I listened yesterday to a message by a well-known pastor of a mega-church who has been and is in the highest places in his Christian denomination. Speaking to a conference crowd, this preacher must have felt the pressure to wow his audience and create an emotional surge of Jesus goose bumps.
I only caught a few portions of his message.
In the first portion I heard, he was setting up his topic. He said that Christians should all be ashamed that we cannot tell when someone in our midst, especially a leader, is secretly leading a life of sin. (I didn’t think it was a secret: we are all leading lives of sin).
No, he didn’t mean that we should be such good friends with people that we can tell when they are going astray. He meant that we are spiritual people and should be able to spiritually (magically?) determine when someone has a porn-surfing problem, or when a Sunday School teacher is addicted to alcohol, and so on and so forth. After all, he said, don’t we have the Holy Spirit and if we are so spiritual, shouldn’t we be able to tell?
I was already a bit turned off, so I went back to meeting and greeting people in the vendor area.
Later I came back and heard another portion. The speaker was screaming his message now, apparently hoping his audience was whooped into an emotional frenzy (didn’t seem like it was working to me).
He said, “I DARE you, I DOUBLE-DOG dare you,” (ah, the days of childish dialogue on the playground came back to my mind), “next time you are tempted to sin, REBUKE it in the NAME OF JESUS. It’s a power that only believers have. The power (magic?) is in the name.”
I looked at this man in his sixties, supposedly a veteran and a statesman of his Christian denomination and I was deeply saddened.
I mean, in the charismatic movement, these kind of magical, hocus-pocus silver bullet solutions get thrown around a lot (slaying in the Spirit, Holy Laughter, animal noises in the Spirit, rebuking everything in sight, finding and eliminating generational curses, finding blessing by sending “seed” money to a televangelist, and even the miracle of gold dust and gold fillings).
But this was the Baptist world. I expected scripture. The scriptural text was from the “Old Testament,” which fits well with the message because the “Old Testament” is usually interpreted allegorically, typologically, and/or symbolically anyway in these venues so it can mean whatever the speaker wants it to mean.
The temptation is there in a flagging Christianity to increase excitement with inane fluff and vacuous sensationalism. The need for ever-increasing excitement and interest no doubt lulls spiritual leaders into trying to out-do one another with teachings that seem powerful or spiritual or to offer some kind of magical help.
Well, I do hope this isn’t a sign of a trend in the life of the churches. I hope we’re not going to see an increase in formulaic malarkey.
What we need is not power or tricks of the trade. We need what we have always needed: love and the instruction of God, which are the two elements that will enable us to work with God, redeeming and healing hurts in this world as we look forward to the world to come. The kingdom of God is at hand and we need to repent and believe, not rebuke and take charge.