Wednesday, February 20, 2019

The Wrath of God?

Dear Friends,

After many years of not going to church, I was dragged by God into a church service where the Holy Spirit seized my soul and I’ve never been the same. I loved this church. It was a typical Pentecostal church with a raised stage at the front that we called the “platform,” and it had a stained glass window and an eight foot wood cross on the wall. This was the sanctuary – the holy of holies – where the “platform ministry” took place. It grieves me to tell you that I look back now and clearly see that this was also where the platform abuse took place. At first, I loved the older, charismatic pastor who took me under his wing to mentor me and teach me how to do church ministry. After I enrolled in our denomination’s Bible college, he used to tell me to watch him and do everything he did. I’m embarrassed to tell you that it took me a long time to realize that God was showing me how not to do ministry.

A young couple, who had grown up in the church, were getting married. They’d arranged for a good friend to play a special piano solo of their favorite hymn during the lighting of the Unity Candle. When the senior pastor found out the pianist was gay, he was banned from being at the piano on the platform because, his “sins would have contaminated the service and defiled the Holiness of the Sanctuary.” When Jesus encountered sinners, He walked with them, talked with them, ate with them, touched them, healed them and saved them from their sins. We kept it simple. We condemned them, humiliated them and banished them. It gets worse. After I’d left that church, I found out that the married senior pastor and a married leader of one of the ministries were having an inappropriately intense emotional affair, and I discovered that the married associate pastor was sleeping with a woman on the worship team who was married to a staff member. Defiling the holiness of the platform ministry in that church had turned out to be a “team effort.”

A 19 year old girl in the church became pregnant and the teenage couple agreed to marry, but the senior pastor would not sanctify the marriage until there was a public confession of her sin. During a well-attended Sunday service of several hundred people, the girl was forced by her parents and the senior pastor to go up on the platform and, standing alone, confess her sexual sin that resulted in pregnancy. (The boy was allowed to remain seated and silent.) Three years later, the young woman told me that being forced to publicly confess before people she had known since she had been a small child was the most humiliating and shameful moment of her life. That was the senior pastor’s intent. Shame was her punishment. The manner in which this was handled had no love, no restoration and no redemption. It left a permanent soul wound and emotional scaring for life. In her beloved childhood church, she had gone from blessed to damned.

The church was mostly families, but we did have an active singles group. There was an attractive blonde woman with an out-going, effervescent personality who was on the intercessory prayer team. I would not have described her as flirtatious but her beauty and personality did seem to attract the attention of the men. One Sunday, the pastor called her out of the congregation to come up on the platform. He told her that he had identified an evil “Jezebel Spirit” within her that was leading the men to have lustful thoughts toward her. He told us men to stay away from her and not to talk to her during the hospitality time. She ran crying out of the church and we never saw her again. 

There are even worse things that I could tell you about this fundamental, Pentecostal church. Things said and done from the platform that would make me cringe and in the three years I was there, many times I tried to intervene between those being abused and the pastor. The associate pastor would warn me, “Touch not the Lord’s anointed” 1 Chronicles 16:22 and I was told “Obey those who rule over you and be submissive for they watch out for your souls.” Hebrews 13:17 I was the Director of Men’s Ministries but none of us were permitted to question the authority of the pastor. For a year I persisted anyway and kept trying to make things right. I am a “fixer” but I had to finally admit that I was unable to fix the church and unable to help those caught up in the spiritual abuse. That was when I left and had little thought of that church until just a few weeks ago.

It was during one of our recent rainstorms, when a massive eighty foot tree fell into the end of the church where the platform was. The cross and the pulpit crushed to kindling. The tree didn’t fall into the church where the people gathered. It completely destroyed the platform area where the abusive ministry of that church had taken place. Nothing was left standing. The roof over the platform and the entire exterior wall collapsed. You might be able to surmise what my thoughts have been since I heard that this had happened. This must be absolutely devastating for the people in this congregation; their church has been destroyed and I pray for them. And at the same time, I began to think back to what I witnessed taking place from that platform so many years ago and I wonder about it all. I don’t know the mind of God and why He does what He does Isaiah 55:8, but the more I understand the providence of God, and that He is in control of all things in His Creation, the less I believe in mere “coincidences.”

Some of us are offended when we read of God’s curses, judgments and divine wrath and tend to dismiss the Old Testament as if it were some type of primitive religion that just doesn’t fit today with our modern, enlightened church teachings. We are told throughout the Old Testament that: God’s children are blessed. They turn to sin. God is angry and brings His wrath and destruction. The people repent and are restored and the cycle begins again. God’s wrath was most apparent when dealing with the religious ones who abused the flock (read Jeremiah 23 and Ezekiel 34) and He allowed the total destruction of King Solomon’s first Temple, the second Temple and then the third and last Temple in 70 AD. 

Over the platform destroyed by the tree were these words “Jesus Christ is the same Yesterday, Today and Forever.” Hebrews 13:8 The Lord God is unchanging. His love and His wrath are immutable. The more that I’ve thought and prayed about this, the more convinced I am of why this happened at my former church. But what do you think? God’s divine judgement? Or just a stroke of bad luck?

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