It’s been awhile since I’ve posted and wasn’t sure I’d actually post this, but I’d like to make my re-entry back into the blog world by sharing my thoughts on recent events surrounding one of America’s largest Pentecostal denomination’s 107th Holy Convocation. In case you are not familiar or these sort of things don’t come across your newsfeed, allow me to briefly fill you in. This past week, a now viral video surfaced showing a portion of the conclusion of one of the worship services held by the Church of God in Christ as part of their 107th Holy Convocation. In the video, one the denomination’s Bishops was praying over people and allowed one gentleman to share his reason for coming down for prayer. Depending on how you view certain things, this is where things either went downhill or uphill. In a nutshell, the gentleman, in a very charismatic and/or dramatic way exclaimed that he had been delivered from homosexuality, wearing makeup, and carrying purses (I’m assuming that night, but not quite sure) and refused to marry a man among other things and that he only wanted to marry a women (no typo). In true COGIC fashion (pun intended), the place erupted (after some coaxing) and the people got happy, shouted (danced) and the gentleman got paid. End clip.
The link I saw was posted by the Bishop who was handling the service and prayer that night. He posted it (by choice) as an official representative and member of the denomination. As a result, social media went nuts with the majority of commenters poking fun (I’m being generous here) at the video and especially its main subject, the delivert (no typo) man. Due to the attention and backlash stemming from the video, the denomination released an official memo stating (in a nutshell), “People shouldn’t overlook all the good that was done in St. Louis while they were there, the lives that were touched and souls that were saved…also, the denomination does not condone any sort of abuse towards homosexuality and loves homosexuals as Christ demonstrated and commanded His Church to.” The denomination did also include their stance against homosexuality but also reaffirmed it’s commitment to loving everyone.
However, nowhere in the letter did they really address the content of the video and its legitimacy which is strange because well, that’s what the whole fuss is about. For me, I took their lack of addressing the content of the video, the concerns, questions and comments of viewers (inside and out of the organization) as a sign that everyone should give them the benefit of the doubt by believing what took place to be an authentic move of the Holy Spirit. I, however, cannot do that and here are four reasons why:
The COGIC is known for its high-energy, loud, lengthy and heavily charismatic services. Having grown up in a semi-charismatic environment and being exposed to different churches and denominations as a musician/preacher, I’ve been to my fair share of worship services and the one common denominator of all the COGIC services I have attended over the years is that they are emotionally driven. All throughout the services, when someone new gains control of the microphone you can expect their to be an exhortation respond to God in praise (authentic or not) lest the service be held hostage. The “exhorters” will also tend to keep prodding (manipulating) until they begin to strike nerves and receive a response or misquote passages that tend to be self-centered. As a result, what tends to happen is a tipping point (one of many) in the service where people have to choose whether they really love God or not or are grateful for Him and His benefits or not. To choose the latter in each case could potentially isolate a congregant to the point where it would be made to seem that something must be “wrong” with that person. This type of emotionalism has led to professional praisers and actors who know how to play a role in order to fit in and/or appear “spiritual.” For this reason I cannot give the video the benefit of the doubt.
2. Shaky Theology
Another reason why I struggle to take the video and its content seriously is because of the history of the denomination’s shaky theology. On the surface they would appear to hold the fundamentals of the faith: Salvation in Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone. However, when it comes to the doctrine of the Holy Spirit things get shaky. According to their own belief statement concerning the Baptism of the Holy Spirit they believe, “…the Baptism of the Holy Ghost is an experience subsequent to conversion and sanctification and that tongue-speaking is the consequence of the baptism in the Holy Ghost with the manifestations of the fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:22-23; Acts 10:46, 19:1-6). We believe that we are not baptized with the Holy Ghost in order to be saved (Acts 19:1-6; John 3:5). When one receives a baptismal Holy Ghost experience, we believe one will speak with a tongue unknown to oneself according to the sovereign will of Christ. To be filled with the Spirit means to be Spirit controlled as expressed by Paul in Ephesians 5:18-19. Since the charismatic demonstrations were necessary to help the early church to be successful in implementing the command of Christ, we therefore, believe that a Holy Ghost experience is mandatory for all men today” (emphasis mine).
This is a whole other can of worms but briefly I will state why there is a problem with this line of thinking. In John 14, Jesus told the Disciples that he was leaving the earth but that He would send the Comforter (the Holy Spirit) who would not only dwell with them, but in them. Most theologians would agree that the promise was not only extended to the Apostles, but to all believers. In John 20, the resurrected Jesus walks into a room with the Apostles and other disciples and breathed on them exclaiming, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” In Acts 1, right before Jesus ascended into heaven, He commanded the Apostles and disciples to go to Jerusalem and wait for the fulfillment of His command in John 20. Then, in the infamous Acts 2, which the COGIC stakes a lot of their claims on, we see the 120 become baptized, filled with the Holy Spirit and then speak in languages foreign to them. In subsequent chapters and scenes we see the same thing happen. People hear the gospel, respond to Christ, and are filled with the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues. We see this in several cases, but not all. However, the denomination takes the several cases to be the normative experience in the Christian life.
As I come to believe, what Luke does in Acts is brilliantly show the progression of fulfillment of Jesus’ call to be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth. To prove this point, let’s take a journey through that progression.
In Acts 2 the Apostles and other Disciples are in Jerusalem for the Passover and on the Day of Pentecost, while in Jerusalem, the Holy Spirit endows the 120, they began to “tell the mighty works of God” in the languages of the pilgrims in Jerusalem, Peter preaches the gospel and 3000 people according to verse 41, “received his word and were baptized into Christ and the Christian faith.” Nowhere does it say, the 3000 spoke in tongues, but what it does say subsequently happened was Spirit-filled devotion to God and each other.
In Acts 8, we find that as a result of persecution Christ-followers were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria (coincidence?) and there the Gospel was preached and people believed and were saved in Samaria through the teaching of Phillip, but no mention of tongues
In Acts 10, at Caesarea Peter preaches to Gentiles and here again we see tongues, but a new group is introduced; Gentiles.
Finally in Acts 19, Paul visited Ephesus (outside of the previous regions mentioned) and preached the Gospel to another group of people who received the word and became saved and filled with the Spirit and spoke in tongues proclaiming in the word of Christ in that region.
So we have Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and Ephesus (ends of the world) and the fulfillment of the call of Jesus to take the gospel everywhere, to all men. As each new group was introduced, tongues were evident as they proclaimed the mighty works of God in languages people understood.
All in between those passages there are other stories and scenes where the gospel is preached and received, people were filled (including Paul) but no tongues. Why? Because speaking in tongues is not the normative experience during regeneration and conversion.
Lastly on this, if the position of the COGIC were correct, there would be the categories of the haves and have nots. Thus, conflicting with Jesus’ prayer in John 17 that the Disciples and subsequent Church be one as the Godhead is one. As this is the case in the COGIC, you will find people rambling off unintelligible phrases (as the gentleman did in the video) in an effort again to fit in and prove they have the Holy Spirit. For Paul and the other New Testament writers, to not have the Holy Spirit, means to not be saved (Romans 8:9) and certainly not everyone would share the same manifestations of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12-14). Therefore, their theology is flawed and does not warrant the benefit of the doubt in this case.
3. Authority Issues
Another reason I can’t just take their word for it is because their leaders often misuse and abuse their authority. As Pastors and preachers we are commissioned to preach under the Authority of Christ as led by the Holy Spirit but always within the bounds of Scripture. Deviations from this model lead to the abuse of the position and ultimately people. The COGIC has and its leaders are typically great communicators and are very good at persuading and manipulating congregants under the guise of spiritual authority. This came into play during the video when the Bishop made the statement that those who were not celebrating and rejoicing at his command (shouting, whether superficial or not) were considered unbelievers…Unbelievers!!!
Nowhere in Scripture do we find that criteria nor do we see the endowment or exercise of that kind of power. Name driven, celebrity driven, pastor driven denominations like the COGIC tend to create monsters because so much emphasis is placed on the leaders to where their words are presumed infallible and inspired; even above Scripture. We also see in the video the Bishop tell the gentleman to run down the aisle and scream in the camera his new found freedom.
Now I get that in the Bible, there are many examples where prophets and even Jesus asked those being ministered to, to do some odd things. However, those odd things were part of the process of healing, provision, etc. This was not the case in the video. It was more, “do this because I said so. I’m the Bishop!” For this reason I cannot give the COGIC the benefit of the doubt.
The last reason I can’t reasonably take this video to be serious is because somehow or some way it always comes down to money. What do I mean? Well if you attend a COGIC service you better be sure to bring cash. You will be asked to give a tithe, a general offering, a seed offering for your blessing of choice as well as an offering to “bless” the speaker of the hour. Or, depending on the type of service, you will see grand displays/gestures of giving money to others in a very dramatic and public way. Sermons tend to always lead to praising God in expectation of a blessing, often times monetary. People are told they’re supposed to be millionaires and the first step to making that million is to sow a seed. Money drives the end of the sermons, money motivates praise, and money more times than not motivates the preacher to keep going. In the video in question, the Bishop gave the gentleman money not because there was a need per se, but because commitment to Christ leads to spiritual and material blessings. So he says. However, all we can tell is that in a grand display of generosity the Bishop conveniently pulls out a $100 bill and sows into the man and we see others follow suit. No explanation is given, but what’s implied is by following Christ you can expect “stuff” and that when you bless others you can expect to receive a greater blessing in return. The fixation on prosperity and the misnomer that God’s people are supposed to have material wealth often leads people to passionately Perdue the resources of life rather than the Source of life, which is Christ. For this reason and for the aforementioned reasons, there is a place to reasonably doubt the authenticity of the video.
I know I am treading on dangerous ground by questioning an event like this. I get that. However, I firmly believe that now more than ever, the Church of Jesus Christ (undivided) would do well to exercise discernment as the Day of the Lord draws near. I’ve tried to be fair in my judgment, but from what I know, it’s hard to believe the content of the video. Not because I don’t believe in the power of the Holy Spirit, I do. Not because I don’t believe in the continuation of Spiritual Gifts/Ministry Assignments, I do. Not because I don’t believe members of the COGIC to be authentic believers, I do and know quite a few brothers and sisters who have dedicated their lives to the pursuit of Christ and the furtherance of His Kingdom. I just believe in examining the whole while also viewing the part.
I pray that the gentleman received or receives the deliverance that is promised to those who trust and treasure Christ. It has been happening for 2000 years plus, it has happened to me, and by God’s grace and the effectual, immutable power of the Holy Spirit, it will continue to happen until we see Him (Christ) face to face.