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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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Ever since I put up the Smoke ‘n’ Mirrors post, I’ve been feeling bad.  Publicly suggesting that Pastor Smith (a pseudonym) engineered a fake miracle so that he could kick off Living Word Church’s (another pseudonym) special week of meetings with a bang and drum up more excitement about the annual “Miracle Handkerchief And Anointing Service” was just…well, probably more cynical than any Christian ought to be.

At the very least, I should not have put up the post without trying to investigate whether a particle of my suspicions could be true.

I’d take the post down, in fact, except that I’ve vowed never to do that with anything that appears on this blog.  People link to this site, and I’ve personally always hated it when folks have second thoughts and remove posts.  It can be very confusing…and also seem sort of dishonest.

So I’ve decided I’m not going to remove the article.  Instead, I’m going to put up this disclaimer, sharing my mixed feelings, along with a request.  I know that at least a few former Living Word folks have stumbled onto this site and will easily recognize the cast of characters and remember the incident I described.  (It was, hands down, one of the most oft-repeated miracle stories at Living Word.)  If you’re one of those folks, would you please drop me an email (at charismaniablogATyahooDOTcom)?  Give me your analysis.  Even more helpful would be any sort of verification.  Maybe somebody out there was friendly with the Ortega (yet another pseudonym) son, to whom this healing supposedly happened.  Maybe there’s even someone who knows for certain that he actually went to the emergency room.  Maybe somebody even saw the x-rays.

I would dearly love, once and for all, to get to the bottom of this incident.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to explain, in a bit more detail, why I’ve become riddled with so much doubt about this particular “miracle” – even as I’m agreeing with the Pastor Smith defenders, who would no doubt be horrified that I’d dare insinuate such a thing.

Awhile back, when I was thinking about this “miracle” and how it would (I assumed) always be sort of the “final frontier” in my mind about how much that went on at Living Word was genuine and how much was mostly generated by Pastor Smith, it suddenly occurred to me that, given Living Word’s usual sophistication about showing videos on the big screen, it’s actually rather surprising that they would not have shown some still shots of this young man’s x-rays.  According to the Ortega family’s story, there were two sets of x-rays taken, one set on Sunday afternoon, prior to the wearing of the “anointed” hanky, and one set the following morning.  The first set had clearly shown a broken jaw.  The second set had shown whatever traces that an old broken jaw leaves (I’m not a medical expert).  In other words, the jaw had definitely been broken, but God had miraculously, through the anointed prayer cloth, performed a complete mending of the jaw overnight.

I just wondered, suddenly, why in the world they would not have shown those x-rays.  And called the newspaper, for that matter.  Think of the amazing documentation they should have had, with all those educated professionals who had seen the broken jaw but then had seen the healed jaw.  The media – if not the secular media, then certainly Christian media – would have gone wild.  It would have been excellent publicity for Living Word Church…and I do know that Living Word simply loves publicity.  Pastor Smith was always extremely deliberate and savvy about creating relationships with other, much bigger-name ministers.  He was willing to part with a LOT of the church’s cash to buddy up to Bishop T.D. Jakes, for example, donating $40,000 to Jakes’ well-digging outreach in Africa. 

(Interestingly enough, Pastor Smith’s two young adult sons, Timmy and Tommy, were invited to speak at Jakes’ MegaFest that very same year, just months after the $40,000 donation – roughly 1% of the church’s gross annual income – had been given.  Considering that neither of the Smith boys has exactly made a name for himself, I think it’s remarkable that they were included in such a tiny group of non-African American guys who got to speak at MegaFest.  But that’s another story.  As is how that donation managed to get made without even a peep to the congregation, until it was a done deal.) 

Pastor Smith was also adept at getting himself invited to be a guest on TBN and Daystar.  During these times, he was actually at his best, working the cameras with his unique earnest sincerity, always with many plugs for Living Word Church, and many mentions of its address. 

Even Living Word’s television ministry had little to do with “preaching the Gospel” (despite being touted as exactly that).  Rather, it was more of an infomercial for Living Word Church.  These Living Word broadcasts consisted of a half hour of Pastor Smith going on disconnected rants that had been plucked from different spots in his sermon (which made it impossible to follow his main ideas), interspersed with video of Pastor Smith that had been shot in a local television studio, where he was on some set that resembled a bookcase-lined office.  During these studio portions, Smith came across absolutely as the most gracious, enthusiastic host.  But once again, he did not share the Gospel of Christ.  Rather, he just kept urging folks to visit Living Word Church so that they could “experience this anointing.”  (Not surprisingly, Living Word’s television ministry was not very successful and disappeared without a word after about six months of heavy promotion.)

Also, what other reason would they have had, anyway, for printing up the miracle hankies with Living Word’s name, logo, AND precise location emblazoned in such a huge font, to where there could be no mistaking where the cloth had come from?

Definitely, Pastor Smith – and consequently Living Word Church – knew exactly how to do publicity!

That’s why it does not seem likely that Pastor Smith would have let the “Broken Jaw Miracle” – if it and all its documentation had been genuine – pass without making more effort to get the story picked up by news agencies.  Publicity for the “Broken Jaw Miracle,” after all, would very likely have ushered in the season of overflow that was continually being prophesied about.  People flock to the miraculous, as evidenced by other revivals like Toronto and Brownsville, and now that new one being run by Todd Bentley in Lakeland, Florida.  Theology hardly matters, as long as there are people with stories of gold fillings or healed bodies.  The Ortega family’s story would have drawn people to Living Word Church from all over the country.

Especially considering that Mr. Ortega was on staff as Pastor Smith’s assistant and right-hand man, and had a vested interest in promoting the church, there is simply no way that Living Word would not have capitalized a LOT more on this golden opportunity, considering how much utter verification there should have been…if it had happened as they said, with two sets of x-rays, and two sets of doctors who’d seen both the injury and then the healing less than 24 hours later.

Also, as my husband and I discussed this “miracle” recently, we suddenly had another thought.  Does it strike anybody else as odd that there was absolutely no concern about what had prompted a healthy young teenager to pass out in the first place?  Rather than dashing off to an orthopedic surgeon the next morning, as Pastor Smith had reported them to have done, wouldn’t at least some sort of MRI or other tests have been performed first?

Like I said, I’m no medical professional, but I am a mom, and if my teenaged son had gone through an incident like that, I don’t think I would have blown it off just because his jaw turned out to be OK.

Anyway…as you might be able to tell, I’m terribly conflicted about this seemingly minor thing that happened several years ago.  On the one hand, looking back on all the circumstances, I can’t help but be deeply suspicious about this “miracle.”  On the other hand, I am truly fearful of ascribing this incident to fraud if it actually were the real deal.

I know that one miracle should not be used to validate an entire ministry.  But I’m acutely aware of just how many people the “Broken Jaw Miracle” caused to take those prayer cloths very seriously.  I know how many people clapped and cheered and excitedly waved their anointed hanky during the service, and how many people sent those hankies off to sick and broken people in desperate need of a miracle, in large part because of a few exciting stories told and re-told, year after year, about the wonders that had been performed through those prayer cloths.  The main wonder, as I said, was always the Ortega boy’s story, because it was the only thing that had happened locally, to someone who was actually present in the service and could stand up and wave to the audience.

I know how important this story is to those who were true believers in those hankies.  I know, because I was one of those people.

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It’s been awhile since we’ve added anything to the site.  That’s because, in most respects, we feel like we’ve moved on from our experience at Living Word Church (a pseudonym).  We’ve now had a year to process what we witnessed and went through, and after awhile, it’s easy to feel like we’ve figured it all out.

But the funny thing is, right when I think I’ll never have another new thing to add to this blog, I’ll get to pondering our time at Living Word, and suddenly, I’ll be hit by a realization.  That happened to me last night.

My husband and I were reminiscing about Pastor Smith’s (another pseudonym) preaching last night.  As I’ve said in another post,

The thing was, when he’d stick to Scriptures, he was a great preacher—insightful, original, wise, and articulate. When he’d veer into a slightly questionable area, such as seeming to use the pulpit to pump up his own importance, it was easy to cut him some slack. He was, after all, a very dynamic individual with great force of personality that was coupled with a sharp, curmudgeonly sense of humor. When he preached, he conveyed a unique earnest sincerity. I still don’t doubt for a moment that he himself believed in everything he preached. I still think he was honestly convinced of the validity of his own prophetic gift, and of how much the people needed his ministry. His earnest sincerity made you WANT to cheer for what he said, made his audience WANT to show their support for him.

When we first started this site, I often remarked about how Pastor Smith’s preaching was usually pretty Biblical.  He always included a lot of Bible verses and really seemed to spend time putting his sermons together.  Even after we first left Living Word, I still believed that if Pastor Smith had just stuck with Scripture and stayed away from talking so much about his prophetic abilities and the “Prosperity Gospel,” his preaching would have continued to be stellar.

But recently, while organizing my closet, I stumbled upon a collection of sermon tapes from 2003.  Figuring that it would be good entertainment to reminisce – and also figuring that maybe I might be reminded of something edifying while I finished my cleaning – I popped one of the tapes in the stereo and gave it a listen.

I have to say, I was surprised to realize something.  And that is, even back a few years ago, before Pastor Smith became fixated on money, his sermons were still not like the sermons we’ve been hearing lately at the more generic Evangelical church we’ve been attending.  Rather than discussing straightforward Biblical principles and acceptable, obvious truths, Pastor Smith’s preaching was, essentially, all about reading a verse and then telling us what he thought it meant.

“So what’s the difference,” you ask.

Well, actually, there’s a pretty big difference.  Especially sometimes.

You see, the kind of preaching that focuses on making a larger point or a life application by building on basic truths clearly spelled out in the Bible is not the same as making a declaration and then pointing out how this declaration could be supported by a verse here or there.  And it’s certainly not the same as reading a single verse and then explaining to your audience how you know, because “God told you,” that this verse is true in a new and different way for the people you’re addressing.

Case in point:  some years back, pretty early in our time at Living Word, actually, Pastor Smith preached an entire series of sermons on God’s favor.  His text? – Psalm 102:13, which says:

Thou shalt arise, and have mercy upon Zion: for the time to favour her, yea, the set time, is come.

Pastor Smith spent weeks telling us, usually for more than an hour at a stretch, that the time had come for all those connected with Living Word Church to experience God’s favor.  He had a slogan for this sermon series:  “Dream big, and believe God for favor.”  After a couple of weeks, this slogan was professionally printed onto a gigantic banner which stretched all the way across the second-floor railing in the church foyer, so that it was almost the first thing you saw as you made your way toward the sanctuary entrance.

I remember that all of those sermons were incredibly uplifting.  Pastor Smith used every bit of his sincere, enthusiastic, and utterly convincing style to convey to us that the Lord had given him this verse as a “fresh word for the house.”  It was time for all those under the sound of his voice to get ready to dream big and believe God for favor, because God had told him that the “set time” for favor had begun.

In other words, if you were hoping for a certain job promotion, perhaps, or wanting healing, or looking to buy a bigger house, your time had come.  Even if you might not be the most qualified person, you would find yourself receiving more than the typical consideration for that career advancement, because of God’s favor.  Even if the doctor had told you there was nothing more the medical profession could do for you, you did not have to give up on good health, because of God’s favor.  Even if you weren’t sure where the extra money would come from, if you had a dream for a larger house, you could get ready to see it fulfilled, because of God’s favor.

These sermons had a big effect on the congregation’s mood.  People were cheering and applauding.  Pastor Smith’s preaching would be interrupted by frequent standing ovations.  And it wasn’t just an immediate emotional response, either.  I remember talking to friends and listening to them earnestly musing about how God was finally going to bring their favorite dream to pass…because we all were soon going to be hit by an unusual time of God’s favor.

Last night, as I thought back to this sermon series, and also to the tapes I’d just recently listened to again, I was suddenly struck by something.  Why did we believe Pastor Smith when he told us that we were all about to experience God’s favor?

I mean, it certainly wasn’t because he “proved” it to us through Scripture.  Using the Bible alone, just as it’s written, it’s really impossible to “prove” such a thing.  Even though Pastor Smith took Psalm 102:13 as his “proof text,” it really was nothing of the sort…UNLESS YOU TOOK PASTOR SMITH’S WORD FOR IT.  Psalm 102 on its own, after all, was written thousands of years ago and is about Israel.  Although Pastor Smith made a passing reference to how the Christian church has now been “grafted in” and thus has a right to all the promises made to the Jewish people, the fact still remains that nothing about Psalm 102:13 itself states that it held specific truth for those of us in that sanctuary at that moment.  Really, the only reason anybody would ever get that sort of message out of Psalm 102:13 was because Pastor Smith had told them they should.  And they believed Pastor Smith.

Actually, the majority of Pastor Smith’s preaching was just like this.  He did use the Bible a lot, but it was almost always in a way that focused on HIS INTERPRETATION of what a particular passage was saying, rather than what the passage simply SAID.

In other words, almost all of Smith’s sermons hung on Smith’s credibility.

Or as my dad would say, “The whole big picture hung on one rusty nail.”

Honestly, to really get anything at all out of the preaching at Living Word, you first had to buy into the assumption that Pastor Smith somehow heard directly from God.  And then you had to believe in his authority as “God’s mouthpiece” to the congregation.  Otherwise, his sermons would all be little but empty Tony Robbins-style “rah rah” motivational speeches.

How did we all “know,” after all, that the “set time for God’s favor” had come upon us?  Was it because of Psalm 102:13?  No, not really.  Instead, it was because Pastor Smith TOLD US that this was what Psalm 102:13 should mean to us.

“Rusty nail” sermons are really kind of a scary thing, in retrospect.  Especially because of their potential to do serious damage to people who buy into them and then find themselves blaming God when “favor” doesn’t follow.  I wonder how many of Smith’s listeners back then gave offerings they could not afford because they thought that doing so was a sign of faith for the favor that they’d soon experience?  I wonder how many people ended up bitterly disappointed when they were passed over for the job promotion that “God” had promised them?

Yes, “rusty nail” sermons are dangerous, I think.  And unfortunately there’s no such thing as a spiritual tetanus shot.

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One of the great mysteries we still wonder about is just how much Pastor Smith realizes and understands about the stuff that goes on at Living Word Church (once again, our usual disclaimer:  “Pastor Smith” and “Living Word Church” are both pseudonyms, as are all other names used on this site).

Awhile back, we posted an entry about whether or not what we experienced at Living Word was actually the “presence of God.”  Pastor Smith called it the presence of God.  The church members all thought it was the presence of God.  At the time, we ourselves would have said that that certain “rush” – that certain something that made us want to both weep and jump for joy at the same time – was the Holy Spirit.

But when you look at the harsh facts, it’s difficult to know for sure.

On the one hand, this “feeling” – or whatever it was – is marketed by Pastor Smith as the single most important reason why people should leave their “dead churches” and plant themselves at Living Word.  This “feeling” is also carefully orchestrated and cultivated, particularly through the use of music.  People would often refer to it as “The Anointing.”  They believed – and Pastor Smith taught – that “The Anointing” was something he personally dispensed (for lack of a better word).

Yet, on the other hand, how could Pastor Smith knowingly be so manipulative and still come across as so believable and sincere?  How could he stand there week after week, as he’s done for more than twenty years, and not be afraid that God was going to strike him dead with a lightning bolt or something?

After posting “Hooked on a Feeling…”, I really enjoyed the comments that different folks left.  They helped me to come to the following sudden realization:

Sometimes I think that, rather than being so diabolically manipulative that he deliberately manufactures a FALSE something that he then tries to pass off as the “presence of God,” Pastor Smith is actually just as hooked on the sensation (what ever “it” is) as the rest of his audience. He’s probably deliberate in how he wants the service structured, and in the kinds of music he tells his son to choose. But I think he and his family do genuinely believe that whatever it is they “stir up” in people actually IS “the anointing,” or the presence of God. 

Probably the fact that they believe they CAN dispense God’s presence is one of the reasons they’re able to hold themselves above everybody else. I mean, if you think you’ve got God Himself at your disposal, you’re going to feel pretty superior. And you’ll actually begin to believe that you NEED bodyguards and that you DESERVE all the best things.

If the Smiths genuinely believe this – that they somehow “have God on tap” – a lot of the crazy stuff at Living Word would make more sense. Such as the birthday offerings they’d take for themselves. I always wondered how they dared to have the nerve to TELL PEOPLE to give them gifts. Who do they think they are, anyway? But I think I may have inadvertently explained this to myself here. They think they’re the keepers of God’s presence. That’s GOT to be some heady stuff! No wonder they do all the arrogant, insensitive, and prideful things they do. It all suddenly makes sense. 

What do YOU think?

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Here is Part 2 of our analysis of Pastor Smith’s (“Pastor Smith” is a pseudonym for our former pastor) sermon on “The Anointing.”  If you haven’t already done so, please take the time to read either the sermon transcript, or Part 1 of our analysis, or both.  We realize that they’re lengthy.  The sermon transcript alone is over 10,000 words.  Yet there’s just something about reading it straight up, seeing Pastor Smith’s words in black and white, that demonstrates the pitfalls of Charismania far better than we ever could.

So let’s continue with our analysis.

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We left off with Pastor Smith’s admonishing the crowd not to expect a “pie-eating buddy” out of him.  Instead, he tells them, he must keep his distance from his people.  After expounding on this for awhile, he goes on, in paragraph 29, to discuss his next point, which is that everybody needs a moment in time that defines their Christianity.  He says:

(29) Most churches don’t – what I would say on a corporate level – pray for people.  Now I’m talkin’, we pray, but I’m talking about, PRAYING for people.  When Samuel found David, he just didn’t say, “OK, David, you’re the next king of Israel, sha na na, go go go, well, ya ya ya, bye.”  No, he took the vial of oil, he poured it over his head, he probably laid his hands upon him.  Whatever transacted at that moment, it said the Spirit of God came upon David from that moment.  See, every one of you need a divine encounter with the Spirit of God. 

(30) Every one of you need a place, you need some place in your history that you go back to, and you say, “Right then and right there is when I turned into a different kind of person.  Right then and right there is when I became that new creature that Paul wrote about.  Right then and right there is when the burden got removed, the yoke got destroyed, the depression got broken, the cancer got healed, the spirit of suicide lifted off of me, wrath, rebellion, and disobedience broke off of my life.  Right then and right there.  I was at that altar, that man of God, that woman of God, put their hand on me, and the power of God hit me from the crown of my head to the soles of my feet.

This sounds good, and it does get the crowd cheering, but the most important question we could ask is, “Is this Biblical?”  Does the BIBLE tell us that we NEED a moment or a place of dramatic encounter, dramatic transformation? 

I believe the answer simply has to be “No.”  Search the Scriptures.  Can you find any verse in the Bible to support this notion?  I couldn’t.  And while it is true that key figures in the Bible, such as the Apostle Paul, did have single life-changing experiences, there are also plenty of other important people, such as the Apostle Peter or King David or Timothy, who had faith and a walk with God that progressed in fits and starts.  Timothy, we learn, had been trained since his youth.

Once again, Pastor Smith advocates a type of experiential Christianity that could have the effect of making many folks – particularly those who have been Christians since childhood and have gradually matured in their walk with God over many years – doubt the validity of their faith, if they can’t point to a single defining moment of “going to the altar” and returning to their seats radically changed.  At the same time, this teaching sets people up to value a single dramatic encounter over the less showy (but more Scripturally supported) character traits that demonstrate the fruits of the Spirit

There is NOTHING written in the Bible about “being able to point to a definite time or place.”  But the Bible DOES say that we show that we are Christ’s by demonstrating His love and His humility.  We demonstrate our faith by having the fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control) and (according to James 1) extending kindness and generosity to orphans and widows. 

Also note that although God used Samuel to anoint David, it had NOTHING to do with Samuel and EVERYTHING to do with God.  Samuel was just obediently following what God told him to do.

In paragraph 31, Pastor Smith says:

(31) So, why, why do I spend so much time laying hands on people?  I mean, and sometimes, I’m standing there saying, “Why am I doing this?”  Because anointing is being imparted.  Power is imparted.

Here I have to ask, how do we know this?  Is it because some people fall down?  Is it because Smith TELLS us this is so?  If “anointing” is really being imparted, then why do so many of the people who fall down get up and continue to live just like they always did?  Why do so many Living Word folks seem to remain mired in their same unbiblical lifestyles?  If they REALLY had received “the anointing of God” from Smith’s hands, then why are so few people truly permanently changed after they fall down? 

Paragraph 31 continues with,

Why is it important for that touch of God to be upon you?  Because as the power of God comes upon you and the revelation of the authority or the call of God upon your life is upon you, you will also understand that to get you to where God wants you to be, He will release favor on you.

Here I just have to ask, how did we suddenly leap from “anointing” to “favor”?  Where in the Bible does it say that favor goes with anointing?

Paragraph 31 ends with,

But when you are on a mission to possess what God has truly called you to do, I believe there will be that favor of God upon you to get you to where you’re going.

Where?  Where in Scripture do we see this principle?  Yes, God will work out HIS purposes for us.  For HIS glory.  This often will have nothing to do with “favor” as we humans would define it, however.  We are told many times in the New Testament that as followers of Christ, we can EXPECT persecutions.  Not an easy life marked by “favor.”  Since we are not God, we have a limited understanding of how God will work out His purposes.  Sometimes what God chooses to do for us won’t even be remotely close to what we’d choose for ourselves.  Yet we can take comfort in the promise of Romans 8:28, that all things will – in the end – work together for our good, to the glory of God.  And that’s going to include persecutions.  Jesus was persecuted.  All the Apostles were persecuted.  We have NO Scriptural basis to expect anything less for ourselves.

Paragraph 32 continues with the notion that we are anointed to succeed in a particular profession.  Again, it’s difficult to see how this is Scriptural.  Pastor Smith also, once again, segues here into talking about Joseph, although to repeat my earlier point, we don’t read anything in the Bible about the term “anointing” in connection with Joseph’s life.

In paragraphs 33 and 34, Pastor Smith engages in a practice that has had some interesting psychological effects on his congregation:  he calls out certain people by name and uses them as examples in his sermon.

I’ve mentioned before how the seats in the front rows were reserved for certain “special” people.  Some of them were part of the Smiths’ entourage, functioning as bodyguards and door-openers.  Since I’ve already described this practice of special reserved seating, I won’t bother to go into detail again here.  But those front-row folks enjoyed a certain level of status that was only accentuated when Pastor Smith would use them as examples.  It made all the rest of us “no-accounts” aspire to the day when Pastor Smith would know US, would use US as part of his object lessons.

Remember, Pastor Smith has already alluded, just a few moments earlier, to how he keeps himself distant from the congregation, how he doesn’t know what’s going on with most people, and how that’s for THEIR OWN GOOD, so that he can have a clear head to “deliver a word” to them.  Yet these front-row folks are suddenly exceptions to the whole “pastor-as-isolated-celebrity” spiel.  It sends oddly mixed messages, and it functions as a power play.

It also keeps certain influential members – often very financially successful and socially visible people – feeling special, which probably helps to keep them tethered and loyal to Smith’s ministry.  It’s really a very interesting ploy.

In paragraphs 35 through 37, Pastor Smith describes the Holy Spirit as being our “agent.”  He describes the ways that we can expect God to move on our behalf.  Once again, you’d be hard-pressed to back up this concept with anything out of the Bible…unless it happens to be the “Bible” that Joel Osteen (of “Your Best Life Now” fame) has been using lately. 

In paragraphs 38 through 53, Pastor Smith discusses how “the anointing” will create character and will create a hungering and thirsting for righteousness.  This is probably the strongest section of his sermon, providing a reminder that we all need from time to time.  Yet considering Smith’s topic is supposed to be “the anointing,” it would be helpful if Smith had explained how – specifically – this function of “the anointing” differs from the role of the Holy Spirit as described in the Bible. 

In fact, if you read that section of Smith’s sermon, it’s impossible to tell how “the anointing” is any different from having the Holy Spirit in our lives.  The Bible tells us that it is the Holy Spirit’s role to convict us of sin.  And as we yield to the Holy Spirit’s leading and direction, it is the HOLY SPIRIT that produces within us the character and integrity that Smith speaks of.

I’m not sure why Smith is emphasizing a nebulous concept like “the anointing” when he could just as easily – and with FAR more Scriptural support – be talking about the Holy Spirit.

Within this section about character and integrity, I find it fascinating that in paragraph 43, Smith cites Bill Hybels (of Willow Creek fame):

(43) Now listen to me about this.  When Bill Hybels, who pastors one of the largest churches in the United States, at one time Willow Creek was the largest in the United States, thousands of people, and Hybels said this in his book called “Courageous Leadership.”  He brought this subject up, he said, “I used to hire number 1, that my number 1 priority in making a hire was basically, do they have the ability to do the job?  Do they have the education, do they have the experience, do they have the knowledge, do they have the skill set to do this job?”  Now we’re talking about a church that has tens of thousands of people, so when you put somebody in charge of something, they better be able to carry the mail.  And he said, “Do they have the skill set?  And I learned through the journey of pastoring that I could teach a person how to do the job, but I could never teach at a leadership level how to be integrous.”  Said, “My number 1 thing now when I hire is integrity.”  And what you’re seeing here, is in more of a business way of communicating it, he said, “What I’m looking for is an anointed man.”  Because if you’re an anointed man, the anointing will do what a class cannot do.

I really wonder why Smith would quote Bill Hybels as an authority on anything.  Hybels is one of the three original proponents (Robert Schuller and Rick Warren are the other two) of the “user-friendly” church that Smith is always mocking!  Why is Hybels suddenly credible?  Because he has a large church?  Considering how Smith loves to boast about how HE has refused to cave to the “seeker-friendly” movement, it makes no sense that he’s now quoting Hybels as some sort of expert on “anointing.”

Did anyone else notice that once again, after quoting Hybels, Smith then turns around and re-defines the terms?  Hybels says he’ll only hire people of integrity.  Smith announces that this is “just another way of saying he wants ‘anointed’ people.”

Here we get to a perfect illustration of my biggest frustration when Smith – or any other Charismaniac – tosses around the term “anointing.”  And that is this:  why do we need to talk about such a convoluted subject as the “anointing”?  Virtue, character, and integrity are all great to discuss from the pulpit, because there are literally thousands of Scriptures to back you up.  You could spend years preaching about obedience and practical ways to follow what God commands us to do.  Talk about how we can LOVE each other.  Talk about how we can be HONEST in our lives.  Talk about how we can pursue moral purity, humility, self-discipline, generosity, patience, and kindness. 

And also…at the risk of sounding like I’m just a nit-picker…I really wish that someone would tell Pastor Smith that “integrous” is NOT a real word.  Smith finds ways to inject “integrous” into just about every one of his sermons, yet it seems like nobody – not even one of his chosen front-row folks – has ever had the nerve to tell him that while “integrous” may sound all proper and intellectual, it’s not actually in the dictionary.

One more important note on this section about the role of “the anointing” as it relates to integrity would have to do with paragraph 45:

(45) Now when there’s integrity, you will impact everybody around you, because you become a person that people can trust.  But when you get into holiness, it is part of your relationship with God.  The priesthood could not draw nigh to God.  They had a golden plate that was across their chest that said, “Holiness unto the Lord.”  Now we’re in a church situation in our culture that holiness is something people don’t even talk about anymore.  Everything that seemed to represent integrity or righteousness has kinda been thrown under the bus.  But what you’ve got to begin to see is that when you draw nigh unto God, God is expecting you to have a pure heart. 

I was very disturbed by this particular paragraph, as it seems to be saying that somehow, if we have integrity, we then possess something in our own strength that can enable us to approach God.  I believe that, although at first blush this SOUNDS good, it effectively minimizes what Christ has done for us.

The ONLY thing that allows us to approach God is the blood of Jesus.  The Bible says that all of our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.  We bring nothing to the table apart from the Cross of Christ.  It’s only when we throw ourselves on Christ’s mercy and depend on His grace that we can have a “pure heart.”  It has nothing to do with some mystical impartation of “anointing.”  It has everything to do with Jesus’ death on the cross and His resurrection.

Within the last several paragraphs of this sermon, we see Smith’s final thrust, which I believe he summarizes best in the paragraphs 54 and 55:

(54) So anointing is more than power.  OK, hear me, I said anointing is more than power.  Anointing – number one, everybody say, “Impartation.”  [Crowd responds, says, “Impartation.”]  Understand anointing has to do with impartation.  This is why you cannot cultivate a more powerful walk in God in a dead church.

(55) Cuz there’s nothing to impart.  What’s Tiger Woods gonna learn from me in golf?  What NOT to do?  [Crowd laughs.]  What could I teach Todd Helton about batting?  What could I teach Michael Jordan about a jump shot?  Nothing!  So why – he wouldn’t hang around me for sports advice.  “No, Michael, do it this way.  Do it like this, Mike.”  Huh, good Lord.  “Now, let me show you how to hit that ball, Tiger.”  Y’all are laughing about that, but do you realize, people, that in their heart they say, “I really wanna be all that God wants me to be,” set in DEAD spiritual environments with PEOPLE that all they’re doing is working through it up here.  I’ll tell you something, if you want an impartation, you better get around somebody that’s HAD an impartation.

Ah, once again we’re back to Smith promoting himself.  The whole point of this sermon is, you need Pastor Smith.  You need him to be cold and distant and uninvolved in your life, except to “speak a word” to you and to “lay hands on” you.  You need him, because he’s anointed, and somehow, this mystical anointing – that you can’t just declare that you have, although SMITH can declare that HE has it – is what makes you pursue holiness and integrity.  You need this anointing, because it is what brings “favor” on you.  If you go to Smith’s church, you will begin to have people magically respond to you, giving you jobs you’re not qualified for, opening doors that you naturally couldn’t open, because Smith’s anointing will transfer itself over to you, and you will have favor.  And favor proves that you’re anointed.

The bottom line is, Smith cheats his people by wasting their time with all this “anointing” mumbo jumbo.  He should just tell them about Jesus, how you can actually pray to Him and ask Him for power, and through the Holy Spirit, He will help you obey what He wants you to obey!  Yet instead, we have to wade through more than an hour of blather and convoluted mysticism, all for the purpose of promoting your need for Smith and for Living Word Church.

It’s really too bad.

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We’re still working on our analysis of the second half of Pastor Smith’s (a pseudonym) sermon.  We hope to post it either later today or else tomorrow.  But in the meantime, here’s something that’s been on my mind, as I’ve spent more time lately listening to Living Word Church (another pseudonym) on iTunes.

And that is…even now, nearly a year after we quit attending Living Word, it still puzzles me that we (and lots of other educated long-time Christians) willingly set aside a lot of things we knew to be true and willingly put up with a lot of manipulation and other bad behaviors from the Smiths.  What WAS it that hooked us in and drew us back week after week?

As I listen to Pastor Smith preach, I find myself being reminded, just by the sound of his authoritative yet raspy voice, of all that I used to love about the place.  And most of that, I think, comes down to how I FELT when I was there, in the sanctuary.  There definitely WAS something almost tangible, something that you could FEEL, during many of the services. 

Pastor Smith has another sermon available on iTunes, his latest in the series about “The Anointing.”  I doubt I’ll take the time to transcribe this new one, but I did listen to it, and as I heard many of the things that Smith said, I couldn’t help but feel some of the same emotions I used to feel back when we went to church there.  As Smith talked about “the anointing” in this second sermon, he gave several examples of feeling the presence of God. 

And despite all of my wariness, all of my cynicism, all of my “been there, done that” attitudes about Living Word, I found myself remembering that yes, I really did used to believe that the emotional rush I felt when I was at church actually WAS the “presence of God.”

The best way I can explain it is, it felt like a cold blast of water to a thirsty place deep within me.  Sometimes it felt like a blast of cold air.  (Of course, sometimes that was probably because we often sat near the gigantic air conditioning vents…)  Sometimes I would feel waves of emotion, almost to the point of tears.  And I’d sit and just shut off my brain and let my thoughts flow from one thing to the next, and pretty soon, I’d glance at my watch and realize that Pastor Smith had been preaching for an hour…when here it felt like time had practically stood still!

And whatever this feeling was, it was quite addictive.  Pastor Smith mentions “hungering and thirsting for the presence of God” in both of the “Anointing” sermons.  When I went to church there, I would have thought I knew exactly what he was talking about – which was my continual desire for more of what I just described in the above paragraph.

So I guess what I’m wondering is this:  WAS that almost-tangible “something” in Living Word’s atmosphere the presence of God?

I’m honestly not sure.

I now lean toward thinking that of course it wasn’t. 

I know, as a commenter once pointed out, that no church is perfect, and that even the most sanctified and consecrated pastors are going to have sins, struggles, and problems.  I know that God continues to use and work through all of us, sinful and utterly fallible though we are.  And I’m very grateful for that.

But…would God choose to manifest Himself in a special, tangible way at a place that is such a hotbed of questionable teachings, unbiblical practices, greed, haughtiness, false prophecies, and manipulation?  And if not, then what WAS that feeling that I used to feel, that special “buzz” that I’d get from going to church there?

I think this is a very important question, because I believe there are a lot of people out there in Charismania who are hooked into it by this very thing.  Now that I look back on it – and now that I hear Pastor Smith’s teachings on the presence of God – I realize that the entire congregation at Living Word probably also believes that that thing that they FEEL when they’re there at church is indeed God’s presence.  And that by desiring that feeling, they are “hungering and thirsting” for God.

I don’t really have any way to wrap up this blog posting…it’s more of an open-ended question.  What do YOU think?  If you were ever involved in Charismania, do you remember that certain feeling that I’m describing, that certain unique wave of emotion?  If so, what do YOU think that it was?

I’m still puzzled.

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It’s been quite an interesting exercise, to transcribe the full and exact text of Pastor Smith’s sermon about “The Anointing” (please note:  “Pastor Smith” is a pseudonym, as are “Living Word Church” and all other names – aside from those of celebrities – in this post).  We mentioned this in a comment following our last post, but it bears repeating:  hearing Pastor Smith live and in person is a radically different experience than reading a transcript of his preaching.  It’s even different than listening to him on a CD.  

We’ve come to realize that Pastor Smith possesses the gift of being able to present almost anything in a manner that sounds profound and full of authority.  Plus, he talks really fast, and with a great deal of enthusiasm, so that it’s easy to quit following his exact words and instead just get caught up in the emotion of what he says.  But if you stop to analyze his statements and, more importantly, compare them to what the BIBLE says…well, it can be a shockingly eye-opening exercise!

If you haven’t already done so, we’d like you to go back to our previous post and read the full transcript of Pastor Smith’s “Anointing” sermon.  Yes, it’s a LOT to read.  We really debated about how to post the transcript, because it is so long.  At first, we thought we’d put it up in segments, to make it easier to wade through.  But then we decided that it needed to be up in its entirety.  Otherwise, a reader wouldn’t get the full effect, and the possibility would exist that perhaps we’d taken something he said out of context.

At any rate, here are some of our immediate reactions.  We went ahead and numbered the paragraphs, to make it easier to follow where the various thoughts fit into the sermon as a whole.  We appreciate the input of our readers, so please post your comments and add any thoughts that you may have.  Special thanks go to reader “AJS,” who, where noted, gave us his input.

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The first eleven paragraphs of Smith’s sermon really don’t contain much of great significance.  Pastor Smith begins by reading three passages of Scripture – I Samuel 10:6-7, I Samuel 16:13, and Acts 10:38.  As usual, Smith uses the King James Version of the Bible.  We don’t think there’s really anything “suspect” about Smith’s favoring the KJV.  We’re pretty sure he does so because it’s the Bible he grew up with and it’s what he’s familiar with.  However, using a more formidable, difficult-to-understand translation such as the KJV does have the effect of making Smith’s congregation more dependent upon what Smith says about the Scriptures, rather than encouraging them to read the passages for themselves.  It’s easy to get hampered by the archaic language of the KJV, and it’s so much simpler, if you’re an average member of the audience, to shut off your mind and let the “expert” (Pastor Smith) give you the interpretation of the verse.

Smith then goes on to give several paragraphs of introductory remarks.  He promises that in this new series of teachings, he is going to discuss what the anointing is, why we need the anointing, and why we should desire it.

Our first real red flag goes up at paragraph 12, which says:

(12) Now how many believe you’re saved for MORE than just getting’ to heaven?  Wuh, no, I, no, I got about half of you on that.  I said, how many believe you’re saved for MORE than just getting to heaven?  This is important to me because a lot of Christians look at this as, “OK, I’m, I’m a believer, I’m gonna die, I’m gonna get to heaven, and that’s the, the heighth and depth and breadth of.  But how many believe the Word said, “He that believeth in me, the works that I do you shall be able to do also and greater works than these shall you do.”  It said, “He that believeth in me, as the Scriptures sayeth, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.”  

Here, in paragraph 12, we see a common theme of “Charismaniac” preaching – that somehow, the Christian life is about MORE than the salvation of our souls, is about MORE than “getting to heaven.” 

On the surface, this sounds good.  It appeals to our flesh, because as humans, our primary desire is to have a nice life in the here and now.  But think for a moment.  The whole premise of the Gospel, as outlined in ALL of Scripture, is that there is MORE to life than just what we can see in the flesh.  And this “more” is that there is a hereafter.  There is an unseen world, and an unseen but very real Creator.  This Creator has full rights to set all the rules, and in His holiness, He has taken offense to our sin, sin that we’ve inherited from the first man and woman, Adam and Eve.  Yet in His great love and mercy, this Creator made a way for us to be reconciled to Himself, by sending His Son Jesus.  Jesus died for our sins – took our rightful place on the Cross – and then rose again 3 days later. 

Our ONLY hope in life and death is that there IS more to this life than just what we can see, and that God has made a way for us, through Christ, to go to heaven and not to hell as we deserve.  But Pastor Smith, in this one statement (“How many believe that we’re saved for MORE than just gettin’ to heaven?”) turns the Gospel upside down. 

Search through the entire Bible, and you will find that this is heresy.  Our salvation IS about heaven.  It IS about the bodily resurrection of the dead.  This life is short.  If the Gospel is mostly about the here and now, then all the Apostles really missed the boat, because they enjoyed NONE of the wealth, prosperity, and earthly clout (“favor”) that Pastor Smith so often touts as the REAL benefits of the Christian life.

Moving on, alarms continue to go off for us in the very next paragraph, paragraph 13:

(13) What is it that transforms a teenager in the shepherd field into somebody that could be the most influential king in the history of Israel?  What is it that takes a man named Jesus and puts the power of God on him so strongly that everybody he prayed for, every oppressed person that he ministered to was delivered, everywhere that he went, miraculous things happened?  What happens when you take a young man named Oral Roberts who was dying of tuberculosis, uh, had a speech impediment and the power of God come upon him, heals his disease, heals his speech impediment, and has right now over one million documented healings that were medically proven and verified to be exactly what was said.  They were healed by the power of God.  What happens to a person to be able to take them from one place and then everybody’s sayin, all you’re gonna do is die, and if you live, you’ll never make an impact, and turn them into somebody that changes the world around them.  It’s not your I.Q., it’s not the ivy league college you went to, it’s the anointing of God.

If we could stand up in the middle of a Smith sermon and shout out our honest reaction, here is what we would say:  WHAT???  So now Jesus is just a ‘man’??  Uh, NO, Jesus did what He did because He is GOD!!  He was God from the moment that He was born into an earthly body, because He’s always BEEN God.  More heresy!  This one brings down Jesus’ miracles to our human level.

This is another common “Charismaniac” ploy.  Charismaniacs like to over-emphasize Jesus’ humanity at the expense of His Godhood.  Instead of keeping a balanced focus on the fact that Jesus was BOTH fully man AND fully God, Charismaniacs treat Jesus as though He were just another human being like the rest of us, only somehow, through “the anointing,” He was able to become God.  Dangerous, dangerous heresy!

Also, note how Smith cites Oral Roberts in exactly the same way as he cites Jesus.  Even if Oral Roberts had seen the miraculous operating in his life in exactly the way Smith claims (and this is HIGHLY dubious!), it’s incredible that Smith would elevate Roberts to basically the same status as Jesus.  Or, if you’d prefer, bring down Jesus to the same level as Oral Roberts. This disturbing theme of downplaying the Godhood of Jesus continues in paragraph 15.  Here is the exact text of what Pastor Smith said:

(15) And this is this thing, we create all of this mystical mystery about the Bible and the people that are in the Bible, I believe part of the reason they are written about is because they’re just REGULAR guys.  Joseph was a 17-year-old kid, and the Spirit of the Lord gave him a dream and gave him a vision about his future and about his life.  Jesus comes on the scene at 30 years of age and turns upside down.  This is the thing that I, I wonder what people, they say, “Well, people just thought He was God, He wasn’t really God, you know it was just kind of uh, a folklore or something.”  But you know the amazing thing, ladies and gentlemen, how could one man, how could one man completely turn the course of history upside down just in his flesh or his – there’s been a lot of good teachers on the scene, there’s been a lot of people that have prophetic insight on the scene, there’s been a lot of people that drew a crowd, that crossed the pathways of this world, but why did Jesus flip the world upside down?  Because the Spirit of God was upon Him!

Again, note how Smith says that Jesus “flipped the world upside down” because the Spirit of God was upon Him.  Do you see what an interesting spin this is?  If the secret to Jesus’ life was that the “Spirit of God was upon Him” (and NOT that Jesus actually WAS God, as the Bible clearly says), then it’s just a small leap in logic to say that we can be exactly like Jesus.  If “the anointing” was what made Jesus Who He was, and if WE can also be anointed, then we, in our humanity, can become equals with Jesus.  Yes, it’s subtle, but again, it’s heresy!

In paragraph 18, we notice some interesting psychological ploys that Pastor Smith uses.  Here is paragraph 18:

(18) And people think the only time the anointing comes upon a person is when they get in the pulpit.  Or when Tommy sits up there and he begins to praise and worship and lead and the anointing comes on him, and then we feel the presence of God out there in the crowd as the glory of God begins to come into the house.  See, what God does when He brings you in here, He wants you to experience His presence.  He wants, He wants to cause His presence and His power to come upon you.  He wants to charge your battery, He wants to encourage you, He wants to energize you so you can face the challenges that the circumstances of this life bring to you.  But if you just think the anointing only operates within the four walls of the church, you’re kinda in that typical Charismatic mindset that when a man preaches, he feels the anointing of God, or when someone sings, they feel the anointing, or when someone’s in the prayer chamber they feel that power and presence of God.

While it’s not nearly as disturbing as detracting from the Godhood of Jesus, notice what Pastor Smith does in Paragraph 18…he plants the notion in his listeners’ minds that the very presence of God is within Living Word Church.  He tells the audience NOT to labor under the false assumption that they will ONLY feel the presence of God while they’re at Living Word.  In so doing, Smith sets up a straw man (he argues against a made-up premise to prove the opposite point of what he seems to be making). 

In other words, it’s highly doubtful that Smith’s people actually think that the presence of God ONLY exists within the four walls of the church.  It’s also doubtful that Smith himself believes his people think that.  But he sets it up as though it’s just a GIVEN that the presence of God is located at Living Word.  This is psychologically manipulative.  It causes people to view Living Word Church as some special, consecrated, sanctified spot where God literally dwells, in a more tangible and special way.

Smith also puts in a shameless plug for his son Tommy’s “anointedness” when he talks about Tommy leading worship.  When we were attending Living Word, we noticed that Smith was always doing this with his sons – he was always injecting the notion that his boys shared his special “anointing” – even when it should have been obvious that they were just young, inexperienced, moderately talented young men.  Tommy had written a few nice worship songs and could play the piano well, but the sad truth was, he was tone deaf and did not have the voice for singing.  More bothersome to me was that Tommy also displayed a certain “spiritual tone deafness,” where he seemed totally insensitive to the responses of the people.  For instance, we’d sing a touching song that had stirred people to the point of tears, to where the mood would be very tender and emotional.  But rather than flowing with that, Tommy would jump in and squelch it by barking ill-timed orders to “Give the Lord a great shout!”

Yet Pastor Smith is very careful to plant the idea that somehow, his audience labors under the notion that they need Tommy to bring them into the presence of God.  It’s not heresy, but it’s sure clever and worth noting.

Toward the end of paragraph 20, Pastor Smith suddenly segues into talking about Joseph.  But where in Scripture do we read that Joseph was “anointed”?  We don’t.  Smith is making a logical jump from seeing “favor” on Joseph’s life, and equating that with “anointing,” without ever backing up this leap with Scripture.  This is an important thing to note, because from this point in the sermon on, Smith tends to use the terms “favor” and “anointing” interchangeably.  Yet he gives us no Biblical reason for equating favor with anointing…perhaps because there IS no Biblical reason!

In paragraph 21, Smith declares that “God wants anointed businessmen,” and then goes on to tell his audience all about how God wants them to succeed.  Yet once again, where in the Bible do we read ANY of this?  Where does it say, specifically, that God wants anointed businessmen?  Where does it say that God even wants us to succeed in our businesses?  Certainly there have been occasions where God has allowed Christian businessmen to go bankrupt in order to teach them some fruits of the Spirit, or some other character-shaping lessons.  Certainly, if you consider all of Scripture and “the whole counsel of God,” it is evident that occasionally, God will permit hardships to come into the lives of His children.

In paragraph 22, Pastor Smith finally gets around to defining “anointing.”  Here is his definition:

(22) Anointing.  Anointing is the transference or impartation of divine power and authority.  Anointing is the transference or impartation of divine power and authority.  Now if you are anointed, or when the anointing of God is released upon your life…there will be an impartation of power and there will be an impartation of authority.  I’m gonna talk more about that in just a minute.  It also declares that anointing is a bestowal of favor and an impartation of virtue and holiness.

We can’t help but wonder, where is Smith getting this?  Where in Scripture do we read any of these definitions?  If they’re not from the Bible, Smith should say where they come from.  Is it from some Bible dictionary?  Some commentary?  His own head?  Who knows!

In paragraph 23, Smith says:

(23) Now, let’s just talk about this for a few…Most people think of when a person is anointed, they have power.  That’s part of it.  The Bible says in the book of Romans, I believe it’s the 11th chapter and the 29th verse, it says, “The gifts and the calling of God are without repentance.  Let’s stop there for just a second.  It says, “The gifts and the callings of God are without repentance.”  So how many would agree  if it’s a gift, it came from God.  And how many would agree if there’s a call on your life, it came from God.  And basically, God says, if I release it, I’m not taking it back.  I’m not sad that I spoke it, I’m not grieved over the fact that I declared it, and as long as you live on earth, you will have to live with the responsibility that you were called of God, and you’ll have to live with the responsibility that I put the gifting of the power in you to fulfill that call.

Since Smith says, “Let’s stop there for just a second,” I’ll agree with him.  LET’S just stop there.  What does Romans 11:29 actually say?  More importantly, let’s examine Romans 11:29 within the context of the entire chapter of Romans 11.

Before we proceed, click on the link to read Romans 11, paying special attention to how verse 29 fits into the chapter.

Romans 11 is discussing the Jews, and how, although they’ve rejected Jesus, we Gentiles still owe them a debt of gratitude.  We must not look down on them, because God is never going to renege on His promises to them.  THAT is where the verse (Romans 11:29) comes in – “The gifts and calling of God are irrevocable.”  In other words, God’s gifts TO THE JEWS and calling OF THE JEWS are not going away.  This has NOTHING to do with the supposed “gifting” that God gives to us as Christians. 

And yes, we’re aware that as Christians, we have now been grafted in to Israel.  By virtue of our faith (a gift from God), we are now part of “the seed of Abraham,” and can now share in the promises made to Israel.  BUT, in Romans 11, Paul is specifically talking to the Gentiles about what their attitude toward the Jews should be.  If Romans 11:29 were applicable to the Gentiles whom Paul was addressing, it seems like he would have been careful to say so.  Instead, read in context, Romans 11:29 is discussing God’s promises made specifically to ethnic Jews, not the Church in general.

Here we see classic Charismaniac Scripture-whacking at its finest.  Charismaniacs almost always pluck Bible verses out of context to support what they say.  As we’ve already seen, Smith’s standard practice is to read one or two verses and use them as a text to support an hour-long sermon.  Here, Smith takes a single line (“The gifts and the callings of God are without repentance”) and uses it to prop up the notion that if God has given you a “prophetic vision” of something, then God will not let that thing die.  God is bound to fulfill it.

This might not seem like it’s all that bad, but trust me, in real life, at Living Word Church, this type of message poses special dangers.  You see, many people at Living Word are there because they are especially into the “gifts of the Spirit.”  In particular, they are into prophecy.  And many folks at Living Word genuinely believe that they’ve either received a “word” from Pastor Smith (who speaks for God), or that they received a “word” or vision on their own, also from God.  We’ve discussed at other times how Pastor Smith’s prophecies tend to go, so we won’t get into that again except to briefly say that Smith generally gives people very positive prophecies, all about how financially prosperous they’re going to be, how much influence they’re going to have in the world, and how they will rise up and lead people. 

It’s safe to say that if you’ve received a “word” from Pastor Smith, you’d love for it to come true.  Also, the folks that we personally knew who had had “visions” about their “destinies” (this was really very common among Living Word attendees) tended to have grandiose ideas about loads of money, fancy mansions, and world-famous ministries for themselves.

So you have to understand, hearing this type of message from the pulpit – that “the gifts and the callings of God are without repentance” – has special significance to the people at Living Word, as just about all of them have some big dream about their “destiny.”  This is the reason why many of them come to church, because through Pastor Smith’s messages, they receive much-needed “shots in the arm” to keep going for another week, to keep believing in their dreams. 

For instance, we had friends at Living Word, dear sisters, who were (probably still are) utterly convinced that “God told them” they were going to run a “hospitality” ministry and own a particular mansion in a particular high-end neighborhood here in our city.  They’d also had visions of a specific dollar amount ($53 million) that God was going to give them at some point, to make this dream come true.  I know that you’re probably shaking your head and smiling at this, but it was NOT a joke to these two gals.  They were staking their entire future on this prophetic vision, to the neglect of their current jobs.  And rather than putting any money away for retirement, or working to own a more attainable home (like a moderately priced townhome), they were giving huge “faith offerings” and planning for the day when “God was going to retire them” and place them into this mansion and ministry.

And this is just one example.  In our time at Living Word, we realized that just about everyone we met there also had some sort of professional “ministry” that they were hoping to move into full-time. 

So a message like this, where a single Bible verse is plucked out of context, has some very real and very dangerous ramifications.  What does it do to these folks’ faith in Christ, if they are told, FALSELY, that God almost “has” to fulfill their dreams and visions because Romans 11:29 says so?  Once again, the glorious work of Christ on the Cross has been minimized, taking second place to our earthly “calling,” and once again, Smith runs the very real risk of portraying God as a liar.

We then read, in the middle of paragraph 24,

…So it said, “The gifts and the callings of God are without repentance.”  So if you wanna change the wording in there just a little bit, you could also say, “The, uh, power and the authority of God are without repentance.”  Authority and power are different.

We noticed (as did alert reader AJS) that Smith makes another strange leap in logic here.  My immediate reaction to this segue was, Oh great.  Now we’re not only abusing Scripture by ripping it out of context and incorrectly applying it to something that it never meant.  Now we’re also changing the WORDING of the Scripture!  Since when do “gifts” and “calling” equal “power” and “authority”?  They don’t!  Not in ANY dictionary.

But after redefining terms midstream, Smith continues for several more minutes to talk about “power” and “authority,” as though he’d just supported this leap with Scripture.  Yet he didn’t even support it with a dictionary.

Then Smith says, in paragraph 26,

(26) So when, when the anointing comes upon a person’s life, understand something, you don’t anoint yourself.  You just don’t wake up and say, “OK, I’m anointed.”  There’s an impartation.

We found this statement to be almost humorous.  Because, while Smith declares with absolute authority that you can’t “anoint yourself,” HE has certainly anointed HIMSELF.  Smith doesn’t ever explain where he gets his OWN authority from.  But we’re expected to believe in HIS anointing without question.  He bases his entire ministry upon his anointing.

Reader (and commenter) AJS also makes this interesting point about “anointing” and “impartation”:

…there is a narrow definition of impartation implicit within the message which defines impartation strictly in terms of laying hands on people. In reality, more impartation happens in discipleship relationships than anywhere else. Oddly enough, the only mention of Jesus doing anything like anointing the disciples is in Matthew 10, but there is no record of Jesus laying hands on them. If the laying on of hands is so important, why isn’t it mentioned there of all places?  (See the full text of AJS’s observations in the “Comments” section following the Transcript post.)

In paragraphs 26 and 27, Pastor Smith makes yet another interesting transition.  Considering the fact that the subject of this sermon is supposedly “The Anointing,” it’s rather bizarre that we find Smith saying the following:

(26) …Ah, the problem we got with most churches, is that they want a soul-ish relationship with their pastor.  Now they say they don’t, but they really do, because if you don’t have enough pie and coffee with some folks, they not gonna stay.  I don’t know why they want Marie Callender as their pastor.  You know, they want Ronald McDonald, they want Marie Callender, they, they just – they want a buddy.  They want a religious buddy.  Uh, er, there’s plenty of people out here in the crowd that can be your religious buddy.  But see, what begins to happen is people begin to crave a soul-ish relationship with somebody that is not raised up by God to be their buddy. 

(27) Now it’s real quiet.  And so [mimics a whining voice], “He won’t be my buddy!  He’s distant!”  Do you realize what it takes to do what I do?  Do you realize what it takes to have a word that is broad enough to touch every person that comes through the door and not be impacted by what everybody in the crowd is dealing with and their issues?  One of the hardest things about pasturing a smaller church is this:  everybody wants to make sure you know all their stuff.  So then if you preach, then somebody gets mad, because they say, “Yeah, he preached that because I told him that.”  Well, the bigger this church gets, I don’t know much of anything but Christ and Him crucified.  And people say, “Well, you’re distanced.”  Well, maybe that distance isn’t so bad.  Maybe that distance is the ability to be an anointer.  Maybe what all of a sudden starts happening is you’re able to make an impartation into people’s lives because their expectation of you is not to be their buddy, but their expectation is that you can impart something into their life, that you can put your hand upon them and really not know everything about all their business, but you can, in faith, become a person of supernatural agreement to see breakthroughs come into their life.  See, you don’t need another buddy.  What you need is somebody who can make an impartation into your life.  So what’s happened, though, what’s happened is people begin to come into church and they begin to come into environments, and they’re not hungering for the presence of God.

Since this has NOTHING to do with “The Anointing,” it’s not rocket science to realize that Smith has some other purpose in these two paragraphs – some other hidden agenda – than defining “The Anointing.”  What is he REALLY trying to teach his people here?

Well, Smith is using these two paragraphs to respond to a very real criticism that he is completely distant from his people.  That is simply a true fact.  He does NOT deal with anybody on a personal level.  He walks around the church facility ONLY if he’s surrounded by his bodyguards.  Special velvet ropes are strung across the walkway before Smith travels from his office to the stage entrance.  He doesn’t even bother to worship with the people, instead making his grand entrance toward the end of the singing time.  This is a very real problem at Living Word.

But Smith is setting up another straw man here.  Nobody really wants or expects him to be available to go out for pie and coffee.  People aren’t so crazy that they think they’re all going to be his friend.  But they WOULD like a pastor who shows some connection to the circumstances of the average person’s life, and Smith obviously does not want to do this.  He likes his mansion, he likes his absolutely top-of-the-line Mercedes, he likes his designer clothes and the perks of being a mini-celebrity in his own little world.  He LIKES the distance.  So he uses this part of the sermon to promote the crazy idea that somehow, by distancing himself from the people and holding himself ABOVE the people (rather than being a SERVANT, like Jesus commanded), he is somehow doing his PEOPLE a favor.  He’s better able to “deliver a word” to them, if he is totally out of touch with them.

This has nothing to do with “The Anointing,” but it DOES serve Smith’s own purposes for promoting himself.  Does anyone else find this kind of manipulation as appalling as we do?

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Well, our post is almost up to 5,000 words, and we’ve only made it a little less than halfway through this sermon, so we’ll stop for now and take it up again shortly, when we hope to post the rest of our analysis.  In the meantime, please do us the honor of sharing YOUR thoughts.  We value your input, particularly if you add some insights directly from the Bible.

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