I’ve been hanging around with a lot of Reformed guys for the past two years and I’ve noticed many differences in their preaching styles from what I’ve grown up with.

Here’s some things I’ve never heard in my new church, that I used to hear all the time in charismatic circles. I’ve categorized the phrases appropriately.

Hypnosis

“Lift your hands and…”

“Lift your voice to…”

“Turn to your neighbor and say…”

“Raise your voice and worship…”

“Shout Hallelujah!”

“Repeat after me…”

“Speak in your heavenly language…”

“Give the Lord a clap offering.”

“Anywhere someone is standing, place your hand on their shoulder…”

After being free from this style of preaching for a long time, it’s become clear to me that certain types of preachers like to command their audience to do things on a regular basis. I don’t think it’s all malicious, I think some of it is just learned because that’s what everyone else in those circles do. Regardless, it still has the same effect.

That effect is the “man of God” effect, or the shaman or witch-doctor effect. It’s similar to the indoctrination that gets soldiers to follow orders in battle. If you have an authority figure, like a drill sergeant, get you to do exactly what they say, over and over, eventually you’ll be conditioned to do it without thinking. “March. Stop. Start. Run. Jump. Repeat after me.” It’s the same thing that gets congregations to follow a “Prophet” who’s right for 30% of his predictions. All you need is initial receptiveness, repetition, and enough people to form a culture.

The difference between church and boot camp is boot camp lasts only a few months. Church is Sunday after Sunday, bible study after bible study, decade after decade. If you’re being told what to do 30 times a service by a pastor every Sunday, eventually it’ll become routine, and you’ll just tune it out. Even if he starts to get rude with it, you’ll rather get angry at the person not listening than stop to think, “Why is this guy on a power trip?”

Exhibit A: Benny Hinn.

Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.Matthew 24:23-24

If you’ve ever read a news story about some wacky thing a televangelist did, and his congregation went along with it, now you know why. Decades of slow but steady exposure to wackiness can make you eventually accept wacky.

eddie-long-king-video

Bishop Eddie Long being crowned “King” after his sex scandal

“But David, this is obviously out of order. My church doesn’t do this stuff, the Gifts of the Spirit…”

Sure, your church doesn’t do this stuff…yet. Your church only prophesies with 10% accuracy, or only performs psychosomatic healings on people who’s diseases you can’t see, or only fleeces you guys for dough on a regular basis. The most hilarious thing about the word-faith-prosperity movement is the word-faith-prosperity-lite (WFPL) movement, which rationalizes everything by, “We don’t take it that far”. It’s the WFPL movement that I came from.

Interestingly, such command and control language is going mainstream through music like Hillsong and Jesus Culture, two Christian bands whose music I absolutely love. I’d never thought about it much before, because they were always on the light end of the word-faith-prosperity spectrum. “C’mon and lift your voice.” Again in the case of Christian music, I can’t say it’s bad, but it’s definitely learned.

Pre-Offering Confession

There are things you just get used to, and you don’t realize they’re wrong. In word-faith-prosperity circles, there’s always a speech before you give tithes and offerings. It’s not always the same, but there’s always some sort of 5-10 minute speech justifying tithing, offerings and personal testimonies of God’s blessing, just in case you weren’t here last Sunday when they justified tithing and offering for 10 minutes before passing around the collection baskets. That along with music.

My Current Church Situation

In my current church, tithes and offerings last 10 seconds, because they’re part of a larger response where you pray, then take communion, and worship.

“Part of our response is our giving of tithes and offerings, as an act of  worship to God. If you’re not a Christian, we ask that you not give anything. For those that participate, the box is in the back of the building.”

That phrase the first time I heard it struck me like a lightning bolt. It’s one of the things that sold me on the authenticity of the leaders there. I don’t recall a charismatic, word-faith, or prosperity preacher ever caring where his money came from, so long as it came.

That’s right, we don’t pass around collection plates in an effort to shame you into putting something in.  We don’t put collection baskets at the front of the church and have you line up. To top it off, they turn the lights down during response time, no one to see you march to the box and put in your tithe. Yet my church is somehow financially stable, we’ve survived without gimmicks. I know this sounds very, “my church is better than your church”, but it’s not I promise. This is all relatively new to me, and it’s so refreshing and starkly different from what I’m used to, that I had to share it.

The last time I went to a charismatic church

They had a mass and in unison declaration of prosperity right before the offering. I wasn’t there because I wanted to be there, I’d already gone Reformed, but some relatives were in town, and knew people at this church so I obliged.

The ushers handed me an 8.5 x 11 sheet filled from top to bottom with prosperity confessions. What follows are not those particular confessions, but something very similar. I borrowed this excerpt from Creflo Dollar’s website.

I declare promotion and command the angels to bring promotion into my life. I have a blood-bought covenant promise from God Almighty to multiply exceedingly. Therefore, I confess I am exceedingly fruitful and blessed, right now, in Jesus’ name! I command the angels of God to go and bring this covenant to pass in my life now! I have the power to get wealth, and release the angels to bring wealth into my life.

Imagine the preceding excerpt, but multiplied in length by 20, and being recited in unison in an auditorium filled with over 1000 people. I stood there with the confessions in hand and as the entire congregation recited. I was dumbfounded. I didn’t utter a word.

Even if what they were saying is true (it’s not), is this the way to go about it? Saying the sky is blue, is a true statement, but if I had to go to an auditorium with 1000 people and repeat different variations of that 20 times, I’d be a little disturbed.

It had been over a year since I’d been in this type of church, and I couldn’t believe that at one point I was used to these type of things. Ten years ago I wouldn’t have thought twice.

I stood there holding back tears, and I just stared around at the congregation. Most of them low income, most of them from broken backgrounds, most of them living paycheck to paycheck, and they’re being manipulated into giving money they probably can’t afford to give.

From decades of experience, I’ve found that churches that follow the word-faith-prosperity movement are mostly filled with people that are struggling. Struggling in their finances, health, relationships, you name it. It’s not that struggling is unique to these types of churches. It’s that there seems to be a culture of struggling, low-income, and desperation that makes the word-faith movement so attractive to these adherents. It’s self-selection, the same way that hard-ass bossy people are more likely to join the police academy (I didn’t say bad people – you can be a good, honorable, hard-ass bossy person). They tend to be more ethnically diverse, and filled with more minorities.

“Jesus can make you rich, healthy and happy!” All the poor, sick, and sad people come running.

Meanwhile the Baptist, Lutheran, and Presbyterian churches are filled with white upper middle class and the affluent in the nicer parts of town. When I was planning my wedding last year, I was looking for locations for our ceremony, and I found a nice church in North Scottsdale near Pima – the name now escapes me.  I read their doctrinal statement and it said some stuff on the trinity, the divinity of Jesus Christ, communion, etc. Nothing on healing, miracles, speaking in tongues, prophecy, or prosperity. We ended up having our wedding elsewhere, hence why I can’t remember the name, but it’s the nicest church building I’d seen in Arizona.

Somehow they paid for a 50 million dollar cathedral and campus. All this without once preaching about prosperity and tithing. They sing hymns and go to the doctor when they’re sick. It’s an interesting observation.

I want to think it’s because of proper teaching, but like Leo said in Wolf of Wall Street, “Rich people don’t buy penny stocks, they just don’t.”

One Sunday, a couple years back, I randomly decided to go to a Lutheran church I’d been driving by for years. It was atop a hill. Nice building, nice people, all white, looking mostly well-to-do. We sang hymns with an organ in the background, there weren’t many young people there though. The only thing the charismatic movement has on these guys is music and young people. I found it refreshing.

To play devil’s advocate here, I’ve heard many people from Lutheran backgrounds find the charismatic-lite move very refreshing as well.

Ironically, my switch from Pentecostal to Reformed has coincided with an increase in net worth as well as how much I give to causes I think are important.

Blatant Manipulation: “The Lord told me…”

“The Lord told me there’s 70 people in here tonight who are going to give $1000 each. There’s a special anointing for breakthrough the Lord wants to release into your life today, if you step out in faith. If that’s you and you feel the Lord speaking to your heart, please stand up and the usher will hand you an envelope.”

It’s embarrassing for me to admit, but I’ve fallen victim to this exact phrase once. The only way I can explain it in hindsight is being conditioned with certain doctrines for decades, and having a naturally generous personality. I’m the only person I know that used to tithe my lunch money in high school. I was in deep.

The church money spectrum

Level 1: Tithes and offerings. Not commanded in the New Testament, but give as you are able, and cheerfully.

Level 2: Tithes and offerings. Tithes mandatory in New and Old Testament, offerings are as you are able, and cheerfully

Level 3: Tithes and offerings and sowing seed. Tithes mandatory in New and Old Testament, offerings as you are able, sow seed to reap a harvest. Seed sowing is like rubbing a magic lamp, all you have to do is find some fertile ground (a ministry, prophet, or pastor) give said person or organization money in faith, and you’ll reap a financial harvest.

If that wasn’t enough, they found more ways to wrangle money from people.

Level 4: Tithes and offerings, sowing seed, and first fruits. Tithes commanded in New and Old Testament, offerings as you are able, sow seed to reap a harvest. Seed sowing is like rubbing a magic lamp, all you have to do is find some fertile ground (a ministry, prophet, or pastor) give said person or organization money in faith, and you’ll reap a financial harvest. First fruits are the entire sum of funds of any “first” profit. Your first paycheck at a new job. Your first profits in a new business venture. This is a way to honor God, and those who honor God will be honored.

Level 5: Tithes and offerings, sowing seed, first fruits, and Prophet’s offerings. Tithes commanded in New and Old Testament, offerings as you are able, sow seed to reap a harvest. Seed sowing is like rubbing a magic lamp, all you have to do is find some fertile ground (a ministry, prophet, or pastor) give said person or organization money in faith, and you’ll reap a financial harvest. First fruits are the entire sum of funds of any “first” profit. Your first paycheck at a new job. Your first profits in a new business venture. This is a way to honor God, and those who honor God will be honored. Prophet’s offerings are sums of money you give specifically to a prophet, you literally walk up to him, put money in his hands, and he blesses you. You can watch youtube videos of people doing this in church. Sounds fishy, but the biblical precedent used is when the rich barren woman built the prophet Elijah a room to stay in and she was miraculously able to conceive children after spending money on the Prophet and he blessed her.

Conclusion

I’m not a cessationist…yet, but they do have a point and I’m starting to listen to their arguments. Where I am right now is this: if I was in a field or vocation where people were known for corruption, thievery, and living extravagantly, I’d make it a point to live modestly, on purpose, simply for the survival of the integrity of that vocation. It’s why I’ve purposely distanced myself from charismatic churches, events, and meetings. I don’t think it’s all bad, but there’s so much bad in there that I need some time and space to think.

Recently I was at a rally for #BringBackOurGirls in downtown Phoenix with cameras around and a pastor had taken over the gathering. After all, what do you expect, it’s a bunch of Africans. He said with news cameras around, “I declare that these girls will be found this week!” Everyone around chanted “In Jesus name!” after that, and every other phrase he said. I stood there with my red shirt in solidarity and to raise awareness for the missing girls, but questioned his “faith declaration” in my mind. It’s not quite a prophecy, but what happens if/when they aren’t found or rescued in a week’s time? Is it just forgotten?

If he’d gotten up there and said “$#@% you!” and they said “In Jesus name!” after it, it would have had the same exact effect as his declaration. If so, then of what value was that declaration? I’m not trying to be rude here. I have many charismatic friends and spent most of my life in that camp. Sincerely, of what value is it?

How many declarations have you spoken that have happened? Are we in the business of saying declarations because there’s a 10% chance they might happen, and then we give God praise, or feel validated when they do? It sounds an awful lot like superstition, like knocking on wood.

When I first started attending my new church, I thought the worship was atrocious when it came to “style”. Regardless, I knew what I came there for, which was the word of God they preached, and preached well. Over time I came to understand why they choose to worship in that style though it’s losing popularity. We sing rock-ified hymns.

I suspected it for a while, but I think they purposely avoid the popular music because it’s devoid of theology, and it brings in the riffraff who only come to see a cool concert and have an emotional experience. Listening to the Strange Fire Conference by John MacArthur, he said, “There’s a reason we sing the hymns we do. They’re packed with theology.” He said that high worship comes from a high understanding of God and theology. The more you know God, the higher your worship.

I remember playing a Hillsong track in weight training as a senior in high school. We typically don’t play Hillsong in weight training, but I was just talking with my defensive football coach, who is a pastor, about how awesome Hillsong was and he had to hear one of their songs. The song was called “More than Life” and it was my favorite song at the time.

As they sang the first verses:

Stand by everything you’ve said
Stand by the promises we made…

He stopped me right there. “David, what does that even mean? ‘Stand by the promises we made.'”

In contrast, “It Is Well with My Soul” was written in the late 19th century by Lawyer and hymnist, Horatio Spafford, after losing his son, being bankrupted by the Chicago fire, and then losing 4 of his daughters. This is high worship.

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Featured Image Photo Credit: BennyHinn.org*

*It is believed that the use of low-resolution images of copyrighted work for commentary qualifies as fair use under United States copyright law. See Wikipedia:Non-free content for more information.