Like someone who Googles the name of an old boyfriend or girlfriend, I admit that I still keep tabs on our old Charismatic church. Both my husband and I regularly visit the website of Living Word Church (a pseudonym, as are all other non-household names used on this site). We still read the promotional materials we occasionally receive in the mail. And when Pastor Smith’s (again, not his real name) section on iTunes is updated – which doesn’t seem to happen all that regularly – I confess that I will at least attempt to listen to his latest podcast.
(My husband, though, simply does not have the stomach for listening to any more of Pastor Smith’s preaching. He avoids what Living Word puts up on iTunes, and if I’m listening to the podcasts while he’s in the room, he’ll ask that I do so through headphones. He still finds himself too burned by our experiences at Living Word to be able to tolerate even the sound of Pastor Smith’s voice.)
I, on the other hand, tend to get a peculiar sense of comfort out of hearing Pastor Smith and his frequent heresies. I know that might seem a bit odd, but to me, picking out the false teachings embedded in what seem like otherwise biblical teachings serves as reinforcement for why we left.
So the other day, I was listening to Pastor Smith’s latest sermon available on iTunes. It is entitled something like, “Enlarge and Inherit” (a loose paraphrase of the actual title). As I listened, I was both surprised (why, I do not know, as you’d think I’d expect it by now) and comforted by Pastor Smith’s “take” on how a few verses in Exodus about the Israelites’ possession of the Promised Land apply to Christians today. I’m probably never again going to transcribe an entire Smith sermon, but that doesn’t mean there’s a shortage of falsehoods still being promoted from Living Word’s pulpit these days.
Pastor Smith’s latest sermon is all about inheriting our destiny…and how doing so sometimes involves “standing still and seeing the deliverance of the Lord” (as the children of Israel had done during the parting of the Red Sea) and sometimes involves fighting for what’s rightfully ours. Smith preaches for over an hour about this single idea. He does his usual spiel about how the devil wants to steal, kill, and destroy what ought to be ours…how each of us has our own unique God-given “destiny” to fulfill on this earth…how we are meant to prosper and be blessed in our destiny…how, when we have a “God said” over our lives (meaning something that “God told” us, either through a prophetic word delivered to us personally by a prophet, or through “God speaking” to us individually), this thing MUST happen…and how sometimes we must “stand still” and let God be God, but sometimes we must do battle for the breakthrough into our destiny.
As I listened to Pastor Smith’s words, I had several reactions.
One was, oddly enough, boredom. Despite the energy and drama of his singularly forceful, gravelly voice and the enthusiasm and authority of his delivery, I had a difficult time staying focused on what he was actually saying. I found that it all began to run together, just so much mumbo jumbo about “destiny” and “harvest” and “victory” and “battle.”
Another reaction, though, was a renewed sense of curiosity. Pastor Smith began putting his sermons up on iTunes only since we left Living Word, so I can’t easily click on over to messages from years ago, back when we still attended. I find myself wondering who changed? – Pastor Smith, or us? Did he always preach like that, hammering away on the theme of our “destiny”? Where did he ever come up with the Scriptural backing for this idea, anyway? Where in the Bible does it say that the point of our salvation is so that we can walk in our own unique purposes, which are (supposedly) to include “no limits,” “untold blessings” (which ALWAYS translates into MONEY), and “influence”?
I can remember sermons like this one, but I also remember always believing that Pastor Smith was very well-grounded in God’s Word. I believed that all his messages were firmly rooted in Scripture. Unless he’s really changed in recent months (which of course is always a possibility), I wonder how I was lulled and tricked into accepting what actually amounts to a whole lot of unbiblical rah-rah talk about living a successful life – successful according to the world’s standards, NOT God’s. How did I sit through years of that sort of preaching and still think Smith was teaching us principles from the Bible?
Another thought I had while listening (and later, processing) this latest sermon is that Smith’s greatest, most unscriptural error is rooted in his false understanding of what the Bible has to say about the “end times.”
Prior to our years at Living Word Church, I’d never been one to care much about eschatology. Teachings about the “last days,” about the “Great Tribulation,” about the Antichrist, caused my brain to check out. I’d find myself making mental (or sometimes even actual) grocery lists. But when, about eighteen months ago, we began to seriously question what we were being taught about money and “blessings” and the “triumphant end-times church” and the “billion-soul harvest,” I gradually came to realize that unless I gained a better understanding of Scripture in this area, I had no real way to discern if any of Pastor Smith’s thinking was faulty.
So I began to do some digging, some reading. I purchased Paul Benware’s Understanding End Times Prophecy, a volume I’d highly recommend because it gives a good general overview of the most pervasive end-times views. I also did a lot of reading online.
I discovered, to my dismay, that Pastor Smith apparently subscribes to what is known as “Kingdom Theology” – the notion that as we approach the return of Christ, God’s people – via the church – are going to grow more and more powerful, more and more wealthy, more and more triumphant politically and spiritually. According to Smith, there is going to be a “great end-times harvest,” where billions of souls will be saved through an outpouring of “signs and wonders.” Pastor Smith would often declare, “Christ is not coming back for a tattered, defeated church! He will only return for a glorious bride!” Therefore, it was our duty to “take authority” over every sphere of our lives. We were to “take dominion” and reign victoriously in our workplaces, in the political realm, in the areas of physical healing and personal relationships. We were treated often to phrases like, “The devil is a liar, and he is under our feet!” Or…even more often, a phrase that I really never quite understood (still don’t): “The Kingdom suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.” We were often exhorted to go out and “take it by force.” Through “spiritual warfare,” we would be ambassadors of Christ and would bring His saving message (which apparently centers around the glory of our dominion far more than it centers on Jesus saving us from our sins) to the masses.
This was, as I’ve said before, some heady stuff. After years of plodding along in what felt like the doldrums of the seemingly “non-triumphant” Baptist/Evangelical world, it was incredible to hear that we’d actually had it all wrong, that Christians are NOT going to experience increasing persecution as the end nears, but instead are going to gain more and more influence over our culture and over our world.
I’ve never quite figured out if Pastor Smith subscribes to the whole enchilada of teachings involved in the “Manifest Sons of God” doctrine, which actually (in their fullness) deny Jesus’ bodily return in the clouds but instead claim that Christ’s return will happen gradually, as the church unites and triumphs and sort of morphs into Christ Himself. But I believe it’s fairly safe to say that Pastor Smith IS firmly in the “Kingdom Theology”/”Triumphant End-Times Church” camp.
This is why Smith feels so free to teach that God wants Christians to be rich. Although himself a friend of fancy cars, luxury vacations, and new custom homes, Pastor Smith’s punch line for “financial overflow” always involved how we needed to be “blessed” financially so that we could “sow into the work of the kingdom.” How would we reach people with the Gospel, Smith would ask rhetorically, if we were poor and defeated?
(I always did wonder, even back when I never otherwise questioned Pastor Smith, how it was that he figured the Apostles got the early church off the ground and experienced such raging success, considering that most of them were neither rich nor politically well-connected but were instead oftentimes arrested, beaten, and imprisoned?)
Anyway…all of this is to say that I feel compelled to urge you, readers, to dedicate some time to studying the different views of “end-times” events. Figure out for yourselves what you believe in this area – or, more importantly, commit to discovering what the BIBLE has to say about the “end times.”
Does the Bible REALLY say that we Christians are going to increase in power and glory before Christ’s return? Does the Bible teach that we’re all going to be rolling in wealth and influence when Jesus comes in the clouds for His church? Does the Bible teach us that we’re going to “take the world by force” to “establish Christ’s kingdom”?
Even more importantly, does the Bible actually tell us that we Christians are going to abound more and more in “signs and wonders”?
(Or does the Bible actually teach – as I now believe it does – that false signs and wonders will increase and deceive many, leading them to believe in the Antichrist?)
With all the hoopla over Todd Bentley’s “Healing Revival” in Lakeland, Florida, I think these questions have even greater significance as we work to discern what is of God, and what is not. I’ve learned the hard way that a Biblical understanding of the “end times” actually DOES matter.
Here are a couple of websites I’ve found very helpful lately:
If you know of others, post them in a comment below.