I’ve mentioned before how we arrived at our “Charismaniac” church after a lifetime spent in more traditional Bible-based Reformed/Evangelical churches.
I think a good part of the allure that Living Word Church (a pseudonym) had for us, at least at first, was that it WAS such a departure from what we’d grown up with. Instead of what had seemed like the resigned, passive, and even sometimes downright negative approach to Christianity that we’d known from our youth, we loved that Pastor Smith (another pseudonym) preached, for example, that we were on the verge of greatness. Or that we could “possess whatever we confessed.”
We loved the idea of “taking authority,” of faith that could move mountains, of healing for today, of a God whose plans are always to prosper us and keep us in good health.
When we were new to Living Word Church, we pretty much just projected everything we’d ever previously known about Christianity onto the place. We just sort of assumed that Pastor Smith valued everything that our prior pastors had valued and held to their same standards for pastoral behavior…just with a bit of a “Charismatic kick.” In other words, in addition to all those behaviors and character traits that the Bible attributes to a great leader – an attitude of servanthood, of kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control, humility, patience, and so forth – Pastor Smith just had that added extra “oomph” of possessing the gift of faith.
In our wide-eyed newly Charismatic naivete, we figured that Pastor Smith was everything the Bible would say a leader should be…AND he had a direct pipeline to God, where God spoke to him directly and prophetically and had given him a special dose of miracle-working faith.
We gave his wife and the rest of the church staff and all the honored longtime members that same benefit of the doubt, too. We thought it was just sort of a “given” that they all valued Bible knowledge, honesty, integrity, humility, and long-suffering. After all, the fact that they all dressed fashionably and seemed to exhibit other traits of rich people didn’t automatically mean they wouldn’t exhibit other aspects of what we’d known to be Biblical Christianity.
But after we’d been at Living Word Church for awhile, we began to understand that for Pastor Smith and the rest of his “higher-ups” – which would include all the visiting celebrity pastors – regular rules for traditional Christian behavior did not always apply.
The Smiths cultivated such an air of celebrity around themselves that most of us, if we were honest, would have to confess to feeling a bit star-struck and tongue-tied on those rare occasions when they’d appear in the lobby after church. They’d never EVER walk around the church facility alone, either. They would always be accompanied by at least one or two members of their “security detail,” men who wore suits and walkie talkies and stood discreetly, if slightly menacingly, off to the side while we ordinary folks chatted with Pastor or Mary Smith.
People were desperately eager to please the Smiths, too. At first I thought this was just a by-product of their “anointing.” Later, though, I was dismayed to discover that Mary Smith in particular was known for her fits of temper if she were to be displeased by the slightest thing. When her group of ladies would put on one of her “Mary Events” for the women’s ministry, it was always a time of extreme stress and intense pressure to get every miniscule detail exactly right. I saw firsthand some of the most bizarre freak-outs over stuff as silly as the color and placement of napkins on tables.
After we’d been at Living Word Church for awhile – a year, maybe – and had seen for ourselves how things were, we began to understand that in Charismania, pastors and guest ministers were held to a very different standard of behavior than the simple Baptist preachers of our youth. By virtue of their gift of faith, their “anointing,” they were special. They were celebrities. They did not mingle with the regular people. They breathed a different kind of air. They needed body guards. They wouldn’t DREAM of serving – rather, they were to BE SERVED. At all times.
Yesterday, a very interesting message from J. Lee Grady arrived in my email. It was entitled, Reality Check: The Case For Relational Christianity. And here is how it begins:
A friend in Alabama recently told me about a preacher who came to his city in unusual style. The man arrived at a church in a limousine and was whisked into a private waiting room behind the stage area. The evangelist gave specific instructions to leave his limousine’s engine running (I guess he wasn’t concerned about rising gas prices) so that the temperature inside his car would remain constant.
This evangelist then preached to a waiting crowd, took up his own offering and retired to the waiting room for some refreshments. Then he left the church with his entourage without even speaking to the host pastor.
This guy’s “faith”—he is touted as a faith preacher—may have been inspiring, but his love was as cold as the air inside his oversized vehicle. His behavior that night represents why so many ministries today are in crisis. We’ve created a monster—a version of Christianity that is slick, marketable and event-driven but lacking in any authentic impact. It is as one-dimensional as a flat-screen TV—and a total turnoff to people who are starving for genuine relationships.
(You can access the full article by clicking here.)
As I read what Mr. Grady had to say about what I’d call “Charismatic attitude,” I was instantly transported back to our time at Living Word Church, reliving all those memories of the inappropriate haughtiness of the Smiths and other ministers who had passed through Living Word’s doors. I found myself – at least at first – nodding in agreement with Mr. Grady’s “Reality Check” article.
But then I began to think of how bizarre it is that he’d even need to write such an article for the audience of his Charisma magazine in the first place.
J. Lee Grady is right in his prescriptions, in his statements about how Charismania does need a “reality check.” But I don’t think he’s dug deeply enough.
I think there’s something inherent in Charismania itself – in the whole Charismatic movement – that has caused the crazy and totally unbiblical notion that pastors are celebrities.
I think the whole concept of “anointing” – that pastors are a cut above the “ordinary” folks because they enjoy some sort of special direct pipeline to God Himself – is what causes them to believe that they are celebrities, that they are in need of bodyguards, that they can walk around and display bad tempers and haughty attitudes…and that they need to keep themselves separate from the “ordinary” people in their audiences. Because of their faulty theology, they really think that they have been given some special access to the Almighty God, a different and more immediate access than what all the rest of us “ordinary” Christians have. They really believe that they somehow have God “on tap,” where they can decide when and where to dispense the “anointing” through the laying on of hands.
Is it any wonder, then, that these pastors and evangelists and ministers begin to believe in their own “giftedness,” in their own “specialness,” in their own press, so to speak?
Until the Charismatic movement deals with this unscriptural notion of “anointing,” the bad attitudes and non-relational Christianity Mr. Grady speaks of will just continue. What he says is good. But it only deals with the symptoms of the problem, and not the cause.
Until they dig up the roots, there’s little point in dealing with the fruits.