I'm Kris, wife of Guy. I was raised in a Christian home, attended Christian schools and graduated from a Christian college...you could say I was pretty saturated with knowledge of God by the time I reached adulthood. And somewhere along the way, this knowledge had become experience. I can't remember a time when I did NOT passionately believe that following Jesus was my top priority.
Growing up, my family and I were members of a very conservative Bible-believing Evangelical church (with a Reformed bent). I think our small town was probably one of the last gasps of the "Leave It To Beaver" era. Our church was filled with Ward-and-June couples, and I went to youth group with a bunch of Wallys.
Sometimes in the midst of this sweet Christian culture, it could get a little frustrating to know what parts of our faith were real, and which parts were just...cultural. But the doctrine classes and the leaders' very sensible, stick-to-the-Bible approach gave me an excellent foundation for discernment throughout the rest of my life. Not to mention, if I'd taken one more college course, I could have graduated with a minor in theology.
I share this background about my Christian education because, of all people, I should have known better when, some years back, we first got lured into what I've come to call a "hyper-Charismatic" ministry. Both Guy and I had grown weary of "going through the motions" in our church experience. We yearned for something REAL. We wanted to see the sick healed and the dead raised. So when we stumbled upon a loud, brash, flashy church where the pastor was extremely confident and would declare every Sunday that healings occurred, yokes were broken, and so forth, we almost couldn't join quickly enough. We were attracted to the exuberant worship and the fact that finally, FINALLY, we seemed to have found a place that proclaimed the "full Gospel" of the New Testament.
I can't really understate the magnetic power of this pastor himself, either. The man had a unique blend of gravity, passion, authority, and sincerity. He was also articulate and - apparently - educated. He was an extremely gifted orator with a way of plucking the best promises out of the Bible and stringing them together in a way that exhorted and encouraged people until the entire audience was on its feet, cheering and clapping.
We loved focusing on the positive aspects of our Christian faith, and for awhile, we felt like we were thriving spiritually there, even though we'd been uneasy about some things from almost the beginning - things like the fact that the pastor answered to no one and exerted tight control over everything...or things like the very obvious nepotism, where both the pastor's young adult sons were on staff in key positions, even though they hadn't even graduated from college yet...or how we were subtly taught a view of the "end times" where the church was just going to grow more and more glorious, with more and more money and power and political clout at her disposal...or how the pastor drove one of the most expensive Mercedes vehicles I'd ever laid eyes on...or how in a congregation of over 1,000, there were very few genuine relationships among the church people. Very occasionally, there'd be socials, and it was always weird to me how the only animated conversations we'd ever have would be when the subject of the pastor would come up. Everybody would then get all excited and talk about how they'd come to love Pastor "Smith" (a pseudonym).
As long as the pastor stuck to a straightforward reading of the Bible in his sermons, though, things were still good. Along the way, we did notice that the healings and the miracles were, unfortunately, almost always a lot more hype than reality. I'm not saying that no healings ever occurred. But we'd have these healing services, and time and again someone would be "healed" of something like a hurt shoulder, only to show up with their arm in a sling the next Sunday. Or there was the little child who was told that her eyes were healed...but then she eventually had to put her glasses back on. It bothered us that in these services, God apparently thought migraines were more worthy of healing than the child suffering from cerebral palsy or the totally blind man with the white cane.
After a few years of gradual disillusionment, we sort of got what I began to think of as "Charismatic fatigue." The simple truth was that at least at this church, with this pastor, the "presence of God" had been reduced to a formula that the pastor obviously believed was under his complete control. Also, we began to realize that there was an ever-increasing amount of preaching about money. The pre-offering "pep talks" were getting longer and longer, to the point where sometimes it felt like the pastor preached two sermons - one on tithing, and one on something else. But then, when the church went through some major financial upheavals, even the main sermons began to have a very crass, materialistic focus.
We found ourselves noticing more and more that "making an impact for the Lord" seemed to mean promoting our pastor and his ministry. It was a really weird realization to make, but one day it hit me - practically out of the blue - that although I was more passionate and "on fire" about witnessing than I'd ever been before in my life, the main push of all my "witnessing" ALWAYS seemed to come down to trying to get people to go to church with me so they could "experience the anointing." Looking back now, I am horrified at the genuine opportunities I passed up to present the simple Gospel of Jesus. Instead, I trampled over them with invitations to go to church with me. I could even see their eyes glaze over, and yet it took years to realize that I'd fallen into this twisted thinking, where I'd confused sharing CHRIST with sharing my CHURCH.
Guy and I went through this process of disillusionment so gradually that we did not even realize what was happening for a long while. We spent a lot of time analyzing, just between the two of us, the ways that the teachings had gone south, and the ways that we saw the pastor manipulating people. Most of the time, these conversations would come back around to, "Well, of course he doesn't realize what he's doing..." But eventually, we were forced to acknowledge that he was a very smart man and simply HAD to be doing at least some of these things deliberately.
There were several straws that broke the camel's back, but perhaps the most strikingly obvious was the Sunday when a guest speaker gave an altar call for "those of you who want to prosper." Although he did mutter a sentence or two about "asking Jesus into your heart," his entire point was that Jesus could make us rich. He had everyone file down to the front, to the altar, and rather than offer a prayer of repentence, we all made declarations about how we were going to go forth and prosper.
That pretty much did it for us.
About two Sundays later, we landed at our Sovereign Grace church.
(to be continued...)