This past Saturday (the 16th) a group of believers gathered in the Centrepoint Community Centre, down the road from the train station, to sing, pray and share a message of healing. I was invited to attend, and since it was a new church launching on my home turf I thought it might be a good idea to check it out.
That, and friends on Facebook and Twitter told me to.
It was billed as a “healing and miracles service”
I’ll be honest with you: I was not encouraged by this. Not a bit.
Now, if there had been a “Healing Eucharist” I would have been more enthusiastic. Even if I didn’t see a miraculous healing, I would see the miracle of the people of God sharing a meal with the Saviour.
Alas, no. It was a “healing and miracles service”. No fortified wine for me.
After we all stood together for a declaration, we sang a few songs.
You, dear reader, may have experience of the sort of tradition where you stand and declare things. I however, do not. Baptists for one thing aren’t over keen on creeds (we see them as too limiting and inauthentic to the narrative nature of our faith and personal content of our Lord).
Yet here I stood with these other more enthusiastic believers and recited Biblical promises that I would not be ill, nor be conquered by devils, and that on this earth I had power to do good works and to fight demons.
Mumbling along to praise choruses and victorious hymns with half the congregation shouting out in tongues between songs is an experience which I am certain is not unique to me (is it?), so I shall move on as you imagine a pretty standard 20 minute charismatic worship set.
As the united voices gave way to united chair-on-floor scraping, Pastor Ben made a more formal introduction and shared a little about what the service was going to be about (if you guessed “healing and miracles” then you get a gold star!).
He spoke without a microphone and with great charisma. I knew he was sincere when he told us
“If you’re sick today my aim is to get you healed”
I knew I was sincere in waiting to see if that would be the case.
Yet the thought could not dwell for long, because Pastor Ben had moved into vision-casting mode and let out the depressingly common statement that “most churches say the same thing the serpent said to eve”.
Pastor Ben was differetiating his teaching from that of other churches, describing the 6 week series beginning next saturday which promises to unfold the reality of paradise-living which is available to all Christians, apparently.
Never mind that we are given so little information in Scripture about life in the Garden that it would be thin ice to skate over if you were trying to reclaim some kind of existence from it. In fact it would have to be mostly guess work.
Yet I suppose it’s easy to decide that things we don’t like, things which make us sad or weak, are things of the fall, of the Devil which Christians ought not have to face. This seems to be the message of the teaching that “most Churches say the same thing the Serpent said to Eve”. It is certainly captivating. I hope it does not prove to be a snare.
Ben preached a message using the Bible. I am unsure if it was Biblical, but he certainly used the Bible. It was wonderful that he included three Old Testament stories, yet predictably he made them out to be some kind of prefigure of Jesus. That wasn’t too bad, I suppose, and there ARE types of Jesus in the Old Testament. No harm comes from this sort of teaching, though it does violence to the text to impose an external idea (Jesus, or the preacher’s interpretation of him) onto a text written a thousand years prior.
Yet a teacher who insists that he has a message no other church grasps, and provides ample Bible verses to support his claims can often get a free pass when he makes contentious statements. He got his free pass when he insisted that Psalm 105:37 said that there was no sick person among all the exiles from Egypt, on account of them having eaten the Passover.
Allow me to state clearly, for my own benefit as much as anyone else’s, that this verse says nothing of the sort.
Kashal is the verb used in this verse and it clearly has nothing to do with sickness. It is a walking image employed here, telling the reader that because of God’s saving work in the Exodus, his people escaped without being overrun. This is clear in all the contemporary translations I have and appears to be yet another reason to put the KJV back on the shelf.
Pastor Ben told the congregation that 2 million Israelites were cured of their ills as they ate passover and fled Egypt!
If you believe on (Jesus) you can have no feeble person among you!
He closed his sermon with a story from Numbers 21:4-9–The story of the golden snake.
And when he told this story, I was pierced in heart and my conscience was plagued. For I have griped against God and against those who lead churches! Pastor Ben was clear that “if you find yourself whining about God and whining about the people in authority over you, you have a problem”.
I have not quite gotten round to a tearful repentance and mass deletion of all my past posts, so you can judge for yourself how far into my heart Ben’s words reached. Jesus came as a man to live amongst humans and was crucified by them for his trouble. If his life and death can be called the life and death of God, then I am inclined to believe that God is capable of bearing with my sinful impatience and pride.
Yet I cannot bear with a man who would open a church by:
1. Denouncing “the majority of other churches” as riddled with satanic teaching.
2. Making misleading claims about the Bible and about what Christians can expect to normally experience.
3. Dismissing criticism and complaint as a sinful problem of the person complaining.
These were the things I observed at Tree of Life Church, Watford in their opening service. Now if the Devil is an Angel of Light, it need not be said that the mere presence of miracles signifies the blessing of God over a church. But for those of you who still remember that this service was called a “healing and miracles” service I shall describe what I saw of that:
An assortment of people lined up at the front. They each in turn described their ache or pain to Pastor Ben, who then laid a hand and prayed in tongues. A few moments later he would stop, and ask if the pain had gone. If it had not, he would explicitly command the pain to go. The line thinned as each person reported some kind of pain relief.
I do not know if those were miracles. If they were, I am grateful to God for them.
Yet I shall not be supporting Tree of Life Watford and will not advise anyone to attend there. It is the tried and true rhetoric of a cult which promises all the candy, and the chocolate cake which has been out of reach for everyone else.