Monday, August 23, 2010

Critiquing the American Church Part 2. Santa Christ

WARNING: This particular post will have some rather disturbing video in it which may offend some people. Also, it's probably the most harsh & judgmental of anything I've written thus far.

A few weeks ago I was talking with a friend of mine, and we got on the subject of a large ministry in his city. He warned me that this "Church" had all sorts of cult-like overtones to it, and that it should be avoided at all costs. The problem was/is that an old friend of mine participates in the worship there. I know this guy, and he is not exactly the type of person to get suckered by shallow spirituality. So this set me on a quest for many days to see if I could make sense of what I was hearing.

As usual, it was harder than I thought to come up with any solid answers. One of the problems with any type of organization will always be the loose confederation of people who come in and out the doors. Some might be heavily associated with a group, while others may merely be associated by a "friend of a friend" situation. I never want to throw the baby out with the bath water, and I am not big on "guilt by association." (I've been on the receiving end of that, so I try not to do it to others.)

At any rate, it's been bugging me for some time now how to discern false teaching from the real deal. Generally, it's pretty obvious. But sometimes a situation can have all sorts of beautiful stuff on the surface, and say all of the right things initially, but later on it produces a nice heaping helping of disaster. But how do you know right away?

Paul's letter to the church in Galatia tells them that the life of the Spirit produces fruit. However, that fruit is not something you see at first glance. I mean, how often you do take a minutes glance at a person and think, "Wow, that dude sure has the fruit of faithfulness."? The same goes for what Jesus often talked about.

In Matthew 7, Jesus spoke about a tree producing good fruit, and that is how we would recognize the real deal from the false people. But then he ends that bit with one of the scariest passages I can find in the Bible.

"Not everyone who says to me, "Lord, Lord," will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?" Then I will tell them plainly, "I never knew you. Away from me you evil doers!""
Matt. 7:21-23

So whoever these folks are, they at least claimed to act in the name of Jesus...or at least they were pretty sure that they were. And yet, Jesus rejects them. I mean, there is power in the name of Jesus, and that is certainly what accomplished any spectacular work they did. (Certainly not by their own strength) And yet they will not be in the kingdom of heaven, because their core was false.

I was talking with Pastor Scott and a few others after worship yesterday. I think we all agreed with an assertion that Brennan Manning made in his book, Ruthless Trust, that the "question should not be Is Jesus God-like, but is God Jesus-like?" By that, he/I/we mean that whatever your view of a god is...especially the God of the Bible, does it match up with the character, lifestyle and behavior of Jesus during his ministry on earth? Jesus is the "visible image of the invisible God." Jesus IS God. So everything that Jesus did, as attested to in his four biographies, is the ultimate revelation of the God of all creation. So, what ever someone claims about Christianity, theology, the way to live as a Believer, had better match up to what Jesus displayed, or it is simply wrong.

OK, all of that having been said as a set up, I guess what I want to write about are my frustrations with a strain of Christianity that is growing in popularity, but I think has deadly consequences. That would be the rise of the "Prosperity Gospel" and the extreme form of the "Signs & wonders" movement.

Now I want to state for the record that I am not attacking charismatics or pentecostals. I fully believe that all of the Gifts of the Spirit are still an active and necessary part of the body. (I think that if there had been a time for them to end, it would have been very clearly stated in scripture...with a specific end-date spelled out.) But I do often question the way the are displayed in a given worship service.

When I was going to school in Jerusalem, I often attended a Charismatic Anglican service. (Yeah, I know...sounds like a contradiction.) They had a very wise policy I thought. On their weekly bulletins handed out during the service, they asked all attenders that "If you feel you have a word from the Lord, or a prophecy, we ask that you ask the Spirit to give it to one of our elders so that it might be tested as the Bible states." I thought that was brilliant. I also never saw any weird spiritual abuses as a result.

Now, juxtapose that with the following true story.

Joe the Atheist:
There is a church in the northern Twin Cities called Living Word Christian Center. The pastor there is a fellow named Mac Hammond. He is BIG into the whole "Health & Wealth" prosperity gospel. I must say that it really works for him, too. The church bought him a multi-million dollar jet that he can fly around in. It just so happens that he rents the jet back to the church for a monthly fee. (Nice deal if you can get it.) Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa wants to investigate him.

Years ago, when I was attending Bethel Seminary, I went to his church to do some research. I noticed a couple of things. The first was a scale model of a Christian City that they hope to build in the area. It would have Christian town homes and apartments, a Christian mall and theater, and a Christian prayer tower and amphitheater. Everything a Christian could want so that they don't have to mingle with the sinners outside the gates. (Very handy indeed.)

The second thing I noticed was the message that his wife gave that evening. She spoke on miracles and how we should expect them at all times and in every situation. I agreed with this. God is amazing and can do what ever he sets his mind to. However, I quickly discovered that to Mrs. Hammond, a successful bowel movement ought to be attributed to divine intervention. (Apparently, God intervened in my morning routine about an hour ago, and I should not attribute it to the 3 cups of coffee I ingested.)

The third thing I noticed was a fellow named Joe who I had seen around my gym. I watched him speaking in tongues. I watched the people there praise him for speaking in tongues. I also noticed that there was no one interpreting his spiritual language so that others could be edified. (I'm still not exactly sure what to make of tongues, but it seems to me that any gift ought to be for the benefit of the entire body, and not just a "Look at ME!" kind of thing.)

Well, Joe is an Atheist.

Yeah, he has a big Darwin bumper sticker on his car now. I'm sure that he was very religious while attending Living Word, but he has since rejected any notion of God. SO, what do I make of what I saw? Was he faking it? Was there some type of spirit speaking through him? The folks watching him certainly thought he was doing the right thing.

And that's the problem.

Pastor Rick McMikely and others assert over and over that we humans have a "Propensity for Religion." In other words, we are always working, striving, etc. to show that we are good people, spiritual people, etc. Non-charismatics do it too. Lets face it, we are all guilty of being "Religious."

What I have noticed in so many of the churches like Mac Hammond's is that people really, really want those spectacular gifts of the spirit. Something that will get others to say, "Wow, now there is someone who has it together." Very rarely do you see someone desiring the gift of celibacy, voluntary poverty or martyrdom.

What I have noticed about Jesus is that while he did work amazing miracles, more often he simply spent time hanging out with "The Least of These," and developing a true relationship with them. When YHWH came to Elijah on the mountain, it was as a gentle whisper. (In fact, he did so as a direct response to the spectacular.) It seems to me that God prefers the relational to the spectacular. In fact, Jesus even warned about folks who always need to see a miracle to be able to have faith.

Jesus as the Great, Cosmic Santa:
Mac Hammond preaches that God wants all Believers to be rich and healthy. The Prosperity Gospel that we now see is largely the result of a fellow name Kenneth Hagin. He built a bible school down in Oklahoma. If you attend it, you are not supposed to use aspirin, because all sickness comes from Satan. If you have a headache, you simply rebuke the devil and the headache shall flee.

Pastor Mac, Creflo Dollar (Interesting name, huh?) Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn, and many others espouse that if you have faith, you will not get sick and you WILL get rich. In fact, Kenneth Copeland says that Jesus and the Disciples were all successful businessmen. They had attained so much prosperity that it gave them the luxury of being able to travel about the region preaching. If none of that happens to YOU, it is because YOU lack faith.

So many people have already commented on this that I see little point in going much further. But I guess I would ask if those ideas really & truly match up with what we see in the life of Jesus. I will say this, I have seen so many folks get burned by that stuff that it just breaks my heart. I just question if any of those guys really know the Jesus of the Bible, or if they will be the ones hearing Jesus say, "I never knew you."

And now for the Scary Stuff:
"For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve."
2 Cor. 11:13-15

"Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an ANGEL from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!"
Gal. 1:7 & 8

A friend of mine from college told me about the following guy. An old acquaintance of ours really likes this guy. He really wants his walk with Jesus to be this spectacular. But as you watch this video, ask yourself the following question: "Does anything that this guy says or do match up with the character of Jesus as revealed in the Gospels?"

Jesus once spit in the dirt to make some mud to put on a blind man's eyes to heal him. (It was a sabbath healing that confronted the Pharisees.) But I don't ever recall Jesus kicking people in the face to heal them.

So you have to ask the question, "Is this from God?" Todd Bentley could be just faking the whole thing and getting a kick (No pun intended) out of pulling the wool over people's eyes. I certainly see no evidence anywhere in the Bible that would ask someone to harm another person in need of healing. So if there really is a "Spirit" at work in this ministry, is it the Holy one...or could it be something else?

Now, this next video is of an ordination service for Todd Bentley. What is truly sad about this situation is that Todd was apparently having some sort of affair with a woman at this church during this time. It just strikes me that if the Holy Spirit was involved in any of this, he would have pointed it out to the elders.

I should state for the record that it is my opinion that the following is evidence of demonic possession. I know that it is a terribly harsh thing to say. It is very judgmental. And I do not say it lightly. (Probably the meanest thing I've said in a long, long time.) But if you take a look at the entire package, I simply can't come up with any other explanation.

BTW: I simply can't watch the entire video all the way through. It makes the hair of my neck stand on end.

Satan knows the Bible better than anyone except God, and he is fully capable of all sorts of false signs. But when you take a take a look at the fruits that are produced, they do tend to look more like raisins than they do grapes.

OK, now for a fellow named Bob Jones. (Not he of the racist bible school) This fellow apparently talks to angels on a daily basis. He was a mentor of Todd Bentley and taught him how to ascend to the third level of heaven (With out even receiving a thorn in the flesh like Paul did) and how to hang out with two of his favorite angles, Prosperity and Emma...both feminine angels. (Try finding that in the Bible.)

Anyway, as you watch this...and I know that this does not present the entire bit in context, ask yourself what purpose such an occurrence serves the body of Christ or furthers his kingdom?

A three foot tall female "Being" and another named Charley who surround the throne handing out fresh baked bread to Bob. I just don't get it. How in the world does that help me to love my neighbor, serve the poor & oppressed, and forgive those who have hurt me?

Bob seems like a sweet, old man. But honestly, that kind of odd angelic behavior just seems completely out of whack with anything I see in the Bible. The only thing it seems to do is to call attention to the guy telling the stories. Ultimately, I think that is the real problem.

Who do you love?
If Jesus is who he claimed to be, God, the lover of your soul, the one who has reconciled all things on heaven & earth to himself, the great king over all creation, Lord, the great high priest. Then do you love him for THAT reason? Or do you love him because you want him to do magic tricks for you? Do you follow him because he asks you to participate with him in his kingdom? Or do you tell him to make you rich and show you miracles because you have reduced him to a genie who will do your bidding when you rub the lamp by "Naming & claiming it."?

Going back to what Jesus said about false prophets in Matthew 7, I just get the feeling that there will be some folks who are extremely stunned when Jesus looks at them and says "I never knew you." I also get the feeling that before Satan gets his just desserts, he will look at those people with a big grin and say, "I gotcha!"

So, who do you love?


P.S. I know that this was a long and probably depressing post. With that in mind, here is a video to make you smirk. Benny Hinn is a fraud who's "Healing Crusades" some people I know have attended. He likes to slay people in the spirit. (U-huh.) The problem is that if you refuse to get knocked over when he does his shtick, he doesn't like you very much and will have you escorted off the stage.

Never the less, I did find this video to be pretty good. Enjoy.

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