Forget the fact that the secular, Leftist, socialist side in the “civil war of values” hates us Christians. That’s to be expected. Jesus said, “…in the world ye shall have tribulation” (John 16:33). We can’t expect darkness to love light; but what about our fellow Christians? Why can’t Jesus’ followers get along with each other? Perhaps there is more darkness in us than we had believed.
Let’s face it, if you study ecclesiastical history, or watch churches today, you’ll have to admit that the Church is a house divided against itself. The kind of venom that spews forth from Christian’s mouths, and pens, about other Christians is quite amazing. The fact of the matter is: Christians all too often hate other Christians. The standard seems to be: If they’re not like us, they’re not real Christians, so it’s open season on them.
The recent acquisition of some of the Ambassador College buildings by Harvest Rock Church and Maranatha High School is a case in point. Once a few people figured out that these outfits were charismatic, word got around. Then, when it was announced that a dedication service in the Auditorium would feature Benny Hinn, the venom really started to flow. One person wrote, “Rats in the reflecting pool somehow seem quite tame by comparison.”
To me, this is unconscionable. Christians are supposed to love fellow Christians. We’re all familiar with Jesus’ teaching, “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another” (John 13:35).
Of course the legalists among us will respond, “Yes, but we’re only supposed to love Jesus’ true disciples, and these guys are all phony, charlatans and frauds. They are bogus, counterfeit Christians. They’re “pagan” Christians. After all, they don’t keep the Sabbath or the holy days, and they don’t accept Herbert W. Armstrong as God’s’ one and only true apostle” – or some equally absurd statement.
In other words, if they’re not like us, they’re not true Christians so we don’t have to love them.
In Spanish, they have some words for it: el toro poo-poo.
Many of us may be in for a rude awakening. Our thoughts are not God’s thoughts, and his are not ours.
The Doctrinal Wars
Within the Church – Church in the largest sense – there have always been doctrinal wars. What’s “orthodox” is decided by the winners of these internecine ecclesiastical conflicts. At the same time, big frogs in small ecclesiastical ponds often pontificate to their followers about “the truth” – and how they alone know what it is. Anyone who doesn’t think the way they think is, by definition, apostate and legitimately subject to contemptuous remarks.
I believe that one of the reasons so many are turned off what they call “organized Christianity” is because of the way Christians treat each other. It is as though they had changed Jesus’ words to “by this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you hate one another…”
A Personal Example
Hating, name-calling, labeling, rejecting, shunning and attacking among Christians are all symptoms that something is serious wrong in the household of God. Yet, I understand it. When I was a zealous young, immature, unqualified minister in Oklahoma, I preached a funeral sermon in a Pentecostal Church. The wife of the diseased, who was a member of the WCG, had insisted that her minister (me) be allowed to preach the sermon. Her relatives agreed – but only if he did it their church. I took it as a challenge. After all, like Elijah, I saw myself as the “man of God” in the region, and no one else was. So it was my duty to withstand the “prophets of Baal” that led the Pentecostal Church.
As I stood at the lectern I could feel the eyes of the pastor and the church choir on my back. In the audience, only one person – the wife of the diseased – was a “true” Christian. For her sake, and that of her husband, I preached one of my most fiery sermons ever. I passionately attacked the whole idea of “going to heaven,” the doctrine of the immortal soul, and other teachings I knew Pentecostals to believe but that I felt were wrong. The eyes of the pastor and the choir were now boring holes in my back, but I plunged zealously ahead with my inappropriate diatribe. Needless to say, the funeral was a disaster, but at the time, I felt that I had “withstood the prophets of Baal to the face.” In retrospect, I realized it was sheer idiocy on my part.
Denominational exclusivism, cults of personality and doctrinal dogmatism tend to create “us-them” situations. People who think this way form camps. They circle the wagons around a particular, set-in-concrete, belief system that may or may not be defensible to objective and exegetically sophisticated scrutiny. They assume that they are custodians of the truth, and that no one else is. Therefore all who differ with them, or oppose them, are heretics.
Learning from Jeremiah
I believe that the book of Jeremiah contains a relevant object lesson that speaks to the situation described above. It is found in Jeremiah 28.
Jeremiah was a true prophet of the Lord. Hananiah was not. Yet Hananiah had the pedigree of a prophet (Jeremiah 28:1). His name meant “The Grace of Yah.” Yet somewhere along the line, Hananiah must have acquired a severe case of visions of grandeur. At a certain point, he boldly stood up in the Temple before the priests and the people of Israel and proclaimed that the yoke of the king of Babylon would be broken from off the back of Israel within two short years. The vessels that had been plundered from the Temple would be returned, and the king would be restored to his throne (Jeremiah 28:2-4). Hananiah said that God himself had told him all this (verse 2a).
It was what the people wanted to hear of course. Hananiah prophesied “smooth things” (cf. Isaiah 30:10).
Jeremiah could have “withstood Hananiah to the face” with fiery indignation. Instead he said to him, “…the prophet Jeremiah said, ‘Amen: the Lord do so: the Lord perform thy words which thou hast prophesied, to bring again the vessels of the Lord’s house, and all that is carried away captive, from Babylon unto this place” (Jeremiah 28:6).
This is like saying, “That’s a great prophesy Hananiah. I hope it’s true. I hope you’re right. May God bring these wonderful things to pass.” At the same time, Jeremiah issued a caveat: “The prophet which prophesieth of peace, when the word of the prophet shall come to pass, then shall the prophet be known, that the Lord has truly sent him” (Jeremiah 28:9). Jeremiah was simply referring to the criteria for prophets established in Deuteronomy 28:9.
Of course Hananiah’s prophecy failed. He was discredited and punished by God in the month Tishri of that year (Jeremiah 28:13-17).
If predictive accuracy is the criteria for authentically representing God, where does that leave many of us, including some of our former leaders? If any of us claim to speak for God, yet in reality we do not, how will God view this fraudulent representation?
The same measure applies to anyone who claims that God has told them something, and that they are now passing it on to us. It applies to Benny Hinn, Herbert W. Armstrong, Billy Graham or the pope. God does not take kindly to someone misrepresenting him. But it is not our job to judge false prophets – it’s is God’s.
Benny Hinn has an “odd” personality. He comes by it honestly. His mentor was the late Katherine Kuhlman. He, like she was, is a showman. He has a flair for the dramatic. He wears white suits to make him stand out from the crowd. He has a funny hairdo. He does charismatic things. People fall down, cry, shake, and sometimes get healed. Why is that bad? Is any of it forbidden by Scripture? Why does Benny Hinn call upon people to fall under the power of the Spirit, and then immediately order his assistants to pick them up, only to have them go down again? Is this practice Biblical? Not at all. Is it forbidden in the Bible? Not at all. Is it of God? I don’t know. I suspect that it might be. Are people really healed at Hinn’s crusades? I believe that they are – though perhaps not all of them. But only God knows for sure, and God is Benny’s judge, not me.
To many in the Pod, Benny Hinn is a fraud, a religious con man that doesn’t really get anyone healed. He is a purveyor of mass hysteria who uses the power of suggestion and emotional manipulation to bring about audience reaction. Don’t be too quick to judge. It is a fearful thing to criticize what might well be the work of the Holy Spirit.
At the same time, it is also a fearful thing to attribute to God things that he did not do.
Perhaps the best attitude is to imitate Jeremiah and wait and see whose work, and whose words, God blesses. After all, quite a number of prophets predicted for some time in advance that Harvest Rock would acquire the AC buildings. They turned out to be right. What does that suggest?
Look; charismatics often do unusual things. Someone suggested that some of them “bark like dogs.” I’ve never heard one do that, but if one did, the issue for me would not be that he did it, but why did he do it?” Did God cause it? Did a demon cause it? Was the person simply caught up in a mass mentality that caused him to act in an expected way? One might also ask, “So what if someone barks like a dog? Who cares? What harm did it do?” I’m not going to assume anything until I know the answers to those questions.
Now don’t quote the “decently and in order” passage to me. I’m familiar with that. I know that God is not the author of confusion, but of shalom.
In the hands of its former owners, not everything that was said and done in the Auditorium was said and done to glory of God. Perhaps God has removed that beautiful facility, in which I gave scores of sermons, from the Worldwide Church of God and given it to another manifestation of the Church. It’s only a building, albeit a magnificent one paid for out of the tithes of former WCG members. What goes on in the building from this time on will determine whether or not God is glorified, or whether the building becomes merely another “whitened sepulcher” full of spiritual deadness.
The point of all this is: don’t be so quick to judge other kinds of Christians. God will judge us all, and he is no respecter of persons. Look to the fruits of ministries, not to doctrinal arguments and frozen dogmas. Look for the manifested love of God, not the hatred of jut-jawed sectarians who believe they alone know the truth.
Spiritually, and doctrinally, we are all works in progress. There are no perfect Christians; therefore there are no perfect churches. Within the entity known as “the Church,” the wheat and the tares grow together until the harvest. God knows them that are his. Let us learn to give each other the benefit of the doubt. We can learn from each other, including from our mistakes, errors and misjudgments. Don’t jump and cast aspersions at charismatics because they are not like you. The story isn’t complete yet. We haven’t come to the end of Church history. There’s more to be said, done and written.
If you study Acts 2, I Corinthians 12 and 14, and a few other verses closely, you may find yourself revising your opinion about charismatics. Then again, you may not. You may, feeling vindicated, settle back into the nice, comfortable rut of condemnation and ridicule. You pick.