around Facebook and Twitter. The most famous up to this point was entitled When He Became a She, about a time she encountered a former church friend who's now a different sex. Her most recent article, about a ministry in a strip club, drove me to do a little research.

Her blog is called Just a Jesus Follower. I've looked through her material. For claiming to follow Jesus, she doesn't share many of his words. I scrolled through three articles before I finally found her first reference. She said, "Funny thing is, Jesus said if we followed Him, living in Jesus would be easy -- light even. (Matt 11:30)"

I'd be curious to know how she thinks denying yourself and taking up a cross daily is supposed to be easy (Luke 9:23). Jesus clearly said that following him was the difficult road. The easy road is the one that leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13-14). In the same passage she quoted, Jesus said the only people who know God are the ones Jesus chose to reveal the Father to (Matthew 11:27). It's not easy to follow Jesus. It's downright impossible.

In Matthew 11:30, Jesus was talking about the burden of false teaching. The Pharisees and other teachers were making the people believe they had to keep the law to be saved. But that isn't possible. Thankfully, Jesus fulfilled all the law and the prophets. For those who know Christ, their load is light indeed, no longer weighed down by guilt and legalism. We can rest forever in Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath (which Jesus went on to talk about in the next chapter).

My friends, these few paragraphs should be enough to inform you that at the very least, this woman who's "just a Jesus follower" is not following close enough to be teaching about him. James 3:1 says that not everyone should aspire to be a teacher because they will be judged more strictly. Anyone can use his name, but do they know his words? Every teacher needs to be tested -- yes, even me.

Whenever I see articles by someone new starting to pop up, I want to know who that person is. One of my jobs as a pastor is to teach sound doctrine and to rebuke those who contradict it (Titus 1:9). This is in loving guidance and careful attention for the flock of Jesus Christ that I examine this person's teaching.

Who is Anna McCarthy?

Looking up Anna McCarthy proved to be rather difficult as there are a lot of Anna McCarthy's. This is from her website: she has a 501c3 ministry she asks people to donate to; she's an author and speaker; she blogs on the Today show's community page; she has a notable position in her church as her bio says she and her husband, Zac, are "youth directors."

Her first entry, titled Just a Jesus Follower, was posted less than a year ago. She said, "I'm putting away the manuscripts, the books and (yes) my old blog. I'm trading it all in to focus solely on what I believe it means to be a Jesus follower." She went on to say, "Our culture's standard of what it means to be a follower of Jesus doesn't really align with my Bible. Let me explain."

But she really didn't explain. She said that she had been reading the first four chapters of Ephesians "and in John reading about Jesus's ministry" (which is the whole book of John). But she didn't share any of it. Her first entry was 1,700 words, she mentioned this new turn in her life motivated by Ephesians and John, but not one single verse or story stuck out to share.

She did share the words of God, though -- as in, God spoke to her, and not through the Bible. She seldom references his words in the Scriptures, but she will quote what she feels like he's saying in her mind. And apparently God was telling her to invite a married man out for coffee so she could help him fix his marriage because no one else would. Any doubts she had about meeting a man in a coffee shop, she said, was just Satan messing with her mind.

When the man came in and she started speaking with him, she said, "I opened my mouth and let God speak. Everything he had downloaded into me the night before came flooding out of me. I was bold. Freakishly bold. With a dude I'm kinda scared of. THAT WAS GOD." Again, no tidbits of Ephesians or John, which I'm guessing is what she meant by what God had downloaded into her. Yet she said, "Not one word was said that the holy spirit didn't funnel out of me."

I know what I'm going to say sounds harsh, but that's the way these things sound to those who like that kind of reading: Just a Jesus Follower is your typical, subjective, feel-good, "Christian" girl-blog. It is to be completely avoided. Its author does not attempt to teach you anything about what Jesus said, and therefore can't teach you anything about what it means to follow him.

The blog flows almost entirely from subjective, emotional experiences. By comparison, Mormonism, the International House of Prayer, Heaven Is for Real, Beth Moore, and Joyce Meyer also flow from subjective, emotional experiences. They talk about things God said to them in their minds, appealing to feelings rather than the truth.

(As long as I still have you, let me recommend instead two blogs written by sound and awesome women of good character: Beautiful Thing with Jessica Pickowicz, which just recently got started, and Michelle Lesley Books.)

What wisdom Anna McCarthy does share in her blog is bad. Women should not be meeting men with marriage problems in coffee shops, even if her goal is to fix his marriage. (Where was her husband exactly?) It's also not wise for anyone, man or woman, to go in a strip club, even for the purpose of ministry. And that brings me to the article that started me on this search...


She Went to a Strip Club?

The article begins, "A while back I was asked by a group of pastor's wives to go with them to strip clubs. That sentence alone sounds strange. But hang with me. At first I was a little hesitant. And not for reasons you might think. I love people. Especially ones who are broken; it's part of my calling. But, given what I've walked through, I know how fragile broken people can be. And I know how insensitive the church can be. And I was uneasy."

So Mrs. McCarthy was uneasy about going with these pastor's wives to a strip club because she basically thought they were going to Bible-thump the people there. She wasn't uneasy about the strippers or the patrons or what was going on in the club. She was uneasy about the Christians she was going with. Her criticism was of the church, not the strippers who are "fragile broken people."

"But, these weren't just any pastors wives," she went to say. "They had a vision. One that longed to love on women that society had thrown aside. It reminded me a lot of Jesus. So, I jumped on it. Their plan was to visit these clubs once a month to deliver a meal and gift baskets. I joined them the first night and I'll be honest, I had NO IDEA what to expect."

They went into the club and were taken to the back where they introduced themselves and left gifts and food. "I was shocked by what I saw," Mrs. McCarthy said, laying on the drama. "I was raised to believe that no good comes from places like that. Which is probably true on many levels. (I wouldn't suggest making it your go-to for date nights.)" Probably true?

"But, I was filled (as were many Christian kids) with fear about 'places like that.' That 'those people' were heathens and doing all kinds of sinful, shameful things. Which, again, is true of strip clubs. And bars. And many other places. Even churches."

And there you have it again. Mrs. McCarthy doubled-down on her criticism of Christians by comparing the church with a strip club.

Now, there are terrible places that are called churches doing terrible things. There's a false-teaching apostolic church in my own community -- Faith Tabernacle in Junction City -- whose "pastor" was having affairs and his son, who worked in the church, is now in jail for sexually molesting children. But that's not a church. It's a poisonous snake pit full of vipers masquerading as a church. (Yes, somehow that "church" is still open and growing.)

That wasn't the kind of church Mrs. McCarthy was talking about. So far, twice in her blog she displayed a very low regard for the church. Are there sinners in the church? Absolutely. In fact, every single person in every single church is a sinner. But the church is the bride of Christ who is being sanctified and made holy. You really want to compare the bride of Christ with a strip club?

Ephesians 5:25-27 reads, "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish."

Tell me: What strip club is that happening in? Didn't Mrs. McCarthy say that her new blog was inspired by the first four chapters of Ephesians? Oh, but that was chapter 5. Alright, moving on...

Mrs. McCarthy says, "Even churches," and then she goes back to the strip club and says, "But, these girls -- these lovely, girls -- were so... normal. As I talked with one in particular, she reminded me of any young mom I'd talk to in the school pick up line. Minus the fact that she didn't have much clothing on -- I tried not to focus on that."

She went on to say, "They showed pictures of their children, talked of pregnancy (I was pregnant at the time), chatted about trying to get back in shape after having a baby, etc. It was SO NORMAL. But, as we talked, and I looked into their eyes, I saw women -- young, broken women. Who had stories, probably much like mine or yours."

It sounds like Mrs. McCarthy truly cared for those strippers, right? Actually, I think I can make a pretty good case that she didn't. Notice that she said, "Minus the fact that she didn't have much clothing on -- I tried not to focus on that." Mrs. McCarthy overlooked the need to rescue a woman caught in a snare of the devil, participating in sexual immorality with reckless abandon, and instead reveled in her own personal enlightenment.

And she made it sound like that woman's profession was not her fault: "I saw women -- young, broken women." So a stripper is just a victim? In some ways, sure, I won't deny that. But she is not an unwilling participant. How could we possibly argue that being a stripper is not sinful? Yet that's what Mrs. McCarthy is doing through the power of a sympathetic story.

If we truly care for a woman who is a stripper, she needs to be shown her sin, just as Jesus did with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:16-18), and she needs to be told to repent, just as Jesus did with the woman caught in adultery (John 8:11). Notice both of those references are in John. Mrs. McCarthy said her new blog, a journal of sorts, was inspired by reading Ephesians and John.

No one is actually being helped by the stripper ministry Mrs. McCarthy blogged about. She went on to talk about how a prayer box had been installed in the strip club, and a pastor started doing a Bible study in the strip club. She mentioned how the strippers thought they weren't like the other churches because all the other churches send hate mail. She mentioned that women went on to lead "healthy, restored lives," but did not ever say that meant no longer working in a strip club.

A stripper reading her article would never have thought there was anything wrong with being a stripper, and would have thought that she can get just as much Bible in a strip club as she can get in a church.

But doesn't Jesus meet us where we are? And didn't he hang out with sinners?

The most baffling statement in the whole blog was toward the end, and it was this: "If Jesus were here, walking among us, wouldn't it be just like him to walk into the most un-Christlike place (strip club or whatever) and completely freak the religious folk out?"

Truly think about that statement: Wouldn't it be like Christ to do something un-Christlike? That's the same as saying, "Wouldn't it be like God to do something un-godly?"

No, it wouldn't. God would not compromise nor contradict his holiness and neither would Christ. Jesus didn't do things just to freak the religious folk out. His ultimate, underlying purpose was the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:11).

Where exactly does the Bible fit into Mrs. McCarthy's reasoning? Jesus absolutely would not have ever gone into a strip club. Point me to one place in the Bible where Jesus took his ministry inside a brothel. The question is less "What Would Jesus Do?" and more what did Jesus do and what did he say?

We totally misconstrue the ideas that "Jesus meets us where we are" and "Jesus hung out with sinners" and make them cliches to fit our sensibilities. Jesus meeting us where we are means that he called us out of darkness and into his marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9). He did not wait for us to make ourselves better, since we couldn't do that anyway. He made us better. That doesn't mean Jesus went into brothels. A person who was truly transformed by Christ would not be in a brothel either.

By the way, about this light of his -- Jesus called it judgment. He said, "And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God" (John 3:19-21).

If Mrs. McCarthy and the ministry she was with were actually preaching the gospel, they'd have been hated for it. For by the light of the gospel, they'd have been exposing the work of a strip club, whose entire existence is to profit off of darkness, and that includes the strippers. They're taking their clothes off to make money. Everyone who does wicked things hates the light.

As for hanging out with sinners, Jesus went to their homes and ate with them (Matthew 9:9-13, Luke 19:1-10, etc.), but he did not hang out in places of debauchery. He told his disciples that if they go into a person's home, and that person won't receive the words they say, they're to shake the dust from their feet when they leave (Matthew 10:14). In other words, leave and don't go back. They've heard the truth and refused to believe it.

I'd like to know how those strippers or strip clubs would have actually received their ministry if they had actually told them to repent of their sin and preached the word of God. But we have no indication from Mrs. McCarthy's story that's what happened. It was appeasement, not ministry. It was personally enlightening, to be sure. Maybe you were enlightened by her article in some way. But the ministry was not loving.

There's only one reason I can think of for a Christian to go in a strip club -- that's to get a person out of there right now. Even then, he should let the elders of his church know what he's doing, and he should have someone with him. (Unfortunately, I am speaking from experience. Thankfully, I never had to go inside, but there was the possibility. I first let another leader in our church know what was going on, and I had someone else with me.)

Stand outside and witness to people going in and out. I promise you'll be spat on and have your life threatened. On that, I can also speak from personal experience. This kind of ministry can and should be done in a loving and gentle way (1 Peter 3:15, 2 Timothy 2:25). But do not go in a strip club. Even with the best of intentions, and even if you're able to guard yourself, it's not a good witness to others and will cause them to stumble, and that's a sin against Christ (1 Corinthians 8:10-13).

Wrapping Things Up

Let me say something positive about Mrs. McCarthy's blog. After this first strip club experience of hers, she went to her car and wept. She asked for God's forgiveness for "the way I had viewed women in that profession. Because, people -- that could have been me. It could have been any of us."

And on that point, I will say this: She's right. The Scriptures warn us not to get too high and mighty on ourselves. The Israelites were warned before being given the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 9:4-5), and we who are Christians are warned as we are given the Kingdom of God (Romans 11:20). It's not about what we did, it's about what Christ has done.

Before we came to Christ, we were just as lost. We were following the pattern of this world, the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is at work in the sons of disobedience, just like the rest of mankind (Ephesians 2:1-3). But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior (Titus 3:5).

We were just like anyone. We were walking in darkness until God rescued us -- not because of who we were, but because of who he is. Praise God that he saved us. And pray that as we go out with the gospel, he will turn the hearts of those who hear it.

Unfortunately, I don't really think that was the point Mrs. McCarthy was trying to make. I think the entire blog was based on her personal feelings, which are not always reliable. The Bible says that the heart is deceptive and wicked (Jeremiah 17:9). It's clear that Mrs. McCarthy has a reading base and a broad influence. I pray that with the conviction she's experiencing, she will grow to understand this, and handle the word of God and the name of Jesus rightly.

Anna McCarthy's blog -- including the layout, the appearance, the way her writing flows -- looks almost exactly like another false teacher who works in a church and has led many astray with his articles. I have warned others about him as well. Again, I must say to you -- Not everyone who uses the name of Christ is actually of Christ. Even the devil disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14).

The internet can be a rich place, but it is also a very sordid place. There are some great blogs, but there are a lot of bad ones, too. Be good Bereans and test everything you read according to the word of God, the Bible (Acts 17:10-11).

And always be skeptical of anyone who claims to be "just a Jesus follower" but doesn't seem to know his words or share them.