In response to our previous entry (“Heaping up teachers“), reader AJS posted the following comment:
The problem of the teaching in these types of churches is an interesting one. Because the connections between the verses are often glib and patched together haplessly, strong rules for reading scripture properly are never enforced. The result is two-fold: 1) the preacher is more free to deviate from the Bible because no one knows how to question the false teachings properly; and 2) the congregation never studies the Bible well individually. Thus, there is no real system of accountability left in place and the congregation is too dependent upon the pastor to receive anything from the Bible or to really develop spiritually themselves.
I thought AJS’s comment was a very succinct summary of what allows and fosters false teachings in Charismaniac churches. Here are my own observations:
Since we left Living Word (a pseudonym), I’ve begun to realize that we were taught, both directly and indirectly, that Pastor Smith (another pseudonym) was somehow more closely connected to God than we were. He was the prophet, and since God talked to him so much, what Pastor Smith thought and taught carried far more weight than any study we might undertake on our own.
It’s little wonder that Living Word had such a large contingent of former Catholics who felt comfortable there. If you think about it, the way we were trained to view Pastor Smith’s preaching (and the reliability of our own understanding, in comparison to Smith’s, while reading the Bible) was the same way that Catholics are taught to view their personal Bible study and what their clergy say.
Also, at Living Word Church, we were taught to be highly suspicious of prophecies that were given to us by anybody other than Pastor Smith. I can remember MANY occasions where he would make fun of what he called “parking lot prophecies.” The message was clear: only Pastor Smith REALLY heard from God in that way.
Even how we were trained to refer to him as “Pastor” (like he didn’t actually have a first name) now reminds me of Catholicism and how their priests are called “Father.” Everything – the use of the title of “Pastor,” the psychological edge of placing his family in throne-like chairs on the stage (so that they were 4 feet above us, looking down on us from a position of superiority), the cadre of “bodyguards” who always surrounded him, even the velvet ropes that were used to cordon off the walkway when he traveled from his office to the doors leading to the stage – was designed to foster our belief in Smith’s superiority and authority and specialness.
This whole attitude that Pastor Smith is somehow on a higher plane spiritually than the rest of us is one of the reasons why people wouldn’t question the way he handled the Bible. Because, even if you sensed that he was misinterpreting something or giving a weird spin to a familiar teaching, you’d set aside your own thinking and still accept what he said. After all, he was the “set man of God” for “the house,” the one whom God had put in place to “speak a word into your life.”
I can remember when Pastor Smith taught a whole series about Jesus’ words in John 14, “I go to prepare a place for you.” During that series, Smith presented quite an odd take on this familiar passage. He reasoned that since mansions already exist in heaven (“In my Father’s house ARE…”), then when Jesus said He was “going to prepare a place,” then PLACE must mean something other than a mansion. Smith then defined place (I assume from the dictionary) as a position. Then he said that what Jesus REALLY meant was that He was going to prepare our “prophetic destiny.”
Could the passage really be saying that?
Well, as I listened, I instinctively felt that this was “off.” (Especially because his “application,” to use the term loosely, was all about him and his own prophetic destiny as our shepherd and the leader of the “great end-times harvest” that was soon to hit Living Word!) And yet, you could sort of interpret John 14 that way. Sort of.
I silenced my misgivings and listened to Smith and believed that maybe Jesus was indeed talking about my prophetic destiny, since “God’s man” who was supposed to be my “covering” was telling me so.
Even when he launched into a COMPLETELY off-base study of the word “prepare,” I continued to listen to Smith with an open mind. Yet…I was an English teacher in a former life, and I instantly recognized that his whole breakdown of the word “prepare” (that since “pre” means before, and “pare” means to shave away, like in paring an apple, before you can get to the “prepared place,” God has to “pare” some stuff off of your life, that there is a painful cutting-away process) was flat-out wrong and had NOTHING to do with that passage of Scripture.
I can remember feeling very troubled during that sermon series. But again…in Charismaniac churches, there is SUCH an emphasis on the specialness and the authority of the pastor, that even when the people might know better, they still accept poor teachings.