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...

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