My Ecclesiastic Past in Excrutiating Detail

I often make reference to the bad experiences that I had as a Protestant, so it’s only fair that I detail what those experiences were and what I make of them now. Keep in mind, although I know that not all Protestant churches are as self-glorifying, nonsensical, and downright un-Christian as some of the churches I’ve attended, I believe that the foundation of Protestantism, that is the rejection of earthly authority combined with a reliance on an individual’s spirituality or intelligence (either your own or that of the pastor or theologian you esteem), naturally and necessarily gives birth to this kind of Christianity. That said, I warn everyone, this is a long ‘un.

The first church I remember attending was a Word of Faith church when I was about four years old. The only things I really remember from that church are the orange tic-tacs the pastor’s wife used to give me and this really odd experience in Sunday school. A visiting guitarist told us that we had to speak in tongues as evidence that we were really saved and had the Holy Spirit living in us. I was encouraged to just open my mouth and start talking in my private tongues language. I could not and would not. As a result, for years I thought my salvation was in jeopardy. Recently I told my mom about this and she was horrified, wondering why I had never said anything earlier. Then she related an experience with that church that I don’t remember. At some point I no longer wanted to attend my Sunday school class, so my mom came in with me to see what was wrong. She found the Sunday school workers were rebuking the kids in the name of Jesus when we did something wrong! My mom took this up with the pastors and they stopped. Already, by the age of five, I had experienced abuses in Protestantism from individuals using their own interpretations.

We moved, and so joined an Assembly of God church. The only thing I remember from this church is that I wasn’t given the role I wanted in the church production. I remember I wanted a dancing part, but my sister warned me not to try for it since she knew the daughter and friend of the Sunday school leader would get the part. I stubbornly refused and tried to be a dancer. I ended up as an extra angel while my sister was proved right. Although this isn’t of great theological import and nepotism is a human frailty, it occurs again and again in different Protestant churches. It makes you see a little wisdom in mandatory celibacy for priests. This church split when the AG board wanted to appoint one pastor and half the congregation wanted another one. My family left with the schismatics, but we moved again soon after to join the church that would be the bane of my adolescence.

I will mention specifics with regard to this church, because I don’t know if the breadth of the issues involved can be understood otherwise. After our move, we joined Metro Christian Fellowship (which was previously called Kansas City Fellowship and then Metro Vineyard Fellowship) because my uncle went there. This church was led by Mike Bickle, a good man on the whole, but highly inexperienced and easily misled. He was under John Wimber and closely involved with Paul Cain and the Kansas City Prophets. The goings on in this church are hard to describe for anyone who has not seen them, but I’ll do my best.

There is a charismatic Pentecostal end times revival movement which believes that a recent renewal of the gifts of the Spirit has occurred after an extended period in history during which they were absent. These gifts include speaking in tongues, prophecy, healing, etc. This particular movement has been dubbed “charismatic renewal” by Hank Hanegraaf and is familiar in the sensationalism of those like Benny Hinn. For a full history of its sordid past, I recommend Hank Hanegraaf’s Counterfeit Revival. The character of those involved is decidedly not Christian and the basis of many of their beliefs are heretical. For example, William Branham rebaptized his followers in the name of Christ only and denied the Trinity. Metro Christian Fellowship was deeply mired in charismatic renewal revivalism and intimately connected with Joel’s Army and Latter Rain beliefs.

Joel’s Army (Joel 2) is the army that God will raise in the end times to be victorious over those who oppose God’s church – literally in battle. The Latter Rain movement emphasizes a restoration of Christ’s church in the end times. They believe the five fold ministry of prophets, apostles, teachers, pastors, and healers as well as the unity of the church will be restored in the last days for a “great harvest of souls”. There are also other beliefs that did not come into my experience as much so I will not belabor those points here. All in all, theology didn’t really enter into things at Metro. Everything was very experience driven. They would call on the Holy Spirit in order to “experience” God in a personal way. They claimed God was “loving on” His church and filling them up with the Spirit to get them ready for end times revivals and trials. They repeatedly encouraged people to abandon reason and so open themselves up more to the Holy Spirit. This “experiencing the Spirit” manifested as uncontrollable laughing or crying, being “slain in the Spirit” or falling flat on the ground unmoving, strange demonstrations such as barking like a dog, convulsing, visions, miraculous healings that I never saw, and prophetic words that were never verified, among other things. I went to the private school under this church for a year, and they occasionally stopped classes to accommodate the “movement of the Holy Spirit”. I can remember a classmate of mine describing a vision she had of a beautiful flower, although later she admitted faking it.

Although many people do admit faking it, there are many that are sincere in these manifestations. They either sincerely experience nothing, like I did, or they sincerely experience the more bizarre behaviors. Of course, as a young person who was told that this was the power of God, it didn’t occur to me that there could be another explanation. An alternate explanation is that these people worked themselves up into a frenzy. They repeat phrases, verses, and songs over and over waiting for the Holy Spirit until people start manifesting. I think the brain is wired to slip into an altered mental state when you concentrate in such a suggestive way. The effects are similar to those of kundalini awakenings brought on by Hindu gurus. To be clear, as I have been misunderstood before, I am not suggesting that these Christians tapped into their shakras and experienced awakening. I am suggesting that in both cases people abused their bodies and minds in such a way as to induce an altered mental state that may be physically, mentally, and emotionally damaging. For more information on these practices, I again recommend Counterfeit Revival.

I don’t know what to think about the authenticity of the Holy Spirit moving in such a manner and whether or not God touches people through such practices. God moves in mysterious and frightening ways, like at Pentecost, and He is certainly capable of prostrating us forcibly in His presence. But He never moves in a useless or detrimental way. I do know that in my experience, and in those associated with this particular movement (like the Toronto Blessing, the Pensacola Outpouring, or the most recent Lakeland Revival), sensationalism has been used to gain an audience rather than edify the body of Christ. It has been used for renown, financial gain, and personal satisfaction. As a result, Christians focus less on Christ and more on the spiritual superstar on stage and the fantastic experiences they’re chasing. Christians end up feeling abandoned, used, misguided, and distrustful from broken promises while the superstars move on to their latest ministry project. Two banners used to hang at Metro, one said “Passion for Jesus” and the other “Compassion for People” and both mission statements fell short. Little pastoring and fellowship occurs in the charismatic end times revival scene. That does not sound like God’s work to me.

Whatever the origin of such manifestations, I abstained from them. I was determined not to prevent God from doing such things with me, but never to force it. As a result, nothing happened. It’s strange. I felt less spiritual than those around me who performed and were prophesied over. There was an uber-spiritual in-crowd at Metro which they liked to call “forerunners”, usually staff members and their families, and it was understood that they were really spiritual and God was doing something in their lives. I grew to despise them and yet still felt inferior to them for some reason. I was an every day Christian, and as such did not fit in. There was little room in the missions of this church for those who just go to work and school, go home, and do so for the Lord. Never was a sermon preached on how to live like Christ. With such little content to find there, my sister and I began skipping out on the sermons, which could run nearly two hours in length, and opted instead to visit the nearby McDonald’s or hang out on the train tracks. I drifted further away from church, aided by a youth ministry with ever-changing leaders leaving to fulfill their own private mission. It didn’t help that the pastor’s sons would have keggers on Saturday night and try to lead us all in the Spirit of the Lord on Sunday morning.

We were perpetually promised revival, miracles, and greatness and it all fell flat. I remember once tagging along with my parents to a home group focused on growing in the prophetic. There was a woman there who was prophesied over. She was told that her desire to be a leader instead of a follower, and to not be just another one of God’s sheep, would be fulfilled. I was about ten years old at the time, and I can remember thinking, “What’s wrong with just being God’s sheep? We can’t all be leaders. They’re just telling her what she wants to hear. I don’t want to be a leader. I want to be His sheep.”

My attendance lagged until Mike Bickle left Metro Christian Fellowship starting the International House of Prayer in an effort to revive the old practice of “contemplative” prayer. He repeatedly praises the Catholic Church for their prayerful practices, which he is often criticized for doing because, as we all know, nothing good can come from Catholics! His contemplative prayer bears little resemblance to the traditional Catholic prayers though. There is a difference between repeated prayers during which you contemplate God’s glory and His mysterious and put forth your petitions, and repeated short phrases or verses that are chanted while you clear your mind and try to force the appearance and manifestation of the Holy Spirit. So I believe the kind of contemplative prayer committed at IHOP is tailored by repetitiveness to induce hyper-suggestible states like those seen above. When Mike Bickle left for IHOP, Metro Christian Fellowship split three ways. There was a remnant that remained “Metro Christian Fellowship”, another group left with Mike to attend the church at IHOP, and a third group dispersed but a majority of these joined Christ Triumphant Church, or CTC.

I feel violated by the things that happened at Metro, because nobody stopped it. There were no leaders that said “This is not of God!” or kept the church grounded in reality. There was no tradition that said “Return of the gifts? They didn’t go anywhere!” There was no one to correct the pastors, because Protestants have done away with earthly authority. There is nothing protecting Christians from such abuses. The Bible was used to back up everything these people had to say, and so it was proved to me first hand that the Bible can be misused to support ungodly things and its meaning can be twisted to attain the ends of those who interpret it. I can’t just escape to Catholicism out of reaction to a bad experience. However, these bad experiences prove to me that Protestantism invites abuses by the very nature in which it began – that is, the spirit of self-reliance and skeptical inquiry which bucks authority.

After the congregation at Metro dispersed, my parents went searching through several churches to find one that was “alive” with the Holy Spirit and was a “good fit” for them. Among these was a Word of Faith church I attended only once. For a time, my parents settled at CTC, but my brother, sister, and I refused to go to any church as insincere and flamboyant as Metro. In an effort to lure us back, they tried to find a more conservative atmosphere. This led them to a non-denominational, start-up church that began meeting in the local theater until they gained enough of a following to fund their own building. At this time, Chris and I were engaged, so he had the privileged of attending there for a time. Then, a man from Metro started his own church (a fourth spin off), and my parents have settled there. Although this final church has refrained from the flamboyant end times revivalism found at Metro, the formula is the same: upbeat music for an hour, allowing for the Holy Spirit to guide them, and an hour from the pastor on his latest personal revelations. I do like this pastor, he even married my husband and I, and he preaches more on the every day level than the revivalists, but I felt that there was something fundamentally lacking. I don’t think God’s church should look like a personal effort on the part of the pastor, which is what Protestantism has become. The vitality of a church depends on the pastor’s preaching and ability to gain a following. From a lack of oversight, experience, and unity, Protestants have lost their effectiveness. The “word of God is living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword” (Heb 4:12) and it should not be ineffective.

Going back in my story to shortly after Metro scattered and while my parents church shopped, I left town for college. For a time, I avoided churches altogether and it was just “me and my Bible under a tree”. I never believed God wants us to be self-sufficient and so I eventually built up the courage to find a “good church”, though I was incredibly gun shy after the mess I had been through. I started rather small, and attended a start-up church near my college. The atmosphere was stale and I felt like crawling out of my skin rather than returning the plastic smiles of those around me. I then attempted an Assembly of God church that a friend of a friend took us to. First we went to the young adult Bible study, which wasn’t bad. Then we went to the Sunday service, though I should probably call it a Sunday exhibition. Their services were televised and the church was so massive that they had giant television screens so the people in the back could see. Not only that, but there was a camera crew roaming around on stage getting power shots of the pastor and worship team. That was more conducive to worshiping the pastor than to worshiping God.

I ended up in another Assembly of God church that was much more conservative. The pastor at this church was a good speaker and had his doctorate in physics to boot. I loved being able to relate to his off the wall references and intellectual approaches to things. I attended the Young Adults group, befriending a couple really great girls and we formed a Bible study. I was in a relatively good place when I met Chris, and wasn’t expecting to be derailed from my new found security.

Through my investigations into history, theology, Catholicism, and Protestantism, I now believe that my experiences were the inevitable result of the fundamental principles of Protestantism. Hilaire Belloc wrote countless books discussing this including Survivals and New Arrivals and The Great Heresies. He believed that Protestants took the Catholic teaching that Scripture is God-breathed and turned it against the Church, elevating Scripture to a thing worthy of worship, therefore initially practicing Bible literalism and self-reliance, which necessarily led to self-contradictions and self-worship, which then devolved in not knowing who to believe and what the Bible meant at all. He believed the next step is a completely subjective religion, neo-Paganism, of which we see the fruits every day. Belloc lived and died before the charismatic renewal movement, and I wonder how he could see, over 75 years ago, that people would begin to ignore even Scripture and rely on their personal experience of God to lead them.

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22 Responses to My Ecclesiastic Past in Excrutiating Detail

  1. tap says:

    Dave Armstrong Has a couple of ‘posts’ on Erasmus warning Luther of essentially the same thing. Don’t know if you’ve seen that.

  2. Chad Toney says:

    Are you still in KC? I do and came into the church here almost 3 years ago from an evangelical background.

  3. Chad Toney says:

    Are you still in KC? I do and came into the church here almost 3 years ago from an evangelical background.

  4. Chad Toney says:

    “I do” should be “I am”. lol

  5. Stacey says:

    Hey tap,

    I couldn’t find the references. Do you remember which post it was? And here, I thought I was being original 🙂

    Chad,

    Yep, we’re still in KC, but on the Kansas side. Are you familiar with the Metro/IHOP crowd?

  6. Stacey says:

    Hey tap,

    I couldn’t find the references. Do you remember which post it was? And here, I thought I was being original 🙂

    Chad,

    Yep, we’re still in KC, but on the Kansas side. Are you familiar with the Metro/IHOP crowd?

  7. Chad Toney says:

    I live in MO and work in KS. Been here for about 4 years.

    I’ve heard of IHOP, but that’s about it. Last year, an aquaintance was telling me about it, how he came to KC to experience it, etc. I carried on a conversation with him for few minutes, the whole time thinking he was talking about the restaurant. Good times!

  8. Stacey says:

    Chad,

    LOL

  9. Stacey says:

    Chad,

    LOL

  10. tap says:

    Stacey, on the front page on his blog, he has about 7 “Luther Meets His Match” articles. If you scroll down past the initial article about Candles.

    You might be most interested in Part 6

  11. Fred says:

    What a wild journey. I think I saw an IHOP in St. Joe once…

  12. Fred says:

    What a wild journey. I think I saw an IHOP in St. Joe once…

  13. Rhology says:

    Stacey,

    Your experience breaks my heart, since I came out of similar circumstances. I was not raised charismatic but when God first saved me, I started attending my high school Christian group and there were Stacey,

    Your experience breaks my heart, since I came out of similar circumstances. I was not raised charismatic but when God first saved me, I started attending my high school Christian group and there were guys there who were really on-fire for Jesus and taught me a lot about shining for Him and not being afraid living holy and prayer. They also taught me to speak in tongues, and at their pr meetings I experienced sp in tongues, holy laughter, and being slain in the Spirit. I also witnessed the phenomenon of their being drunk in the Spirit. Thought it was all good, an outpouring of the Spirit in these last days, and I praised God for it. But I began to realise as I struggled with charismatics’ general flirtation with Word of Faith that sthg wasn’t right. I never accepted WoF doctrine, nor the idea that it was OK for the preacher or worship leader to speak in tongues into the microphone without interp, which happened all but one time (and the one time I saw the tongues interped, it was a banal, bland message that any Rick Warren wannabe could have ‘proclaimed’ with one second’s preparation).

    I am also saddened personally to hear about your time spent with Mike Bickle. A former friend (Cherie) of my wife (Aubrey) goes way back with her. Cherie fell in with the IHOP people, and my wife was beginning to come out of charismaticism, shortly after I had come out of it myself. My wife and Cherie had long talks about it, and they could get sometimes crying-emotional (not really angry-emotional) but were never what I’d call heated. But one day Cherie just up and called Aubrey and said that they can’t be friends anymore, b/c Aubrey by virtue of her trying to convince Cherie that these IHOP phenomena weren’t of God. Boom. That rift has endured to this day, more or less. Why? B/c IHOP is a pretty cultic sectarian group. In short, a great deal of what you have experienced is not even close to biblical. For an example of biblical dealing with such questions, I suggest you consult MacArthur’s “Charismatic Chaos” or Hanegraaff’s “Counterfeit Revival”, not Rome Says So.
    My friend David Bryan’s testimony includes a fair amount of the same stuff, though he had more solid grounding in the Bible than you did in general. What I’m saying is that you’ve only tasted biblical church a little, and yet you’re ready to give up on it for the sake of circular appeals to a church who teaches unbiblical doctrine and oversteps its bounds in so many areas. I ask you to reconsider.

    Peace,
    Rhology

  14. Stacey says:

    Rhology,

    I like you much better when you’re sincere and personable than when you’re engaging in fine point banter 🙂 Thank you for your sympathy. I’m glad that you’ve found your way out of that mind trip that can be the charasmatic scene and I’m very sorry to hear about your wife’s friend. I never really heard much of people doing that, but then again, most of the people I knew were involved in it, so they wouldn’t have. It’s hard to count how many people have been hurt by the IHOP/Bickle movement, as I keep meeting more all the time. It just makes me feel sick in the pit of my stomach.

    My grounding in the Bible was pretty good from my home life. Somehow (I have no idea how), my parents managed to avoid the graver evils found in the charasmatic circles. Maybe it’s because they were both raised Lutheran and saved in a Baptist church. I see what you’re saying, Rhology, but I’m convinced that although Lutherans and Baptists and Calvinists may be better than the non-denominational mayhem out there, they still lead to it. Don’t worry, I’m convinced of Catholicism, but taking it slow. I will test it with time, and I’m trying to throw the best stuff you guys have at it to see if the Church still stands.

    I do wish you would stop saying that Catholics teach unbiblical doctrine. I asked you before only to say such things if they’re pertinent and backed up. On my blog, at least, please use the words “extra-biblical” unless you truly mean un-biblical.

  15. Stacey says:

    Rhology,

    I like you much better when you’re sincere and personable than when you’re engaging in fine point banter 🙂 Thank you for your sympathy. I’m glad that you’ve found your way out of that mind trip that can be the charasmatic scene and I’m very sorry to hear about your wife’s friend. I never really heard much of people doing that, but then again, most of the people I knew were involved in it, so they wouldn’t have. It’s hard to count how many people have been hurt by the IHOP/Bickle movement, as I keep meeting more all the time. It just makes me feel sick in the pit of my stomach.

    My grounding in the Bible was pretty good from my home life. Somehow (I have no idea how), my parents managed to avoid the graver evils found in the charasmatic circles. Maybe it’s because they were both raised Lutheran and saved in a Baptist church. I see what you’re saying, Rhology, but I’m convinced that although Lutherans and Baptists and Calvinists may be better than the non-denominational mayhem out there, they still lead to it. Don’t worry, I’m convinced of Catholicism, but taking it slow. I will test it with time, and I’m trying to throw the best stuff you guys have at it to see if the Church still stands.

    I do wish you would stop saying that Catholics teach unbiblical doctrine. I asked you before only to say such things if they’re pertinent and backed up. On my blog, at least, please use the words “extra-biblical” unless you truly mean un-biblical.

  16. Christopher says:

    Stacy,
    Christopher here another Olathe Catholic!

    Chad linked me to your blog, This was such a powerful post, and such an account is something that I can only grasp from a cradle Catholic standpoint.

    I often see all the protestant communities in the area and I am so confused as to how they all come and go This post has given me some insight I think.

    My Ex-Supervisor was very much involved with the IHOP crowd and we would discuss it from time to time – he would always be streaming the prayer room.

    I will be following this blog from here on out and will add you to my blogroll on mine soon!

    God Bless you

    Christopher

  17. Ragamuffin says:

    Wow, Stace. What a mess. I was in the Pentecostal/Charismatic arena for about 14 years. The AG church I was in for about 11 of years never quite got into the full blown nuttiness you described, but there were touches of it. The “holy laughter” stuff and things like that. But where it mainly came in was just in a grassroots fashion among the congregants. There were a handful of people who were always chasing after the latest revival fad and reading crazy books. I generally steered clear of them.

    The non-denom charismatic church I attended was the straw that broke it for me. At first it was an oasis of good theological teaching, but it quickly devolved into services that gave the direct impression that God only “showed up” if people were falling out in the aisles and stuff like that all the time. I ran.

    Which bring me to my question. After all those crazy experiences, when you went off to college and decided to dip your toe back in the water of attending church, why did you go back into that realm? When I figured out I’d had my fill of the Sunday morning circus, I landed at a Presbyterian church for a year and a half and then at a non-denominational, non-charismatic one for the next six years until we moved to a new town. And that was with a much tamer situation than what you had. So how did you work up the nerve to go back to an AG church after all you’d seen? Because I don’t know where I’ll end up on this whole Catholic issue, but I do know where I won’t be: anywhere near the Pentecostal/charismatic movement again. Once a lifetime is plenty.

  18. Stacey says:

    Ragamuffin,

    I had a really weird mindset, and wanted a contemporary, engaging church to attend. Maybe from my parents I had a view of more traditional Protestant churches (like Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, or Lutherans) as being theologically “okay”, but really boring and “dead” in the Spirit. My parents attended that last AG church I mentioned that I really liked, and they thought it was rather dull and traditional, although liked the choir! So the more traditional churches were completely off my radar. Imagine me being dragged kicking and screaming into Catholic liturgy!

  19. Stacey says:

    Ragamuffin,

    I had a really weird mindset, and wanted a contemporary, engaging church to attend. Maybe from my parents I had a view of more traditional Protestant churches (like Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, or Lutherans) as being theologically “okay”, but really boring and “dead” in the Spirit. My parents attended that last AG church I mentioned that I really liked, and they thought it was rather dull and traditional, although liked the choir! So the more traditional churches were completely off my radar. Imagine me being dragged kicking and screaming into Catholic liturgy!

  20. James says:

    Stacey,

    Now I feel all left out because everyone else seems to have some story or experience with the Charismatic Movement. I’ve heard that there are aficionados of it within the Catholic Church but I don’t have any real first-hand knowledge.

    The closest I came was about a dozen years ago when the parish youth group went to a water park. Beforehand we went to “St. Tim’s” for the LifeTeen mass. What a freaky experience. The lady next to me looked like she was having a seizure standing up and there was a lot of hand holding and such. Still, nothing close to the weirdness you described.

    Ah well, I was just feeling left-behind. :p

    James G

  21. James says:

    Stacey,

    Now I feel all left out because everyone else seems to have some story or experience with the Charismatic Movement. I’ve heard that there are aficionados of it within the Catholic Church but I don’t have any real first-hand knowledge.

    The closest I came was about a dozen years ago when the parish youth group went to a water park. Beforehand we went to “St. Tim’s” for the LifeTeen mass. What a freaky experience. The lady next to me looked like she was having a seizure standing up and there was a lot of hand holding and such. Still, nothing close to the weirdness you described.

    Ah well, I was just feeling left-behind. :p

    James G

  22. Stacey says:

    James,

    Don’t worry, you haven’t missed anything worth experiencing!

    Yes, I’ve heard of the charismatic movement in Catholicism, and am trying to look into it more. It is distinct from the Protestant non-denominational movement in that it has roots and grounded theology and there seems to be a big lack of individual superstars and that “theology of glory” as James Swan calls it. It’s kind of disturbing to me, because I have such an emotionally violent reaction against these things now. I know about Pentecost and that God uses gifts like prophecy and speaking in tongues, and of course I believe that God heals! Still, I don’t know what to think of the movement and the genuineness of the spiritual gifts as a commonplace occurrence. I suppose I should look into it more before I judge it though. Does anyone else know anything about it?

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