It is a source of constant amazement to me what some people will believe.
In London recently an enigmatic guru declared in an interview with a newspaper reporter that he was the Son of God. With a small knot of dedicated followers he lives on an isolated forest hilltop in one of the former Soviet Union countries, teaching that he has come to set the world free of its evil. In the same breath he states that, although he is married, his understandably irritated wife has had to cope with the idea that he now belongs--in a spiritual way, of course--not only to her but to all the women of the world. He has told his followers repeatedly that he is the hope of mankind...and they are willing to take his word for it. Although small in number, they have given up all in order to be part of something great.
David Koresh ruled his own little empire of “remnant” followers awaiting the battle of Armageddon. A master of religious rhetoric, he used his massive knowledge of the Biblical proof-texts and ceaseless, albeit perverted, preaching to cow his deluded little group into believing he was the awaited Messiah. Even after the burning of the Branch Davidian compound and the death of nearly a hundred men, women and children, some of the survivors yet believed Koresh to be the savior he claimed to be. They refused to give him up for the charlatan he was. They wanted to be part of something great.
It is a natural fault in the fallen human makeup that leads people into the wholehearted acceptance of delusion. They (we) become willingly blind, forcefully ignorant of anything that betrays our most sacred personal, religious, or ethical creeds. In general, the sad bottom line is: people believe what they want to believe.
Nearly five years after my exit from a cultic group in an isolated Alaska town, I still marvel that I fell for the same old lines used by some of the master manipulators of our day. Given a “Christian” twist, the foundations of elitism, “religious” sensuality, ingratiating personal prophecy and false signs and wonders all made sense at the time, despite the inner promptings that consistently pointed me to the Scriptures that bade me examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good (1 Thessalonians 5:21). While involved in a ten-year study of various cult groups and actively witnessing to their members of the love of God and the objective truth of Jesus Christ, the blindness that kept them from seeing the reality of the Gospel had fallen over my own eyes. Though saved, I watched and partook as the holy character of God was perverted, and our relationship to Him and the kingdom of God transformed into something that upon reflection chills me even on the hottest day. I had believed that my leaders--the pastors, prophets, apostles and sign-workers--knew better, and that the feelings of something terribly wrong in our congregation had to come from my own spiritual immaturity. My leaders told me so, therefore it was so.
Film footage from Nazi rallies still inspires the same horror it engendered in the thinking world more than fifty years ago--hands uplifted in spear-pointed salute, thunderous cries of “Zieg Heil!”, crowds scrambling to get close to Hitler, to touch him, to receive even a passing glance from “The Leader”. Women wept at the sight of him, enthralled by his presence; German youths vowed allegiance with faces beaming; the military, en masse, swore a solemn oath of loyalty. Here was the one who would lead them into a marvelous Aryan future. They were finally part of something great.
Even when his tirades against opponents grew to fever pitch, his face grotesquely contorted and mouth screaming indignities, the crowds roared approval and gladly consigned their lives to him. Their trust could not be shattered. When the Jews were herded into cattle cars, the adoring public jeered. When they disappeared by the millions into concentration camps, German heads turned the other way. When the stench of Auschwitz, with its vermin, rotting corpses and living skeletons wafted over field and road, they pretended not to notice. They were finally part of something great.
“Pilate therefore said to Him, “Then You are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.
Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?” (John 18:37-38)
Good question. Surrounded by the icons of the age, clothed with power from the greatest human empire on earth, and commissioned by an emperor held in awe by the Roman multitudes, this tired prefect looked right in the face of Truth and didn’t even recognize Him. He would never have asked the question of the emperor. For him, truth was what Tiberius said it was, and acquiescence a foregone conclusion. He was part of something great.
I am blessed to have cult members occasionally come to my home, as they always bring a Bible and wish to discuss the Scriptures. What a joy to have the mission field come to me! Usually it is a pair of Mormon missionaries, as we have an LDS outpost here in our little backwater community, and I always let them go on with their rehearsed speech. Their introductory discourse is usually fairly simple, with easy questions designed to elicit the expected responses from the listener, to which the Mormon elders can then reply with canned answers. It is all designed to lead the hearer into a certain belief system. But I really like the part when they finally say, “Do you have any questions?”
Boy, do I ever. I ask them if it is true that they believe Adam is God; I point out the multiple false prophecies of founder Joseph Smith, and read from their own Journal of Discourses the ravings of their prophet Brigham Young, who preached about slitting the throats of apostates. I inquire if these things are part and parcel of their belief system.
Although alarmed and completely ignorant of these evidences against the validity of their religion, the abundant false prophecy, murderous sermons, abominable practices and teachings from their Mormon founders simply appear to make no lasting impression. I can only pray that God will have planted the seeds of Truth in their hearts, and that someday they will bear fruit. But these sincere LDS followers have been taught not to question disturbing revelations, and they follow that dictum to its fullest extent. The presentation of the true Gospel leaves them confounded, and though promising to return for more dialogue, they seldom do. Their thinking has been so hammered by theological propaganda that to them the convoluted seems reasonable and the reasonable seems convoluted. My efforts to teach them the simplest doctrinal truths nearly always meet with an uncomprehending stare. It simply doesn’t fit the pattern that had shaped them.
”Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil, who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness, who substitute bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20).
Tragically, the same mindset characterizing the cults, fringe groups, and politically- motivated zealots can be found throughout much of the hyper-charismatic arm of the Church. Members of this camp have swung heartily on the theological pendulum into previously unimaginable experiences. Unparalleled visions, dreams, prophecies, wild manifestations in the new charismaticism have prompted some very sober questioning from a world looking on open-mouthed. Is this really what Christianity is all about? Is this the Jesus of the Bible?
I recall well my first official laughing revival slaying-in-the-spirit session. It was in the mid-90s and Rodney Howard-Browne was at the height of his popularity. A couple of men who had accompanied him at another city in our state of Alaska came to our fellowship and ministered the new wine. Oh, I fell with the rest--I was a pushover for slain in the spirit (that’s a joke, son)--but for some reason my wife and I just could not get the joy of the Lord. The main minister noticed us sitting in one of the pews without laughing uproariously and came to lay hands on us. He pressed on our heads forcefully, encouraging us for some minutes to let go and let the joy bubble up out of our bellies. We finally forced ourselves into laughing, so pained that we were left out of the experience and intimidated into manufacturing the “joy” and with a smile he finally left us. We quickly ceased, feeling cheap. We knew our response was fake, a sham. And, remarkably, he didn’t
In retrospect, the Joel’s Bar theatrics at our church that day were obvious and embarrassingly second-rate: blowing into the microphone to simulate the Acts 2 account of the mighty rushing wind of the Holy Spirit; coaxing, cajoling, and bullying people into the desired manifestations, maneuvering the congregation by repetitive commands (“Close your eyes, lift your hands, and when you do the power of God will fall on you!”), and subtle warnings not to resist whatever followed. Even when it meant wild, uncontrollable laughter ringing loudly throughout the building; or men and women piled in the church aisles when slain in the spirit; or men staggering blindly, drunk in the spirit and void of propriety, with clothes disheveled and faces plastered with the silly smiles of head-lolling inebriation; or the worship leader lying full-length on the sanctuary floor, running his hands up and down the sides of his writhing body while his heavy, ragged breathing turned his face a beet red—don’t resist. These were the things of God; the “spirit” is at work.
Yes, but what spirit?
The whole idea was that we needed to be led. We had not experienced the fullness of what God wanted for us, and our leaders—our covering, those anointed ones who had stepped up the rungs of enlightenment--would show us the way. And those who had any other notions, and they were few enough, would be made to understand that they were not to interfere. We were there to be taught, not dissent.
With our Bibles open, we viewed our experiences through a grid, a set pattern that affected all aspects of faith and practice. While claiming loyalty to the Scriptures, we blithely partook of uproarious behavior and unstoppable, even offensive laughter, overlooking such glaring verses as...the fruit of the Spirit is...self control… (Galatians 5:22-23). Does the same Holy Spirit who gave us the command “But let all things be done properly and in an orderly manner” (1 Corinthians 14:40) tell us in the same breath to throw off all restraint and abandon ourselves to hysterics that not only disrupt our services (including communion, the most holy remembrance of our Lord’s sufferings), but cause us to confirm in the hearts of unbelievers that Christians really are insane (1 Corinthians 14:23)? Who wants to partake of a religion of madness?
Does the same Holy Spirit who tells us in 1 Corinthians 6:18, Galatians 5:19, Ephesians 5:3 and a multitude of others to reject immorality tell us conversely to gleefully fall down in a tangle of arms and legs, with men and women laying on the floor atop one another? Jesus told us in Matthew 5:28 not to even think adulterously, for the thought constitutes the act itself. Is it possible under the anointing to be completely untouched by lustful thoughts when laying bodily on another man’s wife? This also brings into question the catcher ministry. When a catcher breaks the fall of a woman slain in the spirit, how does he keep his hands from touching her improperly? Many times women collapse so quickly they are like water. I have seen myself women with skirts riding high, blouses raised indecently when slain. It happens all the time. In the Brownsville video clip of “Honey, Where Are We From?” a pretty young wife collapses into the arms of a nearby Brownsville minister, her blouse ranging up from her midriff and her arms flailing wildly. Why didn’t we see the disparity?
Does the same Holy Spirit who tells us in Ephesians 5:18, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit” also tell us to go ahead and get drunk at “Joel’s Bar? Does He who hates drunkenness and repeatedly condemns it also encourage us to get zapped so that our faculties are equivalent to those of the neighborhood drunk? Does He smile warmly when we rename a house of worship a “Drinking House”. Does it please Him that we no longer sing hymns and praise choruses but rather “drinking songs”. Does it really honor God for His children to get flushed, lurch uncontrollably, crawl on hands and knees to reach their seat, and collapse in a stupor against the person they are sitting beside? If this happened in a secular setting, the police would be summoned and the offender hauled off to the tank to sleep it off. Even the world has some sense of propriety.
Supposedly the Apostles in Acts 2 were drunk in the spirit. A reading of the entire chapter cannot come up with this deplorable exegesis. The problem is that we didn’t read it, not objectively. We relied on our leaders to tell us what was true and applicable. And we obeyed.
Does He who hates false prophecy (Jeremiah 20:6, Jeremiah 27:15, Jeremiah 29:9, Ezekiel 13:2, Ezekiel 22:28, Matthew 7:15, 2 Peter 2:1, 1 John 4:1, and a host of others) now bid us turn a blind eye to those who say, “Thus saith the Lord”, when the Lord has not spoken to them? Does false prophecy really mean anything to us anymore? Have we become so sophisticated that we can just shrug our shoulders at false words, while God’s honor is impugned and His name used for another’s benefit? When Benny Hinn raved on stage at his Denver crusade of 1999, while he growled, wide-eyed, and roared commands at the choir and the attending ministers on stage, when he lifted his eyes to heaven, said “Yes, Lord, I’ll do it”, and proceeded to place a curse on anyone who would speak against his ministry…what were those present thinking? It’s easy enough to tell. As the camera panned out over the thousands, people were lifting their hands in praise to God, tears streaming down their faces, countenances rapt with wonder at the power and proclamations of “the man of God”..
Did no one remember the words of the Master in Luke 6: 27-28: “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you”? But now Benny Hinn has the authority--no, mandate-- from God to do exactly the opposite. He said so, and the crowds believe him.
Many in the Church have become in mindset just like the Mormon missionaries who come to my door. Their prophets, too, are allowed to go against God’s holy Word because “God” told them it is now okay to do so.
Cult members are terrified of going counter to their leaders. Such it is with many in hyper-charismatic church groups, including the one I came out of. To speak against leadership was to “touch God’s anointed”, and, no matter what they did, their authority was not to be spoken against or too closely examined. It was believed that God would be displeased and the inquisitive one would be brought under divine judgment. For years I kept my mouth shut, deathly afraid of fighting against God. Until someone opened the door just a crack, just enough to let in some light from on high.
When we view the archived footage of those massive Hitler rallies, we need not wonder how those unsuspecting ones were caught up in the passion of the moment. If we look closely enough at the faces in the crowd, we might catch a glimpse of someone we know, a neighbor perhaps. Or ourselves.
We would like to kid ourselves into thinking that truth isn’t so all-important, but the fact of it is that truth matters. It matters so much that God gave His only Son, that He who is Truth manifested in human form came to give us life when we knew only death. Yes, doctrine is important enough for the apostle John to warn us, “Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God… (2 John 9).
There is a definite mind control, and spiritual manipulation taking place in much of the hyper-charismatic arm of the Church. I was there, helped promote it, and spoke against those who rejected the latest “moves of God". Following “every wind of doctrine”, I drunk deeply of every experience I could, followed our “prophets" and preached with authority from an eldership position. Until the day truth mattered.There is hope with the Lord. Praise His name there is hope. When the truth that gnawed at me through all those years was finally given voice, I searched the Scriptures and counted the cost. Remaining in error was far too great a price to pay.