Saturday, February 28, 2009

Money Cometh...Out of Your Pocket...Into Mine

I was recently reading some sermon notes I had by a well-known faith preacher. We will call him Someone I Once Followed. The notes were on the topic of Faith (surprise!). As I was reading, I was reminded of some things I liked about the Word of Faith. What I was reading expressed a lot of commitment to the Bible as God’s Word. I had not heard that kind commitment to the Word of God in the denominations that I was familiar with. We had all believed that the Bible was inspired and inerrant but these Faith guys expressed reliance and dependence on the Bible in unequivocal terms. Their attitude was “This is God’s Word and I’ll do whatever it says, even if it seems to my own hurt.” The Bible was also given as a basis for communion with God and as the only way to find fulfillment. I was not hearing these concepts expressed with such fire and enthusiasm until I encountered the WOF. That was part of the attraction for me. This was communicated very clearly in the Faith movement. It was a contrast to what I had been used to hearing. When I could find a clear point being communicated, it was something like “be committed and don’t get your hopes up.”

(A little footnote: I know people have itching ears to hear convenient messages but of those of us with orthodox doctrine fail to clearly and aggressively articulate the basic messages of Christianity backed with moral character, we are going to continue to face problems like this in the Evangelical movement.)

Anyway these faith preachers were inspiring because of their example of commitment to God’s Word. While reflecting on the notes I was reading, I was reminded of one of the many disappointments I’ve had with the WOF: there was something that the leaders and preachers ultimately had a greater commitment to than faith.

That something was money.

I have observed symptoms of the Faith movement’s love affair with money. The church I attended for years usually gave a mini-sermon before tithes were taken up. I had friends who were going through a severe financial crisis and stopped tithing. The pastor told them that failing to tithe was the biggest mistake they could have made. This from a guy who was famous for preaching that if people gave money to him, they would be blessed and have what amounted to good luck. This was back when Leroy Thompson’s “Money Cometh” message was hot and people were stuffing the preacher’s coat pocket with cash. If it was going to damage this couple so bad, why didn’t he give them money to tithe from? It wasn’t like he didn’t have the money. We could also talk a long time about WOF ministries being investigated for inappropriate use of non-profit money. Financial transparency is unheard of in Faith churches because the leader has final say on all church matters.

I don’t see how a minister can be “A man of the Word” and ignore Biblical admonitions to ethical behavior. I guess they really are “favorite Word people.”

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Cone of Silence

Controlling churches often have unspoken codes of conduct. In the Word of Faith we had a "code of silence" which was the result of some doctrinal combinations: faith, positive confession and submission to authority. Exercising faith through words is an important component of the WOF. We wanted to plant God's Word in our hearts and "have what we say." To stay strong in faith, we avoided talking in a way that could be construed as unbelief or doubt of God's Word or what we believed His promises were. We did not want to have an attitude of disrespect or harbor grudges against other Christians (a.k.a."Walk in love"). Not only did we believe it would have an adverse effect on your faith, but also it was implied that it could cause a person to fail in life or even die.

The end result was that there were a whole lot of things that we did not talk about. If you felt sick, you were experiencing "symptoms" (but you were NOT going to admit you were sick). If you were broke you found some way to infer that you were low on cash besides saying "I can't afford it."

You can imagine the disaster that awaits someone who needs serious medical treatment that is trying to fight "symptoms". It was okay to use doctors and medicine, just take your healing confessions with you to read while you are in the waiting room. But what if someone is afraid to go to the doctor? They might put off medical attention with "faith" alone as their excuse only to find themselves in a terrible situation (We didn't confess fear, by the way). We could also do a separate post on people in desperate financial straits giving money into offerings that can't afford while making their prosperity confessions. You can see that there could be a variety of unexpected consequences from this faith teaching.

But one truly unexpected consequence (for me, anyway) is the culture that is created in a church where these teachings are the norm: If there is a problem that reflects poorly on the leadership, you can't talk about it! The way we treated ministers and leaders in our old church seems based on the assumption that leaders do not err. So if there is, for example, a serious question about how church finances are handled, you are not being submissive to God's appointed leader by bringing it up. Not only are you rebelling if you persist with such questions, you are harming your faith by failing to "walk in love"! This would probably play out differently if there was transparency in the church power structure. However, the pastor is presented as the visionary of the church and the pinnacle of the power structure. If there are moral issues or financial questions, or problems that stem from nepotism, you are just supposed to tolerate it. You might even find yourself blackballed by the leadership and some congregants for speaking out.

The code of silence is widespread. There are many ministers in the WOF that understand there is a problem but most don't "rock the boat". I understand now why the prophets and Jesus himself had to continually confront the error of the religious establishment.

Looking back, it was really more like the cone of silence for the program Get Smart. We were in our little cones of silence as if we were in our own worlds...with Charles Capps minibooks in our pockets.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Can anyone recomend a blog?

Are there any blogs out there by Christians in Asia, Russia or the Balkans that are in English?

I'd love to read the experiences of believers in any of these locations (or really anywhere, really).

I'd be interested mission works in these regions, too. I enjoy Abu Daoud's Islam and Christianity blog and I'm looking for similar ones from outside the U.S.


Saturday, February 14, 2009

Post-Charismatic Evangelism

The folks over at A Former Leader's Journey have been seeking feedback on the subject of Evangelism so I thought I'd add my comments. Read the comments preceding mine on their blog to get a feel for how the conversation has flowed. It will give some context to my comment.

I am going to give this a shot, been trying to comment here for days…I would agree after my own Word of Faith experience that “life enhancing” perks are used all over the evangelical spectrum (and beyond) to draw the unchurched to a relationship with Christ, or at least to get them attending a church.

I agree also that we too often we put pressure on ourselves to ‘win’ non-Christians to Christianity. We all recognize that we should be doing something, but as is typical for the time we live in, no body is sure what that something is.

Although the religious pressure is off my life, I must still consider what happens when a person dies. No matter how much phoniness and corruption takes place in church or in society, nothing changes death. So is it true that Jesus was sent to save us from our sins? Has He called all men to repent? What is the fate those who do not believe? We Christians act like we have all the answers, why wouldn’t we be proactive to share that message in society…by “society,” I mean with people…people who may or may not want to think about it.

We should be honest, real and moral (what a concept). We should also mindful that we are only delivering the information and not the ones doing the saving. And speaking of being uncomfortable, we should also be glad that no one is trying to stone us like Paul. I think this is an important point that cannot be overlooked. If we plan on sharing Christianity with non-Christians, expect resistance. Christianity challenges every person; it challenges a person’s world view, it challenges self righteousness. Everyone is right and clean in their own eyes. To introduce people to a line of linking that might challenge their own goodness, it will be uncomfortable and they might not like you. But what are we to do? Should we be like someone who sees a house that’s on fire and say “Oh, they will get out in time.” Does a doctor fail to tell a patient about his cancer because he’s afraid he will loose the patient’s friendship? Hopefully we are not in such a state of Jesus-follower bliss that we ignore the spiritual condition of those around us. We can ask thought provoking questions to see how far we can go with people and demonstrate that we aren’t trying to get something out of them.

My last thought is this: At times I have been engaged in,…..yes,…. door-to-door witnessing! The reason I did was because of a co-worker who was a Jehovah’s Witness. He told me the reason he started going to the Kingdom Hall was that someone paid his family an unexpected visit and shared their beliefs and poof! He’s been a JW ever since. Meanwhile churches with more orthodox doctrinal positions can’t be bothered and when they do they try to ‘win’ people over to evangelical church culture rather than Jesus.

Thanks for the opportunity to comment.

Spiritual Fathers

A doctrine that we heard regularly in our controlling Word of Faith church was regarding "Spiritual Fathers." This is based on Second Corinthians 4:15. What appears to be an admonishment to follow sound doctrine from the Apostle Paul is a pyramid scheme in the Word of Faith that encourages preacher worship.

For laypeople, the pastor is their spiritual father. This means that you, the laypeople, need to be at every church service to hear from the one God placed in spiritual authority in your life. Is it just me or does this sound like a way to develop the people's dependency on the leader? Don't we have the Bible? Doesn't God communicate with the rest us too? With this in mind, I often heard ministers complain about people who missed a service or were "Sunday morning only" attendees. You need to be there as often as possible and tithe (if you didn't tithe, you were in terrible danger). You could miss church a lot of you were gone earning large tithes, by the way.

If you were a full-time minister, you were encouraged to mimic your spiritual father. I heard story after story from the pulpit about how a preacher stuck with their spiritual father despite being rejected, ignored and pushed aside. Then at last, as the story went along, they were finally recognized as a loyal and awesome Timothy-like figure to their leader. Incidentally, this was a large component of what kept us in our church: spiritual people hang in there and don't give up under pressure or misunderstandings. It later dawned on me that we were being told (in not so many words) was that we could expect the same treatment as the protagonists in those stories.

It was said that spiritual fathers retrieve "lost ax heads" (like Elisha), recover lost anointings and help you get your edge back. That sounds very lofty but what was in reality what took place were preachers carnally competing with each other to achieve some sort of status in their cliques. When someone advocates that a fellow Christian is your "supply of the Spirit," it provokes a lot of serious questions? Why put so much weight on the role of a minister? What is the motive for doing so? All this teaching is good for is to build up the public profile of the "Spiritual Father." It makes possible the collection of tithes from entire churches whose pastors are following the "Father" figure. There was NEVER any explanation of what you did if your spiritual father became corrupt in some way. If your spiritual father is insulted at the very suggestion of financial transparency and practices nepotism, are you just supposed to shrug your shoulders? What if he gets into immorality? Go find yourself another “dad” who expects your worship and veneration? Sure, give them free reign to what they want because they will never do anything wrong.

If you are in a church where you hear this or similar teachings, realize that you don’t have to sit there and accept unscriptural doctrines. Take responsibility for your Christian life rather than have it dictated to you. You will be glad you did!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A Few More Sayings

A few more of Jesus' saying modified for the Word of Faith:

"Follow me and I will confirm your awesomeness before men."

"Blessed are the wealthy shepards, for they have bought the right to do as they please."

"Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you but don't be nice to those who leave your church. That's an entirely different topic. You may have to spend a lot of time explaining just how bad those people really are."

Monday, February 9, 2009

Lesser-known sayings of Jesus

It used to gripe me that the Word of Faith was referred to as a "different gospel" in the book of the same name. However if you deviate a little bit from Jesus' words, the result becomes a very weird Jesus. To legitimize some of the things we did in the WOF, Jesus would have to say some strange things.

For example: "To be my follower, you need to get a lot of cash. That way people will know you have faith."

"Verily I say unto you, the servant is not greater than his lord. So lord over people as much as possible if you are in the 5-fold ministry."

"Call no man father, unless he's the preacher you copy for ministry purposes. In that case, call him Dad and send him a father's day card with a check in it. He's the only way you can get to me or know my will for your life."

"Have faith in God and your man of God. For verily I say unto you, that whosoever shall write on an index card things that he wants and says it over and over and over, regardless of that person's ethics or moral conduct, will have whatsoever.....because he says so."

"Give unto Caesar that which is Caesar's and give and give and give without question into the pockets of a minister who says he is good ground."

"Go ye into all the world and build churches larger than the next guy and take up large offerings."

"Peter, when I said 'Feed my sheep' I meant from the pulpit. I wasn't expecting you to spend a lot of time on people or do counseling. Just spend time with your key people and your large contributors."

"Arise and go thy way. Thy faith has made thee whole. Now be careful where you go church from here on. It can be life or death where you go to church."

"The Good Shepard stayed with the 99 and shunned the one who left because the shepard did not want its offence, doubt and unbelief to rub off on the others. And if any of the 99 sheep ran into the one sheep or his family in the grocery store, they acted like they didn't see him."

"Simon, make sure that in the ages to come they preach tithing hard and strong. It's the most important message. If they don't tithe they are under a curse."

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Your Pastor Might be a Narcissist if...

The Power 2 Serve website has a great article on Narcissistic Personality Disorder called Narcissism In The Pulpit. The details of the article may remind you of the pastor of a controlling church you have attended.

Your pastor might be a narcissist if...

He keeps reminding you from the pulpit what a good teacher/leader he is....but nobody has heard of him.

When faced with a personal problem that you need his council on, he snaps "What do you want me to do about it!?"

He removes associate ministers from the church that become popular with the church family.

He does not conduct funerals unless he absolutely cannot get out of it.

He thinks people will lose their blessing if they don't get a chance to donate to his ministry.

He only accepts correction from ministers of equal anointing or higher, so don't even think about it.

He doesn't visit people in the hospital unless he absolutely can't get out of it or God tells him to go, which is not often.

He tells stories from the pulpit of people who were healed through his prayers and none of them go to his church.

He removes associate ministers who can preach as well as he does.

He is rarely seen in the company of low-income congregants.

He believes you should compete against each other to 'get around his anointing.'

He feels his adult children are owed big church salaries despite their lack of experience at, well.....everything

He returns from headquarters and hints how he corrected their doctrine, taught the leaders back their own sermons to them and was generally Joe Cool when he was there.

He becomes VERY upset if you don't call him by his title.

He tells you that as your pastor he is your 'anointing connection.'

He thinks sneering at pastors of smaller churches is acceptable.

He hints that higher profile ministers come to him for advice.

He tells you outright that all his peers come to him for advice.

He maintains he is the one that God sent to preach his favorite doctrines to the area: he's God's man for your town. Someone preaching a similar message in the area is not God's man for the area.

He competes with other ministers to be top dog in the eyes of those he admires and imitates.

He believes the type of ministry he does (teacher, prophet, etc.) is the most important.

You may NOT ask how money is spent in the church.
He regularly suggests there are other preachers/congregants trying to undermine him.

Congregants are charged for copies of his Sunday sermons.

He cannot take a joke. And if you try to tease him, he MUST retaliate.

He feels that the church is riding the coattails of his faith.

Match each of the above examples with the characteristics taken from Narcissism In The Pulpit below. There are no wrong answers.

You are welcome to post comments of other examples of "Your pastor might be a narcissist if..."

1. Feels grandiose and self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements & talents to the point of lying, demands to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements).

2. Is obsessed with fantasies of unlimited success, fame, fearsome power or omnipotence, unequalled brilliance (the cerebral narcissist), bodily beauty or sexual performance (the somatic narcissist), or ideal, everlasting, all-conquering love or passion.

3. Firmly convinced that he or she is unique &, being special, can only be understood by, should only be treated by, or associate with, other special or unique, or high-status people (or institutions).

4. Requires excessive admiration, adulation, attention & affirmation - or, failing that, wishes to be feared and to be notorious (narcissistic supply).

5. Feels entitled. Expects unreasonable or special & favorable priority treatment. Demands automatic and full compliance with his or her expectations.

6. Is "interpersonally exploitative", I.e., uses others to achieve his or her own ends.

7. Devoid of empathy. Is unable or unwilling to identify with or acknowledge the feelings and needs of others.

8. Constantly envious of others or believes that they feel the same about him or her.

9. Arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes coupled with rage when frustrated, contradicted, or confronted.”