12 May 2008

How to Burn Down Churches

I'd like to go ahead and extend an already vague metaphor by accusing certain revivalists of committing spiritual arson in their spreading of so-called "revival fires." (Here's their website). For an example that is both more pointed and more litigious, took a look at this story of a traveling preacher who took everyone's money.

I believe the two examples above illustrate a particularly disturbing behavior in Christianity, namely, the promising of immediate reaction from God to some action of the believer as prescribed by the itinerant preacher speaking on God's behalf. The beneficiary, of course, is not the believer but the one making the promise, ostensibly for God.

In the second and more obvious example, believers are promised wealth in return for donations to the itinerant preacher. In the first, and more subtle example, believers are promised an esoteric spiritual renewal— often in the more tangible form of miraculous healing— in return for attendance and participation in increasingly ecstatic gatherings.

The problem, of course, is that the promise seems inevitable in the moment, but in the long run almost always remains utterly unfulfilled. It is my opinion, then, that itinerant preachers are generally troublesome and dangerous due to their practice of introducing hopes which are rarely, if ever, tenable or sustainable.

I'd tend to accuse these itinerant preachers— despite their stated intentions— of promoting not God, or truth, or the Gospel, but themselves. They want money or fame. Either way, the intent is to gain power over others in what I consider an exploitative manner.

But that accusation is probably not verifiable— how could any person look at another and know the intention in their heart and mind? I think, however, there is more evidence in the lives of those affected by this kind of preaching of wrongdoing on the part of these itinerant preachers. It is akin, perhaps, to a one-night stand, in that it is high in excitement and low in meaning, only one party mistakenly believed the commitment was supposed to last longer.

The danger, then, in having the presumption to speak for God is that you may turn God into a liar and a destroyer whose fire doesn't cleanse or rejuvenate, but destroys and consumes and chars. And, given the language I've just used to describe the situation, I might wonder who it is precisely such a preacher speaks for.

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