I attended a provincial parish church today and felt the sermon rather ironic - and dangerous. It was on false teachers. Yet the message itself was riddled with concerning signs.
In informal churches, it is rare for the preacher to mount the pulpit. Many speak from a dais, and the pulpit, if left for architectural reasons, is usually unused. This church was an informal evangelical Anglican, yet the minister swept up the holy stairs so as to be, as the Bible college saying goes, 6 foot above contradiction. The vicar had just played us a short film promoting a new evangelising project, in which he featured several times. Now - again in his full authority giving robes - he spouted forth about three very specific named examples of people who Jesus clearly meant when he spoke out against false teachers in today's reading. On principle, I won't name these people to spread their supposed ignominy further - and in goodwill, I will not name the parish church I was in today either.
The first wicked church was in Africa, which the preacher had (I consider rather ignorantly) stumbled into by accident. The first dodgy signs he listed were lack of smiling, giving out of hymnbooks, Bibles in the pews, and singing for the congregation to join in with. Having walked out after a necromantic incantation had been uttered, the preacher hovered around to question the congregation afterwards. He was told that the lack of Bibles was because this was an apostolic church where only the chosen twelve expanded the Word and the congregation was not allowed to own their own copies. This sounds very pre-Reformation when Bibles were not in the common language and there was a myth that only the ordained could understand or expand it.
Yet the irony was already clear. There was a point where, had I been alone, I'd have walked out of the service. Although Bibles were proffered at me during the readings (and declined, to the profferers' surprise) this gathering was not really meant to go home and read the Bible for themselves.
I recall a verse in a childhood scripture exam about the Bereneans who examined the scriptures to see if what they were being told is true. I've heard exhortations to be like these early Christians - but there's an unspoken clause. Go home and examine your Bibles - but make sure you find what I've just told you. Because dissent is not well taken.
A long laid to rest infamous case in England was dragged up as a sign of a power trip that lead to immorality, abuse and imprisonment. I could see the same power trip here in today's preacher whose oratory technique was designed to hold the same command over his listener's minds as have all the dangerous speakers - historical and religious. I would not flatter this country vicar as being charismatic, but he spoke with what could be seen as authority in that typical evangelical tone. His phrases bonded his listeners to believe that only they had the Truth, which is what they were hearing this morning from the lips of the speaker. Dissent is from Satan and will result in punishment, now and in eternity. Acceptance and approval from God and this community - and your rector - comes only with acquiesce and submission.
The point where I definitely would have left as a protest - if it would not have compromised who I was with - was when the rector picked on an American bishop. Someone (praise God!!) had given this vicar a copy of the bishop's book. The rector read only one chapter and was going to bin it, but decided he could hold it up at talks such as this and show people what not to read. I have read at least one of this offending bishop's books - all of it.
Beatle burning and even the Inquisition come to mind!
I didn't fully like or agree with the bishop, but I heard honesty and bravery in his radical and informed ideas. The vicar spoke of website called "[bishop's name]'s faeces" which lists the bishops alleged sins. I know enough of the bishop's writings to say that every crude count levelled at him is wrong. He does not deny all the miracles and all the things that mainstream Christians claim their faith is made of up (on behalf of all others who wish to call themselves Christian). The vicar called the bishop a heretic. Heresy is challenge to the accepted group. Orthodoxy is not (as its name means) the right way; it is the powerful group who hold official sway. The vicar proclaimed that this bishop would not be allowed in the diocese and implied welcome protection from senior clergy here. To me, that's control over freedom of expression and no true God would do that.
What are the signs of false teachers?
-Those whose personal power comes before their message and the good of those the preach to.
-Those who denigrate other ideas with dismissal and judgment
-Those who claim God is on their side alone
-Anyone who tries to stop you reading something other than their ideas.
God is not petty as we can be, and is bigger than our challenges and differences. S/He doesn’t need our defences and fences.
There are those who believe that churches such as the one I was in today are erroneous and damaging to the true message of God.
An unreferenced statistic about 80,000 leaving the Anglican church after the previously dodgy vicar got imprisioned was quoted in the sermon; but what of those who leave Christianity (and other faiths) through the didactism and control of the sort I heard today? I think you would find the number is far higher.
What's the sign of a bully and a coward? Someone who is afraid of challenge. If this piece is attacked or asked to be taken down, it will be a sure sign that the attackers are fearful, power hungry and dangerous. If one has the right to one's pulpit then I have the right to my expression here.
The next Sunday - I heard a cathedral sermon that was this one's anthesis.
The preacher said sharing our faith is
'not about telling people that they are damned, or what to think and do,
but that they are loved.'