[Before I begin, I need to clarify something. ALL names that we use are pseudonyms. I’d thought it was obvious that “Pastor Smith” was a fake name, but a friend who read some of our articles didn’t pick up on that and thought that we were openly spreading negative information about our former pastor. That is most definitely NOT the case.]
It’s been awhile since we’ve posted here.
Well, as we’ve been embraced by a wonderful new church, talking about our old “Cult Church” and analyzing our experiences there have seemed less and less important. Many of the things that had suddenly struck as utterly bizarre and unacceptable a few months ago—the blog-worthy stuff—have seemed to recede into the distance, mere specks in our rear-view mirror as we continue down the road of our journey with Christ. They’re no less bizarre or unacceptable, but we’re a lot less consumed by thoughts of them.
Which we see as a good thing.
But on the flip side, as more weeks slide by and we measure the time since we left the Cult Church in terms of months, we’ve gained something new that has produced more blog-worthy insights: perspective.
The other night, I realized that I could rather succinctly sum up a few of the things that I believe caused such a once-good ministry to go sour. In no particular order, here are some observations:
Lack of Formal Education/Lack of Doctrinal Knowledge. As an essentially uneducated (or to be more fair, “self-educated”) man, who by his own admission learned most of what he knows from listening to other preachers on the road, Pastor Smith is not very well-grounded in Christian orthodoxy. He’s a smart man, but he lacks the perspective that a formal education could have given him. This is why his preaching is so heavy on the so-called “Prosperity Gospel”—it just reflects what he has absorbed from all the other prosperity preachers through the years.
I actually have come to believe that Pastor Smith didn’t initially buy into the Prosperity Gospel because he was greedy for money. Rather, although he’s intelligent, he just didn’t know enough to know that teachings like the “Manifest Sons” doctrine, for instance, are heretical. And then, because tenets of the Prosperity Gospel just about ALWAYS work for the preacher taking up the collection, Smith tasted the fruits of declaring, “Give your best sacrificial offering and you will reap a hundredfold harvest,” and those fruits—his own financial success—made him believe even more in the Prosperity Gospel.
A hardened heart. And then, even if Pastor Smith had dark moments of conscience—even if he had a doubt or two about preaching so much about money and “blessings” for the here and now—once he’d attained financial success and had grown accustomed to his luxurious lifestyle, I believe that he hardened his heart against any such questioning. It reminds me of I Timothy 4:1-2, where Paul writes, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron.”
The “Emperor’s New Clothes” Syndrome. Pastor Smith has, over the years, surrounded himself with nothing but “yes people” who are so enamored of their proximity and access to Smith’s “anointing” that they’d never dream of giving him honest feedback about anything that could be perceived as “negative.” This explains why nobody has ever dared correct Smith on obviously wrong practices like asking people to give his family personal gifts.
Blurred Identity. Somewhere along the line, Pastor Smith grew confused about where his own personal identity ends and where that of the church and/or “his ministry” begins.
This is actually a huge thing that explains so much of the strange stuff that goes on at our former church. It explains why Pastor Smith has no problem soliciting offerings for his wife’s birthday, or simply declaring several times from the pulpit that we needed to give his son and bride cash gifts for their wedding.
It explains why Pastor Smith seems to see nothing wrong with being treated like a celebrity. After all, in his mind, if HE is treated well, that just means that the cause of Christ is advanced, because his sense of himself as an individual has morphed into (and become all intertwined with) his ministry, and his ministry is, after all, about preaching the Gospel. It’s sort of like the old, “If A = B, and B = C, then A = C.” If Smith the man is one and the same as Smith’s ministry, and if Smith’s ministry is one and the same as the Gospel, then Smith is actually…the gospel?
I have come to believe that this identity confusion is why Pastor Smith is still able to convey such a total sincerity both when he preaches and when he engages in questionable behaviors, such as soliciting gifts or favoring the rich. It’s because he honestly has ceased to see any difference between what he does on behalf of himself—and, because his wife and two sons are all on the church dole, of his entire family—and on behalf of the cause of Christ. Hook Smith up to a lie detector, ask him if he’s ever abused ministry funds, and I’m willing to bet he’d firmly declare, “No!” And he’d pass the lie detector with flying colors, because in his mind, his $80,000 Mercedes, his million-dollar mansion, his designer clothing, are all purchased on behalf of the ministry, because they were purchased for HIM. And since he works for Jesus, then it’s actually Jesus who is benefiting from the expensive suits and the luxury car.
Those are some of the observations that time has distilled.
For us, it’s still terribly sad to see the reality of our old Cult Church. But we’re really thankful that we’ve landed somewhere new, where the “whole counsel of God” is preached with careful attention to Biblically correct doctrine. Jesus never fails, even though sometimes “anointed” pastors do.