Saturday, March 28, 2009

Play That Funky Music

Of the many weird things about my Word of Faith experience, one thing that I often think about is the music. I noticed early on that our church placed little value on creativity. Anyone’s talents and abilities shining too brightly would threaten our controlling pastor. This was true in a variety of the church’s departments, but it was most noticeable in the church's music. We had a number of talented musicians and singers pass through our ranks over the years. There were presentations that were done from time to time by our music people that, to my ears, showed considerable musical ability. But if you heard something really good, you could count on SELDOM if EVER hearing it again thanks to our Reverend Pastor Narcissist. Nothing was going to take the spotlight off his “teaching gift” so the gifts in the congregants were suppressed. Their gifts were only to be used to further his "gift."

But what is really interesting is the subject matter of some of the songs. Since we emphasized “Positive Confessions”, much of our music were statements about "What I’m going to do" set to music. It seems so strange now, that we came to worship the God of all Creation by singing about what we were going to do.

Then there were the personality-cult aspects of the music. I remember a man who set Kenneth Hagin's sermons to music and sang them in Hagin’s meetings. What I heard was essentially this man sing-talking (Lou Reed?) the sermon bullet points with piano accompaniment. With that being said, occasionally someone would set our pastor’s latest slogan or sermon points to music.

Is that just me or does that sound like some kind of Communist dictator?

Let’s think this through….we sat and diligently took notes of the pastor’s sermons (they sold custom-made notebooks in the church bookstore and advertised them from the pulpit). We discussed the pastor’s wisdom that was captured on people’s notepads. Some of us had treasuries of Revered and Mrs. Pastor’s collected wit and wisdom. As if that was not enough, we sometimes heard songs and improvisations based on his sermons and slogans. All we needed was a little red book of his sayings like Mao Zedong (By the way, the pastor did get a book published just before we left, so I guess he got that covered). Brainwashing, anyone?

Some of the songs that made the rounds in the WOF are equally bizarre. I recall one song that was about being promoted by God and being moved up higher. We also tweaked lyrics to conform to WOF dogma. Even Amazing Grace had to tow the party line. We did not refer to ourselves as wretches, so Amazing Grace saved “someone” like me. If a song did not conform (or if he was just feeling moody) the pastor would interupt the song and explain why we did not need to be singing it. I recall Hillsongs’ On Eagles Wings got shot down in public like that. You can imagine how the threat of public rebuke made the music people feel, as the standards were inconsistently applied to boot. It also created room for someone to suck up to the pastor with their ability to discern bad song lyrics.
Like nearly every other aspect of our old church, music was just another tool to manipulate and control the congregation.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

A Message That Ain't Worth Dying For

In my last post I made some observations contrasting Christians in closed countries and leaders in the Word of Faith movement. Christians in nations where their faith cannot be openly shared seem to have a much greater level of consecration to personal principles than their WOF counterparts in the West. This is in spite of the fact that the Word of Faith ministers are self-proclaimed experts on faith.

After thinking about it I realised something: Christians in these oppressive nations are willing to give their lives for the opportunity to share faith in Jesus as the only hope for every person. Compared to that, the prosperity gospel isn't a message worth dying for. Are you going to tell someone on their deathbed that God will prosper them? People don't need money after they die. People need to know that Jesus paid the price for their sins so that they will not have to pay for their sins themselves. To preach any other message is absurd.

If it's a message that's not worth dying for, you can bet it ain't worth living for, either.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

No Sacrifice

The word Sacrifice sometimes strikes terror into the hearts of Christians. To be fair, it is understandable since the word “Sacrificial” is often followed by the word “Giving” which is followed by an appeal for funds.

Something that began to bother me during my WOF experience was the attitude toward a certain type of sacrifice. I began to do a lot of reading on missions and on the church in developing and closed nations. I heard it said that the reason Christians were persecuted and martyred overseas was that they did not know what we knew about faith. That did not seem to compute at the time I heard it. Over time, the more I studied the lives of Christians in closed countries, the more that statement disturbed me. Christians in countries where they are not free to own a Bible, much less assemble freely, often evangelize despite regularly being arrested and cruelly treated. The government, culture and even their families, reject them and yet they maintain their convictions as Christians above all else. They have CONVICTIONS and they live those convictions out. Meanwhile some guy in here in the States who travels the country collecting offerings and considers how much he rakes in as a mark of his ‘prosperity’ thinks he’s the one who has faith? It would seem to me that the prosperity preacher’s main conviction is money.

Here is a good example: Zhang Rongliang is a well-known figure in the Chinese house church movement for over 30 years. This man has endured beating and torture on several occasions and is presently in prison for being a Christian who shares his faith.

Meanwhile a well-known faith preacher said he’s willing go to avoid releasing a list of his financial contributors to a Senate investigation committee. And he expects me to “follow his faith?” I find the nobility in the sacrifice of countless men and women like Zhang to be far more worthy to aspire to than that of people whose gospel is the acquisition of money power. These persecuted Christians live out their faith and put their money where their mouth is, so to say, rather than putting your money in their pocket.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Church/Youth Ministry Satire

Below is a link to a video that satirizes youth ministry called "Ignatius". It's pretty amusing.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

"Only Saints can Sanctify a Society"

In my last post, there was something Wurmbrand said that I think about a lot. "Only saints can sanctify a society." I would think that if we have a large number of born again people who follow Jesus in America that it would have some positive effect on society. Now that I am free of the Word of Faith and all it's hyperbole, I have become more aware of the worsening state of morality and ethics in the Evangelical movement and society as a whole. I become somewhat annoyed when people comment how awesome their churches are. If everybody is so awesome, why can I go into the local Wal-Mart in my rural area and regularly see people with the tell-tale signs of methamphetamine abuse? We've also seen recent displays of immoral behaviour that I have never observed in public before out here in Podunk. We've also watched people we grew up with who were raised in "good Christian homes" live lives adrift from the foundation of their upbringing.

This is just a little food for thought here.

Are we really that awesome?

Is what we are doing in our churches working?

The fruit of it does not bode well.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

All out war on Evil

We must strive to convert not only the prostitute or drunkard, but prostitution, alcoholism, the prisons, man's exploitation of other people, war - all these things must be abolished, and this can only be done if the Christian fights his battles in the social as well as personal sphere. Evil has made great strides; there is a long line stretching from Cain, who killed a man with a staff, to the gas chambers of Auschwitz and the Communist extermination camps. the satanic powers have transferred their attack from the individual to an offensive on a large social front. the powers of good must do the same.

In the old days Paul could preach from the same pulpit as his enemies. We have a pulpit today, but our enemies have the schools, the press, large publishing concerns, the cinema, radio, television. We, too, have a right to all these things, and if we are to achieve them, then we must realize Daniel's prophecy that "the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people, the saints of the Most High." (Daniel 7:27)

The conditions necessary for the establishment of God's kingdom on earth are now present; this was not possible when material conditions were so wretched. Modern means of communication could ensure that the gospel of Christ is disseminated throughout the world.

The coming into power of communism has meant prison, torture, and death for thousands of Christians, but it has helped our thinking enormously - Communists think on a global plane and in terms of future generations. The children of God, quite wrongly, have a reduced horizon. Often their thinking is narrow, and they look only one step a head. Was it for nothing that the leaders of the Church in the New Testament were called "presbyters," that is, people who see far ahead?

The Christian Jews, too, have learned to think on the universal plane, and to strive to achieve a distant goal. the Roman Empire threw Christians to the wild beasts, but it also taught them to think on an imperial scale. Christianity became the religion of the empire, instead of isolated individuals. Communism has played the same role for us.

...The evangelism of the individual still remains the priority. Only saints can sanctify a society. A social gospel preached to unregenerate men is a fake. But men who have been born again must bring their new life into society.

from the book Christ on the Jewish Road by Richard Wurmbrand pp 201-203 as published in The Voice of the Martyrs magazine Oct. 2008 issue.