Time for the tenth installment in this series. So far, we’ve looked at the New Apostolic Reformation, the Outreach Top 50 #1-5, the Outreach Top 50 #6-10, the Outreach Top 50 #11-15, the Outreach Top 50 #16-20, the Outreach Top 50 #21-25, the the Outreach Top 50 #26-30, the Outreach Top 50 #31-35, the Outreach Top 50 #36-40., and the Outreach Top 50 #41-45. We’ll now look at the Outreach Top 50 #46-50, which includes one very interesting church.
46. Church of the Resurrection of Leawood, Kansas – Pastored by Adam Hamilton. This church is a Methodist church that seems to steer far away from charismatic manifestations of the Spirit. Their current sermon series is on revival and it doesn’t exactly talk about tongues. The church uses this spiritual gifts test and it’s pretty tame. There’s a sermon from 2002 on spiritual gifts with no audio (and the sermon outline says basically nothing), but there’s a sermon from 2005 directly addressing the charismatic issue, teaches that the whole modern charismatic movement started in 1901, and the sermon reveals the church to be practical cessationists who are still sympathetic to Pentecostals (though his history on Pentecostalism is actually not too bad…).
47. Pinelake Church of Brandon MS – Pastored by Chip Henderson. There’s only a few things that need to be said about this church:
47a. Seeing that their doctrinal statement includes only passing mentions of the Holy Spirit, I’m guessing that these guys aren’t exactly charismatic. Seeing that the senior pastor has a Ph.D in New Testament from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, I don’t really see him coming out of a Southern Baptist seminary as a committed charismatic (seeing that the SBC is, at least officially, cessationist). Also, the fact that this is a Southern Baptist Church gives you a clue that they’re most likely not charismatic.
47b. Here’s a very recent sermon on spiritual gifts that gives me good reason to think that these folks are practical cessationists. They are really clear that people don’t have all the gifts (but Jesus might have…?!?), they don’t believe that the Biblical list of gifts is exhaustive (but they won’t expand the list to include things not specifically called “spiritual gifts” in the Bible), and they teach that you cannot pray in order to get whatever gifts you want. They teach that you learn your gifts by asking God to reveal it to you, seeking out wise counsel in the church, and go on the internet and use a spiritual gifts test (www.spirtualgiftstest.com).
They apparently utilize the definitions on that site, and that site defines the gifts as follows:
– They separate the office of Apostle from the gifts of apostle, and teach that church planters are apostles.
– They define the gift of healing as praying for the sick, and even go so far as to say that it doesn’t always work (kinda like Jesus…no wait…)
– They define the gift of miracles as “a heightened sensitivity to the presence and power of God through His Holy Spirit” and connect it to a passion for evangelism, again suggesting that people with this gift only get it when God gives it (and it’s often rapidly rescinded).
– They define the gift of prophecy by saying “This is the spiritual gift where the Spirit empowers certain Christians to receive revelation of events in the future” (with no examples and no mention of testing…)
– They define the gift of tongues as “the spiritual gift where the Spirit enables a Christian to supernaturally speak a previously unknown language” and also include a video of John Piper on their tongues/interpretation of tongues page. Piper is definitely a practical cessationist, so that gives me a strong hint as to where these guys are at.
General Idea – Pinelake Church is a practical cessationist church that generally has better practice than doctrine, but that’s an inconsistency that I would definitely celebrate. When I lived in Burbank, there was a Latino Pentecostal church just a few blocks from me that had “El Fuego Pentecostal” on their sign; if Charismatic churches were salsa, that church wanted you to know that they were flavored “Holy Habenero”. On Charismatic issues, Pinelake is about as “El Fuego” as
48. NorthRidge Church of Plymouth, Michigan – Pastored by Brad Powell. This church seems to be a fairly non-charismatic church, at least when one looks at their doctrinal statement and, well, that’s basically everything they have on their website. Brad Powell’s personal website has lots on leadership and church planting, but nothing on spiritual gifts or charismatic issues. From the looks of things, these guys are practical cessationists, if not simply disinterested in the question altogether.
49. Calvary Chapel South Bay of Gardena, California – Pastored by Steve Mays. This church is a Calvary Chapel, which means they’re fairly predictable on the charismatic/spiritual gifts/sign gifts issues. Seeing that Steve Mays was saved and discipled under the ministry of Chuck Smith, one would expect a continuity with the teachings of Chuck Smith…if the church website said anything about the issue.
49a. Their doctrinal statement tows the party line closely (though quite vaguely) and it’s great that they include a statement about what they don’t believe as well; they openly reject the signs and wonders movement, as well as positive confession theology…and Calvinism, but it’s a Calvary Chapel. At Calvary Chapel, the fruit that Adam and Eve ate was somehow probably Calvinism.
(George Bryson has had his influence there, [notice how 2 out of 3 of the books he’s written are regarding Calvinism…and they’re absolutely laughable attacks against Calvinism, but don’t take my word for it; read The Dark Side of Calvinism here for free. Feel free to watch this clip of James White’s debate with George Bryson on Calvinism, where George Bryson suffered neurological trauma trying to deal with basic exegesis] and just the word “Calvinism” can send a Calvary Chapel Pastor into anaphylactic shock because of his inoculation of Calvary Chapel pastors against the doctrines of Grace. Beyond Bryson, Chuck Smith is also aggressively outspoken against Calvinism. For those of you that would like to hear an intelligent response to the Calvary Chapel knee-jerk reactions to Calvinism, listen to James White’s interactions with Bob Coy’s rambling mockery of Calvinism here and here, or James White’s response to Chuck Smith’s accusations here and here and here and here.)
49b. They have a woman’s study on 1 Corinthians, but the lesson pack that covers the later chapters in 1 Corinthians skips from chapter 11 to 15 (strange). Maybe they have a misprinted Bible and 1 Corinthians 12-14 looks like this in their version:
49c. They talk here briefly about Spiritual Gifts and make passing references to “Having divinely inspired visions and dreams” (guessing that’s prophecy), “Performing modern-day miracles” (that’s miracles), and “Speaking in foreign tongues” (tongues), though there’s not a lot of explanation (and that post also includes “secretaries, accountants, graphic artists, administrators, facilities workers” among the “gifted”. That’s interesting talk…and that sums up everything I could find on their website on the subject matter of Spiritual/Charismatic Gifts.
General Idea – Calvary South Bay, like all Calvary Chapels, is a continuationist church that is possibly on the borderline of being a practical cessationist church. This church is quiet on the issues related to Spiritual Gifts, even for a Calvary Chapel! Also, like all Calvary Chapels, they’re definitely not reformed charismatics; anyone who accuses a Calvary Chapel pastor of being reformed gets shot on sight.
50. The Church on the Way of Van Nuys, California – Pastored by Ricky Temple. Ricky Temple? He’s not nearly as well known as the previous pastor; Jack Hayford. Hayford is one of the patron saints of the whole foursquare church movement and, well, these guys are definitely Charismatic:
50a. The Foursquare church is a Pentecostal church established around 1923 by Amiee Semple McPherson (more on her below) and the whole “foursquare” has a rather interesting meaning. From their own website here, the Foursquare gospel is explained as:
The term “Foursquare Gospel” came about during an intense revival in the city of Oakland, Calif., in July 1922. To a crowd of thousands, Aimee Semple McPherson explained Ezekiel’s vision in the book of Ezekiel, chapter one. Ezekiel saw God revealed as a being with four different faces: a man, a lion, an ox and an eagle.
To Sister Aimee, those four faces were like the four phases of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In the face of the man, she saw Jesus our Savior. In the face of the lion, she saw Jesus the mighty Baptizer with the Holy Spirit and fire. In the face of the ox, she saw Jesus the Great Burden-Bearer, who took our infirmities and carried our sicknesses. In the face of the eagle, she saw Jesus the Coming King, who will return in power and victory for the church. It was a perfect, complete Gospel. It was a Gospel that faces squarely in every direction; it was the “Foursquare Gospel.” The four symbols perhaps most identified with Foursquare today are the cross, cup, dove and crown which stand for Jesus the Savior, Jesus the Healer, Jesus the Baptizer with the Holy Spirit, and Jesus the Soon-Coming King, respectively.
Yup. To say that Aimee Semple McPherson had some rather “creative” interpretations of scripture would be to put it mildly (read below). The FourSquare church would be part of what’s sometimes called “Old School Pentecostalism”, the stuff that came out of the pre-WWII era where they still held on to a bunch of fairly orthodox doctrine (at least when compared with prosperity preachers) but practiced many bizarre and questionable things (i.e. ecstatic speech, being “slain in the spirit”, etc). The Foursquare church (to my knowledge) neither condemns nor condones the prosperity gospel, but they openly embrace the questionable manifestations of the spirit that would be associated with more modern streams of the charismatic movement (i.e. being “slain in the spirit”, practicing ecstatic speech and calling it “tongues”, etc.). It’s been like that since the start:
(That’s Aimee Semple McPherson preaching there in the 1930’s, notice people being “slain in the spirit” around her.)
The Foursquare church has an extended doctrinal statement here, and a creedal statement here. Both documents show them to be unapologetic Charismatics (physical healing in the atonement, the baptism of the Spirit as experienced by the apostles, and anointing of oil on the sick), believers in Christian perfectionism and thorough Arminians (true believers can be lost and suffer eternally in Hell).
50b. With regards to Aimee Semple McPherson, she’s worth knowing a little about. You can read some official stuff about her on the Foursquare website.
She was a Canadian girl who was from Ontario, got saved when she was 17, married the evangelist that saved her one year later, then went to China for a short time of missionary service where her husband died. She apparently had a divine call to preach that she would not heed; this led her into sickness and hospitalization and she was miraculously healed when she agreed to “follow God” (and disobey the scriptures). Aimee became a traveling evangelist and healer (not really, she just prayed for people), and people flocked to hear her message of “serving Jesus as the only life that offered true fulfillment” (as opposed to the fire-and-brimstone preaching of the day). In 1918 God “told her” to move to Los Angeles and in 1923, she dedicated the 5,300 seat Angelus Temple and services commenced. She was the first American woman to preach over the radio, and in the era before WWII (1921 actually, and again in 1934) she divorced her husband and raised two children as a single mother (highly scandalous, and an action followed by her female associate pastor). She died in 1944 from an intestinal infection that was exasperated by her addiction to sleeping pills (physician, heal thyself). In short, she was a woman who took on a yoke not offered to her in scripture (the eldership in a local church) and abandoned the primary one that scripture commanded her to bear (wife and mother); though she preached perfectionism and healing, lived a life marked by ongoing sickness and explicit disobedience to scripture, and taught unbiblical doctrine based on a highly incompetent handling of scripture.
Theologically, Amie Semple McPherson had a lot of interesting teachings and positions, especially since she is connected with Maria Woodworth-Etter.
Maria Woodworth-Etter was a traveling female evangelist and faith healer that preceded Pentecostalism by several decades. A biography of Woodworth-Etter, from the Assemblies of God themselves, is here and it shows how Woodworth-Etter made regular practices of slaying people in the Spirit, being labelled “the Trance Evangelist” (or “the Mesmeric Evangelist”, a name far less flattering). She was also know for her theatrical healings and prophecies. She had become embraced by the Pentecostal Movement around 1912 (at the age of 68) and had significant influence among the early leaders of Pentecostalism. Interestingly, though her upbringing was Methodist, she was associated with both Quakers and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) (two groups not exactly known for orthodox teaching). She was a false prophet, prophesying the destruction of San Francisco by tidal wave on April 15th, 1885 (here’s an actual newspaper clipping from then). She also taught that healing was dependent on the amount of faith a person had, and made what are now well-worn excuses for why many healings didn’t work. She also made claims for talking to God and going to Hell while in a trance (sound familiar?) and had people that she placed in trances claiming to have gone to Heaven (sound familiar?).
Something that you may not know is how many people in the N.A.R. and other crazy charismatic circles tend to visit graves in order to get a share of the “anointing/glory” from the dead bodies of dead charismatic leaders. Don’t believe me? Watch this:
The guy in that video is John Crowder. Just for clarification, that’s him being normal; he’s not joking and not acting silly. He’s the guy behind the whole “toking the ghost” phenomenon and you can learn more about him here. Be ye warned.
And this picture is from the same people (that Crowder was leading in a an episode of Holy Ghost Tomb Raider):
Notice the name on the grave on the right?
Maria Woodworth-Etter is dead but not forgotten.
In my research into Aimee Semple-McPherson and the history of the Charismatic movement, I was led to Maria WoodWorth Etter, but the trail only starts there. If you really want to know more, you will find it highly interesting to investigate the following connections, going backwards through history:
– Charles Finney (mid 1800’s)
– The Cane Ridge Revivals (mid 1800’s)
– The Shakers (mid to late 1700’s)
– The Convulsionnaires (French for “Convulsing ones”) and François de Pâris (early to mid 1700’s) – I would highly recommend going to your local library and attempting to order the following book on this movement:
Strayer, Brian E. 2008. Suffering Saints: Jansenists and Convulsionnaires in France, 1640-1799. (Brighton, UK: Sussex Academic Press). Absolutely shocking, and Strayer thoroughly documents how these guys were well known in their day for entering trances, speaking in tongues, barking like dogs, and doing other things that sound highly familiar…except around 200-250 years before these sort of practices became part of Christian experience.
– Cornelius Jansen and the Jansenist Movement (mid 1600’s).
– The list actually keeps going back, but this topic is a rather large book in and of itself…and not the purpose of this post. Though, if someone out there was wanting to do an amazing doctoral dissertation on historical theology/church history, I have stumbled upon something that would make for a thousand page dissertation, easy.
It is also worth noting that the modern Charismatic “manifestations of the Spirit” (being “slain in the spirit”, laughing uncontrollably, speaking in ecstatic speech, barking, healings of unverifiable infirmities, etc.) have been performed throughout history, just like many of their defenders say…but not by Christians. As amazed as I was in looking into this, it seems like the whole “manifestations of the Spirit” movement (see previous list) can be strongly traced back to Catholicism in the Rennaissance and even the Middle Ages, when miracle-seeking people flocked to relics and holy sites to experience bizarre and euphoric manifestations (but not of God/the Holy Spirit). The Catholic miracle-chasers thought they were experiencing the power of God/the saints where as the modern Charismatics think they’re experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit. The experiences are strikingly similar and the explanations are equally wrong.
So back to Aimee Semple-McPherson.
If you want to know how she handled scripture, simply read the sermon A Certain Man Went Down which starts on page 624 of this document (a digital copy of her own book This is That). Apparently the story of the good Samaritan is a story about backsliding, with Jerusalem and Jericho being metaphors for righteousness and sin (and page 628 has an acrostic of the word “Jerusalem” to prove her point…and another acrostic of “Jericho” 2 pages later…and basically allegorizes every single component of the story!). In a nutshell, she was an unbelievable hack.
Her doctrinal teachings are seen in the previously mentioned Foursquare doctrinal statement and creedal statement, both written by her and openly endorsed by Church on the Way (and all Foursquare churches).
For more detailed information on the person and teaching of Aimee Semple-McPherson, you can get a copy of Daniel Mark Epstein’s book Sister Aimee (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1993) where on page 112 he admits that not a single one of her healings was ever checked for authenticity and he also claims, with regards to her healings, that they were “mostly diseases of the immune system, or attributed to hysteria” and that “Sister Aimee is not credited with raising anyone from the dead, correcting a harelip or cleft palate, or restoring a missing limb, digit, or internal organ”.
In a nutshell, she didn’t heal like Jesus, she didn’t have the power or the baptism of the Spirit of the apostles that she claimed to have, and she was a woman who lived a life marked by sin and heresy.
When it comes to Aimee Semple McPherson, the claims are this:
But the reality is this:
50c. Jack Hayford, though he isn’t the current pastor, is also worth knowing a little about. Here are some things that you might find interesting:
He is the founder of the Kings University in Los Angeles, a foursquare school that offers a graduate degree in the ministry of healing, as well as one of the only accredited MDiv degrees I’ve seen that requires no languages or exegetical requirements (I thought of transferring there while I was taking my fourth semester of Hebrew, but they didn’t accept my application…something to do with cessationism, if I remember correctly…). In their catalog they include their doctrinal statement, which on page 21 says ” The fullness of the Holy Spirit is the fountainhead of the Church’s capacity for witness and ministry; that as the Baptizer with the Holy Spirit, Jesus Himself directs each of His own to receive His power from on high, that each being filled today in the same way as the earliest believers we may work the same works today…”
All Christians can work the same works as the apostles and the 70?
Not exactly subtle.
Jack Hayford also tends to appear speaking at the same conferences as prosperity-preachers like Bill Johnson and Bishop Tommy Reid, (who worked for years with world-famous prosperity preacher David Yonggi Cho from South Korea).
Jack Hayford has endorsed a book by Steve Hill (of the Brownsville Revival, which I interact with somewhat here) called Spiritual Avalanche: The Threat of False Teachings that could Destroy Millions (the book is based on this article).
As far as the article goes, it’s basically the recording of a vision where there’s skiers (people, believers and non-believers), a snowfall (false doctrine caused by Satan), and the ski-patrol (prophets, apostles, and other spiritual leaders). So the vision basically says that the church is being deceived by Satan, and needs to return to the “solid traditional truth of Christ”. What is the false doctrine? HIll writes “Pastors and teachers worldwide have succumbed to heretical teachings including universal reconciliation, deification of man, challenging the validity of the Word of God including His judgements, and even lifting any boundaries, claiming His amazing grace is actually “amazing freedom.” You are free to live according to your own desires.” Hmmm. Who, hiding out in the Christian church, is teaching universalism? Charismatics like this guy or this guy. Who teaches the deification of man? Prosperity Preachers and the very people who travel in his circles. Who challenges the validity of the Word of God? Well, Steve Hill in the very fact that he apparently needs a vision to alert people to the error of things that are clearly and already labeled as error in the scriptures. Why does Hill need a vision from God to know that universalism is wrong? Why can’t he just skip the vision and make his case from the scriptures? Same goes for the deification of man, and everything else. Hill’s vision, if true, adds absolutely nothing to the body of Christian knowledge but does subtract from the authority of God’s word.
As far as the book goes, notice the other endorsers; Mike Bickle, Lou Engle, Cindy Jacobs, John Arnott (all N.A.R. false teachers), Michael Brown (who is now clearly nowhere as “conservative” as he portrays himself to be), etc. Again, this isn’t so much a “guilty by association” card, but rather a question as to why all the endorsers of the book are questionable or even obvious false teachers. What would you think of Albert Mohler or John MacArthur or R.C. Sproul if they were endorsing a book alongside Creflo Dollar, Tommy Tenney, Paula White and Benny Hinn?
Also, Jack Hayford was the pastor of Paul and Jan Crouch (the crazy wolves behind TBN who try to steal people’s grocery money) and they refer to him as their main spiritual advisor. So…uh…Hayford has been aware (for years) of what’s happening on TBN and approves? I find that hard to believe.
50d. The Church on the Way doctrinal statement clearly states “The Foursquare Declaration of Faith, which lays out our basic doctrine, was drafted by founder Aimee Semple McPherson”, so as to remove any doubts as to whether or not they’ve pulled away from their doctrinal foundations. The doctrinal statement clearly teaches the doctrine of initial evidence (the baptism of the Spirit is exclusively marked by speaking in tongues; notice the single reference on the “Baptism of the Spirit” point). They have a more extended doctrinal statement here, and from that it’s clear that they’re not prosperity preachers, though Foursquare people tend to hang out with and even endorse a lot of prosperity preachers. They also have some unbiblical beliefs about tongues, the baptism of the Spirit and divine healing.
50f. As for the current pastor of Church on the Way, Ricky Temple, he’s also an interesting character.
– Ricky Temple is the senior pastor of Overcoming by Faith, a church in Savannah Georgia as well as Church on the Way, apparently splitting his efforts between the two large churches (because pastoring a mega-church is a part time job, right?). That same link indicates that he calls himself “Dr” though his doctorate is honorary (meaning it was a present from a school for all the work he’s done, but he didn’t actually attend any school to get it) and his Masters is in “Strategic Leadership”. Not exactly the CV of a Bible expositor…or even competent exegete.
– His links page at Overcoming by Faith includes links to various sports and medical articles, links to inspirational quotes by people like Bill Gates, some totally stupid sounding books, a silly video by John Osteen (father of Joel Osteen) on discovering God’s will, and some sermon links to Jentezen Franklin. Ricky Temple seems more like a life coach than anything remotely resembling a pastor.
– His sermon archives at Overcoming by Faith reveal what his priorities are (personal empowerment, vision casting, finding your “happy place”, etc.) and also that he and his wife share the pulpit, but his sermon archives at Church on the Way reveal that he recycles his sermons at Overcoming by Faith but he doesn’t allow his wife into the pulpit (strange).
– His blog basically confirms that he’s essentially a life coach who just spiritualizes his stuff with attaching his personal empowerment principles to random passages of scripture.
Honestly, I’d say that Church on the Way seems like they didn’t exactly have a biblical understanding of the term “pastor” when they chose Ricky Temple to replace Jim Tolle, his predecessor. I could insert a rant here, but my previously posted rant on the uselessness of life coaches will suffice.
General Idea – Church on the Way is the flagship church in a denomination started by a crazed heretic, and they still proudly embrace her lunacy.
So that’s the last installment of the Outreach Top 50, and that should give you a fairly well-informed overview of the top 50 largest and most influential churches in the US. Sure, there are churches who don’t appear on the Outreach top 100 (i.e. Thomas Road Baptist in Lynchburg, VA or The Potters House in Dallas, TX) but they apparently have either not responded to the Outreach magazine survey or their official numbers have dropped (most likely option 1).
Is this series over?
Not yet. I’m still working on some posts that will give an overview of the mega-churches outside the United States, and I’m working on a summary post that will list out some things I’ve learned in this whole process, as well as some patterns I’ve noticed. We probably have 4 or 5 posts left, but they’re still being written. Stay tuned!
Until Next Time,
Lyndon “Will he actually finish a blog series for the first time in history?” Unger