17 October, 2006

The Church-Hunting Chronicles, Part Three: MIA: Snake Handlers*

*Disclaimer: So here I go again, I’m probably offending somebody in writing this. But that truly is not my intention. I merely publicly exposing my own biases about what’s appropriate in a church service and what isn’t. Growing up in a relatively conservative church doesn’t always prepare one for the ‘bizarre’ things that might be witnessed in future church experiences. I’m not trying to be a relativist, but sometimes, what makes church comfortable is just what you’re used to and what is normal for some is insane to others. On the other hand, I was deeply disturbed by some of the things we heard during this particular service. Things that I know are fundamentally wrong. The obligation to speak in tongues, for example, is a falsehood that I believe can be devastating (not to mention theologically distracting), particularly for a new or younger Christian.

Moving along, here’s the post:
Well, don’t worry. I won’t let the title try to speak for itself this week, but settle in for a longer read.

Now you’d think that it would only take one time for us to learn our lesson. One brush with an ‘exuberant’ church service to make us at least a little more diligent to check BEFOREHAND what we’re getting ourselves in to. Alas, we must be more than a little naïve and we ended up in a slightly stranger repeat of Church-Hunting Week Number One.

This past Sunday was our first (and need I say, ONLY) trip to the Family Christian Center – “An Oasis of Love.” We pulled up in the parking lot at the same time as a guy Luke knows from work, and his fiancée. I had never met them, but they both seemed nice enough. We went inside and everything seemed okay. A nice open, well-lit foyer, lots of brochures around, a nice little library, and a coffee table for the youth group to raise money for activities and missions trips. All very normal.

The sanctuary was one of those large rooms that can double as an ‘all purpose’ room or gym, with a giant stage up front and a high ceiling that looks like the roof of The Ark. It was here that we made our first mistake. So a word for the novice church hunter: If you come upon a sanctuary and there is only one major entrance to it, DO NOT make a beeline for the far side of the seating just because according to your personal tradition, you always sit on the left side. Just don’t do it. It can only lead to disaster, and it does not for an expeditious exit make.

Then the music started. That part was actually not so bad, although the majority of the songs were unfamiliar to us, and the majority were 7/11 songs as my Grampa used to call them. They had a drummer, a flutist (I really don’t know how to spell that), bass guitar, regular acoustic guitar, a saxaphone player who doubled as the resident harmonicist (one who plays a harmonica – if it’s not a real word, I’m sorry). They also had a pianist and an organ player who looked like he really meant to show up at the Episcopal service downtown. Oops. The only real downside to the music was the leader guy who kept singing his own thing and not really following the lyrics. So, is the next phrase ‘hallelujah? Or amen? Or what??’ He also reminded me more than a little of one of those televangelists. Oh and I guess I should mention the mosh pit, or lack thereof. It was the funniest thing to see grown men in Sunday suits jumping up and down as if they were 15 and at an MXPX concert (yes, MXPX. I am old.) And women dancing. And the amen-ing and hallelujah-ing. Man, did I grow up in a conservative church or what?!?

After singing, this other guy got up. We think he was supposed to do announcements, but instead he started rambling and he ended up deciding there should be a prayer time instead. So there was praying. All very normal. But then it started. The prophecy. Now, I do believe that prophecy is a gift that God still gives for use in churches today, but I really didn’t expect it to look like this. Weird people who looked like they were in some sort of prayer-like trance speaking words that sounded all well and good, but weren’t necessarily direct quotes from scripture, which is somehow what I’ve always expected modern prophecy to look like – bringing appropriate (and ACTUAL) scripture to light for the edification of the body. Luckily, this ‘prophecy’ didn’t last long.

Then the greeting. Over came the burgundy folder. This time with a multicoloured card, which we did not fill out OR leave behind in any offering plate. This handy little welcome folder (again, complete with PEN – KB! CLC has really got to get on the bandwagon here!), contained the document we most wanted to see: the Statement of Faith. My ‘favourite’ point was the one that equated the gift of the Holy Spirit with tongues and insinuated that if you don’t speak in tongues, you have not really been given the gift of the Holy Spirit. Say what? We were quite ready to get up and leave at this point, but again, be sure to note your proximity to the nearest major exit BEFORE you sit down…it was too late. [In actual fact, I didn’t even notice until now that we had stopped reading at that point and completely missed the statement about divine healing – John 5:14 was referenced. Umm….)

Then came the sermon. Major bonus point in his favour, is the fact that the pastor is from South Africa, so he’s got a dang cool accent. He was preaching from 1 Samuel 17 about David & Goliath. His sermon was titled ‘How to Be a Giant Killer.’ I walked away thoroughly confused about this guy’s theology. For one, he made it sound like trials and tribulations in our lives just ‘happen.’ We just wake up one morning, open the door, and there’s our ‘Goliath.’ So, you’re saying it has nothing to do with our personal sin? We never bring these problems on ourselves through our sinful, rebellious acts? Hmmm. He also insinuated other things I completely disagreed with (call it picky semantics on my part, but still): 1) “God has created us with a purpose….That’s what makes us happy.” 2) “God’s not using angels today to do His work, He’s using Jesses.” (as in Jesse, King David’s father.) 3) “The problem is not how big the giant is, it’s how small he makes us feel.” <-emphasis mine.
So, a Charismatic church pastor doesn’t believe God uses angels?? What?? I’m confused. At the same time though, he did work to hammer home the point that we are saved entirely by grace. (See Ephesians 2, it is only by God’s Grace that we are saved.)

I feel like the way I’m describing this church service is really not doing it justice. I felt a little like I might be watching one of those crazy services that EF often watches, (pardon me, ‘flips through’) on TBN. Yet, in retrospect, it still truly feels like all they were missing were the snake handlers. (Unfortunately, handling a Garter Snake would hardly be convincing and there are no poisonous snakes in Maine.)

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