Having grown up in a pretty conservative, Bible-teaching Evangelical church, one of the values I absorbed was having respect for God’s name. At the Christian school I attended as a child, it was even frowned upon to use the exclamation of, “Oh my gosh!” So ingrained in me was this viewpoint that, although I realize that this is a shallow (and, obviously, unreliable) litmus test, if I heard someone say, “Oh God!” in a fashion that was not seriously prayerful, I generally assumed that this person did not share my basic outlook on God’s Word.
So when, several years ago, we made the jump from our more staid Evangelical/Baptist church to an independent Charismatic congregation, one of the tiny little things that bothered me from the get-go was the way our pastor – whom I’ll call “Pastor Smith,” though that is a pseudonym – would often use the expression, “My God!” when he was preaching or ministering.
As far as I could tell, he did not do it in a way that was respectful or prayerful. Instead, he would inject this exclamation into his sermons or into times of “ministry” (when he was prophesying or praying for people) to give his own words extra emphasis. The phrase was never addressed to God Himself.
My gut reaction always was that when he’d do this, Pastor Smith was taking the Lord’s name in vain.
Of course, as the years passed, I pretty much forced myself to get used to it. I told myself that it was cultural. Certainly, just about every Charismatic/Word of Faith preacher I heard seemed to do the same thing. During our time at Living Word Church (another pseudonym), we were privy to appearances by folks such as Gary Oliver, Paula White, Jesse DuPlantis, and T.D. Jakes, all of whom frequently interjected “My God!” while preaching, primarily for dramatic effect (I could never see any other reason for it). When I’d watch other Charismatic luminaries (like Juanita Bynum) on TBN, I’d hear more of the same.
A part of me – the part that wanted to buy into every last little aspect of my new Word of Faith outlook – figured that I was just being legalistic and stuffy when Pastor Smith’s seemingly irreverent use of “My God!” continued to trouble me. But I could never fully get over the unsettling jolt that would shoot through my heart when he would do this.
I’m not someone given to dramatic exaggerations, either – I would literally feel a sickening stab in my gut whenever Pastor Smith would practically interrupt himself to shout, “My God!” It was even worse when he would use the phrase, “Oh God” in a sort of sarcastic way, like when he was being humorous with his audience and rolling his eyes at them for something or other. He didn’t do this as often, but whenever he did, I almost couldn’t get past it to hear the rest of his sermon, no matter how hard I tried.
I was thinking about this recently, in part because I stumbled upon a site discussing the much-trumpeted “revival” led by Todd Bentley, which is currently taking place in Lakeland, Florida. While watching some clips of Mr. Bentley ministering at these meetings, it suddenly occurred to me that here was yet another Charismatic preacher who did the exact same thing – who used God’s name in a way that was more like swearing rather than prayerfully, reverently addressing the Lord.
I don’t really have anything profound to say about this practice, except that I find it interesting that so many of these guys (and gals) openly break one of the Ten Commandments from the pulpit. Why is this OK? Why do these folks do this? Why do the Christians sitting in the pews – many of whom would never themselves use God’s name as an irreverent exclamation – tolerate it?
I’m wondering if perhaps this is one of those obvious signs, something “hidden in plain sight,” that perhaps ought to alert us to when all is not right? That perhaps we shouldn’t be so shocked when these same ministers violate other commandments, dabbling in dishonesty or adultery?