Archive for October, 2007

You might be a Charismaniac if…

  1. You think it’s normal that your pastor owns the church.
  2. Most of the sermons you hear are about money – getting more of it.
  3. Most sermons are based on Old Testament texts, or single verses plucked out of the New Testament, particularly III John 1:2.
  4. You think it’s normal to give a pastor a standing ovation.
  5. You think it’s normal for a pastor to take up birthday offerings for himself or his wife.
  6. You think the “Gospel” is mostly about the good things God will do for you on this earth, right now.
  7. You keep hearing that there is a huge “end-times” revival right around the corner.
  8. You’ve been taught that, in conjunction with this “end-times” revival, Christians are going to get richer and richer.
  9. You believe that the best way to receive a miracle is to “sow a seed,” which means give a large offering you can’t afford.
  10. You believe certain people – your pastor, and other leaders with large ministries – are specially “anointed” and hear directly from God.
  11. You don’t bat an eye when you hear your pastor say, “God told me…”
  12. Your pastor has bodyguards.
  13. Your pastor drives a car worth more than most people’s houses.
  14. The only people with any authority on your church’s staff are either the pastor, or someone who shares his last name.
  15. Your pastor didn’t go to seminary.
  16. But he calls himself “Doctor.”
  17. Your pastor’s wife is also a pastor and goes by the title of “First Lady.”
  18. Anyone related to your pastor is also “anointed.”  And this “anointing” is transferrable by marriage, so that your pastor’s kids’ spouses begin sporting the title of “Pastor.”
  19. There is special reserved seating for people particularly close to the pastor.
  20. When you see your pastor up close, you get as tongue-tied and as star-struck as if you’d run into your favorite movie star.
  21. If you found out your pastor and his wife were coming to visit you, you’d immediately feel an urgent need to remodel your house and buy all new furniture.
  22. But that would be a pipe dream, because your pastor never visits anyone except for a select few who have been with his ministry for years.  Or new people who have given huge donations.
  23. Your pastor calls himself “Apostle.”
  24. Your pastor calls himself “Prophet.”
  25. Your pastor preaches that prophecy is for today…but only HE is allowed to prophesy.
  26. You’ve been going to your church for more than a year, but you still don’t really know anyone there very well.
  27. You do, however, feel like you know your pastor pretty well.
  28. There is fierce competition for seats in the first few rows of the auditorium.  You get to church a half hour early to secure one of those seats.
  29. New people are treated with suspicion.  “New people” is anyone who has been at your church less time than you have.
  30. Your church has very few small-group Bible studies or other supplementary classes.  Very few people are allowed to teach at your church, except those who either A) have the same last name as your pastor; or B) are really, really bad at teaching.  If someone happens to slip into group “B” but turns out to be good at teaching, he or she will probably never teach again.
  31. Although you’d never be able to guess from your church’s official statement of faith, the practical reality is that everybody puts more stock in “The Anointing” (particularly as it exists within your pastor) than they do in the message of salvation.  Salvation is your ticket to heaven, but “The Anointing” is where all the “good stuff” comes from.
  32. Your church talks a LOT about physical healing.  They even hold “Healing Services” and have healing lines.  But nobody ever jumps out of a wheelchair.  Rather, a few people get healed from stuff like back pain and migraines.
  33. Although to hear everyone talk, you’d think that crowds were re-growing amputated limbs and snapping out of Down Syndrome.
  34. There is a lot more prestige associated with volunteer positions like washing the pastor’s car or opening the door for him than there is with working in the children’s ministry.
  35. Your pastor talks a lot about how he’s your spiritual father, your covering, and your head.
  36. You find yourself aspiring to dress and live like the pastor and his family, although you don’t have the money to do so.
  37. You are encouraged NOT to think.  Analytical thought is scorned.  “The Anointing” trumps all need for theology, education, or anything else that would involve the logical part of your brain.
  38. Your pastor’s sermons begin with, “God told me…” and involve your pastor then going on to explain how what God told him is supported by various Bible verses.  These verses, in their original context (which is never discussed), have NOTHING to do with what your pastor is saying, but they do contain a key word from the message that “God gave” your pastor.
  39. Your pastor is in complete control of everything and answers to no one.  If there IS an elder or deacon board, the board meets only to fulfill IRS requirements and consists of men hand-picked by the pastor who will agree with whatever the pastor tells them.
  40. Your pastor dreams of being famous and expends much effort (and cash) to buddy up to already-famous ministries…regardless of whether or not they agree on key doctrines like the trinity.
  41. Your church’s offering envelopes have a place for giving by credit card.  You are also taught that the best way to become financially stable is to “give your way out of debt.”
  42. You begin to notice that the list of “regular attenders” seems to change all the time.  People will attend every service faithfully for months or even years and then suddenly disappear forever.  Your pastor spends a lot of time talking about how these folks are in rebellion, and how you will keep yourself from receiving “your blessing” if you listen to them.
  43. You are taught all the time that you are “blessed,” which generally means that you will live in financial “overflow” and have “favor” over all areas of your life.  Sometimes this “favor” seems to mean that you expect people to bend the rules for you…as evidenced by prayer requests like, “Pray for my nephew as he faces drug charges, pray that he will find favor with the judge, and if anyone knows anyone in the D.A.’s office, please call us.”

Obviously, this is not an exhaustive list.  We invite you to add yours in comments below. 

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Yesterday, a thought occurred to me, as I was pondering the recent troubles of people like Richard Roberts (president of Oral Roberts University) and his wife Lindsay.  

I was thinking about how amazing it is that these supposed Bible teachers and preachers could have gotten so mixed up.  When the Bible contains so many warnings about the love of money, and so many exhortations to not love the things of this world, how on earth did the “Prosperity Gospel” ever take root and grow through so much of the Charismatic world?

That’s when this thought occurred to me:

Perhaps the “Prosperity Gospel” caught on so well because it offered its proponants – those evangelists and ministers – theological support for getting rich.

Think about it.  Prior to perhaps the 1970s, when preachers like Oral Roberts and Kenneth Copeland hit the TV airwaves with their “Seed Faith” and “Name It and Claim It” messages, the predominant view among churchfolk was that clergymen should not have a lot of money. 

I’ve mentioned before how, when my mom was a teenager in the 1950s, one of her good friends was the daughter of a Pentecostal preacher.  My mom remembers hearing all about how tough it was for them, living on a tiny salary.  But then, to add insult to injury, their congregation also believed that it was their right to scrutinize and critique every expenditure this preacher and his family made.  If the preacher’s wife bought a new dress, there would be talk.  If they got a new car, the church people wanted to make sure they got the best deal for “their” money.  And of course, the preacher didn’t DARE take his family on any sort of vacation that could be viewed as “extravagant.”  It was a tough life.

That, obviously, was one extreme.  But, deeply planted within the Christian psyche, is the long-held notion that a true “man of God” does not care – or more importantly, SHOULD NOT care – about the “things of this world.” 

There is a lot of Scriptural support for this notion.  While Jesus did promise that He will meet our material needs if we are truly seeking to do His will, we are instructed to “store up treasures” in heaven and NOT on this earth.  In fact, if you study the Bible carefully, keeping in mind audience and context, you really can’t make a case for ANY Christian, clergy or layperson, striving to accumulate lots of money.

Yet Sunday after Sunday, in most Charismatic churches across this country, people are treated to messages about how God wants you to be rich.  Time Magazine, in fact, devoted a cover story to this very question last year. 

We ourselves, during our time at Living Word Church (a pseudonym), heard more preaching about money than about any other subject.  Most of it was about how we needed to be giving to Living Word.  Tithing was taught as God’s strict law, and in addition to that mandatory ten percent of our gross income, we were also hit up for extra offerings.  Pastor Smith (another pseudonym) devoted so much time to the subject of giving that, during our first Sunday morning service at the church, I mistakenly thought that he’d already preached his sermon when all he’d been doing was giving the congregation his usual 15-minute pre-offering pep talk. 

Definitely, “Charismaniac” preachers love the prosperity message.  They also love the “perks” that go with it.

Pastor Smith would occasionally go on rants – rants that even at the time struck me as oddly defensive – about how he didn’t want to hear ANYONE complaining about his fancy car (which happened to be a top-of-the-line $80,000 Mercedes) or his nice house (a newer custom-built mansion in a gated community).  I don’t feel like taking the time, but if I wanted to, I’m sure I could dig up and transcribe any number of these rants from teaching CDs we still have lying around our house. 

And the bottom line of all these tirades was always the same:  Pastor Smith NEEDED to have these designer clothes and expensive vacations, for OUR benefit.

Yes, you read that right. 

On many occasions, Pastor Smith told us that since he was our “shepherd,” our “covering,” our “spiritual father,” and our “head,” and since “anointing flows from the head down,” it was to our benefit to have him living the “abundant life.”  We NEEDED him to do so, in fact, because we NEEDED him as our example.  “Whatever gets on the head,” he’d shout, “will flow down to the rest of the body!”

I’m rather embarrassed now to think back on how his audience responded to these rants.  You’d think we all would have walked out in disgust, but instead, people would shout and applaud Pastor Smith.  They were excited, because Pastor Smith was essentially telling them that if they followed his teachings – by giving their tithes and offerings to Living Word Church – they themselves would end up with a Mercedes and a closet full of custom-made suits and Tommy Bahama sportswear.

Through God’s grace, we never fully bought into all of Pastor Smith’s message.  I guess we just couldn’t quite shake our middle-of-the-road Baptist/Evangelical upbringings.  We were never quite comfortable with the idea that we needed Pastor Smith to live in luxury so that we could be blessed.  We knew the Bible a little too well to fall for that.

Yet this idea is rampant in Charismania, and it is the teaching these preachers use to prop up their little kingdoms.  I can guarantee you that, should the allegations about the Robertses’ extravagant lifestyle prove to be true, you’ll find plenty of people who will defend them with this very line of reasoning.  I’d even venture to guess that Richard Roberts himself – born and raised in the ultimate “Seed Faith” household – has so internalized his father’s messages about money and “blessings” that he sees nothing wrong with flying in the university’s private jet to take his family on luxury vacations.  He probably views a gorgeous house, luxury cars, and a country club membership as his personal right…even though it’s all financed from money that ordinary people like my grandparents “gave to God.”

Because he’s the “anointed man of God.”

I know for a fact that Pastor Smith feels that way.  Because he’s said so on any number of occasions.

The thing about the “Prosperity Gospel,” the reason why it took off like a ministry-financed private jet, is because it WORKS FOR THE PREACHERS WHO TEACH IT.  “Giving out of your need” may very well bankrupt Joe Average, but the preacher taking up the offering actually does prosper. 

Although many of these preachers probably knew the Bible well enough to be aware of the warnings against amassing worldly wealth, it was just too pleasant, too easy, to latch onto this new twist of Scripture that said God wanted you to live rich.  Perhaps, after years and years of poverty at the hands of their churches, these hard-working and essentially honest pastors felt like the time had finally come for them to be rewarded for all their sacrifices.

And now they finally had the “theology” that permitted them to be “movin’ on up.”

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We’ve been following the Richard and Lindsay Roberts/Oral Roberts University story since it first broke, not because we get pleasure from scandal, but because once again – as it was with Paula White – we feel like we have a bit of a vested interest in ORU.

You see, some years back, our former pastor, Pastor Smith (a pseudonym) was closely connected to Oral Roberts and ORU, Oral’s namesake university. 

Prominently displayed in one of the main walkways at Living Word Church (another pseudonym) are photos of Living Word’s beautiful facilities when they were under construction.  Oral Roberts was already pretty elderly back then, but he was at the church for its dedication service.  He preached the inaugural sermon in the new sanctuary. 

Pastor Smith is also fond of telling a story about having lunch with Oral and receiving encouragement from him to forge ahead with that building project.

Around that same time, Pastor Smith’s older son Timmy also had a brief college career at ORU.  I’m not sure how long Timmy Smith attended the Tulsa university – whether it was just for one school year or perhaps three semesters – but another of Pastor Smith’s favorite stories involves how Timmy joined the full-time staff at Living Word. 

After one of his college breaks, Timmy supposedly had a defining moment with his dad, when, in the church parking lot, Timmy wept in his father’s car and told Pastor Smith that he had “heard from the Lord” that it was time for him to become an active part of his father’s ministry.  Even though he was only 19 and knew that the “textbook” thing to do would be to complete his education first, he also knew that God was telling him to leave ORU and dedicate himself to Living Word Church.

That’s the official story of how God led Timmy Smith to become, at age 19, the youth pastor at Living Word.

(Never mind that Timmy Smith is still somewhat notorious on the internet for co-authoring a spoof song about the university…a song that, right before “God spoke to him,” was very likely about to get him into trouble…a song that ultimately played a part in getting its co-author expelled.  That little detail is intriguingly absent from the sweet saga of a young man hearing God’s voice.)

After Timmy Smith left ORU, it seemed like Pastor Smith conveniently transferred his hero-worship of Oral Roberts to up-and-coming Charismatic luminary T.D. Jakes.  But, like I said, the photos of Oral in a hard hat at the groundbreaking ceremony, the photos of Oral preaching at the grand opening, are still on display in the hallway at Living Word Church.  And only a couple of years ago, the Smiths made a big deal about being invited to the Roberts’ home in Newport Beach for lunch, where they videotaped themselves interviewing Oral.  This video soon was for sale in the church bookstore.

So, those of us who have spent time at Living Word Church have been trained by Pastor Smith to view Oral as something of a “spiritual father.”  And as Oral became a figurehead and turned over the reigns of his empire to his son Richard, we viewed Richard and his wife Lindsay in something of this same capacity.  

So, although we ourselves have never contributed directly to the college, we feel as though what the Robertses may have done does affect us directly.

Of course, we have no way of knowing whether or not any of the allegations about the Robertses and their free-spending ways are true.  But there’s something about the details revealed within the lawsuit that has a ring of authenticity.

Like Paula White’s financial excesses, and on a smaller scale, those of the Smiths, we see such a theme within these “Word of Faith” ministries:  a theme of viewing the ministry – whether it’s a pseudo-megachurch like Living Word, or a Christian university like ORU – as the celebrity minister’s own private property.  These “pastors” seem to have become utterly unable to distinguish between themselves as individuals and the tax-exempt ministries that bear their names.

They also feel unquestioningly entitled to the best of everything, whether it’s cars, clothes, homes, vacations, or slave labor provided by starstruck ministry volunteers.

Even if, technically, it’s legal for Richard Roberts to use the university’s jet to fly his family around on luxury vacations (the FACT of these trips has never been disputed, only whether or not the Roberts family reimbursed the ministry for these vacations, which they’re claiming they did), we think their bizarre insensitivity toward appearances speaks volumes about how well their ministry lines up with what the Bible says.

In the same way, even if it’s legal for the Smiths to send out letters on church stationery, using the church’s postage meter, to command church members to give Smith family members monetary gifts during special birthday offerings, it shows a serious lack of good judgment and a total insensitivity to how things look.

We’ve been wondering, as more and more of these celebrity ministers (and pseudo-celebrity wannabes like Pastor Smith) display their greed for money and luxury, just where this entitlement mentality comes from.

The rationale for this entitlement mentality can be found NOWHERE within Scripture.  In the Bible, Jesus clearly commands leaders to have the attitude of servants.  Christians are warned again and again not to be lovers of money, not to love the world or the things in the world, not to set our sights on the “stuff” of the here and now but instead to value the eternal

While Jesus also tells us that God will provide for our daily needs if we are truly seeking God’s kingdom, the Bible is crystal-clear about how the Gospel turns regular human priorities upside down.  Suddenly, though we may be poor in material goods, we are actually rich in Christ.  Though we lose our life, we’ll actually find it.  Though we are weak, in Christ we are made strong.

THIS is the message that the world needs to hear.  THIS is the “Good News” of Jesus Christ – that though we are all sinners, utterly helpless to stand before the judgment seat of a righteous and holy God, Jesus has made a way for us to be saved from the eternal damnation that we all deserve.  Once we give up on ourselves and the things of this earth and trust in Christ and what He has done for us, all our priorities will shift.  Everything that used to have power over us – whether sin, or poverty, or illness, or death itself – no longer matters in the face of being made eternally right with God.

Whether ORU wins or loses the lawsuit brought forth by the fired professors, whether the university’s tax-exempt status is jeopardized by the Robertses’ undisputed enjoyment of a rich man’s lifestyle, whether even smaller ministries such as Pastor Smith’s eventually crumble because of nepotism and an over-emphasis on money, the fact remains that it is both incredible and grievous that so many supposed “men of God” have been able to find such a huge audience for their unbiblical and pseudo-biblical teachings that do nothing but distract from the Gospel of Christ.

As the church, we need to stand up and proclaim the real Gospel of salvation and stand against this paltry imitation.  We need to examine our own hearts for traces of the greed that lurks within us to make us so susceptible to the “seed faith” message of people like the Robertses and the Smiths. 

And then we need to quit sending in our “seed” (donations) to places where the leaders focus too much on the things of this world.  We need, instead, to focus on storing up treasure where neither moth nor rust can destroy.

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Oh dear…it’s happening again. 

First it was Paula and Randy White.  Now it’s Richard and Lindsay Roberts, the president and “first lady” of Oral Roberts University (ORU).  The Charismatic world apparently is rife with “celebrity” pastors who view their ministries as their own personal piggy banks.  Read the New York Times article, or click here to go to the website of Tulsa’s local newspaper, where they have a special page devoted to the story.

I don’t have firsthand knowledge of the Robertses or any of the goings-on at ORU, but reading the PDF of the ORU professors’ lawsuit was more eye-opening than anything else, as it mentioned documentation for some of the various allegations of the Robertses’ extravagances billed to the university.  If even HALF of that documentation exists, it would be evidence of some severe mismanagement of university and ministry funds, at the very least.

I really don’t understand what makes these Charismaniac ministers grow so brazen about how they spend the money they get from their people’s donations.  Why do they think it’s OK to live like the rich and famous?  Even the world knows better…even the world has a better sense of what’s appropriate for a (supposed) minister of the Gospel.

We as the Church need to pray.  We need to pray for pastors and those in visible leadership positions (such as Richard and Lindsay Roberts).  Then we need to stand up and demand accountability from them.  The cause of Christ has been dealt enough black eyes from ministers who are too fond of money and the things of this world! 

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For a long time, I’ve been trying to piece together a blog post that sums up the typical teachings and beliefs of Charismaniac churches…not necessarily what might appear in their official “What We Believe” documents (which are almost ALWAYS pretty “kosher” and hold to your run-of-the-mill Bible-based doctrines), but rather, what they teach from the pulpit and emphasize week after week.   I had this idea that it would be useful to discuss how teachings like the “Prosperity Gospel” and other “Word of Faith” teachings have infiltrated and then polluted the doctrines of the average Charismatic church.

But writing what would amount to a Charismaniac systematic theology has turned out to be more difficult than I thought, and anyway, I keep getting sidetracked.  So when I stumbled across a very thorough summary on another website, I decided to post the link.

Click here for The Gospel According To The Faith Movement

Then leave a comment below.  Tell us what you think.  Does this article accurately reflect YOUR experience in Charismania?

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