This blog isn’t going to seem kind. I warn you now. I hope it is, but I’m afraid it won’t make anyone feel good. Nevertheless the writing itself comes as it usually does, from the heart, and I’m going to carry on and plough in, properly, but it’s not the sort of writing I am drawn to, and I find it painful:
In his second letter to Timothy, Paul says (the bold print is mine)
Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist,discharge all the duties of your ministry.
The Christian walk can, like any other long trek through life, have periods of difficulty. We cannot always be on the top of the mountain, soaring with the eagles. If we trust in God, and in the teaching of the Bible, and submit to his will, we will keep walking steadily on, our eyes fixed on him. And some days will seem long and dull, and some seasons will feel as if they’ve dragged on for ever, and we may start to long for fireworks and adventures and something amazing to happen – like a miracle! It’s only human to desire, at these grey times, a flash of amazing colour, a startling manifestation of God’s power, enough to rock us back on our heels and gasp in amazement.
Here’s the thing: when it doesn’t happen, we have no right to pretend that it does. When we don’t get what our heart desires it is wrong to lie and say that we do.
Last week, in a local church, a man walked to the front and claimed some amazing things – that when he first turned to faith, not many miles from here, he healed 40 people in one fell swoop. He didn’t say what their illnesses or conditions were, indeed he admitted he didn’t know what they were, but still he claimed the healing. He claimed that God struck a friend so that she fell at his feet and was cured when he didn’t even know she was ill. And then he claimed that the dead were raised. The dead were raised! This was in a church where I have received great and honest and true and steadfast teaching for 7 years.
It shook me.
My God doesn’t need lies. His miracle is here in my every breath. His miracle is in every sunrise, in every human life, in every act of kindness. His truth is in the Bible. My God doesn’t need to have his followers chivvied into action by deceit and false claims. By myths, as Paul worded it. Yes, I know that some will have heard this man’s claims and will have been encouraged by them, but the fact that something makes you feel good does not actually make it good. Booze, fags, adultery, theft… they all make the moment feel good. If I steal a million pounds I may feel greatly encouraged by my cleverness, my skill. If a charlatan whips up a crowd to state of elation, has them singing, and shouting their approval …. they may feel greatly encouraged but he is still a charlatan.
Honesty matters. Without honesty we have nothing. And in a church, when a man or woman stands at the front and pretends miracles in order to justify and encourage faith, something is very wrong. Very wrong. And for the whole congregation to stay still and listen, and then thank him for his sermon… well, that may be kind but it very definitely isn’t right. It isn’t strong.
If a wolf wears sheep’s clothing and sounds like a sheep, he is still a wolf.
In 1 John 4:1 we’re given a clear instruction:
‘My dear friends, don’t believe everything you hear. Carefully weigh and examine what people tell you. Not everyone who talks about God comes from God. There are a lot of lying preachers loose in the world.‘
And so I thought about it, and argued with myself and really just wanted to walk away from the mess of church and preachers, but the instruction is clear ‘carefully weigh and examine’ and some versions use the word ‘test’. So, instead of walking away from the mess, I contacted the man who made these claims of mass healing and people rising from the dead, and I politely asked him when the resurrection of these people took place, their names, and the location. He could not, of course, give me any details because he said he had forgotten.. and his excuse was that it took place 30 years ago. When Jesus was raised from the dead the whole country knew, and then the whole Roman Empire and then the world. Two thousand years later we are still dazed and amazed by it. We know ALL the details, the place, the time, the grave clothes, the stone, the consequences for the Roman guards, everything. And yet this speaker ‘forgot’ in 30 years? Can’t remember the name of someone who was dead and then was alive? Didn’t the raised person keep in touch? Wasn’t the medical world amazed? Didn’t the newspapers pick it up? The TV news? Where is the raised man or woman now? Still alive? Can we contact them?
No, of course not. Myths are shy.
We do not need to lie about our God. It’s obscene to do so. It’s treating each other as if we are customers who have to be fed a dubious marketing strategy to bring us onboard. It’s turning God’s house into a house of lies.
The church should be more courageous than this. Straighter, stronger, truer.
My God doesn’t need lies. He doesn’t need a marketing department.
In the Book of Acts we’re told (Chapter 20:30) Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.
We have to be on our guard. Sloppy preaching, unfounded claims, ‘magical thinking’, hyperbole, saying the right things to sell ourselves and our ministry, these are wrong. They turn people away from the truth.
My God doesn’t need lies.