Once Again I Missed It – My 8 Mistakes
I told the story of how the church I went to for 30 years “went emergent” and how we left. While I would like to say our family found a safe haven, I can’t. I guess things never work out that tidy.
After resigning our membership (really a token gesture I think) we tried out a few churches. I am not a big fan of church shopping. I don’t think we need to find a church “that feels right” or that “meets our needs”. Sure, personal preference does come in to play, but the final criteria – first last and always – should be if they are preaching the Word in accordance to what the Word is saying.
We started to go to a community church which met in a local movie theater. I will go on record as saying I was very hesitant to try it. It is the church that my wife’s best friend and her husband went to after leaving our original church. I was aware of some particular views these two friends held, but I also knew they loved the Lord. Frankly I was afraid the church would be a bit too “touchy-feely” and emotional. There is nothing wrong with being emotional – but I am not comfortable with disingenuous or contrived emotion. You know the type I mean – they break into tears and praise the Lord because they found a parking space at a busy shopping mall or come to the “altar” every service in tears and on their knees because they have had a personal “emotional/spiritual” conviction or breakthrough every Sunday.
You know, I could very well be wrong about that. I could be just missing the boat on feeling that kind of deep intimacy. There could very well be people that feel that way and need to express either their thankfulness to Christ or their brokenness. I guess I have been “around the block” and my observation is that many of these folks are like that always – they never seem to grow or show fruit, it is just one long series of emotional experiences. But lets just say that I could very well be wrong about that and if it really bothers you, pray for me.
However, I was surprised. While the music and general tone of the service was a bit what I expected, the preaching seemed good. I didn’t hear any emergent buzz words and it even seemed to me that the Pastor was going out of his way to warn about the way the Evangelical Church was going.
Mistake #1: I was so focused because of my anger and hurt at my last church that I too quickly viewed this church as being “safe”. I felt I had allies or at least people who were concerned about the same things I was.
The Pastor was and is a wonderful guy. He is a big southern guy, good looking with a ready wit and laugh. He was also a veteran of the Gulf War (I know it makes no sense, but that always seems to make me instantly respect someone). He also had a “biker conversion” type of testimony. I liked him immediately.
I thought “this time I am not going to make any mistakes”. I downloaded everyone of his sermons I could get my hands on and listened to them with an intent ear – looking for any signs of heresy. They all seemed good. He obviously had a more charismatic lean but I could deal with that as long as he was preaching “from the Word”. At the time I felt that one’s stance on those kinds of issues where really rather unimportant as long as they had the “main thing” down. After all, I had been around the block – I had been around many charismatics, my Mother operated as a “spirit filled” type of person. I didn’t have to agree with it all or at least say it was not for me, but it was just a matter of one’s personal bent, right? (I was wrong is this as we will see)
So, other than being mostly topical all the time, his sermons seemed good and not a hint of emergent theology.
Mistake #2: I figured I was able to make the assessment on my own as to what constituted preaching “from the Word” by just listening to it.
Mistake #3: I was so intent on listening for one type of problem, that I missed others.
The people at the church were so wonderful and kind. They were young and seemed normal. I did notice there weren’t a ton of older people. I figured it is because older folks might be a bit stodgy at going to church in a theater. The pastor was gregarious and his wife was sweet and fun. We knew at least one couple there and the church wanted us to get involved, which was wonderful since the our last church had become sort of “clique-ish”.
I did not care for the music. I had long ago resigned myself that the days of the old style worship had died so I guess I just needed to get on with my life. As I have stated many times before, I do not believe that we should only use songs written by dead English guys prior to 1800. Nor does music have to satisfy one’s own musical tastes for it to be worship (because in that case, no church music matches my musical taste). I do believe the music needs to be biblical and done with reverence and the proper attitude. However, I do not think that the particular “style” of music should be a reason to either go to, or leave, a church. At least here they didn’t have a 12 piece praise band that completely left the rest of the congregation out of the worship.
We continued to go there and quickly became friends with the Pastor, his wife, and several members. At this time, we just had our second child and they brought us food and all that. It was a bit of a bonding experience. I really liked the Pastor, we became friends. He paid attention to me and seemed to want my approval.
Mistake #4: I let my own ego and desire for friendship form a relationship prematurely.
I went about raving to my friends and family (who were still struggling in the last church) that this was the real thing. No emergent here! The Pastor is on guard against it – he preaches “from the Word”! We are all like a big family (many of us even went out to eat after service on Sunday) I was loving the community of it.
However, despite the “fun” and sense of belonging I had, I think I always knew something was just a bit amiss. When we were singing I often just sort of drifted off. I would stop singing and my wife would nudge me and admonish me that our son was watching and even if I didn’t like the music I was still supposed to sing.
At the Christmas Eve service this happened again and she got really mad at me. The problem was I couldn’t tell what I was singing. I couldn’t understand what the song was about. It had something about a tide coming in and the ocean rising – but I had no clue as to what I was supposed to be singing. We would sing “All of you is more than enough for all of me” and then the next song was a repetitious “We want more of you Jesus!” Exactly what was “more” or Jesus? The songs tended to be in that vain.
Oh well, I thought, music doesn’t matter. Its the preaching that counts, right? Well, yes, sort of. I found that it is the little things – the “underservice” of a church that really defines what is being promoted.
At one point, I met with the Pastor because of a little “set to” I had with my mother in law regarding a book she gave me. (you can read all about that in my first post). Pastor was kind and understanding and himself disavowed what he called “hypercharismatics”. However, he did state that he was a charismatic and spoke in tongues – but assured me he did it in the “right” way. When I brought up how I felt it was hard to trust anyone anymore when it comes to spiritual truth I mentioned how even Joyce Meyer says stuff all the time that bothers me. He was quick to leap to her defense and said “I have a good brother who I broke fellowship with because he didn’t like Joyce Meyer.”
Whoa. I quickly shut up. Looking back, I see that I so wanted this man’s friendship and attention that I was not willing to risk offending him and having him “break fellowship” with me. He also said later in the conversation that he felt a prophet whose prophecies did not come true was not a false prophet.
Mistake #5: I put my own need for friendship above the truth. I would no longer be willing to speak the truth in love or question my Pastor for fear of losing his friendship.
Then it was the small things that started adding up. We would be at a meal and one of the folk would say “You know that God only saved Noah because he had the only pure human DNA left of the planet because of the Nephelim?” To be fair the Pastor did contradict him on that. But the guy was a leader of the church! This guy also stated as “fact” that Jesus was Nicodemus’ nephew and that Jesus had traveled to England, and that we are the lost tribe of Israel, and ideas of that nature. While it is fine is a congregant wants to have weird views – these kinds of ideas were being promoted by someone who was – for lack of a better term – and elder of the church!
Mistake #6: I failed to recognize that you can’t have a body that is practicing a “little bit” of bad theology.
Then there was the Alpha Course. I won’t go into it here, but it is the study put out by Mike Bickle and the International House of Prayer (IHOP) on the End Times. It has all sorts of lovely Latter Rain/Dominion/Third Wave sorts of ideas. The Pastor was promoting it in the church – it was the Sunday night study! In fact, that is how our friends met the Pastor through a previous study of the Alpha Course. He was going through the Alpha Course and was using parts of it for his sermons.
Red flags began to go up for me. The services were starting to get out of hand and chaotic. One service was just the repetition of one song while people stood up and gave “words from the Lord” type of testimonies. One lady quoted scripture – which was fine – but made a special point of saying “blessed are the Overcomers” and “words have power”. One youth got up and gave a prophetic dream. The Pastor began to ask each week for people to come down and be “baptized with the Holy Spirit”. He was always saying “I really feel the Holy Spirit here today” as if the Holy Spirit shows up to greater or lesser degrees at other times. The casual conversation before and after was laced with “getting into the Spirit” and “five-fold ministry” and talk of prophecies and spiritual warfare. If any of this doesn’t mean anything to you – research it. It is all Latter Rain/Dominion/Third Wave/Charismatic type of stuff.
I won’t go into everything I heard or saw. I will state that it wasn’t some sort of charismatic free-for-all. It was the little things that added up. Talk of the “new direction” which was charismatic. The worship in the service and indeed sermons were aimed primarily at the worship of the Holy Spirit. There seemed to be a high pre-occupation with the Holy Spirit. I heard less and less Jesus and Law and Gospel. It was a subtle shift. Some might even say I overreacted. Well fair enough – go ahead and say it.
I felt that things were starting to go down a bad road. Although I couldn’t point to one thing and say “Look! there it is” it was more a general understanding that the folk in the church wanted more spiritual experiences and all the “miracles” and stories I heard led me to believe they were willing to go down the Latter Rain path to get them. As much as I felt my last church became a club, this one was one as well. Only this club was all about daily walking in the supernatural, signs and wonders and spiritual experiences – whether they were real or not.
If one wishes to castigate me and say I was seeing a heretic behind every tree because of my previous experience I wouldn’t blame them. However, by this time I had done enough study of this type of theology that I could clearly recognize the signs. Eventually I became agitated every time I had to went to church. I felt like I had to keep my guard up all the time for fear that I would end up in the middle of something that was demonic. (yeah that sounds harsh – but tell me what it would be if someone suddenly started raving or “prophesying” in the middle of an emotionally charged service? – how do I protect my son from being exposed to that?) At one point during a service I told my son “you have to go to the bathroom” so I could take him out because I was so uncomfortable with a young “prophet” telling us about his dream.
Sunday night became a night for the church to get together to exercise the gifts of the Holy Spirit. I never went to one, but I imagine it would have confirmed most of what I was feeling.
Oddly enough, it wasn’t the sermons that really bugged me, although they were beginning to get a bit “Holy Spirit Experience” heavy.
Mistake #7: Preaching “from the Word” is not the same as “Preaching God’s Word”. Preaching that has a heretical tinge can be worse than preaching that is patently false.
So what did I do? Did I stand up and tell them to stop? Did I meet with the Pastor and confront him with my concerns? Sadly, no. I also know enough about those involved in this kind of theology that I doubted very much that they would be swayed with reason or any of my “non Spirit-Filled” interpretations of Scripture. I was also very afraid that I would easily be convinced that my concerns were groundless because I didn’t want to lose their friendship – and so end up staying in a place I knew was not spiritually healthy.
Mistake #8: I didn’t speak the truth in love.
I am a bit ashamed of this and ask the Lord for his forgiveness. I pray that one day, Lord willing, I will be able to at least let them know why I could no longer be part of that church and that the Lord will equip me to speak effectively on the subject.
And here you probably thought I was a brave apologist confronting heresy and false doctrine at every turn.
Well, I told my wife that I was not comfortable with what was going on. I won’t lie, we argued on the subject. Part of the problem is that I am much better versed in the subject matter so when someone uses the term “Overcomers” or “five-fold ministry” it means something completely different (and dangerous) to me, while to her it is just another “Christian” term. She sees the individual elements as not adding up to much and frankly I see the “conspiracy” for lack of a better term.
We have moved on to a new church, but we remain friends with many from both previous churches. Did I repeat the mistakes from before? I’ll let you know.