Heretical Ministry, or How to Make Atheists researching for my series on the Holy Spirit, I came across an atheist forum engaged in a discussion on speaking in tongues. What I read disturbed me. It wasn’t that the forum participants were calling it “satanic gibberish” and mocking the Bible. That’s to be expected. It’s that some shared stories that reveal just how deep the roots of heresy have grown in the charismatic movement–and how it’s tearing people away from God.

This is the story I can’t get out of my head. Fair warning: it contains strong profanity. I won’t remove it all because it expresses exactly what this young man felt, and he deserves to be heard with his own voice. However, I have edited elsewhere for length and clarity.

I was like 14 or so, and I’m in this little shack of a church in the middle of nowhere. Congregation of twenty or so, and the only people under twenty-five were me, some girl around my age, and this weird little ADD kid who would sit in the corner.

One Sunday they bring in these guest speakers. They’re going on about how great things are and a few people burst out into some tongues. Then the speaker starts doing his jedi [stuff], “sensing” the room. “I feel a presence. I feel like it’s telling me to… to look for someone in this room.”

He does the usual schtick. Some faith healing. Some people do their tongue stuff. The guys keeps on. “I feel like there’s someone in this room who needs help…A young person.”

If any young person needs help, it’s that kid chewing the drywall, but I know this guy isn’t even going to touch that stuff. I look over to the other teenager and the room and think, “Goddamn it.” This [guy] starts moving in on me. “Yes, yes! I feel it, God!” He’s practically in my face. “I’m not going to call this person forward, but they know who they are, and I’m telling them they’ll regret it for the rest of their life if they don’t step forward.” He doesn’t have to call me forward because he’s two feet from by face doing the Bela Lugosi hand thing. If I don’t come forward, I’m the goddamn Devil.

Oh sweet Jesus. I give in and step up slightly. “YES! Yes, young man! Come forth.” He and his sidekick surround me, and the preacher jumps in as well, like he wants in on this sweet salvation contact high. “Young man, we’re gonna lay hands on you. We’re gonna pray for you.” He calls out. “AND WE’RE NOT LEAVING THIS ROOM UNTIL THIS YOUNG MAN SPEAKS IN TONGUES!”

Oh fuck you.

I’m standing there as these three [guys] give me a cheap back massage and cry about how they can feel the lord in me, and I’m thinking “Well, this is all news to me, because I’m feeling pretty bitter and annoyed right now.” They’re not letting up, so I give them a little hand raise, like I’m feeling it, when I most certainly am not. I figured this would be a compromise we could all live with. Nope.

“Congregation! Gather! Lay hands on this young man! Soon it will happen!” There’s no way out of this.

So, I do it. I just shake my head and come forth with “Ahba, dahba… Aahhualahabadabbaiibajibiadabi.”

“YES! Amen! Praise him! Look what the lord has done.” Everyone starts clapping and crying, and I’m standing there feeling like a moron. I go and sit down, and I look over to the girl who’s stifling back laughter amidst the massive celebration going on.

Here’s what I found so appalling about this confession:

1. The minister created a situation in which the young man was forced to respond. He did not allow him to make the choice for himself.

2. The minister claimed the young man needed help, but he did not ask him if he had any specific needs. It appears the minister singled him out without any real direction from the Holy Spirit.

3. The minister did not ask the young man if he was saved, believed in God, or wanted to receive the Holy Spirit.

4. The minister assumed the young man would speak in tongues upon receiving the Holy Spirit and, again, did not give him a choice in the matter.

5. The young man was manipulated into doing something he did not want to do in order to make the minister look more spiritual than he really was.

Is it any wonder the young man is an atheist today?

Receiving the Holy Spirit–or anything from God–should be a joyous experience, not a hesitant or humiliating one. It must be done with a willing heart of faith. Some ministers forget this. They’re so anxious to see everyone dance around the chapel and give credibility to their ministry that they feel dragging people to the altar is justified. They operate under the heresy that if they can just lay hands on people, the Holy Spirit will take over and erase any lingering resistance.

This is not a Biblical model. Any people that the disciples laid hands on to receive the Holy Spirit had already made a willing confession of faith. They wanted to receive it. As I’ve said before, the Holy Spirit does not force Himself on anyone. And the disciples never prayed for anyone just to boost their public images. In fact, the Apostle Paul claimed to only baptize a handful of believers so people wouldn’t idolize him (see 1 Corinthians 1:15). Everything the apostles did was to bring glory to God, not glory to themselves.

Also, one of the fruits of the Spirit is gentleness. What is gentle about being embarrassed and manipulated?

At the same time, I realize it can be difficult for ministers who know the Holy Spirit is calling a hesitant person to simply leave the situation in God’s hands. A few months ago, the Holy Spirit prompted me to share my testimony of healing from sexual abuse with my church. After clearing it with my pastor, I stood up at the front and told the congregation how God had miraculously erased the pain and enabled me to forgive my abuser 100%. As I spoke, I could feel a palpable hunger for God’s healing radiating from the crowd. I kept noticing one woman in particular. She appeared to be in her mid 40s and clutched her husband’s arm as I spoke. Yet when my pastor invited people forward for prayer, only two young women came forward. I knew deep down that the Spirit was calling at least four other women. But I also knew begging or confronting them would only make them feel uncomfortable. As I walked away, God reminded me that He would give these women other opportunities to respond–just as He had given me.

If you’ve had experiences in church similar to the young man quoted above, know that God’s heart grieves for you. He does not approve of believers who humiliate others to make themselves look good, intentional or not. Such people will have to answer to God for their actions one day.

If God could say one thing to you today, it would be that His Holy Spirit is real: He’s gentle, kind, and waiting for you whenever you’re ready to receive Him–not when someone else thinks you’re ready.

2 responses to “Heretical Ministry, or How to Make Atheists

  1. It is easier to “love” those who think, feel and act like ourselves. The narcissistic ego has very little tolerance for the “otherness” of others.

    This book excerpt is a very good description of the religious narcissist:

    Timothy was—Staffy squinted his eyes for a moment, seeking a word—Timothy was what you might have called a believer. Oh, I don’t mean only that he was a good Catholic, though that was part of it, of course; I mean he believed that people ought to act and did act according to certain rules in life. It made for a kind of blindness in him. He was like a man following a road on an old map that’s been out of date for a hundred years; he couldn’t see that there were other newer roads now that people were using, or that a few people were even cutting across fields to build newer ones still. No, he walked along his road like it was the only one in the universe and, like everybody that took a step off it, one side or the other, was on his way to the devil, as fast as might be. ~Mary Deasy, excerpt from Hour of Spring

    And this is a description of mature faith:

    An Adequate Faith

    “If I, as a Christian, believe that my first duty is to love and respect my fellow in his personal frailty and perplexity, in his own unique hazard and need for trust, then I think that the refusal to let him alone, to entrust him to God and his conscience, and the insistence on rejecting them as persons until they agree with me, is simply a sign that my own faith is inadequate.

    My own peculiar task in my Church and in my world has been that of the solitary explorer who, instead of jumping on all the latest bandwagons at once, is bound to search the existential depths of faith in its silences, its ambiguities, and in those certainties which lie deeper than the bottom of anxiety. In these depths there are no easy answers, no pat solutions to anything. It is a kind of submarine life in which faith sometimes mysteriously takes on the aspect of doubt, when, in fact, one has to doubt and reject conventional and superstitious surrogates that have taken the place of faith. On this level, the division between believer and unbeliever ceases to be so crystal clear. It is not that some are all right and others are all wrong: all are bound to seek in honest perplexity. Everybody is an unbeliever more or less.”
    ~ From “Apologies to an Unbeliever” by Thomas Merton