Saturday, September 27, 2008

Introduction, Preface, Index, End

Welcome to my blog, TH in SoC. This, my introduction, is actually the last post I will write for this particular blog. Why put a blog introduction at the end? Because this is most likely the first page a first-time visitor will see.

The beginning of this blog is about my experience in an abusive, aberrant “Bible-based” church over a period of several years, and about my experiences in trying to find a “healthy church” after I left my old abusive group. As a result of these experiences, I formed certain conclusions, which I state in the main body of this blog. My conclusions can be summed up here thus: I am an orthodox, Biblical, evangelical Christian. The Faith of Christ is not to blame for the difficulties I encountered. But there are certain leaders within American evangelicalism who have spread an unsafe culture throughout the American evangelical church by preying on its members. This preying is manifested in the craving for money, power and the indulgence of fleshly lust. The latter pages of this blog state possible solutions to the unhealthy culture of the American evangelical church.

A rough “table of contents” for this blog would look thus:

Part 1: Where I Came From – Posts written from 2005 to March 2007

Part 2: Who Broke My Church? - Posts written from April 2007 to July 2008

Under this second category are sub-categories as follows:

A. The Church and Money – December 2007 to February 2008

B. The Church and Political Power – February 2008 to March 2008

C. The Church and Ecclesiastical Power – April 2008 to June 2008

D. The Church and Lust – June 2008 to July 2008

E. Summation – July 2008

Part 3: Who Can Fix This Mess? - Posts written from August 2008 to September 2008

The tone of this blog is forensic, because it is very much an indictment of certain trends, people and practices in the modern American church. One might say that TH in SoC is my handful of theses nailed up in a fit of pathos on the Church doors. In this, I am hardly original, since both Martin Luther and much more recently, Steve Camp, were pushed by circumstances to draft theses condemning the excesses of those who claimed to be servants of the Church, and to nail them up for reading by any who had eyes to see.

If you are a survivor of an abusive church experience, or if you are a Biblical Christian who sees the excesses of the present American church culture, hopefully my blog has some helpful insights. If after reading these posts, you have comments, suggestions or corrections, please feel free to post them, since I will continue to monitor this blog for comments.

And now it is time to move on. I am shifting my focus from an indictment of dangers in the American church to the process of recovery from church abuse. Therefore I have started another blog, From SoC to Points North. (It's at There is also a link under the “Links” heading.) It will be my personal “recovery journal.” I am posting it on the Web because I think it's helpful to read the experiences of people who are seeking to recover a Biblical Christianity from the ashes of an abusive church experience. Hopefully, my experiences will be a help to someone. I'd also like to recommend two other very good “recovery journals,” Gale Warnings ( and The Blog of Lema Nal (

For those of you who followed TH in SoC from its beginning to its end, thanks for your readership. I greatly appreciate it. See you at Points North!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Finding Turangawaewae

Several years ago Alan Jamieson, a New Zealand pastor and sociology Ph.D., wrote A Churchless Faith, a book which studied the phenomenon of increasing numbers of New Zealanders and Australians leaving the institutional church which he called the EPC (Evangelical, Pentecostal and Charismatic) church. In 2004 or 2005 I encountered an article on the Assembly Reflections website, titled “In Search of Turangawaewae.” That article was an excerpt from Jamieson's book.

I found the article to be fascinating, especially as I had somewhat recently left an abusive church and was now more or less “churchless,” not having found another church in which I felt comfortable. While Jamieson's article acknowledged that people were leaving church for very legitimate reasons, his main point was that everyone needs a place to stand, a community in which he or she can say, “I belong,” and that it was important for church leavers to find such communities or to make their own. He then explored characteristics of some of the communities and associations springing up among church leavers, and how these communities functioned for mutual support and encouragement of the participants.

Within the last few weeks I found the article again on the Web and re-read it. (If anyone else wants to check it out, it can be found at Now I must say that there are certain overtones and assumptions of the article with which I disagree. For one thing, there are those who characterize themselves as “emergent,” who say that church attendance is falling in the First World because society is shifting to a “post-modern” mindset in which there is no absolute truth, and the Church is unwilling to change its message to allow for the questioning of objective truth. To that I must say that according to the Bible, Jesus Christ is the absolute Truth, and the Church is to be the pillar and support of the truth (John 14:6; 1 Timothy 3:15). There may be those who leave church because they no longer believe this to be true, but I cannot in good conscience become a fellow traveler with them.

There are also those who say that people are now quitting the Church because in some mystical sense the Church is out of step with the times, and God is mystically raising up a new manifestation of church suited to the times. These people point to the way the Church is perceived by the modern (or post-modern) world, its failure to market itself effectively, and its failure to be “relevant” (as in, trendy). Though I haven't read his writings deeply, I must say that George Barna seems to fall into this category (but if anyone knows better, please feel free to correct me).

To me the reasons why many people are leaving church are neither mysterious nor mystical, but plain as a two-by-four. I believe that much of the Church has become unsafe, run and/or exploited by leaders who crave money, power – whether political or ecclesiastical – and opportunities to indulge their lusts. These leaders are decimating their congregations, wounding and defrauding many and ultimately driving many away from church altogether.

But there are many aspects of Jamieson's article with which I still agree, and overall I find it just as fascinating now as I did when I first read it. (I also intend to find a copy of his book, by the way, even though it's out of print.) All people, Christians and others, need companionship in this earthly life. After all, “It is not good that the man should be alone.” (Genesis 2:18) I agree with him that Christians who become church leavers, yet wish to live as Christians, need companionship and mutual support on their pilgrimage from earth to Heaven. And community done right is the highest earthly expression of the love of God in Christ (Psalm 133; John 17).

But for those who are just coming out of an abusive church experience, or who are still hurting from an abusive church experience, the thought of Christian community can be frightening. After all, we survivors experienced an environment in which our church leaders deliberately screwed up the experience of community and distorted its Christian character to serve their own ends. Now we have escaped, and the places to which we are told to look for community are themselves frightening as these places increasingly take on the same abusive character that was found in our abusive churches. After an abusive experience, who wants to start attending churches whose pastors believe that they are to be unquestioningly obeyed like Moses? Or churches who don't tell their members how church finances are handled, because that's “the pastor's concern?” After attending a church where subtle racism was practiced, what Christians from minority backgrounds want to get involved in a new church which rabidly supports the Religious Right?

Of course, there are those who exit an abusive church environment only to jump as fast as they can into another such environment in a different church. But there are those of us who upon leaving have said, “Whoa! Not so fast – I've got to take some time out for myself to sort myself out, to decide what my values and beliefs are. I need to take my time and check things out before moving back into any sort of church involvement. I don't want to rush into another situation where my beliefs are being spoon-fed to me.” Those of us who think thus are evangelical expatriates – by force more than by choice, but expatriates nonetheless. Yet while we are separated from the institutional church, we still need the experience of companionship, camaraderie, fellowship and mutual support. We need to find our own “turangawaewae.”

But to find it, we must usually make it ourselves, since there is no institutional church to provide it for us. And while the Internet is a great way to hook up with people of similar interests, I believe this “turangawaewae”, this place of belonging, is best experienced in face-to-face encounters with other people. Therefore, we need to begin reaching out to each other in a personal way.

I propose that we survivors of church abuse start our own “Turangawaewae” groups, if you will. The groups would be a first step for survivors in re-integrating themselves into community. The groups would not be large, nor highly structured, and might consist of nothing more than friends who agree to meet in a certain place on a regular basis to talk, to hang out or to do something fun together. Whatever group activity there was would be decided by democratic vote. Such groups would not even need a leader. But as the members of such groups got together regularly, they would hopefully learn to trust each other, to lean on each other to an appropriate extent, and to pray for each other. And as they swapped life stories, they would see powerfully that they are not alone.

Whether such groups evolved into something more would depend entirely on what each of the members was comfortable with – there would be no pressure to start a “ministry” or new “church plant” unless everyone agreed over time that such a thing was what they believed they should do. On the other hand, all the members might agree that this “first step” was the best, and that there was no need to take it any further. Moreover, such groups would be free to dissolve if the members all felt the need to move on to other things. Above all, such groups would be non-threatening, non-demanding and non-constraining (no ax-grinders allowed, no pushy arguments over nonessential doctrines, for instance).

If anyone is interested in starting such a group, feel free to leave a comment on this post. You can tell your name and where you live (generally – don't give a street address), and where you'd like to meet. A coffee shop seems like a good location for a first meeting. And if anyone reading this lives in the Portland Metro area of Oregon and wants to hook up, feel free to leave a comment.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Missionaries to the First World, Part 2

In my last post, I wrote that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is powerful, curative medicine for a sinful and sin-sick world. I also wrote that the preferred method for the delivery of that message has historically been through the words and deeds of spiritual men and women who earned the right to a hearing from others by living a blameless life among others. However, as modern Western society became more industrialized and advanced, those in the West who claim to be preachers of the Gospel have moved away from these historical, personal methods of delivering the Gospel message and have moved toward large-scale, high-tech, media campaign-driven methods of broadcasting Biblical truth.

This has reduced the preaching of the Gospel to a mere sound bite or bumper sticker or shouted slogan delivered by means of a slick marketing campaign – a campaign which lacks any opportunity for those hearing the proclamation to examine the proclaimers to see whether the truths proclaimed actually work in the lives of the proclaimers. This has also reduced the public perception of the Gospel to that of merely one more amplified voice, one more slick high-tech marketing campaign being pushed on a nation that is being advertised to death. This perception is especially prevalent in America, a society which has seen that the ministries of some so-called preachers of the Gospel are really nothing more than means for these preachers to get rich or gain political power by defrauding their hearers. The result is that high-tech, slick, mass-broadcast means of preaching the Gospel are becoming less effective in the First World, because fewer people are willing to trust the proclaimers enough to listen to them.

What is needed is a return to the historical methods of delivering the Gospel, methods which depend on the testimony of holy and blameless lives lived by those who proclaim the Gospel. It is necessary for members of the Church to return to a local, personal, low-tech emphasis on being genuine in relationships, being a genuine blessing to the men and women with whom they interact on a daily basis. It is rumored that the Catholic order of St. Francis of Assisi was given the command to preach the Kingdom of God, “using words if necessary.” (Biographical Sketches of Memorable Christians of the Past, “Francis of Assisi, Friar,”

I believe that words are daily necessary, but that they are best spoken by people whose lives are an obvious reflection of the Word they claim to preach. The problem of the American evangelical church is that as that church has moved away from personal witness to high-tech proclamation, it has also moved away from a blameless, authentic testimony. Most of the posts of this blog, TH in SoC, have discussed how the American church has allowed its testimony to be corrupted. As Aaron Tate once wrote, “There's tarnish on the Golden Rule, and I want to jump from this ship of fools.” How can the testimony of the Church be cleansed from its tarnish? That is a very large question and I am sure that there are many answers; but I want to focus on three particular answers.

First, I believe that the Church must become a real and tangible blessing in the world. I don't mean this in an abstract or “theological” sense, but in a practical and material sense. Matthew 5:16 says, “Even so, let your light shine before men; that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” James 1:27 says, “Pure religion and undefiled before our God and Father is this: to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” James 2:15-16 says, “And if a brother or sister is naked and in lack of daily food, and one of you tells them, 'Go in peace, be warned and filled'; and yet you didn't give them the things the body needs, what good is it?” The parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) tells of the practical duty to the poor which is owed by everyone who is called Christian. Matthew 25 and Luke 16 tell of the punishment which awaits those who refuse to provide material help to people in material need.

It's easy to absolve oneself of personal responsibility by saying, “Well, charity is the pastor's job,” or, “Our church has a ministry that takes care of that,” but the Bible seems to indicate that this is the responsibility of each Christian, to the best of his or her ability. And it is the testimony of people who live as a practical blessing which opens the door for speaking the Word to non-Christians. Consider the testimony of Rich Mullins, who made a lot of money as a successful contemporary Christian music artist. Yet he gave most of the money away to the Quaker church, which administered several charities and paid Mullins the average salary in the U.S., year by year. He also lived in a hogan on a Navajo reservation where he preached the Gospel and taught free music classes. There is also Dr. Paul Brand, an extremely talented and insightful physician who received many awards. He was the first to discover the neuropathic nature of leprosy, and invented a number of successful surgical procedures for restoring limbs and other body parts damaged by neuropathy. His discoveries helped not only people afflicted by leprosy, but also diabetics and others at risk of limb damage from neuropathy. Yet for much of his life he was content to serve in India as a poor missionary doctor whose services were largely free.

These two are not the only examples I know, nor are they the most radical. I know a man who used to teach free guitar classes at a local public library in a working-class neighborhood. At the beginning of each semester, he announced to his class that the reason why the lessons were free was that they might be a demonstration of the free gift of God in Christ Jesus, available to anyone who repents of his or her sins and believes in Christ. Though he never mentioned the Gospel in words after that, he made sure that he gave the best guitar education he could provide in the ensuing classes, going so far as to even bribe his students to do their homework assignments by rewarding them with Starbucks gift certificates. There are opportunities like this waiting for any Christian whose eyes are open to see them.

Second, the American evangelical church must stop giving its unquestioning support to rich elites, particularly the leaders of the Religious Right. By that support, the Church has given Christianity a bad reputation, namely that of a mere tool to justify oppression by claiming that God condones it. This is seen in the insistence by people like James Dobson that American evangelicals must support the Republican party in all of its agenda, even though there is abundant proof of the harm done to poor people and poor, nonwhite members of other nation by that agenda. There is also the push by the Right to rally all evangelicals behind supporting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, even though in the case of Iraq at least, there was no good reason to go to war, and the behavior of the United States in Iraq after the invasion shows a clear intent to rape and loot that country's resources for the benefit of rich American elites.

There is the insistence that the Republican Party is the party of godly Christianity, and we must support the Republicans because they are our best hope for restoring America as a Christian nation – even though the Republicans have long been known for corruption, dishonesty and greed, and that reputation has grown much stronger during the Presidency of George W. Bush. (Need a recent example? See “Sex for Oil Scandal At Interior Department,” CBS News, 13 September 2008, There is also the insistence by leaders of the Religious Right that “Evangelicals MUST NOT believe in global warming!!!” But there is overwhelming evidence that global warming is real, that it is happening much faster than even the most pessimistic scientists guessed, and that it is caused by human activity. When the leaders of the Religious Right insist on pushing an agenda of denial, and when the American evangelical church swallows that agenda, it causes the world to say that the Church in America is simply another tool of the rich to control and to deceive the masses. “For 'the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,' – just as it is written.” – Romans 2:23-24. (By the way, I intend to write a post very soon stating all of the scientific evidence for global warming. I will probably post it on my other blog, The Well Run Dry.)

The American church must therefore regain its powers of discernment and its sense of social justice, and must begin to actively speak out against oppression and the destruction of the earth, even when that oppression and destruction are being carried out by American and Western elites.

Lastly, the Church must become more discerning in taking care of itself. Many posts of my blog have dealt with how selfish and unscrupulous people have taken leadership roles in the American church for the purpose of fleecing their flocks. The fact that we continue to allow this, that people are still allowing themselves to be hoodwinked and abused, does not speak well for us before the world. As St. Paul said, “For you bear with a man, if he brings you into bondage, if he devours you, if he takes you captive, if he exalts himself, if he strikes you on the face.” – 2 Corinthians 11:20. When the world sees churches full of people who gladly submit to that kind of treatment from leaders who gladly seek to dish out that kind of treatment, what sort of testimony is that?

The American church – including each member – must become much more active in rooting out abusive leaders. Members must insist on holding church leaders to a high standard of humility, trustworthiness and godly conduct. Much damage has already been done, and wolves in leaders' clothes have made much of the American evangelical church unsafe. When unsafe leaders and shady practices are found, the Church should be first and foremost in exposing the sin. As Ephesians 5:11 says, “Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather even reprove them.” (See Ephesians 5:12-13 also) As strong sunshine is a powerful disinfectant due to its ultraviolet component, so corrupt leaders in the church are cleansed away by exposing them to the light of day so that everyone may see what kind of people they really are, and so that those who engage in corrupt practices may have no more place to hide in which they can continue to practice evil.

This reminds me of an Internet bulletin board created by members of my old abusive church for the purpose of talking through issues related to recovering from that church. In my early days just after leaving that church I used to visit the bulletin board (or BB) site regularly, but I stopped for a long while until recently, when I began reading the posts of a man who was working through some issues concerning abuses he had suffered in our cultic church long ago and which he was just now facing. He also posted a number of news items relating to corrupt pastors of other churches who were exposed and in some cases arrested this year. While I didn't agree with everything he said in his posts, I acknowledged the therapeutic value of being able to get some things off his chest.

The reaction of others on that BB was interesting. When he expressed pain and anger at the realization of some of the subtle abuse he had suffered years ago, a few other BB members jumped on him with both feet, accusing him of being “unspiritual” because of his anger, and communicating clearly that their idea of acceptable behavior was just to smile and deny the pain and anger. To me, this is an unhealthy expectation (I don't have time to explain why now, but for an insight, please see the excellent post by Stormchild on the blog Strange Mercy, titled “Unilateral Forgiveness and Cheap Grace” (

The thing that was really strange was a challenge issued to this poster by one of the other BB members who told this poster to take six weeks to write posts only on ministries that are doing good in the world, since it was “obvious” that this poster had a problem because he could only see the bad that was being done by false religious leaders. But to me, such a “challenge” illustrates an even more unhealthy attitude – namely the idea that it is wrong for someone to criticize corrupt practices in the Church, even when those corrupt practices have become rampant. Almost all of my blog has been such a criticism, as well as the blogs of many others who have been burned by religious power abuse. And the criticism – healthy, constructive criticism but criticism nonetheless – must continue until structural, functional changes occur in American evangelicalism which make abuse much less likely. As long as there is abuse in the American evangelical church, I intend to criticise that abuse, and I encourage others to do the same. I am not going to put up with any more of it.

There is evidence also that some of that criticism is beginning to have an effect. One thing I have noticed is the increasingly strident and desperate tone of some champions of the undemocratic “staff-led” and “elder-led” forms of church government. I think that the exposure of abuses perpetrated under these forms of church government is causing some religious empire-builders to sweat a little. But there is an even more encouraging sign: a number of blogs, including City Business Church and An Inside Look With Pastor Burt, have carried an e-mail apology for the excesses of a particular Charismatic church (; This apology was put forth by Dutch Sheets, a well-known Pentecostal pastor. I can't help but think that constructive criticism from the blogosphere is playing a helping role in ridding the Church of corruption.

Note: All Scripture quotations are taken from the World English Bible, a public domain translation. No royalties are owed to anyone for its use, and it may be freely quoted in all settings, public and private.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Missionaries to the First World, Part 1

The Bible states that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is “...the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first, and also for the Greek.” (Romans 1:16.) Because God wants all to be saved, Christians are commanded to “Go into all the world, and preach the Good News to the whole creation.” (Mark 16:15.) Acts 1:8 also says, “ will be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth.”

The Gospel is powerful medicine, a powerful cure for our sinfulness. But like all medicines, it requires a proper method of application in order to be effective. In speaking of physical ailments and their cures, doctors use the term “modality” to describe “a method of application of, or the employment of, any therapeutic agent, especially a physical agent,” or alternatively, “the technique of applying a therapeutic regimen or agent.” ( One may prescribe the correct medicine for a particular condition, yet if one prescribes the wrong modality, the medicine will be ineffective. So it is that some medicines are applied externally, some come as pills to be swallowed, some are dissolved in alcohol because they are not water-soluble, others must be inhaled, and yet others are injected.

The historical modality for the delivery of the Gospel has always been by means of spiritual men and women who earned the right to a hearing from others by living a blameless life among others (Acts 20:17-34; 1 Thessalonians 2:9-10, among other passages). But like every other aspect of life in the times leading up to the Industrial Revolution, this approach took a great deal of time and human attention. Because humans naturally tend to look for labor-saving shortcuts in their endeavors, it didn't take long after the invention of the printing press for prospective Gospel preachers to begin to rely on printed tracts and books in addition to face-to-face talks with people. The Industrial Revolution and its aftermath added other tools to the evangelist's arsenal – tools such as radio and television and massive “Gospel crusades” which drew thousands of attendees. These methods were all energy and technology intensive. Yet because the First World was experiencing continued technological advancement and had access to ever-increasing supplies of concentrated energy, these methods – mass broadcasts of Biblical truth and the Gospel message through printed and electronic media – became the methods of choice for those seeking to evangelize the First World, particularly the United States.

But there are two problems with these methods. First, many proclaimers of the Gospel have become ever more removed from personal contact with their audiences, preventing the members of these audiences from observing these preachers to see whether the truths the preachers espouse are actually working in the lives of the preachers. In other words, it has become much harder for people to tell whether these preachers who talk the talk are also walking the walk. Secondly, the methods of mass media have been used by many people, not just preachers. Many of those with access to the media have been caught using their access to manipulate and defraud their audiences.

Consider the pervasiveness of advertising in present-day America. According to the article, “Marketing Advertising and Branding: A Critical Analysis of Commercial Advertising Strategies,” a typical American is exposed to at least 1500 advertisements per day (Source: The Association for Consumer Research has performed studies which show a positive link between the amount of TV a person watches and the extent to which that person is a materialist ( More and more people with postgraduate psychology degrees are discovering market research as a viable career field ( This market research is being used to unlock the soul (and by extension, the wallet) of the typical consumer.

America is a nation that is advertised to death. Those paying for the advertising are driven by a passion to acquire money and/or political power, and they will resort to any trick in order to achieve their ends. Their methods are very similar to the methods which the Church in the West has adopted as its methods of choice – particularly in American evangelicalism. But people in the West are becoming increasingly turned off to these methods, concluding that those who use such methods are simply out to get something for themselves.

Do you believe in “street witnessing” by handing out Gospel tracts in public places? Beware, because you may have competition. I remember a couple of times when I used to work in downtown Los Angeles and I ran into people handing out “free” introductory offers for Nextel phone service at Union Station. I can't count the number of times I have been accosted over the years by people handing out flyers for one thing or another at supermarkets. Do you like door-to-door witnessing? You may have to compete with “home alarm system” salesmen going door to door posing as Neighborhood Watch captains. (One such gentleman visited my doorstep a couple of months ago. I invited him to quickly leave.) I can't begin to count the number of letters I received that said “Official Notice – You Are Paying Too Much For Your Mortgage” after I bought my first house, or the number of telemarketing calls I received even after I signed up for the National “Do Not Call” list. When people see someone “open-air preaching” or they see someone approaching them with a Gospel tract in his hand, it is only natural for them to immediately assume that the person in question simply wants to get something from them.

This perception has been compounded by the fact that several big-name personalities who claimed to be preachers of the Gospel have been found to be frauds whose activities were for the sole purpose of enriching themselves. I acknowledge that not all well-known evangelists are fake. But those who are false have definitely made an impression. Thus even such things as large Gospel crusades may have begun to lose their effectiveness. For instance, within the last few months Luis Palau held a large outdoor Gospel campaign where I live, yet to the best of my knowledge, none of my co-workers attended his rally.

The Christian witness in the West has also suffered from the mingling of politics and faith, particularly in the United States, where the Church has been co-opted by the economic elites through instruments such as the Republican Party, which promises to use the power of the state to enforce Biblical sexual morality on the nation in exchange for the Church's unquestioning support of the agenda of the economic elites. Thus there are leaders in the American evangelical community who deny the reality of global warming, oppose any state-sponsored system of social welfare (even including mass transit), and support American military intervention into other countries for the purpose of taking natural resources from these countries by force. This reinforces the perception that the Church itself is simply one more marketing arm of powerful people who are simply out to take as much as they can for themselves. So when James Dobson's radio “ministry” is broadcast, it's not surprising that many people respond with a cynical “Yeah, right – whatever, dude.”

Even the methods of “grassroots” initiatives have been taken over by corporate elites in order to maintain their power or extend their market share. An interesting term has been coined in recent years: “astroturfing,” referring to the creation of a media campaign by corporations which is designed to look like it was started by common people. A good example of this is the “Angry Renters” website (, a site supposedly sponsored by a grassroots network of house and apartment renters opposed to any bailout or government rescue of homeowners who are now facing foreclosure from the mortgage crisis. A closer look at these “angry renters” shows that this organization was actually created by Republican former congressman Dick Armey and multimillionaire Steve Forbes (“Big Money Backs Renters' Campaign,” NPR, 16 May 2008,; “Armey's Angry Renters,” Full Frontal Scrutiny, 21 May 2008,

Americans are becoming increasingly wary and weary of being jacked, weary of being taken for a ride by slick advertising. Appeals which look like corporate advertising, whether electronic or printed, are losing their effectiveness. There is an increasing hunger for what is real and genuine. And proving what is real and genuine takes time and opportunity for intimate observation. Yet the Church in America continues its love affair with the latest and most modern mass-evangelism “methods,” relying on amplified crusades, high-tech tricks, big-name personalities and slogans and bumper stickers that look like they were invented by some corporate marketing department.

Examples of this which I have seen include bumper stickers which came out during the 2004 and 2006 elections which shouted, “JESUS IS GOD – READ THE BIBLE!” There are the “Got Christ?” bumper stickers which rip off the “Got Milk?” ad campaign. There are the T-shirts worn by some gym rats showing the Lord bloodied and bowed under the weight of the Cross, with a caption at the bottom saying, “Bench Press This!” The silliest and most irreverent example I have seen in a while was a bumper sticker I noticed last weekend during my road trip home from Southern California. The sticker said, “Jesus loves THE HELL out of you.” The idea behind all of these is that it is somehow possible to convince a person to become a Christian by shouting a mere slogan at them without providing any sort of relational context for that slogan. But increasingly, this doesn't work.

In my next post, I will make suggestions concerning what I believe does work, what I believe to be an effective Christian witness to people in our modern society. Stay tuned!

Note: All Scripture quotations are taken from the World English Bible, a public domain translation. No royalties are owed to anyone for its use, and it may be freely quoted in all settings, public and private.

Monday, September 01, 2008

A Labor Day Excuse (for not having a post this week)

I knew that things would be tight this weekend as far as publishing a new post on TH in SoC. On Friday I had to drive a thousand miles to visit relatives, and on Sunday I drove back. I got home this morning around 3:30 a.m. I can barely see straight. Tonight will be an early night.

But I do have two more posts in the works under the category "Who Can Fix This Mess?". One post will deal with the witness of the Church in the world, and another will deal with the need we all still have for companionship, even after abusive situations, and how to deal with that need.

And on my othe blog, The Well Run Dry, I will write a brief description of my road trip, and of some of the societal issues I noticed while I was in Southern California, as these pertain to the general problem of Peak Oil and the U.S. economy. Stay tuned!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Church of My (Day) Dreams

I still sometimes have dreams about my old abusive church. In those dreams, I frequently find myself attending long and dreary meetings listening to our head honcho or his lieutenants preaching while we all sit like prisoners, listening (although sometimes I am standing up in such meetings, yelling things like “Shut up!”). Or I dream that I am being assigned to help out with setting up such meetings or cleaning up after such meetings while being bossed around by a bunch of “head honcho” wanna-be's. I don't enjoy such dreams, but I don't always have much control over what my mind does while I am asleep. In this post, however, I will describe the kind of church I envision in my daydreams – in those wish-fulfillment fantasies over which I have control.

Each Christian, I am sure, has a conception of the sort of church of which he or she would like to be a member. These conceptions might all vary widely in outward details, while holding to the essentials of the Faith. Sometimes it's good to write down one's conceptions. Therefore, I am going to have a bit of fun and tell you all the sort of church I would like to walk into if I were going to church on Sunday.

The church of my dreams would have one and only one main meeting day, namely Sunday. This isn't to say that members couldn't get together spontaneously at other times to hang out, talk or do cool things together. It simply means that there would be only one day dedicated to formal meetings.

The first formal Sunday church activity would be worship. By worship I mean something very different from what is typically meant in modern evangelical circles, where “worship” is defined as an intense emotional experience. What I call worship is instead, a weekly ceremony of Christians presenting themselves to God for the following purposes (note the order in which they are listed):

  1. To formally and openly acknowledge that they are His people and that Christ is their King.

  2. To remind themselves of the nature of Him with Whom we have to do.

  3. To confess their sins and receive His forgiveness. The celebration of the Lord's Supper would be a big part of this.

  4. To hear His words to them.

  5. And last, to present their requests before Him.

By their regular participation in all the parts of this ceremony, the members of such a church would be making a weekly public declaration that they are God's people and that He is their Lord. Such a ceremony would be very similar in its message to what I used to experience when I was in the Army, where every weekday, we had a morning formation after we had physical training and breakfast. The purpose of the first official formation of the day was to present ourselves to our commanders in order to receive their orders. No matter what any particular soldier thought of first formation, or how it affected him emotionally, that ceremony was a constant objective reminder that we had become the property of the U.S. Government. You can bet that there were no commanders who were trying to make such a ceremony “seeker-sensitive”!

In the church of my dreams, music would be an integral part of our weekly “first formation.” But the songs sung would, for the most part, be songs of instruction which intelligently declared the majesty, mercy and holiness of the God to whom we were all drawing near. And they would all be free – in the public domain, with no royalties owed to anyone for their use, songs that could be freely sung in all settings, public and private. Notice that I didn't say anything about musical style. In the church of my dreams, the chief criterion for singing a hymn or song would be “Is it Scriptural (in other words, is it Biblically accurate)?”, followed very closely by, “Is it in the public domain?” In the church of my dreams, the musical style of worship would be something decided by all the members, and would be simply be a servant to the words of the songs, rather than getting in the way. What this would look like in practice might vary from church to church, however, depending on whether we're talking about the church of my dreams or the church of someone else's dreams.

Point number one in my list, the formal acknowledgment of God as our Lord and Christ as our King, would therefore involve singing of appropriate hymns or psalms. But it would also involve the weekly public, participatory reciting of the Apostles' Creed and/or the Nicene Creed. (Sorry about any Plymouth Brethren whom I just caused to flip out over this statement. Take two Advil and call me in the morning.) As far as hearing the Word of God, the church of my dreams would assign certain volunteers the weekly task of reading passages aloud from the Old and New Testaments during the service. The weekly readings would be designed to cover the entire Bible. This would take care of points two and four in my list. But I want to expand on this a bit more.

I have to admit that coming from the sort of strict abusive church in which I was involved, I am somewhat leery of having to listen to extended sermons by preachers, since I think that the longer a man talks, the more likely it is that he might be trying to manipulate his hearers rather than instructing them. So if I were to attend a church that looked like the church of my dreams, I would be content if the only form in which the Word was declared at first was simply the public reading of Scripture. (Of course, the readings would all have to come from a translation that is in the public domain.) But if such a church graduated from public reading to include a bit of expository preaching, that would be okay – just as long as no preacher was allowed to preach for longer than fifteen minutes! Such a restriction could even be included in the bylaws ;). I have a cousin who preaches in a black church in Ohio who has two favorite sayings: “Be brief, be enthusiastic, and be seated”, and “Stand to be seen. Speak to be heard. And sit down to be appreciated.” Can I hear an Amen to that?!

The entire ceremony of worship would be presided over by a leader (lector? cantor? worship leader? pastor, maybe) who was democratically elected by the entire congregation to serve for a limited time, and whose powers extended no further than presiding over the Sunday worship. (I also should mention that such a church might want to elect elders who again have limited powers and serve only for a limited term, and whose chief duty is to demonstrate godly behavior to the congregation.) The leader's duties would include leading the congregation in reciting the opening creeds, providing the readers with their cues to read at the appropriate times, presiding over the Lord's Supper, preaching (if the congregation deemed a time of preaching to be appropriate) and the closing prayer.

That closing prayer would be the time in which members made known their prayer requests and the leader made a public prayer for those prayer requests, closing with leading the congregation in the public recital of the Lord's Prayer. The last part of such a service would be the closing hymn, followed by an exhortation from the leader to the congregation to give generously to the Lord by giving to the poor wherever they may be found (there would be no offering plate). The entire ceremony would take an hour at the absolute maximum.

I can already hear someone saying “But what about Sunday school?!” I have an answer for that also. Right after the worship, there would be a Sunday school. But not your everyday, run-of-the-mill Sunday school. Rather, this Sunday school would be devoted to teaching the congregation the original languages of the Bible, namely, Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. Why teach these languages? Because knowing these languages would give individual members a powerful means of going directly to the source to understand what the Bible teaches, and would make them much less susceptible to those who would try to enslave them by distorting Scripture.

“But learning languages is hard! The church of your dreams is a church for eggheads!” I have an answer for that also. Think about it – none of us could talk or write when we were born, yet somehow we managed to pick up these skills without too much trouble. And consider all the immigrants, both legal and illegal who come to the U.S. from non-English speaking countries, yet who manage to learn English. Their pronunciation may not be perfect and their vocabulary may be limited, and native-born Americans may look down their noses at them, yet they are mastering a skill which most Americans don't have – the ability to master a foreign language. If they can do it, and if their kids can do it, it isn't as hard as some people think. Americans may just be lazy. Consider also that Hebrew children are taught Hebrew in synagogue, and most synagogues have classes in which novices can learn Hebrew. For that matter, there is at least one Russian Baptist or Pentecostal church near my house which teaches Russian to regular attenders.

There are also good public domain resources for learning Biblical Greek. One such resource is Greek in a Nutshell: An Outline of Greek Grammar, by James Strong, available online for free download at Another resource is A Brief Introduction to New Testament Greek, by Samuel G. Green. It too is available online for free download at (By the way, the church of my dreams would only use public domain resources for teaching Bible languages. This would not only prevent the church from having to pay copyright fees, but it would prevent the church from being hoodwinked by heretics like the Jehovah's Witnesses or the Mormons in their distortion of Scripture.)

The key to such a language class would be to make it fun and interactive, and especially for children, to make it a sort of game. And it could be seeker-sensitive in a good way, with coffee and munchies and a laid-back atmosphere. It too would be limited to no more than an hour or maybe an hour and a half at the most.

Speaking of fun, the church of my dreams would have lots of fun together. Members might decide to go to a local park, have a picnic, and jam together on musical instruments, playing anything they wanted. They (at least the more adventurous among them) might get together for extended overnight bicycle camping tours. They might do all sorts of things together. But they would not lord themselves over each other or be constantly looking for some ecclesiastical ladder to climb, since their organizational ladder would be no more than a few rungs tall, and those who got to climb the rungs would get their chance based on a democratic vote.

An Answer to City Business Church Regarding Biblical Infallibility

I have been following a recent discussion on the City Business Church blog regarding Biblical infallibility. A poster who goes by the handle of “Catalyst” asked, “Is the Bible Infallible?” His answer was “No,” because of a passage in Deuteronomy which commanded that rebellious, unrepentant children in Israel were to be stoned to death. The passage is quoted below:

“If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, who will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and, though they chasten him, will not listen to them; then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out to the elders of his city, and to the gate of his place; and they shall tell the elders of his city, 'This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard.' All the men of his city shall stone him to death with stones: so you shall put away the evil from the midst of you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear.” (Deuteronomy 21:18-21)

In his view, such treatment of children was never appropriate, and that a passage in the Bible which commanded such severe discipline was proof that the Bible was in error in some cases. Such an assertion brings up some interesting and fundamental points which must be addressed before anyone can begin to properly understand the Deuteronomy passage in question.

First, it must be noted that the City Business Church blog, like many other blogs, was born out of the experiences of individuals who were jacked by an abusive, exploitative evangelical church. The CBC blog, like many similar blogs, pointed out the contradictions between the behavior of church leaders and the Good Book they claimed to be following. The CBC blog, like many similar blogs, used these contradictions to condemn the behavior of abusive church leaders. The fact that their behavior violated the Scriptures became a basis for identifying that behavior as morally wrong.

But if the Bible is not infallible, then the case made by the CBC blog becomes rather shaky. If the Bible is not God's infallible Word, if some parts of the Bible are fallible, then on what basis do we decide which parts of the Bible are truth and which parts are error? Is John 3:16 possibly in error? Is the description of a righteous God in error? Are the four Gospel accounts of the death and resurrection of Christ in error? Is Genesis 1:1 in error? Are we living in a world in which, as John Lennon once sang, there really is no Heaven and no Hell? Who gets to tell us? What basis do they get to use to decide?

And what does that do to the case made by the CBC blog and similar blogs that asserted that the behavior of certain church leaders was clearly wrong because it clearly violated Scripture? I, for one, used a lot of Scriptures to make my point that the present American evangelical culture is on the wrong footing, because it is in error regarding its treatment of money, power and lust. I quoted the passage in Matthew where Christ clears the Temple of the moneychangers in my discussion of how the love of money has corrupted the worship of the Church. I quoted passages which condemned the oppression of the poor and the destruction of the earth in my indictment of the Religious Right. I quoted passages that condemned pride and leaders who lord themselves over their flocks in my indictment of certain individuals who become leaders solely to make their flocks into lamb chops.

But if parts of the Bible are actually fallible, maybe my case too is shaky. And what if the whole Bible is fallible? Then how do we decide what is objectively true? And what absolute, objective standard do we use to tell what is right and what is wrong? What if there is no such standard? Then people who are hurt by other people can say nothing more than “This hurts.” They may react in anger, but they cannot say, “What was done to me was wrong,” because there is no longer any objective, absolute standard of right and wrong. Consider cats in an alley – mother cats nursing their kittens may cause the kittens to realize that they are experiencing something pleasant. Cats who are squaring off and getting ready to throw blows over a turf dispute may feel all kinds of unpleasantness. Yet they have no framework for saying, “What's being done to me is right (or wrong).” People who reject an absolute moral standard are reduced to a universe of existential beastliness. In such a universe, I can't say that what was done to me in an abusive church is wrong. I can only say that it hurt a lot. Third World victims of Religious Right policies implemented by the U.S. government can only say that it hurt.

My case has been that the behavior of certain powerful figures in American evangelicalism is wrong, because it violates the Bible, because such behavior is condemned by the Bible. The evidence that the Bible is true in condemning this behavior is the hurt and damage caused by such behavior, yet I hold the Bible to be an absolute, objective standard of morality even when it condemns supposedly “victimless” crimes. Otherwise, I can't say that the people who used religion to hurt me did wrong in hurting me – I can only say that what they did hurt a lot.

If we accept the Bible as an infallible moral standard, the Deuteronomy passage becomes very easy to figure out. First, such a passage is a living, three-dimensional illustration of the Scriptural truth that the wages of sin is death. And there were many such commands in the Old Testament Law – commands which illustrated the terrible consequences of sin. Second, we note that there really is no mention of anyone in the Old Testament actually obeying the command to stone rebellious children. This is because Israel failed miserably in all points in keeping the Biblical Law. The failure of Israel to keep the Law meant that the whole nation was under a death sentence. Third, the failure of Israel to keep a righteous Law was a three-dimensional, living illustration of the sinfulness of the whole human race, which is under a death sentence because of sin. This is what necessitated the death and resurrection of Christ to provide a rescue from that death sentence for those who repent and believe in Him.

Christ Himself said, “Don't think that I came to destroy the law or the prophets. I didn't come to destroy, but to fulfill. For most certainly, I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not even one smallest letter or one tiny pen stroke shall in any way pass away from the law, until all things are accomplished.” (Matthew 5:17-18). And the Apostle Paul said, “Therefore the law indeed is holy, and the commandment holy, and righteous, and good.”

I assert my conviction that the Bible is wholly true and righteous and good, and utterly to be relied on. In short, infallible. As I have used the Bible as a basis for condemning modern day evangelical excess, I will continue to do so, and to point out the reasonableness of the life which the Bible actually commands. I hope I don't lose any readers over this, but if I do, “oh, well,” as they say.

Note: All Scripture quotations are taken from the World English Bible, a public domain translation. No royalties are owed to anyone for its use, and it may be freely quoted in all settings, public and private.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

A Nifty Blog Page on Religious Abuse

I just found a blog with a page titled, "'Authority' In Churches." It is a re-posting of a Web article by Bill Newcomer, in which he listed several words typically used by leaders of abusive churches, and the ways in which these words are used. It appears that Mr. Newcomer escaped from an "elder-led" (actually, elder-ruled) church typical of many that are springing up now in evangelicalism. Funny how even though such churches are not as outwardly weird as the Geftakys Assemblies - my old abusive group - the language and tactics of control and domination remain the same. Anyway, the blog page is