On 11/24/2006, I appended this post with a badly needed correction to inaccurate information which I inadvertently passed on to my readers. I debated whether or not to delete or substantially revise the post itself, but I decided instead to add the correction at the end of the post, while leaving the original post intact. That made more sense, because I wanted to post an apology, and the apology wouldn't have made much sense to first time readers unless they knew what I was apologizing for.
To read that correction right away, click this link.
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A Very Long Night
Obeying the Lord is mandatory for Christians who are serious about their faith, but it isn’t always easy.
On Saturday night, I got a phone call from a close friend I had known for many years. I won’t divulge his identity in this article, because it’s important for me to preserve my friend’s anonymity. I value his friendship, and I don’t want to lose that friendship by betraying a confidence. Therefore, just so that I won’t have to keep saying “my friend” over and over again, I may occasionally refer to my friend as “Al”.
When the two of us were much younger, my friend and I shared a mutual love for God and a commitment to godly living. Al once attended church regularly, as did I. But Al later made some bad choices and started using various illegal drugs, in addition to alcohol. Over a period of time, during which we seldom saw one another, Al became a full blown alcoholic and he lost faith in the Lord --- not necessarily in that order.
I do not normally choose alcoholics and drug addicts as close friends, simply because that is not the lifestyle I choose to lead. But Al and I had been friends long before he became an alcoholic. A friendship which cannot endure and survive such a test was never much of a friendship to begin with.
God places people in our paths for a reason. Sometimes relationships with other people are roughly symmetrical, with both parties giving and receiving in equal measure. But that isn’t always the case. There are times when God places people into our lives so that we can shine the light of Christ into their lives, to the best of our admittedly limited abilities. We dare not shirk that responsibility or take it lightly.
I knew about Al’s alcohol problem, and I knew that he had struggled with his faith in recent years, even to the point that he had decided that he wasn’t a Christian after all. That made me very sad, because I knew that he was an intelligent man with a lot of potential.
After Al was released last year from an extensive alcohol rehabilitation program, I told my friend that he should feel free to call me and talk with me if and when he was tempted to relapse and return to the bottle. My resources were limited, but I would do what I could do to help him fight the temptations which face virtually every recovering alcoholic.
On Saturday night, he took me up on my offer. He had relapsed, and he was in the process of trying to “detox” himself. That didn’t seem very bright to me, especially since he told me that his approach was to drink a little bit more hard liquor during the process! However, I knew that the role I ought to play was not to condemn my friend, but to simply love him through the power of the Holy Spirit to the best of my ability. Besides, I’d never personally been through detox, so for all I knew, the approach he was taking was the correct one to take, even though it sounded counterintuitive to me.
At times, Al’s speech was clear and coherent, and we talked about various memories which we shared. At other times, my friend’s speech became incoherent and disjointed. And there were times during the evening when he was clearly in serious physical agony.
Even though I hadn’t ever had an experience quite like this one, I wasn’t completely unprepared. At the age of 13, I’d worked briefly as a counsellor at a Teen Challenge center in St. Louis. I had a pretty good idea what kind of behavior to expect from alcoholics.
Al and I were on the phone for about five or six hours, and maybe more. For some reason, though, it didn’t wear on me the way it might have done normally. Eventually, I got tired and ended the conversation so that I could get some sleep, but that wasn’t until around 3:00 in the morning on Sunday. I feel that God endowed me with the energy and strength to deal with the situation in a manner which exhibited grace, patience and godly love. While I did occasionally offer what I believed to be good advice, a substantial part of the evening required that I make a strong effort to be a good listener.
Slain in The Spirit
Liquor has many drawbacks, but it can also loosen people up enough that they will talk about things they might not have discussed otherwise. So I learned some things I hadn’t previously known about my friend Al. In particular, I learned more about what had caused him to veer away from his previous course and to make self-destructive lifestyle choices.
One story, in particular, stood out in my mind. That story made me angry, and my anger was not directed at my alcoholic friend.
Al told me about attending a church service in our home town in Missouri. At this service, numerous people were going forward to the altar and getting “slain in the spirit”.
Those who have attended such services or seen them on television may have some vague idea of what I’m talking about. For those who have not, getting “slain in the spirit” essentially involves having a pastor (or another Christian leader) lay hands on one’s forehead. The pastor prays and lightly thumps one on the forehead with the palm of his hand, at which point the power of God ostensibly becomes so strong in one’s body that one loses muscular control and falls to the ground without being pushed. At that point, the Holy Spirit then ostensibly fills one with a new sense of the presence of God, causing one to become invigorated and ready to do spiritual battle with Satan, the enemy of our souls.
This has become standard practice in some charismatic churches, to the extent that there are people standing nearby in anticipation of the need to help people to fall safely so that they will not hurt themselves. They even have cloths which are available specifically so that they can drape them over women’s legs, in order to preserve their modesty when they are lying prostate on the ground. (This, of course, assumes that they're wearing dresses, not pants. In most charismatic churches these days, that isn't necessarily the case. Charismatics are not like Fundamentalist Baptists when it comes to issues such as whether or not women should wear pants.)
To say that such events are spontaneous, therefore, would be completely inaccurate. Such events are highly structured and planned parts of certain worship services.
I wouldn't be at all surprised if some churches started selling "modesty cloths" with the church logos imprinted on those cloths! Better yet, they could start renting space on those modesty cloths, the way NASCAR drivers usually do with their cars. (I'm just kidding, of course, but when I consider some of the scams that have been perpetrated in God's name on networks such as TBN, it seems to me that the idea isn't all that far-fetched.)
Now, I have long believed in the “gifts of the spirit” (including speaking in tongues and prophecy), as a result of exposure to the Assemblies of God church when I worked at Teen Challenge at the age of 13. At about 15 years of age, I received the baptism of the Holy Spirit and became the first member of my immediate family to speak in tongues.
In other words, I am by no means hostile to the Pentecostal experience. But whereas there are extensive biblical references to speaking in tongues (particularly in I Corinthians), I have never been persuaded that the practice of being “slain in the Spirit” is biblical.
If being “slain in the Spirit” had been a structured and highly planned activity back in the early days of the church (as it clearly is now), don’t you think Paul or one of the other apostles would have given specific instructions about how to deal with the phenomenon, the way that Paul did with regard to speaking in tongues and uttering prophetic messages, in order to preserve order in the church? Yet, such instructions are noticeably missing from the scriptures. To my knowledge, there’s nothing in the Bible about a “modesty cloth” (or anything fitting that description) and nothing about the need to position people behind the people who come to the altar in order to catch them when they fall.
All of this suggests to me that the practice is a relatively recent development in the Christian church, and that it is therefore an invention of man (not entirely dissimilar to snake handling), not a divine work of God.
I’m not sure what accounts for the fact that some people lose muscular control during such events. My own inclination is to believe that it is a tribute to the power of suggestion (aided and abetted by the presence of a large group of people who all seem to be doing the same thing), and not to the power of the Holy Spirit.
It would be interesting to know how many Christians had been “slain in the spirit” during times when they were not surrounded by other Christians at church. I’m guessing that such events are extremely rare, if they ever occur at all.
Admittedly, the same could be said of prophecy (since a prophecy is only useful if there’s someone present to hear the prophecy), but unlike prophecy, it is difficult to see how lying prostrate on the ground helps anyone other than the person lying on the ground (and possibly a pickpocket lying next to that person!), even if the experience is biblically legitimate, which I strongly doubt.
Nevertheless, there was a time in his life when my friend Al was open to what God would do in his life. He had not diligently searched the scriptures to see whether or not the practice of being “slain in the Spirit” had a legitimate biblical foundation, but he’d been told by some Christians that getting “slain in the Spirit” was a wonderful experience. On the night in question, he saw scores of people going forward to the altar and having that experience. So after struggling with whether or not he ought to do so, he decided to go forward and give it a try.
Ministry and Presumptuousness
The guest speaker laid hands on my friend’s head, prayed for him, lightly thumped him on the forehead and then moved on to the next person to do the same thing. My friend then stood in anticipation, waiting for whatever might happen next. What happened next was pretty much nothing. Al continued to stand, and he did not feel any particular change which might have caused him to fall prostate on the ground.
Shortly thereafter, the guest speaker who had prayed for my friend returned and asked what had happened. “I’m not sure,” my disappointed friend replied. The guest speaker then replied, in a tone of voice which was dripping with condescension and self-righteousness, “It’s your PRIDE.”
In other words, if my friend wasn’t experiencing the same phenomenon as other people who had come forward, it was a sign that my friend lacked good moral character! How insulting and how presumptuous!
It didn’t seem to occur to the guest speaker that his willingness to judge Al without ever taking the time to get to know my friend might possibly be a sign that he was the one who had a serious problem with pride.
Hurtful Memories and Long Lasting Consequences
Even though my friend was drunk on Saturday night when I spoke with him, it became clear that this one hurtful incident, which took place years ago, had played a significant role in causing my friend to subsequently become disillusioned and bitter towards the church and towards God. That had led him to fall away from God and to seek to dull his pain by seeking refuge in a bottle of booze.
Of course, it would be specious and simplistic to say that that one incident was the only contributing factor, or that that Christian leader was ultimately to blame for Al’s alcoholism. We all have free will. My friend Al could have chosen to respond to that hurtful incident in a much different way.
Nevertheless, it seems clear to me that the aforementioned incident was a factor which contributed to the subsequent downward spiral in my friend’s life.
Some who are reading this might think that I'm naive in thinking that I ought to automatically accept the veracity of my friend's account of the previous incident. After all, people who have problems with substance abuse have been known to lie from time to time. So let me just say that I have several very good reasons to believe the story Al told to me.
First, I believe him because I've known him long enough to trust that he will tell me the truth about such things. Al has been unkind to me on a few occasions, but he's subsequently asked my forgiveness for having treated me that way. And to my knowledge, he's never deliberately lied to me.
Second, if my friend had been lying, I don't think his voice would have been as full of emotion as it was when he told me the story. It was very clear to me that even though it had been a number of years since that incident took place, my friend was still haunted by that incident.
Third, I believe him because I attended that same church. On a separate occasion, the pastor at that church treated me like dirt, in a slanderous manner which was very similar to the manner in which the guest speaker at that church treated my friend. Logically, people who are guilty of slandering their Christian brothers and sisters are a lot more likely to invite guest speakers who are similarly predisposed to such arrogant behavior.
Fourth, I believe that there's a direct and logical correlation between the doctrines preached by people in the "word of faith" movement (which I'll discuss in more detail later in this blog post) and the tendency of people who promote those doctrines to make unfounded and unjust accusations against other Christians.
A Case of Mistaken Identities
During our conversation Saturday night and Sunday morning, Al mentioned the name of the guest speaker who had presumptuously accused my friend of pride. He wasn’t quite sure what the man’s correct name was. At first he said he thought it was Ron or Rob Paisley. Then he corrected himself and said he thought the man’s surname might be Parsley.
I did some research online to see if I could figure out who this guy was. Initially, I thought Al might have been referring to Ross Parsley, the worship music leader who has now taken Ted Haggard’s place as interim pastor of New Life Church in Colorado. That would have been too bizarre, since I got an e-mail from Ross Parsley the very next day.
I was about to post this article, which contained numerous comments based on that erroneous assumption. Fortunately, I did some further research before posting the article. As a result, I learned (via www.breakthrough.net) that there was also a Pastor Rob Parsley who lived in Ohio.
The revelation that Rob Parsley had been mentored by Lester Sumrall confirmed my suspicion that it was Rob Parsley, not Ross Parsley, who had spoken so presumptuously to my friend on the day in question. (Lester Sumrall had been extremely influential over the pastor at the church where the incident took place. One online review of Sumrall’s book Faith Can Change Your World says that the book is “endorsed by leaders such as Kenneth Copeland, R.W. Schambach, Rod Parsley and Billy Joe Daugherty.” Coincidence? I think not. Rob Parsley is exactly the kind of person who would have been invited to speak at that particular church.)
If Rob Parsley had been as careful with his words that night as I was with my words when writing this blog post, my friend Al might have taken an entirely different turn in life.
Admittedly, I made a mistake once when researching this issue, so I could conceivably make such a mistake again. If I have inadvertently done so, I’ll be happy to apologize publicly to Rob Parsley on this blog site. In fact, I’m sending him a link to this blog article, because I think he ought to be aware of the article and the issue which surrounds the article.
Like I said, if Parsley is innocent of having driven my friend away from the church with his careless and mean-spirited words, then I’ll apologize to him for my unintentionally false accusation. However, if he did do what Al has accused him of doing, then he owes my friend a serious apology, at the very least. It wouldn't undo all the damage those words had done, but it might help to initiate a psychological and spiritual healing process Al clearly needs in his life.
UPDATE (11/24/2006): I keep my promise.
Heretical Teachings About Health and Wealth
When Al told me about his encounter with Rob Parsley years ago, it frankly did not surprise me. For a period of time, I had also attended the church where that incident took place.
The church advertised itself as a “word of faith” church, but it could just as easily have called itself a “name it and claim it church,” because that was basically the type of doctrine frequently promoted there. People such as Kenneth Copeland and Lester Sumrall were treated as if they were celebrities or prophets (or maybe a little bit of both) whenever they came to town and visited that church.
In my defense, I would point out that my primary reason for attending the church was that it was my mother’s church at the time. It was not long before I began to realize that there a number of things going on at that church which fell well short of the biblical model for what the local church ought to be like.
If one had to sum up the fundamental belief of most “name it and claim it” churches, it would be the idea that there are certain biblical principles which virtually guarantee physical health and material prosperity if those principles are followed.
Regarding miracles, such people often model their views on the views of Oral Roberts, who taught his viewers to “expect a miracle” (prior to making the presumptuous, bizarre and demonstrably false claim that God would kill him unless people sent him a certain amount of money by a certain date).
I know that there are some outstanding ministers of the gospel who went to Oral Roberts University. I don’t want to inadvertently paint every graduate of that school with a broad and slanderous brush. But I’m generally inclined to believe that such people are outstanding in spite of having attended that institution, not because they attended that institution.
I’ll be the first to admit that the “prosperity doctrine” is attractive on some level. I desire physical health and material wealth as much as the next guy. No one with any brains likes sickness or infirmity. No one with any brains or ambitions likes poverty.
But wanting something and believing that there is a guarantee that one will receive that thing in this life (if one lives one's life according to certain principles) are two very different things. The first is understandable. The second is idiotic.
I'd love to conduct a survey of people at various churches, concerning verifiable matters such as personal income and health issues. I'd be willing to bet that there would be as many poverty-stricken, sick people in the pews of the "health and wealth" churches as there are in any other churches. Not to mention a whole lot more secret guilt, since their pastors have taught them, by implication, that all of their financial and health-related problems are their fault.
Of course, there probably wouldn't be much point in such an exercise, because the purveyors of false doctrines would find some way to rationalize away the evidence by once again blaming the victims for their "lack of faith".
What we believe as Christians should be based on the word of God, solid evidence and sound reasoning --- not on wishful thinking.
That thing I find saddest about the "health and wealth" teachers is that their lies cause some people to question the idea that God ever heals or materially blesses anyone, when in fact, God does do both things from time to time, when it so pleases God to do so.
Some Thoughts About Miracles On Demand
Now, before Parsley and his fans start accusing me of being “one of them there heathen liberals,” let me make it clear that I fervently believe in miracles. I find it nonsensical to claim that miracles were available to Christians prior to the creation of the Bible, and then to claim (with scant scriptural evidence) that the well dried up subsequent to that time, to the extent that such miracles are no longer available to modern Christians.
However, I think it is absurd and completely unbiblical to claim that there is some kind of magic formula which guarantees that a faithful Christian will never experience poverty or sickness. I think it is equally absurd to claim that miracles should happen in the average believer’s life on a regular basis. These are the sort of claims typically made by con artists, not apostles or prophets.
What is a miracle, after all? A miracle is an event which falls outside the realm of normal everyday expectations, and which can withstand close scrutiny even from nonbelievers (if they will lay aside their prejudices), and which can only be attributed to the divine by anyone who is not in open rebellion against God. This may not be a perfect definition, but I think it’s pretty good.
Now, I know, there are ways to redefine the word “miracle” so that it seems as if virtually everyone is experiencing miracles on a regular basis. One can refer, for example, to “the miracle of birth” which occurs whenever a new baby is born. When one considers how utterly impossible it would be for any human to create a new human life without the involvement of God in the process, it is true that there is something mysterious and wondrous about every new baby who is born. Maybe even miraculous, in a limited sense.
To a man or woman who is struggling financially, it might seem “miraculous” when a check turns up in the mail, from an unknown or unanticipated donor, just in the nick of time. That, too, can often be attributed to the fact that God loves and cares for us.
Nevertheless, there are miracles and then there are miracles. If the only thing Jesus had ever done was to deliver a newborn baby and send money to someone who needed the money badly, it’s doubtful that people would have said, “Come see this Jesus! He is a worker of miracles!” After all, they could do those things themselves.
To qualify as a real miracle of biblical proportions, an event would have to be something which, if witnessed or experienced, would cause even a fervent non-believer to describe that event as a miracle. After all, when Jesus performed miracles, it was in front of skeptics and non-believers who were not predisposed by their upbringing to believe that Jesus was a miracle worker.
One cannot help but notice that genuine miracles are recorded throughout the Bible. But it should be equally obvious that such miracles were relatively rare, in terms of the frequency with which they occurred during Old Testament times. The Bible spans many centuries, so it doesn’t take much in the way of brains to figure out that the number of miracles which occurred on an annual basis was pretty small indeed, even in the house of Israel. The miracles which were recorded were recorded precisely because they were so unusual. Most individuals whose stories were told in the Old Testament were blessed indeed if they witnessed one or two genuine miracles in their entire lifetimes.
Even if one is talking about Jesus himself, miracles only occurred with great regularity during the last three years or so of Jesus’ life. In other words, roughly 9% or 10% of the 33 years he was here on this earth. Maybe a little bit more, if one accepts the legitimacy of apocryphal stories pertaining to Jesus’ childhood (but I don’t).
If miracles happened on an everyday basis, to the extent that one could expect them to occur (as Oral Roberts claimed), then no one would call them miracles in the first place. People would describe them, instead, as natural laws of science. It’s precisely because they are extremely rare that we call them miracles.
Therefore, it is ridiculous to lie to people by teaching them that they can produce miracles at the drop of a hat and on a regular basis, merely my mustering up enough faith and getting rid of all of their pride.
By the way, anyone who’s ever watched Kenneth Copeland and other men like Copeland strutting around the stage on TV like overgrown peacocks in business suits understands what I mean when I say that these are the last people on earth who should be accusing anyone of the sin of pride! As an artist, I have a pretty good imagination, yet I have great difficulty imagining Jesus acting in a manner similar to what I have seen from these so-called "men of God".
The Reason for Miracles
When Jesus performed miracles, the objective was not to forever eliminate all unpleasant things from the lives of those who believed in Jesus. The objective was to fulfill prophecy and to demonstrate that Jesus’ claims about himself were therefore credible.
Jesus’ earthly miracles were temporary in nature. Jesus did indeed raise Lazarus from the dead, but Lazarus eventually died again. That ought to be obvious. Otherwise, Lazarus would still be walking the earth today. So what happened? Did Lazarus eventually fail to meet God’s standards, at which point God decided to punish Lazarus by allowing him to die once again? That seems highly unlikely, given the fact that the scriptures make no mention of such an incident.
Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead for the sake of the people who witnessed that miracle, not for Lazarus’ sake. Lazarus probably would have preferred to go straight to heaven, rather than being asked to spend more time in this demonstrably imperfect and fallen world. One might even argue that Jesus wept, in part, because he knew that he was asking an awful lot of Lazarus when he raised Lazarus from the dead.
Eternal life is only a blessing if one is allowed to live in a world which is free from the pain caused by human sin. Jesus didn’t raise Lazarus from the dead so that Lazarus could live on earth forever. That would have been cruel, and Jesus was not cruel. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead to demonstrate that Jesus had power over life and death. Such a demonstration made Jesus’ other unverifiable claims much more credible.
If Jesus could bring the dead to life, then Jesus also could logically be trusted to create a new heaven and a new earth in which eternal life would not be a recipe for misery.
However, we do not yet live in such a world, which is why even Saint Paul was torn between life in this world and eternal life in the next world.
The life of Saint Paul offers one good reason to question the wisdom and validity of the “name it and claim it” doctrine.
If following godly principles guaranteed lives of material prosperity, as men like Kenneth Copeland have taught, then it would logically follow that Saint Paul was an utter failure. Ditto for the other Christian martyrs.
Paul certainly did not die a wealthy man. On the contrary, he died in prison. The prisons back in those days were even less pleasant than the ones we have now. There were no televisions or fitness facilities or conjugal visits.
As for physical health, no one knows exactly what Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was, but it’s clear that he was not protected from pain or suffering. Even if the word “thorn” is used metaphorically (which seems likely, since Paul could have easily removed a real thorn), it’s still a pretty pointed metaphor.
Why does the Christian church still honor and respect apostles and Christian martyrs such as Saint Paul, even though such people were often “losers” in the eyes of the world? Because Christians who have not been seduced by the prosperity doctrine understand that a man can be spiritually poor even though he is materially rich, and vice versa.
Contrary to what the “name it and claim it” people would imply, living a life of obedience to God does not mean that we Christians will be insulated from the pain of life on this earth if only we will consistently follow a certain formula. Jesus told us that we could often expect to suffer just as Jesus suffered, on account of our decision to follow him.
Obviously, no one wants to suffer for Christ, but we have to be willing to do so if necessary. Those whose faith is based solely on what God can do for them in this life have built their houses on shifting sand. They have no idea whatsoever of what it means to “die to self”.
There is a sense in which Jesus’ miracles were merely conversation starters designed to help open blind eyes to who Jesus was. Jesus specifically warned against those who regularly sought after “signs and wonders” as an end in themselves. Such a warning might be particularly appropriate in some of today’s personality-driven charismatic churches.
There is a sense in which the “name it and claim it” theology is an insult against God, since it diminishes God’s sovereignty and the notion that God’s ways are sometimes beyond our comprehension. God is not some type of cosmic vending machine, where one puts in one’s money and a miracle pops out. God chooses who to bless and who not to bless. He has the right to do that.
The reasons for God’s choices about such matters are not always immediately obvious to us. While it is true that there is sometimes a correlation between God’s blessings and the choices which have been made by those who are blessed, it is also true that there are people in this world who have been temporarily deprived of such blessings even though they have lived righteous lives (and in some cases, because they have lived righteous lives), just as it is true that there are people in this world who have been temporarily blessed even though they’ve spent most of their lives disobeying God and thumbing their noses at God’s commandments.
People who claim that they’ve figured out a way to manipulate God into doing what they want God to do are in serious need of humility. God is not subject to any laws, natural or otherwise.
When people believe that the blessings they have received from God are the results of their own formulas and systems and schemes, rather than the manifestations of God’s undeserved grace towards them, the end result is that they lack gratitude for the blessings they have received from God, since they think (at least on a subconscious level) that they have somehow earned those blessings.
Simple Minded Doctrines and the Diminution of Compassion
In the book of Job, it was revealed in the very first chapter that Job’s afflictions were not punishments in response to Job’s lack of righteousness. On the contrary, they were actually an expression of God’s confidence in Job. The Devil claimed that Job’s faith would dissolve the minute things turned sour for him. God tested Job in order to demonstrate to the Devil that the Devil was wrong about Job.
Yet, when Job was in the midst of his afflictions, Job’s fair weather friends turned on him, blaming Job for his own troubles and afflictions. Job’s accusers presumptuously and simplistically assumed that there was only one possible explanation for Job’s troubles. Consequently, they abandoned Job when he needed good and faithful friends the most.
When people teach that success is virtually guaranteed to people who follow certain principles with pure hearts, it has the unfortunate effect of causing Christians to deliberately or unintentionally slander people who usually deserve a lot better.
As a result, such a teaching often leads Christians to abdicate their biblical responsibilities to show compassion for one another and for the lost. If you’re struggling financially or if you’re sick or if you don’t get “slain in the spirit” when everyone else in the room seems to be experiencing that highly questionable phenomenon, then the unspoken implication is that it must be your fault. It logically follows, in the minds of simple-minded and arrogant people, that other Christians are relieved of the responsibility to give you any help or show you any kindness.
Whereas the book of James teaches that faith without works is dead, and that it is spiritually useless to wish a man or woman well if one is not willing to take practical action to help that man or woman, these wolves in sheep’s clothing teach a completely different doctrine. They teach that if one is experiencing an unmet need, the existence of that need is an indictment of one’s own faith, not an indictment of the faith of those who have selfishly refused to extend a helping hand in one’s time of need! To say that that is a perversion of the gospel of Jesus Christ is to put things mildly.
The Root of The Problem
The older I get, the more I realize that people ultimately get the leaders they deserve. Whether one is talking about men such as Ted Haggard or men such as Rob Parsley, there are obvious reasons why charlatans tend to abound in certain churches.
Put simply, the people at such churches value all the wrong things. They tend to value flash and style over substance and character. Transparency is something such people discourage from their leaders, so leaders who are painfully honest about their struggles and shortcomings are likely to be given the boot (if they are ever hired at all), while people who incessantly wear artificial smiles which would have embarrassed the Cheshire cat from “Alice in Wonderland” are seen as spiritual giants worthy of being put on pedestals.
Ironically, I have noticed that churches which are particularly successful seem to be particularly susceptible to this type of thing. Success is desirable, but we need to be aware that it can also be a breeding ground for sinful pride.
As a musician and artist, I think that we ought to strive for excellence in everything we do. That includes the presentations we make in our churches. Therefore, I am glad that production values have improved greatly in recent years, in terms of our worship services and other Christian events. But I am also aware of the considerable dangers which can be the result of putting all of our emphasis on showmanship. Unless showmanship is accompanied by depth of character and the fruits of the Holy Spirit, it is worthless in terms of building the kingdom of God.
The fruits of the Holy Spirit pertain to how we treat one another, not to whether or not we can put on an impressive show. If being a good Christian has become synonymous with “putting on a good show,” then the church is in serious trouble in the United States.
A strong dose of humility is desperately needed among many of our most successful pastors and evangelists today. Many of those leaders have lost perspective. They need to step away from their high salaries and go back to square one by choosing self-sacrificial lives of service to poor inner city churches and prisons and other places where success is not measured in superficial things such as dollars and cents or church attendance. God is unimpressed by such things.
There’s nothing inherently godly about drawing a huge crowd. Rock bands which regularly spit in the face of God often draw huge crowds.
What God cares about the most is people and their welfare. Caring for people means taking the time to get to know people as individuals (the way that Jesus did with the “woman at the well” from Samaria), rather than leveling instant and ignorant judgments against them.
Did Rob Parsley ever stop to consider the potential hurt his words might cause when he spoke to my friend Al years ago? Highly unlikely. Instead, Rob Parsley treated Al is if Al was expendable, even though Al was clearly receptive to what God might do in his life.
That’s about as smart as catching a boatload of fish and then tossing many of those fish back into the sea because some of them are less than perfect. All of us are less than perfect, but we still matter to God.
There should be no “catch and release” program in the kingdom of God. Jesus tells us that we are to be “fishers of men.” If God has brought a particular “fish” into your net and your boat, it’s for a very good reason. Your responsibility, therefore, is to figure out what that reason is and then to act accordingly.
Some of the ugliest fish, such as the “monk fish”, make for mighty good eating. So it’s stupid to judge real or metaphorical fish solely on the basis of first impressions.
(Not that my friend Al is physically ugly. Far from it. He looks a lot better than I do, when he's sober. But it seems clear to me that Rob Parsley was judging my friend on the basis of first impressions, since he certainly did not take the time to get to know my friend before issuing his judgmental proclamation to the effect that Al was full of "pride" for no better reason than the fact that Al didn't drop to the carpet on command.)
To declare a person to be unworthy of one’s attention, when claiming to minister to the lost and needy, is to essentially tell the Holy Spirit that the Holy Spirit is incompetent, since that person would not have been there in the first place if the Holy Spirit had not drawn that person there.
In God’s kingdom, no one should be considered expendable. Even in cases where people’s own moral failures can be legitimately blamed for the difficulties they have experienced in life, and even in cases where the likelihood of success when dealing with such people seems slim, that does not negate our Christian responsibilities to help such people and treat them with kindness, just as we would wish for them to treat us.
I indicated in the original blog post here that I was willing to publicly apologize to Rob Parsley if it turned out that I'd accused him unfairly. After speaking with Al again, shortly after I'd sent him a link to this blog post via e-mail, Al apologized to me for leaving me with the erroneous impression that Parsley had been the person who had accused him of pride. As it turns out, the accuser was a member of the church in which that meeting took place. It was not Rob Parsley who presumptuously judged my friend's heart without taking time to get to know my friend. Rob was the person who had laid hands on my friend and prayed for him, but someone else came along in his wake and said the thing which deeply hurt my friend.
If only the pastor of that church had been equally willing to apologize to me for slandering my name and harming my good reputation back in the late 80's, a couple of years before I moved to Chicago! But that's a subject best left for another blog.
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