Monday, March 21, 2011

Letter of Appreciation for my Work on "Heralds of the Truth"

Well, THAT just made my day....I just received the following letter, from a colleague of Pastor Hristo Kulichev in Sofia:

Dear Mrs. Notcheva,
It is with pleasure that I am writing to you because the Rev. Hristo Kulichev, and old-time friend, told me you have edited the above-mentioned book. I finished reading it and want to applaud your language expertise and editing skills. It is a notable volume of historical significance. Your contribution makes it even more valuable. What also amazes me is that you have freely given of your time and talent while caring for your family including four children.

May God bless you and reward you for doing His work.

Sincerely, Alice Litov
That was nice of her! By the way, my article about Kulichev's life, ministry and involvement in Bulgaria's Underground Church will be published (with my photography) in the May-June issue of "Modern Reformation" magazine.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

REPOST from 2007 - Leaving Charismania, Part III (Conclusion)

Gnosticism/"Mystery Religions"
Entry of Thursday, June 7, 2007

"Baptiscostal No More"

The more I read online, keeping in mind discernment about such sources, the more aware I became of ungodly "movements" and influences in the Christian Church. The Christian Research INstitute (CRI) became an invaluable source of information to me, as was the Christian Apologetics Research Ministry (CARM). While I was very informed about the errors in cults such as Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses, and had spent a good deal of time debating them in real life and online, movements such as the "Emergent Church", Word-Faith, Latter Rain, Third Wave, Joel's Army/Manifest Sons of God and the ominously-named Kansas City Prophets were new territory to me. As I studied, common denominators began to emerge, such as adherence to a dominionist theology. Nowhere in Scripture does it say that Christians are to "take control" over existing political structures and "claim the nations" in order to present the world to Christ as a "spotless bride." They've got it backwards. We're to obey Christ (and questions of how are nicely answered in books such as John Piper's "What Jesus Demands from the World", as well as the New Testament itself) and let Him worry about conquering upon His return.

The certainty that God is doing "a new thing" in our generation is also inherent in these groups' convictions, and again lacks biblical support. The Bible indicates that both wickedness will greatly increase and the love of many will wax cold before Jesus' second coming; there will be (sadly) no dramatic, global revival in anticipation of our Heavenly Bridegroom. It is on the basis of this misconception that Hank Hanengraaff terms these new movements part of a "Counterfeit Revival."

Thirdly, these groups and the charismatic movements in general tend to elevate subjective experience to dangerous levels of credibility. While this is certainly not true of all churches in all branches of Pentecostalism, a person's "word from God" is taken at face value and accepted as "revelation" if given from a prophet. This opens the concept of divine inspiration up to gross error, and sets up a slippery slope of determining what GOD ACTUALLY SAYS. John Macarthur and others have written literally volumes on this. In the last month, [a period from May - June 2007], I have read hundreds of pages documenting this widespread problem, and to attempt to sum up in a few paragraphs the danger of subjective theology is impossible. Beyond common sense, (many of the "visions" and "prophecies" reported border on the absurd), we cannot be both sola scriptura and open to new revelation from humans claiming to hear from God. [MY NOTE, 3/17/11: In my studies since then towards a certificate in biblical counseling, one of the more interesting lectures in the systematic theology course dealt with this subject. Jay Adams articulately and succinctly explains the logical fallacy and doctrinal impossibility of believing in both the sufficiency of Scripture, AND special prophecy today.] The canon of Scripture is closed, and God has given us the revelation He intends for us to have.

Once the importance of sound doctrine is downplayed, (as I have seen first-hand in what I thought was a relatively sound charismatic church), a sense of ecumenism enters. While certainly there are many issues that might be described as "nonessential" and shouldn't divide Christians, interpreting the Bible's meaning according to one's own experience (or, worse, basing theology on one's esoteric experience) is very dangerous to the Church. When Christians can no longer distinguish truth from heresy because they don't know what the Bible teaches anymore, the stage is set for the Great Deception.

Each of these groups mentioned above (various off-shoots of the charismatic movement) is related to each other by one or two degrees of separation. This is well-documented by various sources who have studied the roots of the movements from the Azuza Street Revival to the Vineyard's early days. (Please e-mail me if you would like sources; they are too numerous and lengthy to list here). The "Toronto Blessing" and Pensacola Outpouring" were not isolated, a-typical aberrations; they were the fatal fruit of this sick branch of the Church. The excesses documented in those events take place every day, all over the world. [3/17/11: Last summer I read "The Other Side of the River", a first-person account from a man caught up on the movement in a small Alaska town. I felt like I could have written his story -- some of the "manifestations" are so clearly satanic.]

More frightening to me is  the role the New Age plays in these "Christian" movements. Just last week, [late May 2007], I went to the website of the Healing Room ministry (which started in Spokane, WA and is now international) to see if, in fact, it has Word-Faith roots. When I saw the reading material promoted in their online bookstore, I nearly became physically ill - it reads like a "Who's Who of Apostate Third-Wavers." Sadly, I had been referring people to Healing Room for intercession since 2004.

Okay, what about tongues and getting "slain in the Spirit"? Isn't that biblical, at least if there's an interpretation? I cannot help but quote here, since many have said it better than I could ever hope to: "...most of the groups reporting the operation of the charismata throughout Church history were heretical or, at least, a little "off" in their theology and practices. Moreover, tongues speaking has even been seen in non-Christian religions." C.S. Butler believes this pattern demonstrates that the Holy Spirit was not involved, although other spirits may have been. [3/17/11: Compare the accounts of physical "manifestations" with those of New Age/Eastern religion practitioners evoking 'Kundalini Serpent Power'. Frightening stuff.]

(from a review of C.S. Butler's "Test the Spirits: The Charismatic Phenomenon"):

Although Butler does have a pattern of over-stating the case somewhat, the type of information presented in this section I discovered myself by independent study. And it was learning this questionable history of the use of the charismata that first led me to question my involvement in the charismatic movement of today.

Now the above might be called a "guilt by association" argument. But another point that Butler only touches on was even more important to me. As one studies Church history, it is very apparent that the vast majority of Christians through the centuries did not speak in tongues.

If speaking in tongues is so important and the evidence of the baptism in the Spirit as charismatics claim, then what was the Holy Spirit doing for 18 centuries? Sleeping? I simply found it hard to believe that the only people the Spirit baptized from the post-apostolic age down to modern times were ones involved in groups on the "fringe" of Christianity, or even outside of the Christian faith.
And finally, John Macarthur, from a sermon transcript (part of a series on the "chaos" of the charismatic movement):
"You see for over a thousand years that part of the world had been dominated with the mystery religions. The pagan mystery religions. They can be traced all the way back to Babylon. But they cultivated, all of them had this in common, they cultivated a magical, sensual, communion with deity. The assumption in the mystery religions and their cultic kind of form of worship, was that you get yourself in some kind of state, a mindless kind of state, a transcendent kind of state, an irrational, not logical, not reasonable kind of mystical state, and when you get into that you will then commune with the deity. You can do it through drunkenness and so they got drunk in the pagan religions. You can do it through the passion of sexual involvement, and so there were priestesses who acted as temple prostitutes, and you could come in and throw yourself into an orgy. And in the euphoria of that orgy, and in the stupor of being drunk, in the stupor of that whole event, supposedly you were to commune with deity.

Paul has that in mind, certainly in Ephesians 5, when he says, "Do not be drunk with wine, in which is excess, but be filled with the Spirit." If you really want to connect with God, be filled with the Spirit, don't be drunk. They would do almost anything to get into a semiconscious, hallucinatory, hypnotic, or orgiastic spell, because they believed that somehow that got them in touch with deity. This is not very far different than going back into the 60's in the drug culture, and the things Timothy Leary tried to say about how you transcend this world and touch the divine, and what the Eastern Mystics were saying, as they were advocating the same kind of stuff. Whether from literal intoxication, or some kind of emotional hysteria, or exhilaration, worshipers falling into some kind of euphoria assumed they were then in union with the deity.

According to S. Angus, once professor of New Testament and Historical Theology at Saint Andrews College at Sidney, the ecstasy experience by the mystery religion worshiper, brought him into a mystic ineffable condition, in which the normal functions of personality were in abeyance, and the moral strivings which formed character, virtually ceased or were relaxed, while the emotional and the intuitive were accentuated."

In other words, the worshiper would get into a state where his mind would go into neutral and his emotions would take over. The intellect and the conscious would give way to passion, sentiment, and emotion. This was ecstasy. Angus further said, Ecstasy might be induced by vigil and fasting, tense religious expectancy, whirling dances, physical stimuli, the contemplation of the sacred objects, the effect of stirring music, inhalation of fumes, revivalistic contagion, hallucinations, suggestions and all other means belonging to the apparatus of the mysteries. One ancient writer speaks of men going out of themselves to be wholly established in the divine.

It is exactly what happened in Corinth and it is still going on today. As the mystery worshiper experienced such ecstasy, he believed he was lifted above the level of his ordinary experience into an abnormal sense of consciousness and therein he could really see God. And according to Angus again, he says, "Ecstasy could range anywhere from nonmoral delirium to that consciousness of oneness with the invisible, and the dissolution of painful individuality which marks the mystics of all ages." The person literally became irrational, unreasonable, out of touch with reality. I don't think it is too far afield to say that there are testimonies by Pentecostal Charismatic believers that seem to me to sound very much like this. They explain their various states of euphoria as engaging in communion with the Holy Spirit, but is it that? Certainly not by Biblical definition. Is it only an emotional high? Is it only some kind of psychological self-induced hypnosis? Is it only falling under the spell of the power of suggestion? Or is it demonic? In any case it is not Biblical. It certainly isn't, "Come now let us reason together, says the Lord." It certainly is not, "Let everything be done decently and in order."

The problem Paul dealt with in Corinth is the same problem he deals with through his letters in the charismatic movement today. The problem is this: "How do you tell the real from the counterfeit?" And the only answer I have to you, Beloved, is to take it to the Word of God--and if it isn't there, it isn't real. That's the only place we can go. You certainly can't believe experience. Why? Because "Many will say, 'Lord, Lord,'" and they will prophesy in His name, and they will cast out demons in His name, and they will do miracles, at least what appear to be miracles, in His name. But He will say "Depart from me, I never knew you. Who are you? You workers of iniquity." We need to warn the true believers in the Charismatic movement that Satan is having a field day counterfeiting, because you're not checking with the Word, and because you are not using the mind that God has given you to understand His truth. Christ is being dishonored."
I praise God that He has opened the eyes of my heart. Father, Your surpassing love and PATIENCE overwhelms me.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

REPOST from 2007 - "Leaving Charismania Behind - PART II"

Entry of Thursday, June 7, 2007

The Beginnings of Skepticism and the Return of Reason

In the recent movie "Luther", there is a scene which I love. A recently-ordained Martin Luther is taking notes in a seminary class as the instructing priest drones endless clauses to the catechism by the Vatican. In "liturgical legalese", he recites a clause excluding all from salvation who are not part of the Roman Catholic Church (in itself an oxymoron, as "catholic" means "universal"). The outspoken Martin counters, "What of the Greek Church?" The priest, startled by the question, repeats the Vatican's insistence that none outside of Rome may be saved. Undeterred, Luther challenges, "But were not the first bishops Greek?" Irritated by the analytical nature of Martin's probing, the priest dismisses his questions and continues with the church-sanctioned rhetoric.

I have had strikingly similar experiences, both in Catholic elementary school ("But Sister says right here that Jesus had brothers and sisters!" "That means He had cousins." "But then why doesn't it just say 'cousins'?" "I'm telling you, the word means 'cousins'. It just does."), and in the charismatic church where I sought to be fed spiritually. Disenchanted with the social gospel I heard on Sunday in the UCC, I grit my teeth and headed to the fellowship group every Wednesday and often the Healing Room for intercessory prayer (and hopes of God having a 'rhema' for me) on Saturday mornings.

As I dug into the Bible and fellowshipped on Christian online bulletin boards (no one in my Congregationalist church seemed particularly interested in spiritual things, including the pastor), many apologetics questions would arise. The charismatic pastor was a brilliant man; a former chemical engineer who had had a "Damascus Road" experience and began his church. Sometimes I would e-mail questions to him and he would help me out - I found his answers very insightful and he never seemed to mind at all. However, while at the time I thought his preaching was incredibly insightful and biblically accurate, he allegorized much of the text and used very poor hermeneutics. If anything, this caused his "sheep" to esteem him even more highly - they thought these symbolic applications to the text was of divine inspiration. "God told me this; God told me that...God laid this on my heart...a Word from God....I believe God is doing a 'New Thing' here..." were common phrases.

While studying Jewish objections to the deity of Christ, I became concerned by some proof texts rabbinical scholars use. I was also frightened by some of the New Testament "inaccuracies" they point to - not enough to disbelieve the Bible, or believe it contained errors, but enough to want to talk to someone more grounded in Scripture than I. I went to the church's prayer room, certain that one of the elders or prayer team members could help me. They simply prayed against the "spirit of confusion". I admitted that I struggled to reconcile some of the more apparent contradictions in Scripture that skeptics point out, and the elder unblinkingly stated, "There are none." "Well," I began, "what about the genealogies in Matthew and Luke?"

Assuming his "instructor" expression, Ray began, "Well, His genealogy proves Christ was descended from the line of David." "Ray, I know what a genealogy is. I'm wondering why Matthew's and Luke's are so different." He switched to a different canned response. "Well, differences in the Gospel accounts are because they were writing to different audiences." I continued to press, "Why are the names in Matthew and Luke so different, when they both claim to trace the ancestry of Christ through Joseph's line?" He looked perplexed. "They're not," Ray insisted. "See for yourself," I answered. "There's almost no overlap." He opened the Bible and began to search, then gave up. He dismissed my confusion by saying, "Well, you just know it's true (sic) because you know it in here." He touched his sternum. My blood ran cold. THAT WAS THE SAME COMMENT, VERBATIM, THAT THE MORMONS USE TO DEFEND THE BOOK OF MORMON'S AUTHENTICITY. Driving home, I was more frustrated than before - here was a church leader, an intercessor in a key ministry, who didn't know his Bible. (This was not the only time I had noticed this [biblical illiteracy among leadership]; this was but one example.)

Increasingly, at our Wednesday morning women's group, sound doctrine seemed to be downplayed in favor of what "God is telling you." The pastor's wife (our group leader) piously implied that being theologically correct is of little importance. Worst of all, we started doing a book which promoted contemplative spirituality, "The Gift of Being Yourself." Foreworded by New Age writer Basil Pennington, the book lauded Medieval mystics such as Teresa of Avila and Thomas a Kempis as examples of how to seek God, as well as Thomas Merton. (I was the only one in the group who had read the works cited in the book.)  When I explained why my discernment alarms were going off, the pastor's wife dismissed my concerns. (For a more thorough look at how mysticism is invading the Christian Church and why it's so dangerous, see .)

Last August, [meaning August 2006] my husband decided to skip church a couple of times in order to catch up on some yard-work. I seized the opportunity to visit my "Pentecostal peeps" at their church, which I had not been to on a Sunday since the traumatic "revival" experience two years earlier.  I left the children in the Junior Church room and entered the sanctuary. As I entered, a few minutes into the worship time, I got the willies. More people seemed to be shouting and shaking violently than were singing. Most ingrained in my mind is the image of a woman I knew well, from the Healing Room prayer team, "dancing" as if she were in a trance. In fact, she was in a trance. Her body movement and steps (along with ecstatic facial expression) reminded me of the voodoo dancers in Haiti during their ritualistic trance-dances. The pastor had grabbed a guitar from someone on the worship team and strummed it forcefully, shouting out the various biblical names of God. When the din settled, he proclaimed, "I sense...I just sense by the Spirit that there's a real religious spirit in here this morning. [Note: in charismatic-speak, that's bad.] THIS is worship...THIS is what God wants!" That was the first time I saw people being "slain in the Spirit" in that church as well.

The second time I went, about a month later, was to be the last time I would ever attempt worshipping there on a Sunday. While not all, or even most of the congregation was dancing, many were and the noise of 'tongues' between songs was overwhelming. Still, it wasn't enough for Pastor Mike, who once again sensed something by the Spirit. He told the congregation that the Holy Spirit was somehow being blocked; they were not free enough. The noise increased a few decibels as more congregants dutifully participated in the jumping and screaming. "Now!" Pastor Mike proclaimed. "NOW the Spirit's really movin' among us!" This made me slightly uncomfortable, as he seemed to be gauging how "much" of the Holy Spirit was present according to the level of emotionalism displayed. Besides, I reasoned, how can one judge the presence of the Third Person of the Holy Trinity quantitatively? Either He's there, or He's not. Then I chided myself for using intellectual reason to discern the spiritual realm.

On the way home, my [then nine-year-old] daughter told me that she had felt uncomfortable in Junior Church, as the children's pastor (I woman I knew well from our little group) had pressured the kids to get up and dance in worship to God. "I love God but I didn't want to dance," Valentina informed me. "Did she force you?" I asked, trying very hard to give Pastor Diane the benefit of the doubt. "No, but the way she and the other lady were looking at me, they wanted me to dance." "That's okay; Mommy doesn't like to dance in church, either," I assured my reserved daughter. "Besides, I think the Sunday School program at our church is a lot better, anyway. We'll just go there from now on."

I wondered how Paul's exhortation to the Corinthian church for decorum and order squared with the chaotic bedlam this church was becoming. Since they had taught me I would never receive the Holy Spirit if I tried to reason with my brain, I tried not to think about it. I must be wrong. I must be the one with the "religious spirit". Pastor Mike fasts for 21 days straight. [This was before he was caught in the sex scandal, which I alluded to in the first part of my testimony. He embezzled 2.4 million dollars from the town as well, a fact I did not know about back then.] He's the one who really hears from God. He's the one who's holy and in touch with the spiritual. After the sordid details of his affair came out and he was forced out of the church, I found myself wondering about the verse speaking of bad fruit not coming from a good tree. I tried to push this thought aside.

Just a few months ago, [early 2007] my husband's family learned that the baby born to a close friend had been diagnosed with SMA Type 1, for which there is no cure and a 1-3 year life expectancy. Since I know that nothing is impossible for God and He is all-compassionate, I began going regularly to the Healing Room to intercede for the baby. While waiting in the vestry, I overheard my friend Kim explaining to newcomers how they could be sure of their healing from God, since physical healing was purchased by the atonement. "Many people want to cut the Cross in half," she said. "They trust Christ for their salvation, but they don't receive the healing of their bodies He purchased." The verse she used to support this was Isaiah 53:5, which up until that time I had thought was talking about spiritual infirmities and healing. Something struck me as just a little bit "off," so I asked her if she was saying God would always heal everyone's physical ailment if they asked in faith. When she did not answer the question directly, I continued, "We can ask in faith and we know that God is ABLE every time. However, we also know that faithful Christians die more often than are cured miraculously. God may heal a person; He may choose to bring them home instead. We have to know that His will can be different from ours." She replied, "Yes, but if you go into it [prayer] with that attitude, it shows doubt and you just cancelled out your own prayer." I disagreed, but was not inclined to argue.

The next time we prayed for the baby together in the Healing Room, Kim asked me to lead. I prayed fervently and sincerely for the baby's full healing, that God glorify Himself in this way, and that the baby's parents come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. I thanked God for hearing our prayer, and said, "I know, Father, that all things with You are possible. I know it is such a simple thing for You to fix the mutation in Bilyana's chromosomes and breathe life into her little body, and I will believe You for healing. But in the words of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, EVEN IF YOU DO NOT, still I will trust in You." I heard Kim groan, almost inaudibly, as I said that (an attitude I KNEW to be TOTALLY SCRIPTURAL.)

On the way home in the car, I admitted to myself, "Something is very, very wrong here with the theology. By this logic....if Bilyana dies from this terminal disease, I am guilty because I didn't have enough faith. That's messed up. I have to get to the bottom of this - their doctrine is screwy." It was then that I began reading in more depth on the Word of Faith movement. I was shocked and appalled to see that these doctrines, which had been twisted and teased out of the Word, had been worming their way into this church I thought was so sound. The fact that false teacher Joyce Meyer was so beloved concerned me even more. For the first time in over three years, I allowed my skepticism to surface.

Stay tuned for the CONCLUSION of my journey out of charismania...

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

REPOST from 2007 - "I'm Officially Leaving Charismania - Part I"

I wouldn't let this guy change the oil in my car, let
alone man-handle me. Yes, this is the dude who was
screaming at the "revival" in 2004. Then as now, I have a hard
time understanding the glasses....

I wrote this entry on Friday, June 1, 2007. I can't believe it's been nearly four years! I blogged it at the time; then deleted it because of the storm of criticism it drew. I am now re-typing my story, unedited and unaltered in any way, exactly as I wrote it back in 2007.

Part I - The Back-story

I've been thinking a lot about Jan Hus lately. Also William Tyndale, who shared his fate; and Latimir and Ridley...but mostly Hus, as he was the first. In 1411, the Czech reformer was marched naked to the stake where he was burned alive for advocating the Bible be made available for all people to read in their own language. What is so amazing about this man's execution - by no means unique among the great Reformers - is that he sang hymns of praise to God and prayed his tormenters be forgiven, even as the flames consumed him. And yet...some of my best friends would not consider him to be "Holy Spirit filled".

This disturbs me, as the Scriptures confirm that no one can say "Jesus is Lord" except by the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, forgiveness of one's (unrepentant) enemies goes against the "flesh", or carnal man. Lastly, I can only contemplate what kind of spirit it takes to allow one to sing praise to God while being tortured. If this is not what being filled with Christ's Spirit looks like on earth, I don't know what does.

None of the Reformers ever spoke in tongues or claimed an additional, mystical "experience" after conversion. (In fact, Wesley is recorded as saying he felt "uncomfortable" when outbursts of this mysterious behavior occurred in his meetings.) Without these men, Christianity would have stayed in the Dark Ages and the inerrant, inspired Word of God would have stayed out of reach from those who diligently seek Him.

One common denominator among these men I have mentioned, besides their love of God and desire to seek His Truth, is that they were not afraid to use their analytical minds and God-given powers of reasining. .When a church of any denominiation tells its flock not to reason; that God does not follow logic; to take whatever they tell you "on faith" and not hold it up to Scripture for comparison; when intellectualism is feared; and, when above all, the faithful are told not to question dogma or leaders, should we not be alarmed?

 This is precisely what was going on in Europe during the Middle Ages. In addition, there was an esoteric, mystical branch of Catholicism which produced visionaries, stigmatists, bleeding Eucharistic hosts, and other "signs and wonders". Esoteric knowledge is that which is specialized or advanced in nature, available only to a narrow circle of "enlightened", "initiated", or highly-educated people. Human beings, from antiquity, have naturally been drawn to the supernatural. One naturally hungers for contact with the divine; something sensory and direct. An experience. Among the ancient pagans (and in some Eastern religions), people would put themselves into a trance, use narcotics or other means to acheive a sense of being "one with the divine". Translated to an out-of-body experience, this is the essense of transcendental meditation. TM has made its way into the Christian Church under the name of "contemplative spirituality" or "centering prayer" (Lighthouse Trails Ministry is a good source of information about this.) The desire for "something more" and a "higher level of intimacy" isa legitimate one that most Christians experience, but has roots in gnosticism and the "mystery religions". About the church in Corinth, John Macarthur writes:

"The problem wasn't that they lacked spiritual gifts: in 1 Corinthians 1:7, Paul said "You are not lacking in any gift." it was how they fouled them up. So a major segment of that first letter, 1 Corinthians 12:13-14, directs itself at this terrible, terrible misuse of spiritual gifts. The Corinthians, like the charismatics today, had tended to equate the Holy Spirit's work with ecstatic involuntary frenetic and mysterious activity. And of it was inexplicable from the human level, they would say it was the Holy Spirit, even to the point that some people were cursing Jesus and they were saying it was the Holy Spirit because the phenomena seemed so bizarre. The wilder and more agitated the person was, the more godly and spiritual he was supposed to be. They got to the point where in order for them to say it is the spirit, it had to be bizarre. Then there was the desire to be seen and the desire to appear as being spiritual. People were exploiting and perverting the gift of tongues particularly, and counterfeiting it with ecstatic babble that came out of their past paganism. They were confusing the work of the Holy Spirit with mystical practices they had known from their former pagan religion."
How did I get, in my biblically-centered walk, to the point where I wanted this "infilling" so badly I would question my relationship with God? Why, on an emotional level, is it so hard for me to say good-bye?

Like all good stories, it starts with a "once upon a time". Once upon a time there was a shy but bright girl who didn't have a whole lot of friends, but loved to read books. More than that, she loved God - Jesus in particular. Some of her favorite books, as a devoutly Catholic youngster, were about the Saints. Some of them, her mother's pre-Vatican II fully-illustrated book said, were so holy that the Lord Jesus and His Mother loved to spend time with them. She read about Bernadette, she read about St. Agnes, the 12-year-old martyr. She read about Joan of Arc, the great visionary, and she read all about Teresa of Avila. Granted, the bit about stigmata freaked her out a little bit; but the very idea of Jesus coming to hang with her seemed like such a wild idea. She was never particularly enthralled by the idea of a visit from Mary, although that wouldn't have been too bad, either; mostly it was just Jesus she wanted to talk to. She could never seem to sense Him at the boring, stuffy mass her mother forced the family to attend each week. God was her out-of-reach hero; the One to Whom she turned for the approval and unconditional love (a term she would hear years later) her parents never supplied.

Years went by; she went to college and became a involved Campus Crusade for Christ and a staff member with a "Four Spiritual Laws".  By this time, she was no longer a child and had grown-up problems, like eating disorders and self-hatred. She was on her way to hell anyway, according to what she'd been taught, because she was no longer a virgin and hadn't been to confession. However, she took a leap of faith and Jesus washed her clean.

Except The Secret remained. As much as she wanted to repent, deep down inside, she could never stop the bulimia (which had been ingrained for years) nor tell The Secret to any of her Christian friends. She graduated and, much to her mother's dismay, went overseas on a short-term mission. All very Protestant, and therefore very embarrassing to mother. She stayed there for years, gradually sliding deeper into sin. Around this time, she met some Pentecostals who brought her to services at their clandestine church. The tongues and shouting and jumping up and down were overwhelming...but they seemed so happy. So full Something she lacked inside.

Several years later, married with 3 kids and attending a lukewarm UCC church in Massachusetts, she decided one day out of desperation to go to a new "Spirit-filled" church (conveniently located next to Wal-Mart) for intercessory prayer in their Healing Room. Try as she might, she could not seem to stop her daily purging, and now had added an alcohol problem to it, as well. The advertisement promised "free, confidential prayer for healing of physical, emotional and spiritual problems." She walked in fearfully, but was received compassionately. One of the women told her, "Marie, God wants you to know He's not angry at you. He's not disappointed in you. He loves you so much, and is proud of you..." This message, which she would later learn was called a "prophetic Word", spoke to her deepest fears -- and something she had worried about in the car that very morning. They then anointed her hands with oil, and prayed that God would set her free. All desire to drink left; the bulimia was completely gone, along with any thoughts concerning food, within 6 months. [my note, 3/16/11: freedom from this longstanding eating disorder followed an intensive period of repentance and renewing my mind with the Word. It was not an instantaneous or magical "deliverance". However, this intercessory prayer was the doorway through which I entered charismania.]


This is how I came to be who I am today; he brought me that day to a deeper realization of who I am in Christ. He is within me; sin has no hold over me. This finally started to become a reality. I listened to every sermon on CD from that church I could get my hands on. I began attending a women's fellowship and felt I was being spiritually fed - boy, did these women love God! And how passionate and knowledgeable about the Bible their pastor was! I looked up to him and his wife greatly. I also began reading Joyce Meyer books, and nodded knowingly when they talked about "positive confessions" in the Wednesday morning group (and why we should avoid making "negative confessions".) I thought this was just the most wonderful church on the face of the earth. Often, I would go for prayer and have hands laid on me to receive "the baptism of the Holy Spirit". The pastor was perplexed as to why nothing ever happened, and I prayed fervently to receive it. I was told (or read?) that this "baptism" "opened the door to the supernatural" and it was the way to go deeper in God. Along with obedience and reading the Bible, of course; but that's a given.

Something was blocking it. Nothing was blocking it. I wasn't ready. God wasn't ready. My husband wasn't ready and it might freak his beans. All kinds of theories as to why the Holy Spirit left the building when I showed up. Maybe it was time to get out of my lukewarm church and REALLY start seeking God? One fateful Sunday in June 2004, I had convinced my husband to come with me to their church. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to me, that weekend they were having a "revival" with a charismatic evangelist.

Tommie Zito, a Rolexed and hair-gelled smooth operator, took the stage. Within a short time he was demanding that everyone who was (in essence) unsaved, uncertain, or back-slidden come forward, with their arms extended. Neither I nor my husband were in any of the three categories (although even if we were, isn't that between us and God?) so we kept our places. He began to scream more and more fervantly. A keyboardist played swelling music. Zito kept yelling. I had a sick feeling in my stomach. Amazingly, ALL of my new friends from the women's group were up there - hands in mandatory V-formation. The pastor was weeping and yelling out, but I couldn't hear him over the revivalist's screaming. He "sensed by the Spirit" that someone else was supposed to be up there. Finally, we walked out. My husband, who was raging with fury, has since then and forever after referred to charismatic/Pentecostal churches as "yelling and screaming" churches. We wasted the next two years listening to the social gospel of the UCC church, while I continued to suffer in silence (for the most part).

I was shaken by this "revival", but dismissed it as a one-time aberration. Besides, I'd been there on Sundays a few times when my husband hadn't been to church, and there were no excesses. It was livlier than our church; these people were "really worshiping" God! I learned many good things there - about radical forgiveness, dying to self, being totally sold out to God and what godly submission looks like. [my note, 3/16/11: I could have just bought the Martha Peace book and figured out submission on my own, without getting mixed up in charismania. Had to learn that one the hard way.] However, one thing started to concern me...the women at our Wednesday morning group struck me as a bit like "Bobble-heads" - instead of studying things for themselves, they just parroted whatever the pastor said. He tended to speak in spiritual-sounding cliches, so it wasn't too difficult for them. I also noticed that while their church didn't offer a Bible study, they had a "prophetic round table", frequently sent folks to seminars on "moving in the prophetic/how to receive prophecy" and hosted "prophets" from different parts of the US for week-long "presbyteries". I read the pastor's online teaching materials, and discovered their church believed in "restoration of the 5-fold ministry". [C. Peter Wagner's New Apostolic Reformation - total, complete, rank heresy.] This meant that Apostles and Prophets are a current Church office, and they looked up to these people (who, of course, heard directly from God.) Once, in the Healing Room, I was asking one of the prayer team members about something  I don't remember what - and she grew impatient. "You can't have simple faith, but that's what God wants," she exclaimed. "No! want to know what the word meant in the original Greek!" I thought her comment was funny, since I am an interpreter and get paid to think that way.

I soon learned that intellectualism and using one's mind to analyze Scriptural truths (or extra-biblical revelation, for that matter) is not considered godly. In fact, it can get you labeled as "prideful" or having a "religious spirit". I have read that this is common in charismatic circles.

Meanwhile, I kept trying to get "filled". I prayed. I tried to fast. On day two, I passed out with dangerously low blood pressure. My husband told me never to do that again. The pastor's wife (my mentor, who ran the women's group) told me I was "in the flesh" and my body had responded that way because I didn't have enough faith. [my note, 3/15/11: the fact that I had just given birth a few months before to Baby #4 might have had something to do with it. It takes a little while, post-partum, to completely get back to normal.]

In the summer of 2006, my husband and I finally left the UCC church and began attending a wonderful, doctrinally-sound evangelical church. Praise God for that! I continued to go to the weekly women's group at the charismatic church, however, and doggedly pursued Pentecostal "experience". In October of that year, my friend Kate told us that Jesus had appeared to her in the Healing Room, extended His hands, and told her He loved her. I was devastated. All I wanted was God, and He wasn't returning my calls (or so it seemed). I had heard that several women in that church claimed to have gone into heaven, conversed with the Almighty, and come back (such claims are common among charismatics). My depression deepened, and I felt alone. I cried daily, and begged to forgive me for whatever sin I had. I assumed it was pride, but when I went back to the Healing Room, hoping for a "rhema", the team praying said the Holy Spirit questioned them, "Why does she think it's pride?"

Very soon after this deep period of darkness began, my own pastor (a very wise, low-key and godly man), preached on Elijah the prophet. His theme was "renewing your mind with God's Word", and a comment he made was, "By the way, I have watched Christians slide into depression because they're waiting for God to show up in the earthquake, in the fire, in the flood....and they miss His hand in the day-to-day." I thought that was very appropriate to what I was going through. I dug into m Bible with new passion, begging God to speak to me that way. Very often, although certainly not daily, He would quicken a verse to me. One of my favorites was speaking to insecurity in my relationship with Him:
"About Benjamin he said:

"Let the beloved of the LORD rest secure in him, for he shields him all day long, and the one the LORD loves rests between his shoulders.” (Deuteronomy 33:12).
Although I am not "Benjamin", I reckoned I am the beloved of the Lord!
A few months later, the pastor at the charismatic church, whom I had idolized as being a great man of God, was forced to leave the church after a long-term sexual affair with a (also very godly and Spirit-filled) woman from their church. I started seeing much about this Kansas City group of prophets, and the International House of Prayer they founded on a site I frequented. I had done research into the Word of Faith movement, and frankly everything was starting to stink. Like the cliche about an onion, the more layers I peeled back, the more it stank.

My research into Pentecostalism intensified, and became more objective. In Part II, I will present more hard evidence that has turned me back to "sola scriptura; sola fide" and settled my convictions that this movement is not of God.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Yeah, may notice a certain lovely rose-bedecked logo has just been removed from my widgets list (or whatever you call the right-hand section of the page where various do-hickeys go).

I worked faithfully for a year and a half to get my local church's missions committee to partner with a certain outreach/mercy ministry in Bulgaria. For the last year and 3 months, we've been supporting the mission monthly. We found out last week that the US director (who lives about 20 minutes from our church) never wired them the thousands of dollars of support money which our church sent for the mission.

Want to hear the funniest part?

Apparently the Christian philanthropist who was sitting on the money was embarrassed at being caught with his hand in the proverbial cookie jar, and accused me of a "violation of privacy". My offense? Giving his unlisted telephone number to the church treasurer, so he could find out where all the money disappeared.

I swear I am not making this up.

So if I don't blog much in the near future, you'll have to excuse me. The longer I live, the less edifying things I see in the weird, wild world of Christiandom.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

"Living in a Loveless Marriage" - Great Article

This is a really, really good article. I'm re-posting it here so I never lose it. Scripture references appropriately used, too. The author has a couple of books that sound good, as well.

"Jean lived for years in a loveless marriage.

Her husband was not one to communicate his love to her through words, or demonstrate it through his actions, nor did he express any desire to spend time with her. So Jean resolved about 10 years into her marriage to try to be content without his love so she wouldn't end up seeking it somewhere else.

Jean knew the only way to be content without her husband's love was to seek an expression of love from God. Jean knew from Scripture that the Lord is her "spiritual husband" (Isaiah 54:5), but she struggled with feeling God's love and presence in her life."

Continue reading here...