Sermon preached at the Tabernacle of Praise Church by senior “pastor” Trevor Neil at an unknown time and date]
This is going to be my first sermon revue, and as such, and because of the nature of the sermon being preached, it has garnered for itself a special introduction that very few if any other sermons will be receiving., in order to put what is being preached in context. To put it simply, I do not consider the tabernacle of praise to be a Christian church, nor do I consider the teaching and preaching that transpires there to be biblical or orthodox. This is based on their statement of faith, as well as the 15 or so sermons that I have listened to, which reflects said statement of faith, and which show conclusively that another gospel is being preached. By way of explanation, from what I can tell, they are Pentecostals in the Oneness Pentecostal tradition, and while some beliefs are orthodox, for the most part aberrant teaching and heresy abounds.
This is evidence by first and foremost, their denial of the Trinity, which tends to skewer their entire Christology and give them the wrong foundation. They deny that salvation is by faith alone, but rather believe that baptism is a requirement. They deny the pre-existence of the Word as the Son, and teach that He existed as the Father. They hold to a faulty understanding of being “born again”, believing that it means repentance, baptism, and speaking in tongues. They believe baptism must be administered with the phrase, “In the name of Jesus” and is invalid and faulty if instead the phrase, “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” or anything else accompanies it. They hold that speaking in tongues is a necessary requirement to demonstrate that a person has been baptized in the Holy Spirit, and is, therefore, saved. Coupled with this is the charge that speaking in tongues is the initial sign of the infilling of the Holy Ghost. In addition, there is the legalistic expectation of a moral code that must be obeyed lest they be in danger of forfeiting the forgiveness of sins which Christ so lovingly bought and freely gives. This is works of righteousness.
As such, most of my sermons regarding this church will be done with the intention of offering an apologetics primer, using the false teaching to point out the true teachings and true gospel of Jesus Christ. Generally I will point out a few main issues or themes that feature predominantly in the sermon, deconstruct why they are good or bad, and then expound upon and teach that through a Christ centered and cross-focused lens.
The first thing I can say about Trevor Neil is that man is passionate about what he preaches. In a very real way he reminds me of the thundering independent Baptist preaches, who yell and holler and whip themselves and their congregations into a frenzy as he paces back and forth and bangs the pulpit with his hand. He preaches hard, and while I tend to enjoy that to a certain extent, he tends to keep the dial cranked to 10 throughout the entire sermon, which tends to remove the power and effectiveness and attention when he’s punctuating a point, and so using that a bit more sparingly would be great. But as I said: he’s passionate, and that shine through. What is slightly disconcerting is that he tends to chime in and start speaking in tongues at random intervals, [without an interpreter no less] and that tends to distract from the message.
The trouble with this sermon, among other things, is that he clearly does not understand law and gospel, specifically the use of the law. In the reformation tradition of John Calvin , there are three uses of the law. Pedagogical, civil, and didactic. A proper understanding of these things is essential, and should be used as a hermeneutical principle of biblical interpretation and a guiding principle in homiletics [sermon composition] and pastoral care. The Pedagogical use is to say that the law teaches us our sin, and what is sin. Lutherans refer to it as mirror, and we understand it that the law of God shows us our helplessness in keeping it and revealing our sin, and shows our need for a Savior. The civil use of the law is the way we normally think of laws in general, as in the hey restrain evil and curb bad action. The didactic use, or the teaching use, of the Law says that the Law should be used to urge believers into good works. And so Travis Neil is using the first use of the law, opening the bible and expounding upon sin, but he’s using the law unlawfully.
The premise of his sermon is simple; salvation and our lives is a heaven and hell issue. That is to say that what we do matters, and so we need to prepare ourselves and make sure that when we die, we are going to heaven. And so the question is asked “are you really in the faith., or do you just think you are? Are you a real Christian, or a fake one?” The main Text he uses and refers to frequently is half of a verse; 2 Corinthians 13:5 “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith”
And what is tragic about all of this, is that what could have been a great sermon in the hands of a capable minister, has become a club in the hands of an incapable one, in which to beat and bruise the sheep with. The man preached for an hour on making sure our calling and election is sure, and not once did he mention the gospel message. At all. He never spoke about having faith in Christ and believing the gospel, or about having sins forgiven, and knowing that we are children of God because of the work that Christ has done for us on the cross. Instead, the entire message could be summed up as following “you had better act rightly and do the right things and to save yourself, otherwise you are going to hell.” Being in the faith had nothing to do with professing Christ crucified, but rather about going to bible studies and church and living rightly and following a strict and peculiar moral code. And I’m not saying those things are bad- because they’re not. But that’s not what saves us.
To cover a few points he made.
- He said that people who don’t show up at church or bible studies or prayer groups are the ones who God says have fallen away in the last days, and are deceived, and will be soon married to the antichrist, because they cannot endure sound doctrine.
- He stated that Heaven is a place for the faithful, the redeemed and overcomers, and that hell is for the lukewarm, the backsliders, and the ones who have robbed God of tithes and offerings, and rob God of service. [no mentioned that heaven is for the ones who have believed the gospel, and hell is for the ones who have rejected it]
- At one point he says that he can name the people who are in hell right now. [Gives an example of Michael Jackson]. But the reality is that we don’t know who is in hell. We simply don’t know whether anyone repented on their deathbed, or whether God called them in their last minutes and hours on earth, and so to speculate and to express certainty that he is in hell is not what any man should be doing
- He references Lazarus and the rich man, which is a parable found in Luke 16. He states that the rich man was in hell because he “forgot, neglected and rejected God”, and that the poor man was in heaven because he “remembered God, was faithful to God and submissive to God.” How about that he had faith in God?
- In another analogy, he starts asking the question and making the point “If you want to go to heaven….” And I was all excited, and was thinking “Finally, tell me that if I want to go to heaven, I have to put my faith in Christ to be saved. Tell me about the message of the gospel, that Christ the Lord was killed, buried, and resurrected so that I can be have eternal life by putting my trust in him!” But instead I got more law-based salvation. Examples would be when he said “If you want to go to heaven, you need to learn about Enoch and walk with God like Enoch.” Or “ Walk with God and you’ll end up like Noah. Live like Lot, and you’ll wind up with fire and brimstone in hell. If you want to go to heaven, take a good look at Elijah.” And so get more “act like this person in order to see God one day, and not to mention that Lot’s recorded actions were reprehensible, but he is described several times as a righteous man and godly, whereas the unrighteous will suffer torment and judgement, and so we assume that he did not receive hellfire, but rather eternal life.
- At one point, when talking about a point of eschatology, he said that “If you missed the rapture, to hell you go!” Trevor Neil believes that after the rapture happens [if indeed it does happen] that only the 144,000 Jews will be saved, and that no one will have a chance at redemption and salvation after that.
- During one especially spirited moment, made the statement “This church is praying, but you’re not praying with us. This church is studying, but you’re not studying with us. The church is not fasting, but you’re not fasting with us. If you’re not with us, then to hell you go! To hell you belong! That’s where you’re going to go.”
- To reinforce how we must do the right works in the right amount to go to heaven, and reject the things holding us back, he references Philippians 3:8, where Paul says that he counts all things as loss. This verse is being twisted, however. It’s not about counting all things as loss for loss’ sake, but rather the part he left out, that he counts all things as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus his Lord. [He never mentions how we might know Christ as Lord]
I could go on and on, but the point has been made pretty clear. Jesus telling us “well done, my good and faithful servant” becomes a rant about we aren’t being good or faithful enough. We aren’t saved by believing the gospel, but rather by obeying it and doing what it says to the “n’th” degree. And it ends with 8 questions which he wants everyone to ask themselves, and if they answer “no” in regards to whether they do these things,, then they are going to hell, all of which involve things like “have you received the holy ghost since you believed, evidenced by speaking in tongues. If there is no evidence of tongues, then you are a deceiver and are deceived.” And more “Do you do these things…” and then includes a list.
One of the last things he says is this extended quote “If you want to go to heaven, don’t follow the crowd. If you want to go to heaven, it will not be an accident. Make sure you’ve been born again under water. [Baptism by immersion] Make sure you obey and keep his commandments. Go to church. Study his word. Pray. Be a faithful witness, and make sure you give God quality service and that you give tithes and offerings. Save yourself! We came this far by separation. We came this far by holiness, for without we cannot see God. We came this far by keeping the commandments and being obedient to the gospel, and by believing in the one God” [a reference to their lack of belief in the trinity]
To close, what Trevor is essentially doing is preaching a sermon on the topics of “repent believe and be saved”. That’s the gist of it. Except instead of repent and believe and be saved it’s “act rightly and be moral and be saved. And I really cannot understand how you can preach a sermon about making sure you are saved, and about testing ourselves to see if we are in the faith, without mentioning the Gospel, or about believing and having faith, or Jesus’ work on the cross. He open repudiates the idea that the gospel message is that salvation is by grace through faith,[Ephesians 2:8-9] not faith and something you do like baptism or faith and speaking in tongues, or faith and going to a Oneness church, etc. He fails to understand that true salvation is freedom from the requirement of keeping any part of the Law to get or maintain salvation, and that true salvation is receiving Christ, being in the body of Christ, and being redeemed by the blood of the Lamb.
And so I mentioned the uses of the law early on, and how the pedagogical use is being misused. And I’m not talking about antinomianism! I believe that good works and a love for Christ will be the necessary fruit of a genuine conversion, and so I’m not going there at all. Because I believe that the law should be opened up to show us our sins, definitely. It’s good for that to happen, so long as the Gospel is there to sustain us when we realize that we cannot keep the law- that we are sinners and that we fail over and over again, and that the answer is not “try harder” or “sin less” or “just behave better” but rather to rest in the mercies of Christ, who has removed our sins, given us grace, and given us new life and made us righteous despite our sin.” When we realize that we don’t love God like we ought to, and that we miss the mark and that we’ve failed to keep the law, the solution is not to “do more law” but rather to rest deeper in the mercies of Christ. Because otherwise, if I was being yelled at and berated and told to pick myself up by my bootstraps and maintain a high moral standard to keep myself saved, and that I better not backslide or else I would start to feel the flames, I would despair unto death.