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Archive for the ‘fake degree’ Category

I haven’t updated this site in a long while, primarily because we’ve put our journey through “Charismania” behind us…for the most part.

Oh sure, from time to time my husband and I will reminisce about our years at Living Word Church (a pseudonym, as are all other names used here, except those of widely-known celebrity preachers).  We will joke about some of the more outrageous stuff we went through.  We will shake our heads and marvel at how we got sucked in.

But soon it will have been four years since we left Living Word, so as you might imagine, we’ve pretty much processed the obvious emotions.  We’ve thought through most of the things that were off-kilter about Living Word Church and the Smith family (Pastor Smith, his wife Mary, and their two young-adult sons) who ran Living Word and controlled it just like it was their family business.

Because I was pretty sure we were “over” everything, I was actually looking forward to a community event that required our attendance, an event that was coincidentally going to be held at Living Word Church.  I was eager to walk through the doors again and see if I’d feel any of the old feelings.  I wondered what memories would be stirred by something as basic as how the place smelled.  (Oddly enough – and I’m almost embarrassed to admit this – I always  thought that Living Word exuded a really alluring fragrance, almost like the whole place had been soaked in anointing oil.)

I wanted to see if the Smith family’s highly retouched portraits still graced the walls of the church lobby…I was curious if they’d added any new photos of the sons’ wives and the grandchildren who had been born since we left.

And I wondered if I’d somehow be able to flip through a copy of the magazine that Mary Smith had begun to publish a year or so ago.

Yes, you read that right.  Living Word Church’s “first lady” publishes her own women’s magazine.

We may be “over” our Living Word experience, and we may have moved on, but we still like to check the church’s website from time to time, just to see if anything has changed.  It’s been fun to keep tabs on various staffing changes, and to see which guest ministries they’ve continued to invite in to preach.

That’s where I first learned of Mary Smith’s magazine.  When it was first launched, it was heavily promoted on the church’s website.

From the beginning, I marveled at the concept.  A magazine seemed like a really ambitious undertaking, especially considering that Living Word Church really is not that big.  Although they like to call themselves a “megachurch,” attendance seems to hover at around the same level, with probably fewer than 1,000 people showing up on most Sundays.  Shortly after we left Living Word, they’d added an extra service on Sunday mornings while ditching their Sunday evening service.  But that move didn’t last.  After a couple of years, there apparently just wasn’t the demand for two Sunday morning services.  Judging from the videos broadcast online, it didn’t even look like they were filling the 1,500-seat auditorium to capacity (or even close) for ONE service.

So I wondered at the idea of a ladies’ magazine which would have such a small distribution.  From the church’s website, it didn’t look like it was a skinny little pamphlet or brochure.  The magazine instead appeared to be quite a hefty glossy book.  Who does that sort of thing?  Who puts out a semi-quarterly magazine – complete with the First Lady’s photo gracing each cover, like she’s Oprah or something – for an audience of maybe (at best) a thousand readers?

Although the website showed that they were charging $5 per copy, it still seemed like a money-losing endeavor.  Knowing the hugely expensive photographer the First Lady always uses – the one who charges $300 per hour to retouch photos – and knowing that nothing at Living Word is ever done halfway, I could only imagine what a money pit a 50-page (or so) magazine must be. 

Plus, I wondered about its sustainability.  During our years at Living Word Church, Mary Smith had a pattern of starting programs with great fanfare, only to watch them quickly burn out.  Lots of classes and activities would happen once or twice and then would just quietly go away with ZERO explanation (sort of like how there never seemed to be a word mentioned about bringing back the second Sunday morning service).  The First Lady would set the bar so high for herself, with such crazily demanding and exacting standards, such over-the-top expectations, that it was almost a given that nothing she did ever lasted.  Even the constantly touted “Mary Events” – those grossly indulgent special women’s meetings, with their elaborate decorations, expensive door prizes, pricey tickets, and stressed-out decorating committee of women who sniped and snapped at each other, all in the name of ministry – didn’t happen that often, following no set schedule at all.  About the only “Mary Event” that took place with any predictable regularity was the Christmas Tea (with tickets priced at upwards of $20 apiece), and even that has quietly gone by the wayside over the past couple of years.

So how in the world would Mary Smith be able to sustain a women’s magazine, especially one that appeared to be so ambitious?

I was curious, too, about what would be in such a magazine.  With all the publications out there already geared toward women – even Christian women – what would be the point of yet another periodical containing the usual drivel about fashion, cooking, relationships, and decorating?  What could Mary Smith’s Living Word minions find to say that would be so unique and necessary that it would warrant going to so much effort and expense?

Since the first issue of Mary Smith’s magazine made its debut, my husband and I had been joking about how I could get my hands on a copy.  We figured we were too recognizable to just show up at church some Sunday night, stroll into the bookstore, and buy one anonymously.  Besides, we would never go to that much trouble just to satisfy my idle curiosity.  And I certainly wasn’t going to order one through the church website, either.  I wouldn’t want anyone on staff to think I’m still as interested as I am in the goings-on of what had always been (in my experience) such a shallow-minded yet haughty attempt at women’s ministries.  Not to mention, I wouldn’t want to get my name and address back on the church’s main mailing list.

But this community event – now there might be an opportunity to at least surreptitiously flip through a copy before hastily putting it back on the rack (or table, or wherever I might find one left lying about).

As we drove into Living Word Church’s parking lot the other day, I actually found myself feeling a bit jittery and sick.  Truly, the place is that laden with memories for me.  During our years at Living Word, it was quite literally the number one priority of our lives.  Just about any time the church doors were open, we’d be there.  We would schedule vacations around Sundays, so that we could miss as few church services as possible.  Also, because I had gotten my involvement with Living Word all tangled up in my thinking with my Christian faith itself, I frequently confused promoting Living Word with sharing the gospel of Jesus.  As I’ve mentioned before, I’m actually ashamed now to look back on all the times when I’d start out trying to “share Christ” but then quickly end up talking about how, “If you REALLY want to experience REAL Christianity, you’ve GOT to go to my church and hear my pastor!”

Ugh.

For at least the first couple of years we were members of Living Word, I sincerely believed that there was something very special about what went on there – that there was something unique and unsurpassable about Living Word and Pastor Smith that could not be duplicated anywhere else.  I believed that Living Word (and Pastor Smith) almost held some sort of magic, where if someone would only walk through the doors of that church, they would be overcome by the power of God and would experience a dramatic change, the same kind of change that I thought I’d experienced.  I was convinced that the man (Pastor Smith) and the place (the church building, particularly the sanctuary) were “conduits of the anointing,” as Pastor Smith himself would often say.  I thought that any problem people faced could be solved miraculously if I could just get them to come to my church and have Pastor Smith lay hands on them.

So the church facility itself has always held a certain level of mystique for me.  And as we drove into the parking lot, I found myself feeling the same giddy anticipation that I used to feel when we arrived at church ready to “partake of the anointing.”

I was surprised by how little things have changed.  The Smith family’s same portrait – taken at least  6 or 7 years ago – still graces the main hallway.  The ladies’ restroom is actually looking a little run-down and shabby, in need of new stall doors and some updated paint (that flowery mural is looking awfully 90s!).  The Smiths used to frequently mention Mary’s hangup about church restrooms, and the priority she placed on making the Living Word ladies’ room a beautiful and luxurious place because her standards were so much higher than those of other churches.  I couldn’t help but wonder if maybe the fact that she has her own private restroom in her office has prevented her from noticing how beat-up the Nordstrom-style wooden stall doors are looking, and how the place would no longer strike most women as being particularly nice or special.

I was disappointed to note that Living Word Church no longer smells like it used to.  Maybe they quit using the same fragrant anointing oils, or maybe time has just taken its toll, but it didn’t exude the same aroma at all.

In one way, I was almost glad that I didn’t have to smell that smell that used to hold such meaning for me.  Walking through the doors of Living Word Church was an experience akin to running into an old boyfriend, a boyfriend who had broken my heart with pretenses and false promises and outright lies.

I decided to do a bit of roaming around while we waited for the event to begin.  And that’s when I noticed that the door to the church bookstore was open.  The lights were off – the bookstore was clearly closed – but the door was open.  I walked over and poked my head in the doorway and took a good look around.

My eyes quickly caught sight of the magazine rack full of the five issues of Mary Smith’s magazine.  I could see them against the wall, just a scant 10 or so feet away from the doorway where I was standing.  Oh how I wished I dared walk across the threshold and grab one, just to satisfy my now-raging curiosity!

That’s when I suddenly thought to myself, “Well, it’s now or never.”  My foot, almost of its own accord, took a tentative step toward the magazine rack.

And at that very moment, I suddenly heard a voice over my shoulder.  Startled, I turned to see none other than the church facilities manager, a man I’ll call Lin Jackson.  Lin had known my husband and me for years.  He and I had spoken many times.  We’d worked on various “Mary Events” together.

“May I help you?” Lin Jackson asked.

I was busted.

[to be continued…]

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I’ve been going through the Old Testament for my Bible reading these days.  Last night I was in the book of I Kings, in the passage where King Solomon dedicates the temple of the Lord.

That’s when I came across a couple of verses that seemed especially familiar:

When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the LORD.  And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled his temple.

                                                                  — I Kings 8:10-11

I realized that the reason why these verses rang a bell is because I’d heard this passage used many times as scriptural support for the practice of “falling out under the power”  – you know, what happens when a preacher “under the anointing” lays hands on someone?

As I’ve said before, since leaving Charismania, I’ve thought a lot about that whole “falling out under the power” experience.  It’s something I’m not sure I’ll ever fully come to understand.  I know that something was happening to make my knees buckle and force me to the floor when Pastor Smith (not his real name) or one of his visiting ministers placed his hands on my forehead.  I’m still just sort of mystified as to what that something was.

Was it the literal power and presence of God Almighty Himself?

Pastor Smith would have had us believe that that’s precisely what it was – that because Pastor Smith “proclaimed the Word” and had an “anointing,” he had the ability to dispense God to his audience.  He frequently referred to himself as “a conduit” of this power.

And he used I Kings 8:10-11 as scriptural support for this practice.

But here’s the thing that struck me as I read in I Kings last night:  in that passage, it is clear that when the presence of the Lord filled the temple, it was so strong and so powerful the priests themselves were rendered unable to stand.

The priests themselves were unable to maintain control of their actions.

Let’s look a little closer at what this tells us.

Something important to keep in mind is that the priests would have been highly motivated to maintain control of themselves.  No matter what your views on God’s unchangeable nature, it is a biblical fact that He appears to have interacted differently with people in the Old Testament than He interacts with us today.  In the Old Testament, people could be killed on the spot for failing to follow God’s guidelines – even if they did so accidentally.  We don’t see a whole lot of unexplained deaths these days in church.  But in Old Testament times, different guidelines seem to have applied.  In Old Testament times, people related to God through the “old covenant.”

Since that was the case, I’m thinking that the priests doing their duty in I Kings would have been highly motivated to pay attention and be sure they followed every last letter of the law.  I think they would have done all in their human power to remain standing, at full attention.

That tells us that the authentic “presence and power of the Lord” is something so strong, something so unspeakably glorious, that no one, not even the most highly motivated individual, is able to withstand it.

Yet when people “fall out under the power” in today’s Charismaniac circles, lots of people are capable of remaining in full control of themselves and their faculties.

The individual who is purportedly dispensing the “anointing” or “power” remains in full control.

And so do the “catchers,” those big guys who follow the minister and break the falls of the people being prayed for/ministered to.

Last night it struck me that this passage in I Kings absolutely does NOT provide any support for the practice of “falling out under the power” as it is practiced in Charismatic circles today.  If anything, I Kings 8:10-11 would prove the exact opposite – that whatever is causing people to fall down these days when the minister touches them simply CANNOT be the actual “power and presence of God.”

If the GENUINE power and presence of God were “in the house” (as Pastor Smith was fond of declaring), then  all human flesh would bow in response, just as the priests in this passage from I Kings were forced to do.

There would not be anyone left standing.

Not the catchers.  And certainly not the pastor himself.

It suddenly seems terribly obvious that God Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, does not manifest himself as some sort of “force” that is dispensed at the will of human beings.  The fact that Pastor Smith chose when, where, and how he’d “lay hands on people” – in other words, when, where, and how the (supposed) power of God would be dispensed – would put God at the control and mercy of Pastor Smith.

The Bible shows us that such a notion is absolutely ludicrous.

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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.

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I haven’t posted anything meaningful in quite awhile, mostly because I tend not to think so much anymore about our time in Charismania.  We’ve moved on and are in a good, healthy place.

But every once in awhile, something does trigger a memory, or a flash of insight.

The other night, right as I drifted off to sleep, I had such a moment.

For some reason – I have no idea why – I was remembering all those times at Living Word Church (a pseudonym, as are all other names used in this post) when people would “fall out under the power.” 

For those of you unfamiliar with the goings-on at your typical Charismaniac (hyper-Pentecostal/Charismatic/Word of Faith) church, “falling out under the power” was what happened at certain times during a church service, usually when the pastor or guest speaker would pick a person out of the audience (or prayer line) and “lay hands on” him or her.

At our particular church, this practice was frequently accompanied by the pastor’s declaring a “prophetic word” to the recipient as well, prior to the “laying on of hands.”  Typically, in what had initially seemed very spontaneous but in retrospect was probably far more orchestrated and deliberate than we’d ever imagined, Pastor Smith would, either during points in the praise-and-worship time or after his sermon, suddenly pick someone out in the crowd and stride down from the stage purposefully toward that person.  If the person were a member, someone whom Pastor Smith knew personally, he’d usually call them out by name.  If the person were a visitor, he’d point to them and say something like, “Sir?  Yes, you – you in the brown shirt.  May I pray for you?”

In our years at Living Word Church, we never saw anyone turn Pastor Smith down when he asked that question.  In fact, most people were very eager to be picked out of the crowd like that.  If you went to Living Word for any length of time, you easily picked up on the fact that those “prophetic times” – the times when Pastor Smith “ministered prophetically” to people – were the highest point of the service, the greatest thing that could ever happen to someone.  People could even get petty or jealous about the amount of times that someone “got called out.”  After all, there were folks who’d attended Living Word for years – even some people who were longtime members – who had yet to receive a “word.”  It could start to seem unfair when certain new people would get called out two or three times in one month.

Getting called out for a “word” followed something of a formula.  When we were new to Living Word, I generally believed in the authenticity of Pastor Smith’s “prophetic gifting,” and especially at the beginning, I was enthralled by the sorts of things he’d say to people when he was in his “prophetic” mode.  It wasn’t exactly what I’d have thought of as “prophecy,” in that it wasn’t particularly specific or even very predictive.  It also wasn’t much like the prophecies of the Bible, either, in that it was ALWAYS very positive.  There were never any warnings about repenting – turning away from sin – for instance, which is a typical theme of Biblical prophecy.

Pastor Smith’s prophecies were instead quite frequently about the “great blessing” the person was about to begin walking in, which at Living Word generally was understood to mean FINANCIAL blessing.  It was common for the recipient to react as though he’d just found out he’d won the lottery – there’d be lots of excited jumping around and/or praising Jesus as Pastor Smith would wrap up the prophecy, which would typically end with, “Somebody give Him a praise!”

At this point, the recipient would be caught and lowered gently to the ground by one of Pastor Smith’s “catchers,” the big, burly men who served in that highly coveted capacity and who would have unobtrusively sidled up behind the recipient while Pastor Smith was prophesying to him.

When the recipient would fall to the floor, it was understood that something supernatural and mysterious was happening to him.  Pastor Smith frequently referred to himself as a “conduit” of the “anointing,” which (I guess) was the same thing as the “manifest presence of God,” or the Holy Spirit.  We never did receive clear, coherent teachings on what, precisely, happened during these ministry times, but if you hung around Living Word long enough, you picked up on the lingo and sort of figured out what was supposed to be going on.

As Pastor Smith would shout, “Somebody give Him a praise,” the crowd would oblige enthusiastically, clapping and hooting.  Interestingly, the applause would always be louder if the person seemed to “fall out” in a particularly forceful or dramatic fashion.

“Falling out under the power” could happen in another context, too, which was the prayer line.  This didn’t occur terribly often, but maybe once a month on a Sunday night, Pastor Smith would decide to “pray for people.”  Like a well-oiled machine, the ushers and catchers would direct us to file out of our pews and snake around into a line that led up to the front.  Then they’d place us into position, lined up across the front of the sanctuary.  Pastor Smith would pass back and forth in front of the line, praying in tongues loudly and moving from one person to the next, momentarily placing his hands on the person’s forehead.  “Falling out under the power” was not such a practically guaranteed outcome in this setting, like it was when an individual was “pulled out” and received a personal word.  But it probably did happen to at least 50% of the people whom Pastor Smith prayed for in these prayer lines.

Sometimes a third variation would occur, when Pastor Smith would pause, motion for the music to get quieter, and then would begin to prophesy personally to an individual in the prayer line.  When Smith would go to “lay hands on” the person after delivering the “word,” that person typically WOULD “fall out.”

Because of the need for expediency – after all, even the thinned-out Sunday night crowds were still fairly large, with sometimes as many as 500 people – those who did “fall out” in the prayer line were not permitted to lie on the floor for very long before being helped to their feet by one of the catchers. 

But it was still understood that we were RECEIVING something from Pastor Smith during those times…

Again, we weren’t taught clearly and specifically WHAT we were receiving, but we easily absorbed the notion that God did something to us through Pastor Smith, and that it happened while we were lying down on the floor, after Pastor Smith had touched us.  This practice was one of the things that set our church apart from the inferior “dead” churches out there.  It was one of the main ways that we were “ministered to.”

Of all the things that have puzzled me as I look back on my experiences in Charismania, I have to say that “falling out under the power” is still the one that remains the most mysterious.

The other night, as I was drifting off to sleep, I was once again puzzling over what the whole thing meant.  In the way that one’s thoughts go as one is in that twilight zone between waking and sleeping, here were the random observations that floated in and out of my brain…

We see no instances of “falling out” happening in the Bible, at least nothing remotely resembling the way that it was done at Living Word Church.  Yes, there are places in the Bible where we can read about people trembling in fear at the manifest presence of God and falling on their faces before Him, even (apparently) seeming to temporarily lose consciousness.  But I’ve never been able to find a single instance in Scripture where a man of God (like the Apostle Paul, or Timothy, or one of the disciples) behaved like a physical “conduit” of God’s power, where he would touch a recipient and the recipient would fall backward.

We certainly can find no instructions to the church about doing these ministry times.  I mean, you’d think that if “falling out under the power” were such a crucial way to nourish and serve God’s people, it would have received at least a few verses of teaching somewhere in the New Testament.  But there’s nothing.  Even the verses that do mention the “laying on of hands” say NOTHING about “falling out under the power” and lying on the floor afterward.  There’s NOTHING about receiving something specific or particular from the Holy Spirit during these times on the floor.

But the biggest thing that struck me the other night, as I thought about all this once again, was this:  the applause. 

The Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit’s main role is to direct people’s attention to Jesus.  Therefore, it would logically follow that if this whole “falling out under the power” thing actually IS the Holy Spirit in action, it would serve to glorify Jesus and make people focus on Him.

But in all honesty, I have to say that that did NOT seem to be the outcome of this practice, at least not at Living Word Church.

At Living Word, when someone “fell out under the power,” I don’t really think that Jesus was thought about all that much.

Instead, the recipient of MOST of the attention seemed to be whichever person had performed the “laying on of hands.”  Even though Pastor Smith was very diligent about telling his audience to give God praise, I never felt like the applause that would follow these times of ministry was actually about God.  It always felt like it was much more a way for the audience to express their awe at how the ministering pastor had just done something to the recipient of the “word.” 

The natural reaction of the people seemed like it was to be impressed with the pastor’s (or visiting minister’s) amount of “anointing,” which was assessed by how forcefully the recipient of the “laying on of hands” had “fallen out,” and how long that person had remained unconscious on the floor.  By default, our attention was not so much on God Himself (Jesus).  Our attention was on the dramatic act of the person’s falling down on the ground, and on the pastor who had touched the person and therefore had caused this dramatic thing to happen.  Looking back, I can even remember how certain visiting ministers were particularly revered for the number of people they “pulled out,” and for how powerful these people’s time on the floor had been to them.

And the recipient – the person who “fell out” – basically received whatever attention the audience had left to give, after they’d applauded at the pastor’s behest.  It was not uncommon for the recipient to be congratulated after the service.  Sometimes, people would even seem to be a bit in awe of the recipient, almost as though they were hoping that some of the “anointing” that the recipient had received would rub off on them.

I have to say that whatever “falling out under the power” actually WAS, it did feel really good.  I was never the recipient of a “personal word” from Pastor Smith, but I “fell out” more than a few times in the prayer line.  Sometimes it was quite powerful, like a jolt of electricity had hit me and my knees buckled.  I’d fall to the floor and be in a sort of zoned-out frame of mind, although I certainly remained fully conscious.  I can remember plenty of times where my mind would be pleasurably blank as I fell, and yet I’d still be aware enough of myself that I’d tug on my blouse to make sure that my stomach hadn’t gotten exposed as I’d fallen.

Also, I can’t really say that anything changed in me during those times that I “fell out.”  If I’m going to be brutally honest, I’d have to say that I always felt just a teensy bit disappointed after each of these experiences. 

I’d return to my seat, sometimes feeling quite befuddled and almost dazed, pretty convinced that whatever had knocked me to the floor had been something from God…

BUT…

Something deep down inside of me sort of knew that if it HAD been God who’d knocked me to the ground, I was still the one at least somewhat in charge of my faculties.  After all, I’d have the presence of mind to adjust my clothing.  (And I wasn’t the only one – I often noticed other ladies doing that very same thing!)  And ultimately, I was ALWAYS able to get up off the ground when I wanted to or was told to by the ushers.

If what had knocked me to the ground was God Himself, it had to be a very watered-down version of God, because my own human will was able to overcome the effects of the “knocking-down” power.

Which brings up another interesting thought:  after being at Living Word for awhile, I had to admit that whatever it was that happened to people while they lay on the floor, it didn’t seem to have very lasting effects in their lives.

Among the regulars who “fell out,” we all seemed to pretty much remain as we had always been.  I don’t know that any of us went forth and lived holier lives, or more actively loved others, or exhibited more patience, or more faith, or did any of the dramatic things that Pastor Smith frequently declared would happen (such as seeing people we touched be instantly healed, or walking into a room and having so much anointing on us that people would burst into tears at our mere presence and demand to pray to accept Christ, without our ever having to utter a word).

And sadly, among the visitors, or more “transient” folks who were prayed for and “fell out,” I think we saw even fewer lasting results.  I can only speak of the folks whom I personally knew, of course, but off the top of my head I can remember several people who attended Living Word for a month or two, people who had major issue with stuff like drug use.  I can picture one gal in particular who got prayed for and “fell out” dramatically.  She disappeared from Living Word about a month after that dramatic moment, only to return maybe a year later, still entrapped in all the same problems she’d always had.

So…

While the practice of “falling out under the power” was something that felt good, and while I still have no real explanation for the jolt of electricity that I myself experienced from time to time, a jolt so powerful that it knocked me backward and made me fall to the ground, I have to say that I’ve come to the following conclusions.

  • I don’t think the practice can be clearly or directly supported by anything in the Bible.
  • I don’t think the jolt of power is God Himself, or else we humans wouldn’t be so easily able to overcome its effects.
  • Moreover, if the jolt IS from God, then that would mean that God is putting Himself at the mercy of fallible guys like Pastor Smith, who then control when and where and how they dispense God to their people.  Ultimately, that would make Pastor Smith and his visiting ministers in charge of God, rather than the other way around.
  • I never saw any lasting positive effects of the practice.  If anything, it seemed to create a cycle in people of just hungering for more of the same.  Sometimes I got the distinct impression that Pastor Smith was fully aware of this, because he seemed to dole out those prayer times judiciously, doing it just enough to maintain attendance.  After all, he could always ensure a much larger Sunday night crowd if he announced in advance that he’d be “praying for people” (which almost always meant that there’d be an opportunity to “fall out”).
  • The practice seems to take attention AWAY from Jesus and what He accomplished for us through His death and resurrection.  Instead, “falling out under the power” directs people’s attention to the person performing the “laying on of hands,” as well as to the recipient of said hands.

I can’t say that I’ve yet reached a definite conclusion about what that whole experience actually was.  It’s possible – faintly possible – that when I arrive in heaven someday and get to ask Jesus about this, Jesus will tell me that yes, this whole thing was something He wanted for His church, and that yes, He actually DID “minister” to people through it.

But I have to say that this would surprise me.

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One of the strangest (and most unbiblical) things about our particular experience with “Charismania” was the odd dynamic that swirled around the pastors of Living Word Church (a pseudonym, as are most other names on this website).  Within the world that they’d created inside the walls of Living Word, the Smith family – Pastor Smith, his wife Mary, and their two young-adult sons, Timmy and Tommy – were treated like royalty. 

We’d come to Living Word Church after a lifetime spent in more mainstream Bible-based churches, where it was a given that pastors were supposed to be unassuming “servant leaders.”   So when we first arrived at Living Word, we were oblivious to the aura of celebrity that surrounded the Smiths. 

It took awhile for us to fall in line and acclimate ourselves to Living Word’s hierarchy, but eventually we learned how things were.  And despite how we always KNEW, at some level, that the Smith family’s belief in their own importance was completely unbiblical and inappropriate, we soon found ourselves going right along with the crowd who swirled around them, vying for their attention and approval.  It really did not take very long for it to seem almost NORMAL to us that there was an entire “ministry” built around providing security for the Smith family as they walked around the church building.  Or that it was considered a HIGH HONOR to open the door of Pastor Smith’s $85,000 Mercedes as his handlers hustled him out of the building and into his car.

Eventually, we realized that the people who were the closest to the Smith family – ESPECIALLY the people who handled the most mundane details of their lives – exhibited a real attitude about their proximity to the Smiths. 

I happened to be reading a random website – a website about a subject that on the surface has nothing to do with the world of “Charismania” – when I came across a really amazing comment that describes to a “T” the dynamic that was at work at Living Word Church.  I want to post that comment here, as I believe it provides a good summary of the attitudes at work within many independent “Charismaniac” churches, not just Living Word.

Here is the comment, by “Cindy K” (who has her own website here):

I would completely discount this as true if I had not heard and seen these things in the shepherding movement (the charismatic movement that got started about the same time that Bill Gothard started to get cranked up in the mid to late ’60s). We had a close friend at one time who was on the list to have the privilege of washing Bob Mumford’s car. The more holiness you have and the more submissive you are, the more deeply you can penetrate into the inner circle of leaders and the more intimate duties you are permitted to perform for them. So scrubbing the toilet for Bob Mumford is a far higher and more lofty duty than just washing the car. I actually talked on the phone with someone who left a sister church of my group whose father actually got to pick Bob Mumford up at the airport.

This is all a very big part of submission teaching, and in terms of this aspect and dynamic, Gothard and Mumford and some of these patriocentrists ascribe to the same mindset.  Gothard teaches that if you want to have your own vision, the way to make that grow comes through serving others in their mission. So the more humble you are, the more grace you get (like God puts money in an account or you get grace warm fuzzies to counter all those sin cooties).  The more selfless you are in your service, the more benefit you gain.  If you are asked to wipe someone’s bum because they are too lazy to do it themselves or if they are actually taking pleasure in the fact that they can get you to do it, this is a test of your virtue.  Submission, submission, submission.  It is seen as an act of piety that builds your character in a direct cause and effect manner. 

But what’s interesting is that no one is interested in scrubbing the toilet of the aging, obese woman who had a stroke and drools, who is seated in the back row and when she comes for prayer or to ask for critical help is patted on the head and told to be warmed, filled and to go in peace.  The ministry efforts are directed primarily toward the elders and leaders in a group, because it is a type of validation and reinforcement of your own importance.  Consider that this is like a drug, because you are in an environment of comparison as well as one where shame is used to motivate.  It is more satisfying than a glass of cool water on the hottest summer day because it medicated the pains of comparison and shame.

People in these groups are overridden with shame, and gaining the favor of the elite is a most powerful neurochemical drug.  It also feeds pride, because you are more special than the other people who can’t even get on the waiting list to wash the car, let alone scrub the toilet.  But sometimes, if there is a favorite of the group, one that the group can hold up a non-normative they would like people to minister to – a pet project.  Because it is seen as a virtue and is counted as virtuous by the leadership, attending to the particular non-normative who has been set apart by the leaders will also earn you bonus points with them. 

They ALWAYS have their favorites.  You might not get to wash the car of the leader, but you might be able to get on the list to wash the car of their pet project.  And think about it.  They have set themselves up in a hierarchy and established themselves as the visionaries who speak for God and discern His thoughts in ways that normal people cannot even begin to attain.  Where would we be without Doug Phillips? We would have no one championing the family and the world would be a sad, sad place.  If you want more than anything to honor and serve God in all the wonder and fullness that you can dream of, this is alluring. 

If you believe their press, they hold out this fantasy for you.  They create it with smoke and mirrors, and if you want that fantasy, there it is.  You might not get to experience the awesome power and holiness and greatness of God, but you can perhaps glean something from the crumbs that fall from God’s table of greatness.  I’ve heard people describe this as like unto those sick who took strips of Paul’s clothing to the sick so that the power of the Holy Spirit that remained on the cloth would heal them.  [Charismania here:  I want to point out that Living Word Church actually did have what they called an “Anointing and Handkerchief Service” each year, where they would distribute “anointed” hankies and vials of oil that had been prayed over by Pastor Smith and other guest speakers.  Living Word Church actually had that passage from the book of Acts – the passage that describes how strips of Paul’s clothing were distributed for healing – printed on the hankies.  Also, I myself  once wrote a post about a funny thing that happened to us during the final prayer line during that “Handkerchief Service.”  These things dovetail perfectly with what Cindy K is saying in this comment!]  You might have a Holy Ghost experience by washing the very car that Bob Mumford actually touched and sat in.  You might get a Holy Ghost jolt when you scrub the…

Don’t forget that Gothard teaches this.  To have vision you must first experience the death of a vision, and then you work toward your vision by serving someone else in their vision.  When God finds you faithful and you earn enough grace points and warm fuzzies, you win the prize – you get your own vision, and volunteers will in turn come to serve you as you aspire toward your very own vision. 

This is all Gothard.  It was all over Shepherding.  It is a twist on being faithful over little so that God will make you faithful over your own greatness.  By serving others greatness, God will eventually make you great.  It’s all part of the formula.

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As I’ve said before, many times, the journey out of Charismania seems to take longer than one would imagine.  We’ve been gone from Living Word Church (a pseudonym, as are all other names in this post) for a year and a half, and yet I still keep coming to new realizations about things we experienced there.  I’ll be going along, thinking that I am SO OVER Living Word, when suddenly I’ll remember something and be hit by a new understanding, a new interpretation, of it.

Like yesterday.  For some reason, I suddenly remembered something that Pastor Smith would often say when talking about people who left Living Word. 

(I’m going to interrupt myself before I even really get rolling, so that I can point out how odd it seems, in retrospect, that a pastor of a fairly large congregation – around 1,000 in attendance on a Sunday – would EVER comment from the pulpit about people who leave.  But Smith did this on many occasions.  He’d often joke about the “revolving door” of the church…and the evil vipers who would spread vicious lies about him…and sometimes he’d say, “If you don’t like it, LEAVE!”

But that would be fodder for another post.)

Anyway…back to what I remembered yesterday…

On many occasions, when Pastor Smith would go on these rants about people who left Living Word, he’d do so in a way that really couldn’t be called a “rant.”  He’d use a very reasonable, borderline patronizing tone of voice, like he was a helpful preschool teacher explaining the obvious.  And he’d say, “You know, I’ve seen so many families, they’re plugged in to this great church.  Their kids are doing well.  Their finances are doing well.  Their marriage is great.  But then they leave.  And somehow, after that, their kids start having problems.  Their finances get messed up.  And their marriages fall apart…”

During that last bit, Smith would shrug dramatically at us and then, still in a very calm, reasonable, preschool teacher sort of voice, finish up with something to the effect of, “Now, I’m not sayin’ ANYTHING.  But you can do the math!”

I got to thinking about this yesterday.  The clear implication of Pastor Smith’s frequent mentions of people who leave, and how their lives basically fall apart after they do, was that attendance at Living Word Church was the thing that had helped these people remain successful in their finances and family life.  Leaving Living Word, on the other hand, meant that you’d lose this magical touch on your life.  You’d lose money, you’d lose your kids, you’d lose your marriage.

Something hit me yesterday about this.  First of all, I need to say that Pastor Smith’s insinuations APPEARED to have some truth to them.  We all knew folks who’d left Living Word, and several of them did get divorced after they left.  Many of them did suffer through financial crack-ups.  Many of them did have problems with their kids. 

I think this is why a bunch of fairly educated, intelligent people could sit there and listen to Pastor Smith say these things and not get upset and walk out – because there SEEMED to be a bit of truth to what he was saying.  It SEEMED like Living Word Church WAS good for a family’s success.

But…looking at it another way…

It’s fully possible that leaving Living Word Church DID lead to all sorts of problems for people.  But NOT because they’d left Living Word’s protective “anointing.”  Rather, people had problems after they left Living Word because of the natural implications of what it means to have been under the sway of a manipulative and abusive ministry!

Financially, people at Living Word strained themselves to give sacrificially.  While I’ll never stop believing in the principle of honoring God first with one’s money, the truth of the matter is that Pastor Smith hammered away at the subject of giving, sometimes even taking up multiple collections in a single church service, to the point where many of the people I knew were jeopardizing their financial health to “sow seed” far above and beyond their tithe.  Many people enjoyed the special attention they got from Pastor Smith when they did this, too.  And a lot of us bought into the idea that we were essentially “investing” when we gave, since we were promised a “hundredfold harvest” from our giving.

So it’s far more likely that those who left suffered financial setbacks BECAUSE of financially harmful decisions they’d made while still attending Living Word.

Likewise Smith’s whole observation about marriages that broke up.

Discovering that you’ve been deceived and manipulated can put major strain on a marriage.  Many people exit Charismania with little sense of what’s real and what’s fake about their Christianity.  This can prompt a major life crisis.  And husbands and wives often handle this crisis differently.  Perhaps one spouse spends all his time reading and researching doctrine, while the other one grows apathetic about all things Christian.  Losing one’s faith in the “Word of Faith” message is akin to losing a loved one.  When you discover that it’s NOT necessarily true that you’ll always be victorious in precisely the way you declare victory…when you discover that miraculous healing is NOT necessarily “always God’s will” for every situation…when you discover that the “hundredfold harvest” is essentially a myth, a con, promoted by unscrupulous “men of Gawd” so that they can line their own pockets and pursue their own luxurious lifestyles even as they themselves do not “sow” all THEY have into OTHER ministries because they KNOW that they won’t receive a “hundredfold return”…

Well, these discoveries are like little deaths.  At least they were for us.  And as with any death, any loss, nothing will ever quite be the same again.  There’s grief.  There’s pain.  There’s a keen sense of disappointment.  And just as the grieving process over an actual physical death can take its toll on a marriage, so can this type of death, the death of one’s belief in the sort of “fairy tale God” taught and promoted at Charismaniac churches.

So yesterday, I suddenly realized that when Pastor Smith made mention of the way people’s lives seem to fall apart after they left Living Word Church, he was – as was so often the case – trying to manipulate his people.  He was trying to control them through fear, by planting the idea in their minds that they somehow needed Living Word Church in order to hold their lives together. 

And he was so often successful in his quest, as we all sat there and remembered the folks we knew who’d had their lives go south after leaving.

Yet – as was also often the case – Pastor Smith was only telling part of the story.  He neglected to mention that the wrecked finances, the broken marriages, the rebellious kids, were far more likely the result of what happens when people have to pick through the reality of deception – deception at the hands of men like Pastor Smith, who promote a false gospel for financial gain.

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My exit out of Living Word Church (a pseudonym), and Charismania in general, for that matter, was prompted by a handful of what Oprah Winfrey would call “Aha!” moments.  One of those moments, ironically, was born out of a friendship, probably the only true friendship I had at Living Word. 

Living Word Church was NOT a place where it was easy to connect with others.  During the years we attended, there were no “Adult Bible Fellowships” (aka “Sunday school classes”).  There were no small-group Bible studies where discussion was encouraged.  They did have a system of church-organized social groups, called “Care Groups” (now changed to “Life Groups”), but the groups rarely met, and when they did, the get-togethers were often painfully awkward meetings of strangers with next to nothing in common.  

Incidentally, something I always found fascinating is how just about every decent conversation among Living Word folks seemed to end up focused on Pastor Smith (another pseudonym) or the story of how one came to be a member of Living Word.  Seriously.  I can remember attending at least three different Living Word get-togethers where there was little but stiff small talk, until someone mentioned something about Pastor Smith.  Suddenly, everyone in the room came alive and began participating in the conversation. 

Much later, I realized that this was exactly the way Pastor Smith liked things to be.  He and his family were the focal point of Living Word Church, and you’d better not forget it.  To ensure that you wouldn’t forget, you could feast your eyes on large portraits of the Smith family plastered prominently in the church lobby.  You could watch people during praise and worship time, prior to the Smiths’ grand entrance on the stage, and feel the level of anticipation for Pastor Smith’s arrival.  If Smith wasn’t going to be there on a particular Sunday, they’d rarely announce that ahead of time, because they knew how few people would actually still show up. 

So in this very Pastor Smith-centric atmosphere, I considered my friendship with two ladies, middle-aged never-married sisters who typically sat in the same area of the sanctuary as we did, a real treasure.  What started because of conversations struck up during long periods of waiting for the church services to begin eventually grew into a deep, heart-to-heart friendship.  

One of the sisters – I’ll call her “Jean” – became an especially close friend.  She and I would always have a wonderful time when we’d talk on the phone or meet for lunch.  Although we shared interests in more mundane things, our conversations also often touched on our deepest spiritual struggles, hopes, and dreams.  Jean and I frequently shared with each other what we were praying about, the things in our lives that we wanted to change, and where we thought God was leading us.  

In retrospect, it seems almost funny that it was one of those conversations that ultimately sent me down the path of questioning just about everything we’d been taught at Living Word.  During the time we were involved with the church, I probably would have said that the one thing that made us less than content with Living Word was the lack of ways to truly fellowship with other believers.  I always felt uncomfortable with the extreme focus on the Smith family and earnestly wished I had more friends like Jean.  

I never would have guessed that Jean would play a role in our leaving. 

Not long after we first became friends, Jean revealed to me something that even at that time struck me as a bit unreal.  In the early days of our involvement at Living Word, I honestly felt like a whole new world had been opened for me.  After a lifetime of a Bible-based faith rooted firmly in reality, where normal human disappointments still might lurk around every corner, I was suddenly introduced to a Christian life that talked about “dreaming big,” about “having favor,” about “taking the limits off.”  After years of knowing that Christians should not love money, should not place too much importance on “things of this world,” and should not put their hopes in earthly riches, we were suddenly thrust into a world where it was OK – indeed, it was merely a sign of God’s blessing – to drive a luxury car and dream for a huge house.  In fact, it was God’s will for us to have those things.  

So when Jean told me that God had given her and her sister an amazing vision and had also told them that it was going to come to pass, I had mixed feelings when she revealed exactly what that dream was.  On the one hand, we were fed a steady diet of, “The sky’s the limit!” from Living Word’s pulpit.  Nothing is impossible with God…it’s God’s will for you to have the desires of your heart…we are more than conquerors through Christ…God wants us to prosper and be in good health… 

Who was I to tell anyone that their dream was too far-fetched for God to turn into reality?  God could do anything! 

And yet…

Well, when it came right down to what the sisters’ dream actually WAS, I ran into huge roadblocks in my thinking. 

They totally and sincerely believed that God had told them they would both soon retire from their secretarial jobs, come into $53 million, and establish a “hospitality house” where they would play hostess to the visiting ministers whom Living Word brought in on occasion to speak to the church.  They already even had selected their exact mansion – in one of the finest communities of luxury homes that this area affords.  Like, they already knew WHICH HOUSE God had shown them that He was going to give them.

They also believed that God had told them that they were going to experience supernatural weight loss – that one day in the near future, Pastor Smith would give an altar call for those who wanted to lose weight, and when they’d go forward for this altar call, a miracle would happen and weight would instantly drop off their bodies, to the point where they’d start losing their clothes as they’d make their way back to their seats. 

In other words, the sisters believed that someday soon, they’d be both wealthy and slim, even though currently their paychecks only afforded them life’s necessities…they had saved NOTHING for retirement, neither of them had health insurance, and they were still living in their mother’s basement…and even though they had absolutely no plans to change their eating and exercise habits. 

I know it might seem silly to those of you who have never been engulfed in the “Charismaniac” mindset, but I did not immediately dismiss the sisters’ beliefs about their future.  I felt conflicted about them, actually.  On the one hand, the part of me that still had my feet planted somewhere near reality would inwardly shake my head and marvel that they could put so much stock in what they thought that “God told them.”  I mean, although Pastor Smith frequently delivered vague but very positive prophecies over lots of folks in Living Word’s audience, he’d never pulled out either sister for a personal “word.”  They didn’t even have one of Pastor Smith’s prophecies to fall back on.  All they had was their confidence in their own prophetic dreams, visions, and ability to “hear God’s voice.” 

I often thought, even as I was growing to love the gals and enjoy our friendship more and more, that they were setting themselves up for a huge disappointment every time they would strain their meager finances to “sow a seed” into Living Word Church or ministries like Benny Hinn’s.  I cringed on their behalf when, right before offering time one Sunday night, Jean whispered to me that although they’d finally saved enough money to buy themselves new mattresses, they felt that God had told them to give the entire amount to the church instead.  Her trembling hand was clutching a white offering envelope, which she proceeded to bring down to the waiting ushers holding the offering buckets at the front of the church.  

Even then – and this was in the midst of my highest love and loyalty for Living Word – I was greatly troubled at the thought of Jean and her sister sleeping on broken-down beds for several more years while the Smiths barely batted an eye at spending $29,000 per year on floral arrangements and “needed” a new $80,000 Mercedes to replace their perfectly respectable 5-year-old model. 

Yet…well, on the other hand, I never could bring myself to completely discount the sisters’ belief in their dream.  After all, who was I to question their faith?  At the time, I myself was “believing God for something” that probably would have seemed quite far-fetched to other people.  

For at least awhile, I made a sort of uneasy peace with the two parts of my thinking.  To be honest, I was motivated by more than a little selfishness.  My reasoning went something like this:  if I did not honor the sisters’ dream – the object of THEIR faith – then why should anybody, God Himself included, honor MY dream and answer MY prayers? 

I never quite lost the sense, though, that there was a missing link in the sisters’ (actually, the whole church’s, mine included) theology.  I realize – again – that this might not make sense to anyone who hasn’t been engulfed in Charismania, but we’d listen to sermon after sermon from Pastor Smith about faith, about believing God for our dreams, about how our “destiny” was always  just about to be fulfilled.  I’d say at least nine Sundays out of ten, the terms “destiny,” “dreams,” “visions,” and “favor” would figure prominently in Pastor Smith’s preaching.  And always, he’d seem to have plenty of Bible verses to back up his assurances to us.  Despite all the years of solid Bible training I’d had and the many college theology courses I’d taken, I could never really pinpoint what – if anything – was wrong with Pastor Smith’s messages.  

The truth was, I actually WANTED Living Word’s teachings – the same teachings that buoyed up my friends’ commitment to their mansion and their future instantaneous weight loss – to be true.  Church had become an extremely positive, uplifting experience for me.  I thoroughly enjoyed hearing, week after week, how God had a great destiny in store for me, and how my dreams would all be fulfilled.  Just like the two sisters, I myself was hoping and praying every day for a specific outcome, and I did not want to lose what I thought were the theological underpinnings for believing that I would eventually get what I wanted. 

Ultimately, though, I finally concluded that since I could never reconcile the God of the Bible with the sisters’ vision, I had to rethink almost everything we’d been taught about God’s “obligation” to answer our prayers and fulfill our dreams.  I had to go back to the Bible alone, and I had to ask the hard questions about whether or not all the “dream talk” was consistent with God’s character and wisdom, as He has revealed those things to us in the Bible. 

When we finally made the painful decision to leave Living Word, it was due in part to the fact that I could never fully and honestly get behind my friends and cheer them on, even though I really wanted to out of my deep affection for them.  I finally acknowledged what I’d always still known deep down:  that the God of the Bible was not likely to give my friends such a dream and “tell them” that they were going to stumble upon $53 million.  I knew that the God of the Bible was not likely to melt pounds off of them during a five-minute altar call.  I knew that the God of the Bible – as He has revealed Himself to us through books like Proverbs – was not likely to promote a lifestyle that never planned for the future, never even tried to save for retirement. 

I recently stumbled upon a book review by Bob DeWaay, in which he discusses this very subject.  While Pastor Smith never cited this particular book (Prayer Quest, by Dee Duke) in any of his sermons, the book is apparently based upon the exact same principles we were taught at Living Word Chuch.  DeWaay articulates far better than I ever could the faulty theology behind Charismania’s extreme focus on “dreams” and “visions.”  I know this blog post is already quite long, but I’d encourage everybody to read the excerpt below.  I’ve put what I considered the key paragraph in bold. 

Bob DeWaay’s Book Review of Dee Duke’s Prayer Quest 

The subtitle to this book is “Breaking through to your God-given dreams and destiny.” Duke speaks of our dreams and God’s dreams throughout his book. In the Bible God gave dreams to certain people. Those dreams, if interpreted by an infallible prophet, revealed God’s will and God plans. In the Bible, the dreams were from God, but they were not God’s dreams. They were the dreams of the people who dreamt them (for example Nebuchadnezzar’s in Daniel 2). Here we have to add a point of clarification: Only the dreams that are interpreted in the Bible by God’s prophets and spokespersons can be considered to authoritatively reveal God’s will. 

The term “dream” in English can mean “hope for an ideal future,” as in, “I have a dream.” This denotes the hope for some better state of affairs that may or may not come into existence. Duke, in his book, is clearly not using the term in the Biblical sense as a dream a person has that has been interpreted by an authoritative prophet. Instead he says, “He calls us now to dream His dreams, to ask Him daily to display His power.  Duke is speaking of a hoped for future when he uses the term “dream”: 

“Welcome to the reality where dreams come true! God has a dream, and it is certain to happen just as He imagines it. He has placed the stamp of His image on our souls, so that we also dream great dreams. As we learn to passionately share and enjoy God’s dreams, we will see Him work in amazing ways . . .” 

This statement involves some serious category problems. Supposedly God’s dream is His imagination about the future. We (all humans evidently because all humans are created in God’s image) can dream like God. Either this is anthropomorphism run amok or some seriously bad theology. God is the one who says this about Himself: “Remember the former things long past, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, Declaring the end from the beginning And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, ‘My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure‘” (Isaiah 46:9, 10). God does not dream, He decrees. God calls things into being and works all things according to the counsel of His will (Ephesians 1:11). He doesn’t imagine a potential future that may or may not happen. 

Concerning us, the only thing we know about what God “dreams” (using Duke’s terminology) is what is revealed in Scripture. Our own dreams about what we would like the future to bring are not going to make God do anything. Duke says, “This book is intended to help you learn to walk so intimately with God that you will see Him fulfill His dreams in and through you.” This brings us back to the typical “prayer secret” genre of Christian writing. Supposedly there is some key to “intimacy with God” that is not based on the once-for-all finished work of Christ, not based on availing ourselves of the means of grace by faith, but based on our own level of personal piety and the use of practices not revealed in the Bible. 

Duke asks his readers, “Do you feel as though you’ve given up on dreams you had when your faith was new?” The implication is that our “dreams” (i.e., hopes for an ideal or optimal future) somehow authoritatively reveal God’s will and that we must make these come to pass by some process. But our ideas about what we hope life will be like are nothing more than ideas and may have nothing to do with God’s purposes. Our dreams are part of providence, but providence contains good and evil. Duke is treating personal imaginations about the future as if they were infallible guidance to be nurtured and followed. But personal dreams are not God’s moral law. 

Here is a further definition of what Duke means by “dream,” 

“A dream is a desire felt so strongly that we think and meditate on it constantly until we see it in our mind as clearly as if it were reality. A dream believes that what is desired will happen; it is accomplished by anticipation and positive expectation. People who dream tend to be upbeat and enthusiastic.” 

This is a very much the type of mind over matter thinking that has enjoyed popularity in self-help circles. 

He gives people some practical guidance on releasing their “imagination” in prayer: “Envision yourself embarking on a day trip into the presence of God. . . . Envision yourself approaching God in His glory.” 

This is strikingly similar to guided imagery. He gives more examples of how to manage your dream time with God, including making lists of dream notes. This is a journey into the subjective realm under the guise of “prayer.” 

Much bad teaching comes into the church by route of mysticism, subjectivism, and having faulty theological categories. In previous articles I carefully defined categories to help my readers avoid these pitfalls. Risking redundancy, I must again assert that there is God’s revealed will in Scripture as well as God’s providential will (containing good and evil) that is revealed as history unfolds. Though Duke wants us to dream God’s dreams about the future, he admits that these dreams we might have come from various sources. He lists thoughts from God, your own thoughts, thoughts from the world, and thoughts from Satan. His readers are supposed to sort through their dream notes to find ones that they think are from God. But how? God’s future providential will is not revealed and cannot be known until it unfolds in history. Our dreams about the future cannot be determined to be from God by any means available to us because they are not revealed in Scripture. 

Duke reveals his lack of Biblical understanding when he cites the scripture, “My sheep know my voice,” as proof that we can figure out which of our dreams is God’s voice. That passage in John 10 is about those whom the Father has given to the Son and who consequently will respond to the gospel and follow Christ, not about listening to various subjective voices in our heads and trying to figure out which one sounds the most like Christ. 

There is no need to belabor how bad this book is theologically. It starts from a series of faulty premises and bad theology and builds from there a concept of prayer that is not taught in the Bible. The term “dream” as he uses it is basically the idea of one’s imagination. The Bible tells us about those who speak in this manner: “Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘Do not listen to the words of the prophets who are prophesying to you. They are leading you into futility; They speak a vision of their own imagination, Not from the mouth of the Lord‘”. (Jeremiah 23:16).

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