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Archive for December, 2007

Sometimes I have a lot of nostalgia for the olden days, back when I bought into all things Charismatic.

Yes, despite what you may think, there was a time when I was as big a proponant of the “Word of Faith” teachings as anyone could be.

I always knew, deep down, that this singular focus on little snippets of Scripture couldn’t possibly be the “whole counsel of God.”  I also knew that, despite believing it was God’s will for everyone to be healed, the reality was that many people were NOT healed.  Were we to say that these unhealed people were then “outside of God’s will”?  I really didn’t think so.

But I silenced that questioning part of myself by speaking positive confessions.  I searched my Bible daily for every positive promise, skipping over the parts that didn’t agree with my new level of faith.  And for awhile, I truly believed. 

I believed that God would answer my prayers.  I was outspoken enough in my belief that I would often suggest prayer to people, even if I was pretty sure they didn’t usually pray about things.  I’d offer to pray for folks, and most of the time, they’d let me.  I’d pray for them boldly, too, speaking Scriptures as they’d come to mind, declaring all of God’s promises over them.

I also believed what we were taught about finances:  As long as we were faithful in our tithing, we’d never need to worry about money.  I believed there was absolutely a cause-and-effect relationship between offerings and financial needs.  If you’d come to me at that point and told me about a money problem, I’d immediately have asked you about your giving habits.  Then I would have advised you to “plant a seed” at your church.  Then I would have assured you that you would receive a “hundredfold return” on what you gave.

I can remember being so confident in my prayer life and in the reality of God’s promises that I truly had no fear of anything.  Once, when I was home alone and heard odd noises outside late at night, I shrugged off my first surge of fear and thought to myself, “If someone breaks in, I’ll just tell them to leave in the name of Jesus.” 

Then I turned over and went to sleep.

Those were some good times.

But then, as we’ve shared in many places on this site, we were forced to face the reality that the “Word of Faith” message didn’t seem to work as well as we were told it did.  We began to realize that many of the seemingly prosperous-looking people around us – folks who faithfully trooped up to the offering buckets every Sunday – were actually struggling financially.  Also, as I said, there was that nagging sense that we were neglecting a huge portion of God’s Word, picking and choosing only what supported what we wanted to be true.  We indeed were ignoring the “whole counsel of God.”

And all this time, we were seeing many things at our “Charismaniac” church that also didn’t jive with what we were being told.  We had to acknowledge, for instance, that Pastor Smith (a pseudonym) wasn’t the accurate prophet he claimed to be.  We watched as the Smiths made so many decisions that were totally self-serving rather than for the good of Living Word Church (another pseudonym) and its people.  We observed what seemed to be an ever-increasing level of control and manipulation from the pulpit.

Finally, it all got to be too much.  We had to acknowledge that something was wrong somewhere.

We began the slow and often painful process of going back to the Bible and evaluating everything we’d been taught.  I say this process has been “painful” because sometimes, it has literally HURT as we’ve had to sort through what was real – what was GOD – and what was the product of Smith’s skillful manipulation.

At times, the easiest way has been to write off the whole deal as a total deception.  It’s certainly a lot safer to reduce Pastor Smith to nothing but a money man, to see him and his positive message as just another smooth-talking scam artist.

But then…

Well, what do you do with the parts of the “Word of Faith” message that DID work?

Yesterday, I had a conversation with a good friend.  We chatted for a couple of hours about all sorts of subjects.  At the very end of our talk, she suddenly brought up a subject that I’d thought we’d never discuss again.  She mentioned a time, well over a year ago, when I’d believed I’d received a “word of knowledge” about a situation she was facing and had offered to pray for her.

That definitely had not been one of our most comfortable conversations!  For one thing, she is a faithful Catholic, not someone accustomed to spouting the Bible at every turn (as I did at that point).  I’d absolutely put my own “take” on the Christian faith on the line that day as I declared to her that God answers prayers, that all she needed to do was ask Him to intevene in her situation.  I told her to EXPECT the miraculous and she would then SEE the miraculous.

And then I prayed for her.

It wasn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, what felt like a “good” prayer.  My words didn’t flow as smoothly as they usually did, and we were interrupted more than once as our kids ran in and out of the room.  And then afterward, a slight awkwardness decended upon our friendship, to the point where we didn’t discuss “spiritual things” again for many months.  I’d never had the courage to ask her about how her situation had worked out.  In a way, I almost hoped she’d forgotten the entire thing.

So you can imagine my surprise when yesterday, she brought it up herself, more than a year after the fact.  I was stunned as I heard her say, “Listen, I have to tell you, remember that time when you prayed for me?  Well, that has made me become an absolute believer in the power of prayer!  Everything really WAS different after that day.  And it’s been a year, and it’s STILL different.  It truly was a miracle!”

As I listened to her words, I felt the faint stirrings of something I haven’t sensed in a long, long time:  HOPE.  I think that’s the thing that I’ve missed the most about Living Word, the Smiths, and everything we experienced there.  Their message was full of such HOPE!  Even in spite of all the rest of the garbage they threw at us, in the middle of it all were these powerful exhortations to keep believing, to keep having faith, that God’s Word is true, that God really does answer prayer.

Sometimes, it’d be nice to hear once again that the day of my prophetic destiny is right around the corner…

You see, the root problem of the Charismatic message for me is that it’s kind of an “all or nothing” message.  To be bold enough to believe in prayer to the point where you’ll risk humiliation (or a friendship) to offer to pray for someone, you pretty much – at least, I do – have to believe in it all.  In order to have that level of faith, I have to maintain a single-minded focus on God’s promises and the side of God’s nature that DOES seem to want us to “above all, be in good health and prosper.”  I also have to maintain confidence in the trustworthiness of the individuals preaching that message to me.

And I’m not sure anymore whether I should be furious at Pastor Smith for tainting my “true believer” status with all of his money-grubbing self-promotion, or if I should be grateful to him for at least giving us a few years when we were full of wide-eyed, true-believin’ HOPE.

Or both.

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We’re still following the ORU story.  The other day, it took an amazing and wonderful turn, when the family who owns Hobby Lobby pledged $60 million to bail out the beleaguered university.  The Tulsa World did an interview with Mart Green, the family spokesman, which you can read here.

Buried in the “comments” section (found below the story) was an anonymous observation which I found to be very astute:

One subtext of Assemblies of God Mart Green coming on the scene to rescue ORU is the unresolvable tensions within the broadest notion of the charismatic family: The Word of Faith substream antagonizes many in the classic Pentecostal and charismatic streams, who share WOFers’ belief in the contemporary charismatic work of the Holy Spirit but NOT its formulaic presumption about health and wealth. Big differences lie beneath the superficial unity that outside observers may see; and classicals, who have survived a century of ostracism from their fundamentalist/evangelical siblings hate to openly criticize WOFers who (1) have the media limelight and big followings and (2) remain brothers in arms on many points, theologically.

Let’s see how this plays out as Mr. Green tells the WOFers that their problem is spiritual, not financial.

This anonymous poster points out an important distinction that we’ve encountered as we’ve managed this site.  Some folks have automatically assumed that we were criticizing EVERYBODY who believes that the “gifts of the Spirit” (like speaking in tongues) are for today. 

Sometimes it’s been difficult to explain what makes a teaching or a ministry distinctly “Charismaniac” (in serious biblical error).  We made our own tongue-in-cheek list of what characterizes “Charismaniacs,” but we’ve never actually articulated (like the commenter did) that there IS a tension between ministries that believe in a biblical continuation of the gifts and those that add things like the “Prosperity Gospel” to their teachings.  I think this commenter is correct in that it’s hard to take a stand against many of the ministries who are in error, because they DO happen to be the ones who are on TV and garner all the attention.

Also, it can look like ALL critics of “Charismania” are throwing out the proverbial baby with the bathwater.  Point out the errors of the “Word/Faith” and “Prosperity Gospel” teachings, and people think you’re also trashing anyone who believes in things like the miraculous or speaking in tongues.

But there really ARE ministries who have maintained a classical Pentecostal “continuist” point of view while at the same time rejected unbiblical “Word of Faith” doctrines.

What do you think?

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