The Gates Are Open

pastors

The Best Expose Ever on The Ridiculous Prosperity Gospel

Posted on August 25, 2015

In the listing of comedy styles, satire and sarcasm should be near the bottom of everyone’s list. These stylistic attempts to entertain are always based upon a deeper level of anger and frustration. They are the venue of the passive-aggressive.

However, when wielded against things that ought to make us angry, they are both effective and devastating to the objects being attacked.

This video is dedicated to attacking one of Christianity’s most heinous copycats: The Prosperity Gospel Copycat. It is 20 minutes long and certainly irreverent. However, Christians have been way too nice to these charlatans in the past. John Oliver on his show laces his attack with profanity and sarcasm. But he also has some excellent proof of what is happening. After watching the video (or as much as you can) come back here and I’ll give you my personal take on all of this:

Many years ago, when I was pastoring a church, I invited a man to come and speak in our church. He was known to have certain powerful gifts and I was curious to see his ministry up close. He never identified himself as a Prosperity teacher, but I found out soon that this was his schtick.

On the second night, he spent almost 20 minutes on a financial appeal to seed money into his ministry. He used the same blurring of biblical texts to back up his doctrine. At the end of that service, I politely told him this was not what I or our church believed. I asked him to stop doing it.

Two nights later, he did the same thing again. In the middle of his appeal, I got up and asked him to sit down. Even though we had two more nights of meetings planned, we were done that night. I wasn’t going to endorse his shenanigans any longer.

I later learned in four days he had raised over $25,000 for himself. I was incensed and called him to let him know I thought he should give back that money to people. He laughed at me over the phone.

Cut to ten years later. The same Prosperity Teacher called me up (i was living in a different town) and asked to see me. I refused. I wanted nothing to do with his trickster approach to life. He assured me he didn’t want anything from me or my friends. So I agreed to meet him.

He wanted to apologize. He told me that he had raised a lot of money for himself in the few years he toured as an “evangelist” asking for money. He admitted it was in excess of a million dollars. Most of it went into gambling, drugs and jewelry. He was now broke, divorced and fighting addiction problems. He was going through a treatment program and part of his recovery was to make amends to those he had hurt. I was on that list.

In our conversation, he told a number of stories about men and women who had been part of his Prosperity Gospel movement. He told me that very few of them are followers of Christ and even less of them have any sense they are serving God. They know a great scam when they see it. He especially focused on men he knew: Creflo Dollar, Bob Tilton and Charles Capps. These three had taught him so much about how to raise bucks from unsuspecting rubes.

They are out there people. And they laugh at you while you send in money. Maybe, even with as crude as his presentation is, we should all be required to listen to John Oliver’s presentation just to remind ourselves that there are many “wolves in Shepherd’s clothing.”

Dissecting the Dones

Posted on August 20, 2015

dissection tools

The Dones are not a Reality TV family. They are an ever-growing group of people who no longer attend church, nor do they want to any time soon.

A host of articles have been written in the past 18 months looking at and analyzing this group.

The analysis is being done both by the “Dones” themselves and by those who do not want them to be done: i.e. church leaders. In these reports on the reasons Dones have left church, there are 7 reasons mentioned most commonly:

  • The church is too judgmental
  • Church leadership stifles creativity and personal expression
  • Lecture style of preaching is not the style Dones want
  • Their church’s stand on some doctrine or political stance differed from theirs
  • They find authentic experiences of God more often outside of church life
  • The church is unbending on certain moral issues the Dones consider complicated
  • They were hurt by people in more than one church setting

Well-known Christians now count themselves among the Dones. Heralded fiction writer Anne Rice wrote this a few years ago:

“For those who care, and I understand if you don’t: Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being ‘Christian’ or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to ‘belong’ to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.”

Donald Miller, author of the best-selling “Blue Like Jazz” was less harsh, but just as “done”, with his admission he was no longer attending church:

It’s just that I don’t experience that intimacy in a traditional worship service. In fact, I can count on one hand the number of sermons I actually remember. So to be brutally honest, I don’t learn much about God hearing a sermon and I don’t connect with him by singing songs to him. So, like most men, a traditional church service can be somewhat long and difficult to get through…How do I find intimacy with God if not through a traditional church model? The answer came to me recently and it was a freeing revelation. I connect with God by working. I literally feel an intimacy with God when I build my company. I know it sounds crazy, but I believe God gave me my mission and my team and I feel closest to him when I’ve got my hand on the plow. It’s thrilling and I couldn’t be more grateful he’s given me an outlet through which I can both serve and connect with him.”

Rob Bell, a former pastor of Mars Hill church in Grand Rapids, Michigan has announced that he will be a regular contributor to the Oprah Network. He was quoted as saying that if the church does not embrace homosexual marriage, it will become meaningless and a byword in history. He went on to say,

“I think culture is already there and the church will continue to be even more irrelevant when it quotes letters from 2,000 years ago as their best defense, when you have in front of you flesh-and-blood people who are your brothers and sisters, and aunts and uncles, and co-workers and neighbors, and they love each other and just want to go through life,”

After saying this, Bell was so thoroughly castigated and disapproved, he willingly joined the ranks of the Dones. And he encouraged others to do the same.

I have taken a long time to dissect the inner workings of the “Dones” I know personally. Several of these are my closest friends and associates and  a couple are close family  members. So, I believe I am accurate in my findings.

Underneath the stated reasons that people have left church behind are factors that seem to unite this disparate group of people. I believe that even though these factors cannot possibly be universal–after all, there will always be unique reasons why people make certain decisions–I believe they represent the vast majority of Dones.

 

Unmet Expectations

This factor is easy to identify, for you will find it underlying any decision to be done with a relationship. A person has a reasonable expectation the relationship was going to go one way, and it ended up somewhere not as good. In this case, the relationship is between each individual Done and the local churches they have been part of.

Author Frank Viola, in his book “Pagan Christianity” claims there is only one authentic New Testament expression of Christianity: That is the one found in the 14th chapter of 1 Corinthians. I won’t break down that chapter or his argument, but his assertion is a good case in point concerning my idea that people leave church because of unmet expectations.

Viola is one of modern Christianity’s most vocal critics. Some would even say he led the original vanguard of the Dones (though he would likely dispute that on grounds he never left the church. He just redefined it).

Viola believes in the “pure” New Testament model of the Corinthians. However, the 14th chapter has to be placed in its context. For thirteen chapters, Paul has been criticizing the Corinthians for partisanship, greed, immorality, homosexual practices, the rich exploiting the poor within the church, pagan practices, loud public arguments between leaders: In short, he describes a church that few of us would ever want to join or stay with. But in 1 Corinthians 14, Paul commends them for the way they conduct their public meetings. They allow more than one person to teach. They invite participation from non-leaders, the music is intimate and communal, and the style is more free-flowing than modern churches embrace. The gifts of the Spirit are obvious and manifest and the Body of Christ seems to be functioning properly.

But though Paul commends them for this, the rest of their “junk” makes this group appear very dysfunctional, no matter how great their public gatherings appear.

If you study the letters of Paul, you find a Christianity disjointed, rebellious, given to cultic behavior and beliefs, rife with sectarian infighting and openly immoral. There is nothing about the first century church that would lead any of us to be satisfied with the Christianity they had over that of our present day. Paul in his letters even toyed with taking his own life and at the very least said he wasn’t averse to the idea of God taking him home early.

What I’m saying is that Christians since the first year of the church have felt this disappointment when their expectations of what the Church should be are not met with reality. But church history shows us a curious pattern: most great changes in the history of the church happened because someone got discouraged and said “I’m Done”.

Martin Luther said it many times. So did Ulrich Zwingli, Count Von Zinzendorf, William Tyndale, Samuel Rutherford, Charles Finney, John Wesley, William Wilberforce, Aimee Semple McPherson, A. B. Simpson, Billy Graham, John Calvin and C. S. Lewis. All of these saw the Church as it should be and then compared the Church to what it was in their day and decided they didn’t want to keep going the way they were. Some, like Martin Luther, A. B. Simpson and John Wesley started new churches. Some like Zinzendorf, Zwingli and Tyndale just lived their life the best way they could and changed their world even though they weren’t plugged into the church. Others such as Finney, Rutherford and Billy Graham learned to come back into the church and help her change.

It just shows me that there are many ways to handle the disappointment of Unmet Expectations. But there is another factor that goes deeper than this. As I have written in the past, I hope the Dones will eventually give us something that can help modify and change today’s church into something better.

 

Pain and Resentment

John Bevere calls Resentment “The Bait of Satan.” When we are hurt by others, that hurt lasts for only a particular length of time. It has a shelf life. But if we entertain resentment for how we are hurt, then the pain does not stop. At times, the pain can take a life and a destiny all its own.

Gordon Sinclair was a newspaper reporter of some renown in Canada. He also was a recognized leader in his Church and denomination. In 1969, he announced to the world that he was done with the church, done with Christ and done with religion. From that day, he became a vocal opponent of Christianity and sought at every turn to point out the mistakes and sins of the church. What made him so vitriolic?

Sinclair joined the staff of a famous Canadian television program “Front Page Challenge.” It is through this medium that most Canadians came to know him. At one point in every show, the panel was asked questions about their personal life. (It was a news program designed to look like a game show). On one of those programs, Sinclair was asked why he hated Christianity so much.

He hesitated for a few moments and then launched into his explanation. In the late 1950s, he and his wife lost their only daughter to a debilitating disease. After this happened, he said, members of his church in Toronto barraged him with pat answers, phony good cheer and other nonsense. His pastor just wanted him to learn how to move through the grief into “victory”. After several years of this, Sinclair decided to stop attending church. That is when his denomination and friends who went to church turned on him. (This is his telling of the story of course).

He admitted he was bitter and resentful over all that happened. He resented God for taking his daughter, he resented the church for telling him to get over it, and he resented his Christian community for criticizing his decision to stop attending church.

Many of those who leave church and are “done” report some of these same feelings. So many of the Dones that I know grew up in conservative, almost legalistic, churches. In today’s church climate–and maybe it has always been this way–people feel very free to comment on each other’s mistakes, setbacks, family problems and life choices. Christians feel justified to do this since we use words like “body”, “family” and “community” to describe our church life. Inherent in those words are the implication that we should be able to be forthright and brutally honest. If you give that many people that many opportunities to comment on your life choices, you can be sure some of their opinions will cut to the core.

I know a Christian couple where one spouse was unfaithful. The other one decided they did not want to be married any longer. That is their choice and it really is no one else’s business. However, the rest of their Christian circle has adopted it as their mission to save the marriage. This hurts my friend and they have told me they are “done” with church.

But the pain is one thing: Resentment is another. Pain is inevitable, but resentment is a choice. If a Done can be hurt and eventually move on without resentment, they will eventually play some role in God’s quest to renew and change his church. But if resentment seeps into the core of the soul, there is little chance of recovery.

 

The Move Away from Classical Orthodoxy

A close friend of mine, a pastor, told me he no longer believes God will send anyone to hell. We call this belief Universalism, and for centuries it was considered outside the boundaries of orthodoxy. An estimate was made that a full 40% of those who attend evangelical churches now are Universalists in doctrine.

A recent study done by Christianity Today revealed that 25% of pastors now support Gay Marriage. When asked if they would openly support it, only 1 out of every 25 said yes. Obviously, this has not been the historic belief of the church.

The numbers vary, but it is commonly believed that the majority of Christians do not hold to a literal interpretation of the book of Genesis, including details like Creation, the Flood, the Egyptian Plagues, the parting of the Red Sea and the Fall of Man into sin. Curiously, many of the people who do not believe in the literal translation of the Bible still believe in miracles, prayer, the Voice of God and the Resurrection of Jesus.

What this shows me is that classical doctrine has now become a hometown buffet. As Christians today read through the Bible, listen to sermons and watch Christian movies and television, they are instinctively taking the doctrines they want and leaving the ones they don’t. This may be one of the most important underlying factors in why so many people are Done.

How did this doctrinal soup happen?

I will probably write another article in the coming weeks on all the factors that led up to this, but let me mention the one most responsible in my opinion. The universality of the Internet has made the sheer number of doctrinal opinions on every issue too many to grasp. I read a ton of articles every month related to the doctrine and practice of the Christian Faith. And it is hard for me, even with my Theology degree, to adequately interact with all I am hearing. I can imagine what it is like for people who have limited knowledge of the Bible when they encounter this barrage of opinions on every doctrine and practice.

Two years ago, I wrote an article on evangelicals and their beliefs on premarital sex. In that article, I pointed out that certain biblical questions still remain about premarital sex. It’s not as cut and dry as most Youth Pastors–and the parents of their teens–would like it. I quoted several contemporary Christian writers who talked about their own struggles to remain chaste in the middle of a culture that believes all sex is good if both parties are consenting adults. What made it hard for these authors is that the majority of their 20-something Christian friends were openly sexual. It is hard to feel you are the last person holding up a tent pole as the tent begins to collapse.

What effect did this trend have on the Dones? First, since most Evangelical churches are known for taking dogmatic stances on core beliefs, if you struggle to accept any of the core beliefs of Christianity you will feel ostracized from your church. Second, if you practice Christianity differently than others, often because of these differing belief systems, you will hesitate to hang around with people who may condemn the way you’re living. And third, there are many people in this world who do not go to church who are willing to accept the way you’re living while you’re sorting out your beliefs. Many of these people are nice, moral and easy to get along with.

Every time the church has focused on a particular facet of living to condemn, those who practice those things are “Done” with the church. In the late 1800s it was drinking alcohol. In the 1970s it was divorce. In the 1980s, it was premarital sex. Smoking, doing drugs, missing church, provocative clothing, swearing, declaring bankruptcy are all practices that have caused churches to shun their members.

In today’s church, if you believe in a woman’s right to choose an abortion, are sex-positive, believe that there is nothing wrong with premarital sex, support gay marriage–any of these will bring harsh reactions from church leaders.

This is the reason that Anne Rice and Rob Bell both became Dones.

I am not saying that the church should refrain from commenting on how people are living. I am not making any kind of judgment either way on that issue. Each church needs to decide what they believe and how they will communicate that to their members. What I am saying is that as church members realize there are millions of people who love Jesus and don’t believe what their church believes, they get discouraged. They realize that unless they adopt the entire package of things their church believes, they will have to be Done with church.

And many of them are. The Internet and the tendency of the post-modern age to say that nothing is absolute and no belief issue is settled make it easier for people to be Done with church.

And I wrote this article for two reasons:

  1. To help those who Stay with church to understand why some don’t
  2. To help those who are Done with church to know why you chose it.

 

 

Saving Money on Your Wedding

Posted on April 27, 2015

Last time, we wrote about why an expensive wedding can be harmful to your marriage and is really unnecessary. I’m going to assume if you are reading this article it is because you at least see some of the advantages to simplifying your wedding. Though you may have “drunk the kool-aid” of this culture which says you are substandard if you don’t go all out for your nuptials, resist the Dark Side and see that this can be an amazing opportunity to start further ahead than most of your friends.

Here are ideas that  have worked for couples I have married.

1. Choose a church as your venue. By far, and by a long shot, churches are less expensive than other venues. Of course, someone’s back yard is cheaper still, but a church has some advantages. First, you often have people in the church who can help you with wedding planning for next to nothing. Second, they usually have all the equipment you might want to jazz up the look. Third, there may be someone who is a pastor at that church who could officiate. There, you have solved three other problems. If you do it in a back yard, all those things have to be rented or brought in. Also, many churches have halls that could be used for the reception, killing another expensive bird.

2. Buy simple plain wedding bands. As you no doubt have read many times lately on Facebook and other sites, diamonds used to be worthless until DeBeers started a massive advertising campaign in the 1930s. Before then, people didn’t have diamonds in their rings. The expensive stones were rubies, emeralds and sapphires. Now, you could get a ring with those stones for a quarter of the price of a diamond ring. I prefer white or yellow gold with no stone. A nice ring with no diamond costs about $200.

3. Have  your friends and family plan the reception and bring the food. Every time I have seen couples do this, it works out so well. If you have no family or friends who are coming, then why are you bothering to have a large meal? One of my kids went to a club that he helped to manage and we had food brought in. It did not cost very much and we all enjoyed it.

4. Skip the wedding dresses, tuxedos. Buy wedding clothes you will wear again…like a nice suit and a beautiful dress. Don’t bother with matching bridesmaid dresses. Let them pick out the ones they want and give them a color pallette to work from. That way, they also will be able to wear their dresses afterward.

5. Ask for cash instead of gifts if you have been single for a longer time. When you get married after age 30,  you don’t need most of the stuff they give you, but the money will be well appreciated.

6. If you have a friend who is halfway decent at photography, ask them to do it. It will be incredibly cheaper. But, if you do that, also give out disposable digital cameras to all the guests and ask them to fill them up with pictures. You may find some of these are the most memorable moments.

7. Engage the services of a pastor instead of a wedding coordinator. They have usually done enough weddings to know all the variations that can be done and they are not very expensive.

8. Have big tables at the reception. With more people at the same table, they can sit beside someone they want to be with. Assign their tables, not their seats for that reason. This way, with bigger tables, you need less centerpieces and save money that way.

9. Have it earlier in the day rather than at night. The earlier the reception, the cheaper the cost of food and entertainment. Plus if you have a midday reception, you will be more rested for your honeymoon.

10. Stay away from roses. Go to wholesale florists and pick out daisies, peonies and mums. They are so much cheaper than roses.

 

 

How To Provide Affordable Theological Education in the Near Future

studentdebt1For the past 20 years, author Frank Viola has been writing non-stop about the need to eliminate pastors from the rolls of churches. Actually, in one sense, Viola has been advocating the end to all organized churches. He champions the validity and superiority of the House Church movement. He believes the only truly Christian model of the church is the one found in 1 Corinthians 12-14. Viola teaches that the hierarchical pastor is the main reason the church is not effective and is not growing. He posits that if we just had home churches led by the average person the church would be much stronger and would have more impact on this world.

 

I don’t want to argue his basic premise. There are aspects of his teaching I agree with and some I strongly disagree with. What I want to highlight is one of the key arguments he uses to base this view upon. He believes that modern college education has made it prohibitive for a person to rise to the calling of Pastor. The cost, the demands, the time necessary and the type of person that has to fit these roles are extremely limiting.

 

I agree with him completely concerning the cost of theological education,. What I don’t agree with is his assertion that we don’t need full-time pastors and other paid church leaders. There is enough biblical basis for paying leaders. But even more so, I have seen cults and aberrant teachings destroy groups of people. And I have seen this happen more in house churches than anywhere else. In any group of people, the strongest personalities always take over. Better to vet those personalities and hold them to a community standard, as many denominations do, than let them take over a small group of people.

But as I said in my last article, we have a looming crisis on our hands. The average young person will never be able to afford their theological education and will certainly not be able to pay it off in a timely manner once they graduate. But I have a number of ideas that I have gleaned from others who are concerned about this matter. I believe all of these could work, and any combination of them would make the situation better.

Re-establish the Specialty Theological Schools: Before the mid-1970s, the average pastor was trained in a Bible School of some kind. These colleges devoted themselves to teaching a pastor the necessary skills and were not overly concerned about accreditation. Therefore they could hire professors and teachers that were more spiritually gifted than academically advanced.  But as more and more people in churches started to get advanced degrees, pastors felt very inadequate teaching this group if their degree was not from an accredited college. So pastors, congregations, denominations and college alumni pressured these pastors, and the colleges who trained them, to get advanced accreditations. This meant that the colleges had to require their teachers to have doctorates or other advanced degrees. The libraries had to contain a certain number of volumes.  The institutions had to offer a larger selection of majors and the administration of the college had to have more overseers to ensure the institution maintained their standing in the accrediting body.  What this meant is these colleges became liberal arts universities. Their focus left theological training and landed on science and arts degrees. They still maintained their theological focus, but the amount of students seeking a bible degree dropped off. In addition, as these changes got more expensive for the college, they had to charge the students more. This accounts for much of the growth of the tuition. Now, most theological students cannot afford these degrees.

 

But the answer is simple. The Bible College degree needs to become fashionable again. Colleges whose purpose is ONLY to provide theological training could be much smaller and even church-based (so they don’t have to build new buildings). At the very least, these colleges could hire professors who have years of ministry experience instead of profs that have multiple advanced degrees. Everything would be cheaper.

Church-Based campuses: This idea is already happening. Organizations like “Antioch School of Ministry” have created curricula that can be used to establish satellite campuses on existing church properties. Most churches do not use their campuses during the day except the offices. The classrooms could be used for any number of theological training options. This has been done for years in developing world countries, but is just now coming to the United States. The American church still has caviar tastes and we now realize that we only have a spam budget. One example of this being done is Salem Alliance Church in Salem, Oregon. They have designed a four-year degree program based on Antioch School’s curriculum. The estimated total cost for four years is $12,000. This is approximately 10% of what it would cost at an existing liberal arts college.

Denominational Changes in Policy: Actually to make theological education more affordable, denominations and church movements would have to make a number of changes to their training policy for pastors. Here are a few changes that would make this process so much simpler.

  1. Decide on the full number of credit hours a person has to have in Bible and Theology and then allow them to be licensed based on that instead of full degrees.
  2. Allow for degrees from non-accredited colleges as long as those colleges show sufficient levels of theological and financial accountability.
  3. Encourage establishment of regional church-based campuses all over the country so that students can save money on room and board.
  4. Maintain scholarship programs for students that show spiritual promise rather than just those who have academic ability. This would mean that denominations would have to work with local churches to find worthy candidates before they even start their education.
  5. Encourage and allow people who feel called to ministry but who have degrees in other areas to be licensed as long as they obtain the minimum level of bible and theology courses.

 

Bible-centered Intensive Programs: I am referring to a relatively new phenomenon where students learn to study the entire bible and learn the basics of theology in less than two years instead of four or more. As far as I know, the most successful of these programs is the School of Biblical Studies run by Youth With a Mission at many sites around the world. The SBS training regimen seeks to teach every student how to do inductive Bible study, and then works with them to study and outline every verse of every book in the Bible. This 9-month intensive course varies in cost depending on location, but averages between $7500-$11,000 for the entire nine months (including room and board and all materials). After completion of this bible intensive, the students are given the opportunity to join a Titus Team, which is an additional practicum, showing the students how to take the skill they just learned and pass it on to pastors and church workers around the world. Titus Teams, as the group of students are called, often go to the remote parts of the world providing bible education for pastors who cannot attend a school or may not even be able to read. These teams are also valuable resources to train people in North American churches who may want to obtain the basic skills to learn the Bible for themselves. But this model could also be used to adequately train pastors for the local church.

Student Loan Forgiveness Programs: One of the great, and least heralded, programs in our country is one where people who have graduated from college and then go to work for a public sector employer can apply to have a portion of their student loans forgiven for every year of service they give to that organization. This program includes school districts, state, federal and local governments and the military. What if it also included churches? If a young pastor who graduated in the past five years with mammoth debt were to work with a local church, the church could agree to pay off 10% of their student loans for every year of service the pastor gave to the church. This money would be tax-free and would benefit everyone concerned. In combination with the other four ideas, it would erase billions of dollars of debt that hangs over the heads of the generation that went through theological training in the past two decades.

These ideas can work and in one sense must work if the church is to survive. I believe if even a few of these are instituted and adopted by the majority of denominations we can have a strong and dynamic group of young missionaries and pastors to carry on the work of Christ’s Church.

Facebook Auto Publish Powered By : XYZScripts.com