Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Holier Than Thou vs. Holier Than You

As we saw in my last post the latest round of revivalist expectancy is linked to the Bay of Holy Spirit movement, a movement that has prophesied revival in Norwich. This prophecy has now passed its sell by date, but expectancy of revival remains high amongst these revivalists.

One must first put this whole matter in perspective: The churches who have identified themselves with this latest “move of God” are just one of the many Christian splinters to be found in Norwich; in fact I don’t think of them as mainstream, if indeed such a thing as “mainstream” can be defined given that the normal state of Christian affairs is one of its eggs being distributed over many baskets.

Setting the scene for the purposes of this post, however, is this article on the ecumenical Christian web site Network Norwich and Norfolk. Posted toward the end of 2010 it gave me my first alert that a new prophecy pertaining to Norwich was in the offing. The article attracted the comments from a critic called “Way Truth Life Seeker” who is attached to yet another of Norwich’s many Christian splinter groups; but more about that later. 

What I want to look at here is the response of a certain “Brent Lewis” to Truth Seeker’s challenge. Lewis has obviously sold out to the Bay of Holy Spirit movement. However, compared to Truth Seeker’s robust and closely argued challenge Lewis’s response in terms of facts and reason is remarkably light. But assembling facts and reason are really not his forte; instead he prefers to spiritually intimidate his critic. Below I reproduce Brent Lewis’s final response and I have embedded it with my own commentary. As you will see it is weak on reason and fact but very strong on its attempt to apply spiritual duress. I must say that in my experience Lewis’s spiritual put downs are not peculiar to him; they are common amongst those in his Christian subculture and the ethos and clich├ęs he expresses can be found in the teaching of the leaders who promote God’s latest “new thing”. To be fair Lewis is just re-expressing what he has been taught. 

Dear Way Truth Life Seeker, I appreciate your honesty and frankness however I don’t think we’re going to agree on the issue of Divine healing. I’ve attended many revival meetings in different countries and witnessed numerous miracles, why would we want evidence and documentation; the evidence is right in front of my eyes; that by the Lords all sufficient love and Grace- He sets people free, delivers them, heals them and makes them whole. 

My Comment: As we know, and as the existence of sleight of hand “magic” confirms, evidence that is right in front of the eyes can be notoriously unreliable, especially if it comes out of the heady and emotional context of revivalist rallies; in such a context seeing isn’t believing. Apart from clear physical impairments such as amputated limbs, most human disabilities have causes and symptoms that are invisible and therefore claimed healings are by large claims about things you don’t readily see. Moreover, crowds, particularly gullible, uncritical, and emotional crowds, are easy to manipulate. If we waiver demands for documentation it would become a free-for-all for every religious charlatan between here and Salt Lake City. Genuine healers will not to be frightened of demands for documentation. 

You seem like a doubting Thomas even wanting a sign, but the Lord said in the synoptic Gospels that no sign shall be given.

My Comment: The reference to “No sign shall be given” comes from Mat 12:39 (et similia) where we find Jesus confronting not a disciple but His sworn enemies, the hypocritical religious leaders of the day: Lewis subtle, or perhaps not so subtle, insinuation is that Truth Seeker is comparable to Christ’s worst enemies! But the great irony here is that Mat 12:39ff tells us that a sign will be given, namely, the story of Jonah, a story that is being used here as a metaphor for Christ and His resurrection. We see this metaphor actually fulfilled in the very story of doubting Thomas who received the best sign of all, the living Christ Himself. Lewis, in mixing up the stories of doubting Thomas and the Pharisees, has clearly screwed up his comparisons! 

The cack-handed insinuation and sense of threat gets even stronger in the next passage: 

We as believers have to be very careful when we speak about the miracles infused by the power of the Holy Spirit, in Mathew chapter 12 we see the Lord working many miracles and the Pharisees are mocking the Lord and even saying : This one does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub the ruler of the demons, but the Lord rebuked them and said Therefore I say to you, All kinds of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven to men, but the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit shall not be forgiven to men. 


My Comment: Lewis is now upping the ante with an innuendo about the unforgivable sin; (See Mat 12:30ff; looking at the context we see that once again Jesus’s antagonists are the Pharisees, and not disciples) My interpretation of this piece of spiritual bullying by Lewis is this: “If you challenge the Bay of Holy Spirit movement it may not just classify as an ordinary sin; instead you should beware of committing the unforgivable sin”. This kind of language has been used before against those who were opposed to the Toronto blessing – See here. So, having well and truly sunk his fangs into Truth Seeker with this allusion to the unforgivable sin Brent Lewis now dribbles out some concentrated spiritual venom: 

The scribes and the Pharisees were eyewitnesses of the miraculous healing of the mute and blind man. They saw the demon cast out of the man, and they knew it was only the power of the Holy Spirit who could do miracles such as these. Their accusations toward Jesus revealed the attitude they harbored within… envy, jealousy, bitterness, hatred and strife. Instead of rejoicing because this child of Israel was healed and restored, they began to be enraged with and set themselves “violently against” Jesus. This was not merely an outburst of anger on the part of the scribes and Pharisees, but rather, the outward manifestation of their greed and selfish and wicked ways. By plotting against the man of God, they begin their journey down the road to blasphemy (vilification) of the Spirit of God, it’s the same situation today with many dear ones touched, healed and delivered by Spirit of the risen Christ yet onlookers just shun and shake their heads not realizing their blaspheming the Holy Spirit.

My Comment: The intimidating anti-superlatives are coming in thick and fast here; “they knew it was the power of the Holy Spirit”, “accusing Jesus”, “envy”, “jealousy”, “bitterness”, “hatred”, “strife”, “violently against Jesus”, “greed”, “selfishness”, “wicked ways”, “plotting against the man of God”, “blaspheming the Holy Spirit” all packed into a short paragraph. If poor old Truth Seeker doesn’t want to “begin his journey down the road to blasphemy” what should he do? Here’s Brent Lewis’s advice: 

At the end of the day we have to have empty ourselves of all the teaching, doctrines and theology we think we know and stop confining the Lord to the letter and get afresh vision of the Lord moving across the earth. One of the attributes of love is that it believes all things, and rather than Christians arguing what is or isn’t a miracle they need to work together get out on the highways and byways, exercise the gifts that the Lord has given them so the Lord can complete his work on earth and come back and establish His kingdom. Come Lord Jesus! Amen.

My Comment: The foregoing, in my experience, typifies the ethos and doctrines doing the rounds in these authoritarian revivalist Christian subcultures: Empty your head, suspend your critical faculties and just believe all that’s on offer, for to do otherwise is neither loving nor the way of Christ. I’m reminded here of a cassette I listened to in the mid-1990s where a certain Ellie Mumford, a promoter of the Toronto Blessing, exalted her listeners not to analyze this blessing but to just accept it. Neither Lewis nor Mumford can see their double standard: They would not, of course, empty their heads of all those doctrines which teach an uncritical acceptance of what is loudly billed as the latest move of God. This emptying of one’s self of all reason and knowledge, especially when faced with superior articulation, is what I refer to as the gnostic escape from reason; basically it’s saying “Damn your arguments; I’m enlightened and you’re not!”. It’s usual the stand-off between reason and intuition, knowledge and feelings that takes place when logos and mythos fail to come to terms.

*** 

One question remains here: Who is this "Truth Seeker"? That is a long story: I spent nearly three years corresponding with him by email. He is a follower of Witness Lee’s teachings. These teachings are promulgated by “Living Stream Ministries” who have an administrative and teaching centre at Anaheim, USA. He was much more willing to engage the Bible and reason than the self-confessed empty-head, Brent Lewis. But we find that Truth Seeker, like Lewis, has also backed himself into a corner as a consequence of an all-out-commitment to just one of those many baskets of eggs. Lewis and Truth Seeker are both very pious Christians capable of some ostentatious displays of devotional language: That’s another way of saying that they are both spiritual hot-heads, “on fire for the Lord”. Their meeting is a match of the irresistible force and the immoveable object. They both have complete confidence that the Christian subculture to which they have attached themselves is where everyone should be at spiritually; if you are going to believe this sort of thing then you are going to believe that Christians who are not with you are prime fodder for proselytizing. This is the logic that brings Truth Seeker and Lewis to similar conclusions: Viz: “If you are not with us you must be against us and if you are against us you are against God”. Truth Seeker, when I pressed him, also resorted to bluster and the gnostic back-stop against reasoned argument; he was “in the Spirit” and I, of course, was not; his thoughts were spirit lead and mine were “soulish”. Furthermore, like many who have backed themselves into a corner, he could also be pretty threatening; and the best way to threaten a fellow Christian is to attempt to call into question and destabilize that which is most precious to them; none other than their faith*. The idea is that the target will then attempt to re-stabilize their faith by selling out to what the proselytizer will hype as the latest move of God, a move not to be missed. 

 Perhaps I will tell the story of “Truth Seeker” another day. 

 * Footnote: At one point in the NN&N thread Lewis even goes as far as questioning whether the moderate and reasonable evangelical Hank Hanegraaff is a true believer.

Postscript
Lewis and Truth Seeker find it difficult to accept that authentic shows of high piety are possible outside their own Christian subculture. Their strong and exclusive identification with their respective sub cultures has, as I have said above, had the effect of backing them into a corner and given them little room to manoeuvre. Therefore when they are faced with another's spiritual ostentation and vehment conviction they have given themselves few choices: Rather than seeing one another as just displaying bog standard human foibles and conceits, they see something far more malign: As we have seen Lewis is edging towards accusing Truth Seeker of committing the unforgivable sin. Truth Seeker in turn, as my experience with him suggests, is likely to think of Lewis as being a captive in spiritual Babylon.

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