The Myths of MLK and Jesus

Throughout my youth Dr. King was a hero of mine. As I got older and began to read his writings and listen to his speeches, I found his legacy more complex than I was able to reconcile. I loved the message of racial equality, I truly didn’t know what to do with the rest and the older he got, the more he talked about the rest.

I put it on a shelf for a very long time. I decided to worship the myth of King more than the man.

The truth is that we love mythological figures more than truth. They are like the unborn. They are the idealized fantasy. They are simple. They never do anything wrong. They are easy to rally around. Dr. King was none of those things. Actual living people are far more complex. They do things amazing and terrible. Often the same things can be viewed either way depending on the angle you see them from.

The truth is that the mythological MLK would have never been murdered. But he was, because the mam and the myth are not the same person.

The mythological MLK would have never been murdered. Click To Tweet

As I began to broaden my mind I appreciated the complexity of MLK’s message. I was initially disappointed when I understood his teaching went beyond the idealistic. I wanted him to stay the mythological figure I had him pegged as. That was easy and defensible. But that’s not who he was. He spoke on housing, employment, living wages, wealth distribution, white supremacy, Christian apathy, and many, many other issues that surrounded his desire to help the poor and minorities get their piece of the pie. Mythological MLK can’t be found in the real MLK’s writings.

I didn’t want to think about those things. I now understand I wanted mythological MLK to be like mythological Jesus. He’s the happy-go-lucky guy who wants to help us achieve the American Dream. Mythological Jesus wants to keep me happy and safe from the scary world. Mythological Jesus understands why I am supposed to be over them. Mythological Jesus stays in my spiritual life and doesn’t demand anything from me other than attention when I am alone.

Like mythological MLK, mythological Jesus would have never been murdered. Click To Tweet

I know now that mythological Jesus would have been loved in the Roman world. He understands violence and blesses greed. He never wants to offend the powerful and understand the poor have nobody but themselves to blame.

None of these things is the real Jesus no matter how legendary the myth becomes. The reality of Jesus is far more complex. And if I am being honest, I have had the most trouble with the people who have accepted the mythical messages of Christ and MLK. Invoking Christ is enough to be a Christ follower or tweeting an MLK quote on his birthday is enough to be a follower of MLK. Both are not true.

This week honor The Dream and read one of King’s less famous speeches or articles. Likewise, read the Sermon on the Mount and take it literally. See how these legends challenge how you see the world.

The Death of the Father Heart Message

The neglect of Holy Spirit in churches and academia is the voter fraud of theological writing today. Lots of people claim it but its not actually a thing. Pneumatology (the study of Holy Spirit) has a massive niche in popular writing and a solid community in academia. Not only is there study of God the Spirit by Spirit-filled folks, there is now an emerging body of work studying through a fresh Pentecostal lens

You know what we are missing? We are missing a Spirit-inspired systematic theology of the Father.

The Father Heart of God : The 90s Renewal

I came up in the teachings about the Father heart of God in the late 90s and early 00s. There was a rich study of the Father’s love for His people. Anyone remember the Father’s Love Letter? A strange thing happened with all that revelation of the Father’s love. It was never folded into any form of systematic theology. The charismatic revival which started in Toronto never took that revelation and asked themselves, “How should we view the atonement with this revelation? How should we interpret the Old Testament? How should we communicate the nature of God?”

In short, they preached a new revelation of God the Father as a loving father but did not develop a renewal hermeneutic. Most of the leaders came from a Baptist background and never challenged what they learned in their formative years. Instead there were proof texts of Father’s love and little more.

Some major charismatic churches have done a better job folding this view of the Father into their worldview. This has paid off in favor in the form of worldwide itineraries and massive book and album sales. Their theology has been communicated in phrases and messages more so than a statement of belief, but a core value remains that “God is in a good mood.” This was preached at least a dozen years that I know of until the current presidency’s power seemed to be threatened. Then a prophetic message came that God would give President Trump another term because of gender reassignment surgery, those that oppose him oppose God in this “kairos moment,” and they will be likened to Ananias and Sapphira.

I wish I was exaggerating or making this up. The daddy God stuff got thrown out the window.

It would seem that voting for a Democrat is the only thing that upsets God. He was unfazed by the widespread horror of American slavery over several centuries but gender reassignment alone will cause Him to disregard His nature, change His mood, and punish those that oppose President Trump.

The Theological Train Wreck We Are Left With

What this has exposed is essentially twofold. (1) Popular charismatic Christianity has no systematic theology. At best it possesses an ethic of relativism based on its current priorities. There simply has not been the work of theology to try to understand what God was doing in the 90s, form a comprehensive hermeneutic that takes that into account, and apply it with integrity to all aspects of the relationship between God, human, and the Bible. (2) There has been no renewal inspired Paterology. That is, a doctrine of God the Father as revealed by the move of Holy Spirit in the 90s. We have a desire for an all-loving God who acts as a good father but we are currently unwilling to give up our right to condemn, judge, or get self-righteous. In the words of Carlos Rodriguez, we are unwilling to “drop the stones.”

Why are we here? Why have the revivals of the 90s and 00s not produced real theology and real theologians? Why has it not birthed bible colleges and doctrinal fellowships? Great question.

My working theory is that the charismatic revivals had a message but were really centered on the messengers. The signs pointed to the messengers rather than to the message of love the Father was trying to tell. It wasn’t ideas that traveled the world as much as the people who taught those ideas and those who could replicate their signs and wonders.

Eventually the message was not important, just the charisms displayed which validated the workers who carried them. The message of the Father became an afterthought. When the spiritual sons of the next generation began to rise and challenge old notions of the judgmental Father and oppressive patristic structures they were canceled.

History Repeats Itself

There is a reason that most of these leaders set themselves up as singular “apostolic leaders” instead of restoring the early church model of five-fold ministry (see Acts 13:1). There is a reason that none of the leaders of the moves of the 90s and 00s have given up the reigns of the works they began to the next generation. Oh, some have hired managers, but they still lead the movements.

I don’t claim to know anyone’s heart. But I do know that the church desperately needs real prophetic preaching that comes from the hard work of a trained mind formed in part from the critical feedback of other trained minds that see the inconsistencies and errors of an intellectual silo. When their power was threatened they rebuilt the house of their fathers.

This has not been the easiest season for me. Relearning what we thought we already knew is humbling and a little scary. People have insulted me, questioned my salvation, in the midst of it I am more encouraged than ever and I hope to encourage a generation of believers who will unashamedly preach the real Gospel, about the real Jesus.

3 Books I am Reading Over the Holidays

The Bullet Journal Method — Ryder Carroll

I am tired of juggling task lists and brainstorming sessions. I was using Google Keep to keep random lists of things either tasks or ideas. I moved most of my task lists to Google Tasks which I liked but it was not perfect. I use Trello for managing projects and Office 365 for cloud storage and word processing. I used OneNote for tracking School notes and assignments. 

I am moving many of those things to OneNote using my own modified version of the Bullet Journal method. I am still using ink and paper for long form journaling but now if something great happens in my journal I write the page in my yearly tracker in ON.

Reading While Black — Essau McCaulley

I have heard a lot about this book and have read all around it but finally bought it. I have read Esau McCaulley and the guy is brilliant. I heard a podcast interview . . . I can’t remember where and was blown away with how articulate he was. He had really clear language for seriously complicated issues. Hoping it’s not too dense because I want to finish it before the semester starts. 

The Jungle — Upton Sinclair

This is the 1906 novel telling the story of a family trying to make their way in the terrible world of the meat processing industry of Chicago. Sinclair wrote it to expose both the exploitation of immigrants and disturbing nature of the meat packers. The book was called the Uncle Tom’s Cabin of wage slavery and led to the Meat Inspection Act. I got it on Amazon Kindle for free. Here is a link to the book.

Next Up:

An Open Letter to the Charismatic Leaders who “Got It Wrong” in This Season

With the advance in the teaching of spiritual authority in the last 50 years, there has sadly been a lack of teaching on responsibility that comes with it. This has partially caused a great divide between the privileges of church officeholders and their level of accountability. There are now a few leaders that have come to acknowledge they have gotten it wrong about recent events. That is a great step, a step that has been late in the making but a great start none-the-less.

Admitting you were wrong about the election, the coronavirus, what God was doing, how he views racial injustice, how God told us to treat immigrants, our duty to the poor, honor vs obey, and a bunch of other things is a good first reaction. Unfortunately, part of being wrong about these things has caused many to question if there really are prophets and apostles in the church today. If we search the Scriptures, it looks like we have been playing church more than being the church.

Charismatic and Pentecostal leaders, your integrity will be known by your efforts to clean up this mess. But before you can do that you have to come to the understanding of what the mess is and your role in causing it. I hope each of you that has been getting it wrong this season have come under some accountability to discover what made you unfaithful to Holy Spirit. You can’t attribute those words to God’s nature and be following Him at the same time.

Restoration to the true ministry of Holy Spirit is possible but will need to be overseen by an elder. I believe God can turn this around but it is going to take honesty and accountability. Whatever the plan is for your restoration, these five tasks have to be included:

Find out how many churches you divided with your false prophecies. I am a guy with a small church in south Florida. I have lost good people because they believed your lies instead of the guidance of their pastors. I lost good people. I lost family members. People chose you and the words you made up instead of the words of the people who nourished their souls, watched over them when their family was in trouble, and met with them to hear their hurts. They lost that because you told them that is what God wanted. They lost their churches and we lost them. What will you do about that?

Find out how many people died of Covid-19 because they trusted you. Right now there are people who are dead because they followed you. You didn’t get it wrong about coronavirus, you caused people to die. You caused families to suffer terrible financial and emotional destruction. Churches lost their pastors. Families lost their loved ones. Businesses were destroyed. And we are not even counting the number of followers who languished in sickness. Health and governmental leaders were not trusted because you gave false prophecies. How do you clean that up? How can you possibly repair that damage? What led you to be so careless about people’s fate?

Find out how many racists you empowered and emboldened. You put your name and office behind an unashamed racist. If you don’t believe that you are still under the delusion that caused the above false prophecies. Because of you there are large groups of Christians that believe that it is Marxist to want the government to stop murdering black people. Your words emboldened people to hate immigrants in direct contradiction to the teachings of Jesus. You made it ok to hate, be suspicious, listen to and spread slander, and be conformed to the worst instincts of the unredeemed. How will you put the White Nationalist genie back in the bottle? How will you walk back the hatred you empowered in the church? How will you heal the divide you deepened between your white community and the people of color? How will you repent of the racism you have displayed?

Find out how many people now worship the idol you promoted instead of the living God. God chose Cyrus, the Persian ruler to be God’s instrument to deliver Israel from Babylonian captivity. Cyrus was a shadow of Jesus. You gave Jesus’ mantle to a man. That’s like Old Testament level false prophet type stuff. People fly a man’s name over their cars, houses, on their head, and unfortunately in their hearts. They did it because you told them that was God’s will. You told them that people who did not follow this man would suffer God’s wrath. What is wrong with you? Why would you do that? What level of false spirit did you entertain to miss such foundational blasphemy? How will you destroy the idols of our day? How will you win these people back to Jesus?

Find out how many people are following your lies instead of Jesus. I know the word lie is abrasive. But whatever is not the truth is a lie. The charismatic church has been too soft on this. The truth is people believed your lies instead of the Jesus of the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount. This is probably the easiest to fix. Tell people to go back to their churches they left because of your words. Tell people they should have been wearing a mask and believing the science all along. Tell people how wrong you were not to condemn racism in our government. Tell people that they should have never followed a man instead of Jesus. Make sure they know you are talking about following you. Then tell them they should have never followed a politician instead of Jesus. When you see the crowds leave and follow the idols you set up you will really see the damage you caused.

Don’t search your heart for how this went wrong. Following your heart is what got us all into this mess. My advice is to find a Pentecostal academic to sit under.1 Someone who embraces the Baptism of the Spirit and the Word of God. Get some real theological education because you have been a mess with that. STOP MINISTERING until you figure out the answers to the above questions. Seriously. You have to get a grip on the damage your ministry has caused. This will be painful but it is necessary.

The Church is beautiful and self-healing because the Holy Ghost is in her. She survived the Romans, the Ottomans, the Communists, Radical Islam, and humanism. She survived all these with damage, she will survive the damage you caused as well. Take time to discover deep repentance and forgiveness offered to the repentant by Jesus. Learn to be a servant instead of a king. Find the way of Jesus.

I would suggest Dr. Chris Green, Dr. A.J. Swaboda, Dr. Mark Chironna, Dr. Cheryl Bridges Johns, Dr. Antipas Harris, Dr. Amos Yong, and Dr. Mark Cartledge. There are a bunch of others but that is a quick list.

Photo by Dean Rose on Unsplash

Growing in this Season of Failed Prophecies

I often find myself sitting across a meeting space with people wanting counsel in times of transition. There are some common threads to these conversations. People are in a season of transition. They feel uncomfortable with where their decisions have taken them. They are looking for approval to move into the new season and reassurance that their new decisions will fix the problems their old decisions have caused.

People get to such a place of discomfort with their current season they are ready to boldly step out and follow themselves somewhere else. They believe their current discomfort is God’s way of telling them to change, and they also believe the solution is almost always to leave where they are and start in a new place they have chosen. Now to be sure, very few people know that is the narrative they are explaining, but that is almost always the plan.

These meetings always fall into two categories. The small category are the people who come and want actual input. In contrast, most just want “confirmation” that their diagnosis of the problem and their prescribed solution are spot on.

The first group are more concerned with following God’s plan than their need for comfort. They have come to recognize their own fallibility and their need for other voices. They are willing to put in the work to figure out what part they played in their predicament and protect long-term relationships. They ask questions early in the process and listen to answers. They look for signs before they make decisions and don’t just see them as confirmation of their will. Their lives are mostly marked by stability and increasing prosperity.

For the second group, there is an insecurity that if you disagree with any of what they have communicated, you are somehow disparaging their relationship with God. They clutch to their revelation tightly in fear that their revelation will be dismissed. They have been discipled by a system of prophetic all-stars who can prophesy no wrong, their revelations can not be questioned, and the student’s goal is to be as perfect as them. Even though they say they are growing in the prophetic, they have grown beyond anyone who may question them.

Self evaluation is a terrible weakness of our current prophetic system. Nobody can be a false prophet anymore. Trustworthiness is determined by book sales. To doubt a prophetic word is to doubt the gift of prophecy. None of this is biblical or lines up with historical Christianity but perfectly protects their business model.

If there is no failure then there is no reason to repent, grow and change. This is a deadly heresy.

Our Failed Prophetic Movement

The false belief that every thought about God’s will must be perfect and perfectly followed is a direct product of our broken prophetic movement. Modern prophets bill themselves as having secret access to the mind of God and create a false theology stating that if their customers are spiritual enough, they too can have perfect revelation.

I was once an ardent follower of these movements. I began to heavily filter what I took in as I watched Proverbs 25:14 come to life at the Lakeland Revival. Every night seemed to culminate with a new promise of double portion anointings, mantles, and my favorite, the presence of the person of Jesus night. (Whatever that is.) I saw actual miracles in the early days of those meetings, but I took what was spoken from the stage with a grain of salt because none of the promises of impartation ever came to pass.

"Like clouds and wind without rain is a man who boasts of a gift he does not give."Proverbs 25:14 Click To Tweet

I inherently knew that these teachings would not stand the test of time. They would not become foundational doctrines and were simply spiritual junk food for the throngs of Charismatics who hoped they could achieve what these ministers claimed to be. Yet still I stayed in the Charismatic camp for years after these meetings. But I knew that I would never be one of the big name guys because I did not possess the ability to make stuff up and claim that those words were from God.

As an enneagram 8 I rarely believe everything I hear. This has protected me in this movement. But I also rarely believe everything I say. This has also been a blessing. It has caused me to have an inner need to know that what I speak is bringing actual, long-lasting fruit. As Paul said in his first letter to the church in Corinth, the kingdom of God does not consist in words but in power. The fourth chapter of that letter could be written to the church today. Paul was warning them not to align with teachers trying to sell blessing believers already have in Christ. He warned that their goal was to themselves and not to Jesus. In other words, don’t listen to apostles and prophets who say they will get you on their level if you align with them. They are not the gatekeepers of God.

Don't listen to apostles and prophets who say they will get you on their level if you align with them. They are not the gatekeepers of God. Click To Tweet

Failed Teachings Produce Failed Followers

2020 has been a painful lesson in how wrong all of this Charismatic hocus pocus has been. The prophets did not speak the coronavirus away. They actually risked people’s lives by falsely aligning real science with their delusional conspiracy theories. They really said things like it would be gone by Passover, it is an election year hoax, a vaccine would quickly be discovered, that God showed them it would not become a pandemic, and one guy said he would personally keep it out of Florida by his authority.

There was a time that I aspired to be counted among these men. My fatal flaw was that I wanted the same feedback I required of others. I didn’t want to simply post click-worthy words. I wanted to deliver words that revealed Jesus and changed lives. We simply can’t get that if we are not hearing voices outside our circle of influence. If you are only testing your prophecies by the words of other people on the prophecy circuit you aren’t going to get real feedback.

Likewise, if your personal word about how to get out of your season of discomfort is only tested by your closest friends or your family, I doubt you are going to get real feedback and useful solutions.

Current charismatic ministry models completely neglect the proper way of discerning a healthy solution to problems. We have to recognize our failures and seek to understand how they happened. We need to map out how we got to where we are now and only then can we use this information to inform our future. If we fail to do this, we are bound to repeat these mistake after we blame our current location for our failures.

There is much to be learned from this season. Like every other king in the Old Testament, the lessons are mostly what not to do. If we believe that God allowed them to be evil to show what false beliefs produce, we should not be surprised that the same is happening today.

The Modern Prophetic Movement is Badly Broken

Covid knocks out the prophets

Mike Tyson has a famous saying, “Everyone has a plan untill they get punched in the mouth.” Tyson was replying to a reporter’s question whether he was worried about his next opponent’s fight plan. There is a remarkabale amount of truth to this and it is playing out in modern prophetic ministry. It is impossible to put it any other way,

The modern prophetic movement is badly broken. Click To Tweet

I have been a part of that system and I am on a journey of exploration to fix my small part of it.

Why does this matter? These prophets caused death and the worship of false gods because of their ministry. The Bible calls that a big thing.

During the 1980’s and 90’s prophetic ministry exploded. While it has always been a part of Christian ministry, this new generation of prophetic ministers no longer prophesied as part of their ministry, it was their ministry and it became amazingly lucrative.

Paul said that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge were hidden in Christ. Emerging prophetic voices began to testify that they were the only ones with access to these mysteries and they would access that revelation for the cost of their ministry materials or a special offering. It was a very short distance from this doctrinal error to the ministry of Balaam. While their official teachings taught that anyone could find this knowledge in the secret place, their ministry models actually displayed they alone could tap into these treasures.

These prophets had an amazing business model. But like Tyson’s opponents, once tested they have been shown to be false contenders.

During times of economic and social prosperity, prophetic ministry prospered unchecked by giving words of prosperity and happiness. As their wealth moved them from the Pentecostal roots of the lowest rungs of society, they took on the culture of the American elite. Everything that protected their elite status was accepted as God’s will. Anything that threatened the prosperity of their class, became a threat to God and his Kingdom. Not only were people taught not to hear God’s words of warning, they were told to never share them as well. That is vital training to protect their model.

Thusly, once a person is received as a prophet, their words can’t be judged. It is impossible for them to be wrong. You either have to receive the prophet’s word or you are not part of the remnant.

That worked untill it got punched in the mouth by way of rising nationalism, racism, a pandemic, and the ensuing economic collapse.

None of the self-appointed national prophets had a word about any of these. Furthermore, none of them even spoke as God’s appointed in pointing out that these were problems, in fact, many of them said that these were no problems at all. And this showed us all that they are actully the problem. I will reserve detailing those two statements for another article.

When Christians needed true prophetic ministry the most, the modern prophetic movement doubled down on what proved to be a string of damning false prophecies. The Bile did not speak of sending an American presidential candidate. The racial justice movement is not a revolt against God. The Pandemic was not a hoax. Our current economic collapse is real.

People died from covid-19 because they believed it was a hoax. People have turned from Christianity to nationalism because of their false words. People believe that racist language is approved by God and they will not be affected by the coming economic fallout.

This all matters greatly to God.

None have admitted their words were wrong because in most cases they have been making them up. The majority of their words have no substance, carry no weight of revelation or have any actual consequence. In fact the most famous national prophets use the common rhetorical technique of making vague complicated nonsensical statements that bring about a conflict which can only be resolved by their revelation. It’s sanctified gobbly gook. If their words are proven wrong, they say we applied the word wrongly. It’s a fail proof system.

That’s like Michael Spinks saying he didn’t really get knocked out by Tyson, he was doing a different kind of boxing and he still won. For them, truth is a moving target that they alone define.

The truth of the matter is that the problems they have diagnosed are only the problems of their social class, the elite. Neither the ailment they sought to address nor their remedies came from God. They have consistently delivered false prophecies and none of the leading national prophets or apostles called them out.

I know exactly one prophet that got true words about this season. I can name you many that not only didn’t predict this season properly, they exasperated the problems with false words from their imaginations. There was no economy of revelation. All the national prophets said the same thing and they all were wrong.

The modern prophetic movement is badly broken. It does not need repaired, it needs to be dismantled and rebuilt from the ground up.

Speaking the Language of the Other

Pentecostal love was demonstrated by God with the outpouring of the Spirit. On Pentecost, the Spirit was poured out on those in attendance and they spoke with other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Many followers miss the fact that Holy Spirit empowers people to speak the language of the other. He gives us the ability to understand people in a way we could not without His infilling. Pentecostal power is the ability to transcend our own self interest and see the needs of others and be transformed in a way that we can meet those needs.

While in Birmingham Alabama in 1963, Martin Luther King wrote a manifesto which invoked Christian ethics and American ideals as a call for justice in race relations. He was arrested during the peaceful protest that followed. While he was in jail, eight white clergymen wrote An Appeal for Law and Order and Common Sense.  They wrote that the acts of protesters were unwise and that if King and his people would just wait, in time the courts would give equal justice. In the meantime, people of color should submit to the segregationist laws.

Law and order would become an inportant phrase in politics. Law and order would become cemented in American conservatism. It was a tool to shift any conversation from the need for civil reform toward the actions of reformers that upset those who would need to give up power.

In reply, King wrote what was to be know as A Letter from a Birmingham Jail. Addressed to the white clergy who signed the letter in the paper, King replied that, “I am in Birmingham because injustice is here.” He then went on to recall how the Apostle Paul left Tarsus to carry the Gospel, because he had to respond to the Macedonian call for aid. He then justified the confrontational nature of his work.  “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”

He later writes, “when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tip-toe stance never quite knowing what to expect next, plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of ‘nobodiness’; then then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.”

He finally writes the point of his letter. He was not so frustrated with the KKK or her sister organization the White Citizen’s Council, he was frustrated and dissapoitned with the white moderate who was more devoted to “order” than to justice. He then wrote extensively toward the white church, who according to King gave more emphasis about obeying the law of segregation instead of preaching on morality.

King wrote the prophetic words, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
We are all connected. The murder of George Floyd is another murder of a black man. But we must see ourselves as George Floyd no matter our race. We must see ourselves as Christian Cooper who just wanted to bird watch without a loose dog following him.

Through relationship with Holy Spirit we can identify with Christ. By the same Spirit we can identify with people who are hurt and fighting for their full personhood. As we mature in our theology, we must transcend the first identity (loving God), into our full identity (loving others). If we don’t, we risk abandoning the faith we seek to protect with law and order.

As people of faith, we must identify with:
George Floyd
Breonna Taylor
Ahmaud Arbery
Tamir Rice
Oscar Grant
Eric Garner
Philando Castile
Samuel Dubose
Sandra Bland
Walter Scott
Terrence Crutcher

Snake Handling in the Age of Cornavirus

A few years ago, Cody Coots was preaching in the pulpit his father left empty after his death in 2014. Like his father before him, Cody pastors the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name in Tennessee. And like his father before him, Cody Coots had just been bitten by a snake. Unlike his father, Cody would survive his wounds only because his friend Big Cody threw him over his shoulder and carrired him to the hospital against his will.

Cody’s father Jamie Coots followed in his father’s footsteps of snake-handling. As disciples of Geroge Went Hensley, they learned that the test of their faith was their ability to trust that the God of the Bible can be trusted to protect and heal. That would be fine if it ended there. But of course it doesn’t end there.

Virtue Signaling Gone Amuck

Virtue signaling is never satisfied.

Virtue signaling is never satisfied. Click To Tweet

The snake-handling sects of central Appalachia have determined to not only believe God, but show their faith to others by putting God to the test as an act of faith. They parade poisonous snakes in their services to show to others what faith looks like.

At the end of the Gospel of Mark, he writes that those that believe God can cast out demons, speak in new tongues, take up serpents and drink poison without harm. These are trusty promises to those that find themselves in an unwanted dangerous situation. These folks take it a step further and put themselves in dangerous situations to show the power of God.

It is no surprise to anyone that many of their pioneers, including George Hensley and Cody’s father, died from snake bites. Both of them declared that it was the Lord’s will that they die and not be taken to the hospital.

I will agree only to the extent that if God created poisonous snakes, it was His will that we stay away from them. To most people this is not a complicated concept. Only, it really is. Religious extremism is difficult to untangle in the mind of the person ensnared.

Radicalized faith always needs to outperform our neighbor.

It seems perfectly reasonable to demonstrate your faith in God as being truly genuine by handling snakes, denying science, or blowing yourself up.

Christanity is a belief system completely built on the belief that a person is justified before God based on nothing they can do in and of themselves but on what a divine someone did for us. It is the very core of Christianity to not only surrender the need to demonstrate trust in God externally, but the surrender of the ability to do so.

Snake-Handling Tests for Non-Pentecostals

Before my conversion to Christ, I asked a friend if his Pentecostal church handled snakes. He had no idea what I was talking about. Most Pentecostals do and they have to fight the image the fringe elements of our faith paint for us.

Those who are most radicalized often do the least about of thinking, questioning, and listening. But they also do the most amount of proselytizing.

Once it enters one radical’s mind that there is a way to prove their faith, and disprove the faith of their imagined adversary, it’s game-on and no amount of reason will deter them.

This is in part why many deny the true existence of the modern, personal Spirit-baptism. They have convinced themselves that the portions of the New Testament they have not experienced were temporary. While the portions that they can reason, are for today.

This is precisely why I find it odd that so many that would never preach the speaking in tongues are publicly urging their congregations to purposefully encounter serpents.

It is an undeniable fact that among the most risky things a person could do in this season is to fill a closed space with people and have them sing at the top of their lungs.

To begin physically meeting as a church is one of the heaviest decisions church leaders can make in this time. Many, many are doing so with wisdom and care. Others are doing it out of sheer bravado. This is not radical faith, its radicalized faith and it does not honor God.

I would prefer to physically handle a rattlesnake myself. We know far more about the handling of deadly snakes than Covid-19. We have anti-venom for snake bites.

And all these careless leaders have for Coronavirus is thoughts and prayers.

Truth Over Ideology

I recently watched the Netflix show Waco, which is a tv series about the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas led by the devilishly clever David Koresh (not his real name). Without getting into the fictionalizations in the storytelling, the show rightly portrayed Koresh as the center of this offshoot of Seventh Day Adventists and how his personal teaching gift became the locus of their faith. It was his contention that all the Scripture pointed toward the seven seals of the Book of Revelation. He taught that faithful followers of God pursued the knowledge contaied in these sealed documents and their key to gaining that knowledge was Koresh himself. In order to be a successful cult leader, one must shift the focus from Jesus revealing the nature of God, toward the fulfillment of human desire through the cult leader. Every cult is based on this.

The teachings of Jesus are pretty clear, give up what you think is important. Focus on what God calls important. Lay down your life if that’s what it takes. Add value to the lives of others. It’s pretty simple when you take the teachings of Jesus at face value but all too often, people don’t want simple. They want super-spiritual convoluted teachings that make them feel special because of their insight.

The crazy shift

Jesus knew he was teaching people who needed rules. Their mind could not yet comprehend a system whereby they would have a personal, dynamic relationship with the God of heaven. So like Moses of old, he came down with commandments. He said that his new commandment was to love one another. This was not a suggestion, philosophy, or a religion. It was a commandment. He said that this new relational dynamic would be so remarkable that people outside the community would see and be so impacted that they would know that only God could be working in their lives. He again appealed to the desire to keep laws. He said that if you love God you will keep this commandment to love.

This is the crazy shift that Jesus brought. He connected our relationship with God to our relationship with each other in no uncertain terms. Over half the Ten Commandments teach this, but we missed it for hundreds of years. But Jesus said we were not alone in this quest to follow his love leadership. He promised another Helper. This Parakletos is not our servant, he is an advocate with the Father who gives us the ability to do what we could not do on our own. He empowes us to love. Those not connected to Jesus would not understand this love power but the promise was that we would.

It was this empowerment that Jesus called the Spirit of Truth. This empowering advocate will turn our thoughts to Jesus, and in turn, we will turn other’s thoughts to Jesus. Here is that connection between our relationship with God and other people. The Holy Ghost is the bridge between our heavenly relationship and our worldly relationships. Jesus is drawing a clear line. We are commanded to follow truth as sent by Jesus, not ideologies as formulated by people.

Truth or Ideology

An ideology is a system of ideas and ideals, especially one which forms the basis of economic or political theory or policy.

Truthcomes from the Spirit of God. It is the conviction of Holy Spirit  who said he would testify about Jesus, our God who laid down his life for us.

How do we find this truth?

When we connect with Holy Spirit he guides us into the truth. This is a foundation of Pentecostal theology. This is why we pray in tongues. This is why we seek Charismatic experiences. We want to encounter God so we can be further guided into his truth. The promise is that if we live by this system of encountering God and walking in the truth, we will live a life of joy. 

Jesus came to level the playing field

Jesus came to a world fraught with ideological strife and taught followers to set our focus on truth. The Father moved heaven and earth so that we can display the kingdom of heaven to the world around us.

Jesus sent his Spirit to give us all the supernatural ability to be a touchpoint of the kingdom of God. We each have access to the riches of the Kingdom with the ability to distribute the wealth of our heavenly Father as we see need. This ability has a byproduct of personal reward but when the motivation is personal reward, that which is holy, the sharing of the Kingdom, becomes corrupt. The material rewards of following Jesus have the potential of overshadowing the real rewards in heaven we are supposed to be focusing on, and when this happens, it brings out the worst in people and damages the reputation of our Savior.

The Christ did not come to bring us a higher quality of worldly experience. He did not leave heaven, put on flesh, subject himself to humanity, so we could satisfy our egos in a more efficient manner. Nor did he come so we could quiet our conscience while we extracted the most value for ourselves while devaluing our fellow man. We know we are experiencing spiritual maturity when we realize we are not in competition with anyone. There is no competition. Jesus invites us into a life in the kingdom of God where there is always enough for everybody. Those who have not had their minds transformed are still in the competition of the world where there is a the law of zero sum gain. Your victory is my defeat.

Real joy comes from knowing Jesus

When people don’t know God, they think he is focusing on Presidential elections, economic activity, or personal freedom.   These poor souls lay down the life of joy that Jesus promised for earthly riches. They are then deceived into thinking that he is willing to bend his morals so they will never need to be uncomfortable. This is the deception that makes people think Jesus came to protect our ideologies. This self-centered focus in the name of Jesus alone defines their truth. Though they may compile volumes of Scripture, they are always learning and never coming to the knowledge of the truth.

This was the devilish plan of David Koresh. He would argue people into the belief that what was best for him was best for them. This led to him comadeering their money, their labor, their wives and daughters, and ulitmately their lives. But this all started with him becoming the gatekeeper of their relationship with God.

We have modern gatekeepers. They are not selling sheep in the temple, they are selling ads on tv and our future for their gain.

I plan to walk in the conviction of Holy Spirit and point out their lies so that I can walk in the joy of the Lord. I hope you join me on the mission.