Scrolling through my Twitter feed, I saw this shocking headline,
Obama to award Medal of Honor to two dozen veterans who are “discrimination victims”
The tweet linked to a Daily Mail Online article with the full headline, “Obama to award Medal of Honor to two dozen veterans, including 19 discrimination victims and Lenny Kravitz’s uncle.” As a Marine combat veteran and a political conservative, this grabbed my attention immediately. How could our President award the prestigious Medal of Honor to people who had not heroically risked (or even lost) their lives fighting fascists, communists, or terrorists, but had merely been victims of prejudice? The headline goes a bit further than that, implying that simply being the uncle of a rock star will earn you a military medal from the President. Although struggles against racial prejudice ought to be commemorated somehow, surely the Medal of Honor is not appropriate.
Only by reading further along in the article does the reader learn that the chosen had performed heroic actions in the field which, upon further review, the U.S. Army determined were worthy of the Medal of Honor. These servicemen had received lesser awards for their valor, such as the Distinguished Service Cross, apparently only because of their minority ethnic background.
I don’t know about you, but I hate being lied to and manipulated.
However, this sort of deception is typical of the news media. We shouldn’t find this going on in church, right? Earlier this week I read an article reporting that one prominent church was doing just that. Pastor Steven Furtick’s Elevation Church is well known for “spontaneous baptism,” an altar call style service in which members of the congregation are invited to get baptized on the spot, not having come to the service planning on getting dunked. In and of itself I think this is a wonderful idea. The controversy is not over the “spontaneous baptisms”, but over Elevation Church’s tactic of strategically placing volunteers in the audience prior to the service who are instructed to respond to Pastor Steven’s baptism invitation. The idea is that some will not respond unless they see that other people are going down to be baptized as well.
The leadership and members of Elevation Church apparently did not think this sort of manipulation was really all that bad. They included instructions for this “audience plant” method in their Spontaneous Baptism Resource Kit. The practice has been defended as one used by the respectable Rev. Billy Graham in altar calls at his crusades (although, at this point I have been unable to confirm that this was a tactic employed by BGEA at any time). But what would Jesus and His Apostles would think of these tactics?
2 Corinthians 4:2 ESV
But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.
I don’t believe churches need to resort to these antics in order to win converts or to get high baptism numbers. To be fair to Elevation Church, I am certain that they are not the only church that does this kind of thing. Maybe the Rev. Billy Graham did the same thing at one time. However, that doesn’t mean churches ought to be emotionally manipulating the congregation.
One of the most popular critiques of religious faith is that it can all be reduced to psychological states. This kind of emotional manipulation only adds fuel to the antitheist fire. Not only that, in a sense it admits that the unbeliever is right!
This is the sort of thing that goes on when numbers become the primary goal in ministry. We see this pragmatic measure of success in nearly all evangelical churches–a church or ministry is deemed “successful” when more and more people attend services, say the sinner’s prayer, get baptized, become members, become financial partners, and so on. The show must go on, and today’s show must be bigger and better than yesterday’s show! It must be relevant, high-tech, emotionally stimulating, and entertaining enough that the people will keep coming back and hopefully bring their friends along. And of course the show costs money, so the ringmaster hopes the people will give generously.
Entertainment is the devil’s substitute for joy.
– Leonard Ravenhill
Where is a place for the power of the Holy Spirit, the transformation of sinners into saints, and then the transformation of entire communities–as the Bible says–first in Jerusalem, then Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth? It’s harder to reduce the move of the Spirit to numbers, but I will take power and the presence of God over numbers any day of the week. The church in Acts, along with numerous church movements over the last 2,000 years grew and changed the world by following the Spirit and the Word. As Dr. Michael Brown asked recently, “Who changed things?”
In conclusion, I am not suggesting that all church services ought to be conducted without the use of modern technology, or other 21st century innovations. I am not suggesting that churches become irrelevant to the surrounding culture. I am suggesting that there is no substitute for the Holy Spirit or faithful preaching of the whole counsel of God, and I am suggesting that there is no excuse for disgraceful, underhanded ways.
Ecclesiastes 7:19 ESV
Wisdom gives strength to the wise man more than ten rulers who are in a city.