So I’ve been working on a statement to mark my position and this is it:
I think I ought to start somewhere.
Can I explain how I’ve got to where I am?
Yes. I can, but only with reference to where I’ve come from.
Where have I come from?
This might get tricky in-as-much-as I might open the odd can-of-worms. I was brought up in a house where going to church was the usual thing to do. It was the thing which others did. My maternal grandmother had a substantial faith and I think this was passed on, in some way, to my mother, who never really embraced it. We lived in a small village. It was considered usual for the community to go to church and to get children baptised there. I also attended Sunday school but, once again, it never really felt like a part of our life which was truly important. I also attended church-parade as part of the scout group but this too was very much a ‘process’ rather than anything that was born out of a faith in God. There was clearly an acknowledgement of the divine in both cases but this was not something which was to be considered as anything which really mattered. Eventually I became a part of the choir and was an altar servant for the sacrament. This was quite a ‘high’ Anglican parish church.
I was thus very much a part of church culture for a good number of years. At senior school I was part of the ‘Christian union’ but this was a short lived association and was quickly put aside when more attractive offers were presented to me. I’m going to be honest and state that I did not have any true faith at this point and would have happily denied my faith if that was what was required to preserve my image.
This position continued until I was at University. There I, once again, rededicated my life and tried to become more involved with the Christian Union but I found it extremely hard to draw myself away from other pleasures. For the most part this was alcohol, but this was not the only thing. For another thing, I dropped away from church attendance and up to my leaving for University, I had attended the same Anglican church in the same small village for all my formative years.
I met my wife just over a year later and I am convinced that she saved my life. Only God could have put her there. I attended church again (I would have said ‘we’ but she was already doing this) and eventually arranged to be married. She was the lead for this. She was studying education with theology and had a more solid grounding in faith and church life than I had. We became engaged. I stopped drinking large amounts of alcohol almost overnight and was generally a lot straighter in my actions and thoughts.
This set the pattern for the next twenty five years or so. My wife had a grounding in the Baptist / evangelical tradition and I, initially, brought her into the Anglican tradition. As we moved around the country, we gradually gravitated toward the baptist churches apart from a, rather long, association with a free-gospel hall fellowship. I was a person who went to the church, heard the message, understood the message but did not seal it into my heart. I could not do this. There was too much I wished to hide from God and, in my broken mind, that meant not engaging with church in a wholehearted way. This was all despite organising church events, helping out with looking after visiting speakers, doing works of service and being a regular attending person. I guess that I always was someone who had the best interests of myself and the church at heart but could not quite , in all honesty, be whole in Christ. I sang the songs and heard the word but I was far from God and it wasn’t there in my heart.
I realise that I have to keep ‘on task’ and make this about my spiritual life and not my whole life as there are many factors which could be talked about in order that I explain why I couldn’t be the kind of person I thought as someone who attended a church.
In 2012 I finally gave in and became baptised as an adult. I had been baptised as a child and gradually became more convicted that what I needed to do was to become baptised as an adult.
One member of the church I was attending at the time of my baptism stated that Satan would be at work to undo the work of the baptism. It was a warning
He wasn’t wrong
In late 2012 my wife suffered a considerable personal trauma. I had no idea why this happened and I struggled to come to terms with it. It may seem selfish and thoughtless to use that as my reference point but the simple truth is that I had a problem and I didn’t know why. In truth, there was a lot which I struggled to come to terms with and I sought professional help to deal with it. During the initial counselling sessions I eventually brought out a matter which turned out to be the, very real, problem underpinning the spiritual state in which I found myself. This required a deal of specialist therapy and has required ongoing care to this day. I am still very much in need of help and it is likely I will always require some form of help and I can never be complacent.
During the process of rebuilding a sense of who-I-am and discovering my true identity, I spent time with a small fellowship /self help group. It was within the honesty and humility of that group that I found the nature of God, or rather He found me. I then understood what everyone who knows God understands.
What unfolded over the next while was a gradual and deeper understanding of myself and what I had been missing out on for a very long time. It is a process which is ongoing and I can’t yet see an end point and nor does there need to be one.
When I moved to my current address 6 years ago I started to attend a Baptist church and initially the teaching was sound and the church was very much a traditional place to worship. In early 2013 the senior pastor resigned suddenly. The assistant pastor stepped up to the role and, with help from others, led the church into a period of change, the aim of which was to appoint a new senior pastor. Over the ensuing period his evangelical and forward-looking approach was rejected by the membership of the church in favour of trying to preserve a way of doing church which appeared to be based rather more on changing nothing. The voting structure was rearranged in a political manner in order that the bar be set too high to allow the assistant pastor to be appointed into the senior role. I attended a meeting where there was, quite obvious, manipulation of those attending to prevent appointment of the assistant pastor to that role. At this point I decided that I could not be a part of an organisation which was so openly divisive, un-supportive, and, quite frankly, un-Christian. However, I would not move until the time was shown to me. This became obvious on the Remembrance Sunday in 2015 and I exited shortly after that.
God then led me to a Pentecostal church in the City centre and I honestly thought I had it right but this was early days and I was eventually led to another Pentecostal church closer to where I lived. This seemed like it was the obvious place to be. It was busy, active and had a varied congregation including many of my own age and gender. I was quickly encouraged to ‘partner’ with the church and this I did. It may well be that I did this too quickly. Over the following 16months I found much to be content with, but in retrospect I understand that what I was seeking was a level of affirmation of my choices and a way for someone else to deliver to me a pre-packed form of Christianity which suited my biases. However, at the same time I found some things in the culture with which I was not comfortable and were in contravention of my values and internal belief structure. A full explanation of that sentence would take a lot of time and space and I need to get along.
In essence the issues are:
- A validation of the Bethel church based at Redding in California. Primarily this validation was evidenced in the, almost exclusive, use of their music in worship. The worship songs are quite often theologically ‘thin’ and most often centred on the worshipper rather than God. Even the songs which appear to be directed at God are more often than not directed toward earth. This lack of reverence for God and his position is a massive stumbling block for me. Paying for the licensing of this music is overt support and that is where the problem lies
- The reliance on ‘feeling’ and emotion based engagement with Church
- A distinct lack of any depth or substance to the preaching
- Preaching which has more emphasis on socio-political attributes, application and ethos rather than anything biblical. This, for me, represents an anti-intellectual stance. Jesus is mentioned but it seems almost as an afterthought.
- Not impressed at all with the book-promotion tour of an author associated with the church. This is commercialisation of Christianity and it really sucks.
- An industrial approach to Church which mimics the marketplace and workplace. We are called to be counter-cultural not capitalist.
- The return of a church member from attending the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry was affirmed and applauded. This is further validation of a type of church with which I cannot be associated. This school is not properly validated and some of the methods espoused are questionable at the very least if not outright heretical.
- why not Bethel? Kris Vallotton is a major proponent of ‘Prosperity gospel’ and his own words back this up. This is not a matter of opinion. This is fact. This is abhorrent teaching.
- Why not Bethel? Theophostic counselling, a discredited method of psychotherapy which has the potential to cause great long-term harm and the church I was attending was using this method in their ‘prayer room’ sessions.
- Why not Bethel? The church validates Benny Hinn as a good person of ministry and this person is well known to be corrupt and unbecoming of a minister. There is plenty of primary evidence for this. Whilst I understand that we are human and have human attributes and that the church is made of up of humans, there are limits beyond which I am not prepared to venture. I have a boundary and I’d like to try to maintain that boundary.
- The nature of Bethel as a church which has removed itself from any over-seeing denominational structure. It was formerly a member of the AOG (which is acceptable and sound) but now sets out on its own terms under the loose affiliation of the NAR movement.
- The NAR arose from the ashes of, the toxic, shepherding movement of the 70s and 80s and therefore its foundations are suspect to say the least.
- Churches of the type of those found in the NAR movement act more like cults than churches and many of the characteristics of a cult may be found in Bethel. I am satisfied as to the depth of my personal investigation and the veracity of those from whom I have chosen to accept informations in this regard.
You might reasonably state that the church I attend is not Bethel Redding but I would counter this by noting that by validating Bethel, it is firmly aligning itself with the values of Bethel and that is where I must draw the line. It is my view that the current trend in Evangelical Christianity is creating a narcissistic view of spiritual matters and a wholly un-Biblical environment where questions,doubt and proper deep consideration are cast aside in favour of an easy-to-digest, spoon fed, emotion based ‘experience’.
After saying to myself that I would not be ‘drawn’ into argument, I did find myself making some of these justifications to the senior pastor of the church. He, rightly, pointed out that I should look at the ‘fruit’ of the church and its people. That may be so, but the underpinning values are, to me, very important. I have no desire to be drawn deeper into a system which ‘may’ be OK but runs counter to my value system.
I have to be passionate about these things and additionally I’ve no desire to discuss them in any depth with those who may be adversely affected by anything I say. I have no desire to cause offence and I do not wish to spread dissent or division and it is therefore better that I step aside and let them get on with things. They do not need me holding them back. They have a trajectory and I can’t be on it. The senior pastor asked if I’d talked it through with others in the church and for the reasons just stated I’ve no desire to do that. Neo-Pentecostalism is not for me. I must also point out that I’m quite happy to be ‘wrong’. This does not present me with any kind of epistemic crisis and I’m comfortable with that.
Does this mean that I have rejected Christianity? Not at all! I’m simply making a move to ask those questions which are often thought about but remain un-asked.