Prof. Decker is professor of Practical Theology in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.
“Holy Rollers”: Bigger, Richer Than Ever
I am indebted to Kenneth Vink, Corporate Systems Supervisor at Spartan Stores, Inc. and an elder in our Grandville, MI Church, for the source of this article. Mr. Vink sent me a copy of an in-depth study of the Assemblies of God denomination which appeared in The Wall Street Journal.
Eluding the hellfire and smoke surrounding his pulpit, the Rev. Tommy Barnett waves good-bye. With a hearty ‘Hallelujah,’ he soars straight toward heaven and out of sight.
The abrupt flight of this Pentecostal Peter Pan in a gray suit brings gasps from many of the 6,500 faithful at Phoenix First Assembly. Joining in the extravaganza are a $500,000 special-effects system, 200-member choir and 25-piece orchestra. It’s a finale fit for the mecca where one of Mr. Barnett’s assistant pastors studies how to make such miracles happen: Bally’s casino in Las Vegas.
Indeed, Assemblies of God churches (AG) are flying higher than ever these days. Just four years ago they were mired in the sex scandals of their most famous ministers, the now defrocked Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggert. On the one hand, the AG, the so-called “holy rollers” of Christendom, were humiliated. But on the other hand the scandals gave them wide exposure. “Overnight, we went from relative obscurity to the world asking how our pastors got so out of control,” says Juleen Turnage, the AG’s secretary of information.
The AG, whose beliefs include faith healing and glossolalia (speaking or praying in unknown tongues, as evidences of being “baptized with the Holy Spirit”), is emerging with bigger ambitions than its television preachers ever had. The AG have opened over 400 churches nationwide since 1987. Their total membership exceeds four million. The AG has set a goal of adding 5,000 churches in the decade of the 1990s. They already have some 1,600 missionaries working in 121 countries. They operate 18 colleges with a total enrollment of 10,000. In these schools alcohol use is grounds for dismissal and dancing and movies are not allowed.
Many new AG churches are “supersanctuaries” that seat up to 10,000, with stages instead of altars, giant overhead TV screens making pastors larger than life, and laser lights effecting New Age tableaus. Church stores offer all kinds of paraphernalia: fortune cookies with Scripture inside, miniature $100 bills praising Jesus on the back, and T-shirts advising “Kick Satan’s Butt.”
The AG’s problem of putting religion in perspective with their prosperity is evident at Phoenix First Assembly. The church building is a grand circular edifice located on 72 acres. The sandstone entrance near the fountain and waterfall has the elegant look of the neighborhood’s golf resorts. The building cost $9 million. Pastor Tommy Barnett claims his is the fastest growing church in the nation. It has an average weekly attendance of 9,600. Similarly, Carpenter’s Home Church, the 10,000 seat AG church in Lakeland, FL, cost $12 million. Calvary Temple in Naperville, IL is growing so fast that it’s planning to build a 3,500 seat sanctuary that will cost $15 million.
AG members claim to have become millionaires after praying for this. Prayer brings them high paying jobs at good companies, new cars, and healing from all kinds of sickness.
While some of these excesses are denounced by officials at the AG headquarters in Springfield, MO, the headquarters itself is big business. Their printing presses, e.g., turn out 25 tons of books and pamphlets per day! Their video production center produces hours of sermons which are aired by most of the nation’s 200 religious TV stations.
Reading all this, we are reminded of Scripture’s warning against the false teachers in the church who “. . .through covetousness with feigned words make merchandise of you . . .” (II Pet. 2:3).
The Wall Street Journal
New Law on Religion Passed in Singapore
The government of Singapore has forbidden anyone to escalate inter-religious tension. It also forbids anyone to incite others to defy, challenge, or oppose government policies, or promote subversion in the name of religion. Violations carry a fine of $10,000 and up to two years in prison.
Churches in Singapore have given the new law mixed reviews. The National Council of Churches and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese have objected to the broad and ambiguous wording of the law. Singapore Baptists have approved the law. The latter suggest that only Muslim extremists and very zealous Christian groups might stir up dissension. Just how the new law will be implemented is not clear.
What effects might this law have on our sister churches, the Evangelical Reformed Churches in Singapore? Perhaps one of the brothers from these churches can tell us. Does the law mean, e.g., that should the ERCS evangelize among Buddhists she would be guilty of “escalating inter-religious tension”? Already in recent months, door-to-door and street evangelism have been criticized. Rapid growth of churches in the past months has raised apprehensions among some Singaporeans. If Christians are seen as too aggressive, the government may decide they are “escalating tension.”
REC News Exchange
Early last year the directors of the recently formed Association of Reformed and Charismatic Churches met in Florida to approve their Statement of Faith. Joseph R. McAuliffe of Tampa, a staff writer for R. J. Rushdoony’s Chaldedon Report, said “the purpose of the Association is to provide Christian leaders who are committed to the principal tenets of Reformation theology and to present manifestations of the Holy Spirit a setting for fellowship, accountability, and mutual edification.” McAuliffe also reports that “the Association is in a very embryonic stage and our goal for this year is to complete our Statement of Faith and write our Constitution. We hope to hold our first conference in April 1992 and invite all interested parties who share our vision for the authority of God’s Word, the power of God’s Spirit, church planting, missions, and cultural transformation.”
From this it appears that the Reconstructionists, or at least some of them, are going charismatic. Reformed and charismatic is a contradiction in terms. No confessionally Reformed church or person (in the sense of the Three Forms of Unity and the Westminster Standards) can possibly be charismatic. The Reformed Truth repudiates not only charismatic excesses, but also its basic teachings.
M.A.R.S. Decides to Relocate
At its Board Meeting on January 22-23, the Trustees of Mid-America Reformed Seminary adopted a significant resolution concerning the future of the school. The Board decided to relocate the seminary to the Chicagoland area, in order better to fulfill its goal to serve abroad range of Reformed and Presbyterian churches in an increasingly urban world.
This decision was taken with grateful acknowledgment of the support of local constituents, but with the conviction that such a move is compelled by the seminary’s vision for broader service. “It is clearly a decision taken in faith,” said one board member.
A committee has been appointed to work out details relative to the decision, such as site, timetable of the move, and financing.
Said Board President Richard Blauw of Southern California, “We thank everyone in this region for their faithful support in the past and we trust God that we will continue to enjoy that support during the time of transition and after the actual move.”
Mid-America Reformed Seminary is a school serving existing and emerging Presbyterian and Reformed churches through the training of pastors. Its Board contains representatives of many such churches and from all across North America. The Seminary is financially supported by the free-will gifts of Reformed believers in many states and nations.
A Thought Worth Pondering
Here is a statement which all of us who own TV sets ought to ponder. The quote is taken from an article which appeared in a recent issue of the Banner of Tuuth, edited by Maurice Roberts. Here it is:
The television . . . is certainly a great time-waster and will give little help to anyone who has his sights on getting to the Celestial City.