Reformed Churchmen

We are Confessional Calvinists and a Prayer Book Church-people. In 2012, we remembered the 350th anniversary of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer; also, we remembered the 450th anniversary of John Jewel's sober, scholarly, and Reformed "An Apology of the Church of England." In 2013, we remembered the publication of the "Heidelberg Catechism" and the influence of Reformed theologians in England, including Heinrich Bullinger's Decades. For 2014: Tyndale's NT translation. For 2015, John Roger, Rowland Taylor and Bishop John Hooper's martyrdom, burned at the stakes. Books of the month. December 2014: Alan Jacob's "Book of Common Prayer" at: January 2015: A.F. Pollard's "Thomas Cranmer and the English Reformation: 1489-1556" at: February 2015: Jaspar Ridley's "Thomas Cranmer" at:

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Update: Pentecostalist Loons, Rivers of Life, Jacksonville, NC, & Benny Da' Thinker

My Recent Experience in a Pentecostalist Hothouse

Rivers of Life, 1940 Gum Branch

(ROTF = Rolling on the Floor)

Jacksonville, North Carolina 

          In partial fulfillment of the course requirements for REL 211, students were required to attend a local congregation other than their own.  The students were required to submit a reflection-narrative-paper vis a vis Acts 2.42-47. This is not a historico-exegetical, theological or historical paper, but is a narrative reflection—a personal narrative—on a service at Rivers of Life (ROL), 1940 Gum Branch, Jacksonville, NC.
          The church appears to have several pastors, although a Mr. and Mrs. Chris and Miriam Phillips are the “Senior Pastors” according to publicity materials.  According to a service bulletin, they draw 1200 per Sunday over three services: 8, 10 and 12 A.M.
          Rivers of Life warrants close analysis, a Pentecostalist hothouse that is large and representative of what’s offered in the Baptacostalist tradition in Jacksonville, NC. 


          Some contextual observations are made.  Here is the sense of it.

          Upon arrival, the parking lot was packed. Security personnel directed incoming and outgoing traffic. The security personnel appeared to have communication devices like the Secret Service and law enforcement agents have, that is, circular-corded ear-pieces while speaking into devices on/around the wrists.  What was this about? 

          Preliminary impressions to the side, after the security personnel in the parking areas, one notes the following.  The building is rectangular with a beige-stucco-exterior around the four walls. A light-green “dove” is affixed to façade, apparently a Pentecostalist reference to the Holy Spirit (although that’s rather non-unique in literature and art). The sanctuary had dark-grey walls to match the carpet. Upon entry, a movie-type darkness obtains with minimal lighting on the walls and ceiling. One might think one is at a local Cine-Max theater.  A rough estimate for floor space?  200 feet by 100 feet, or, about 20,000 square feet?  That’s the setting.

          Upon entry, enthusiastic greeters, glad-handers, greet attendees like salesmen with words of welcome. In the pre-theatre period (before the service), everyone—in one combination or another—stands, talks, laughs, backslaps and mingles about. It is chatty, chummy, cheeky and warm-hearted.  Some take their seats, but the majority cavorts, laughs,  chats and backslaps.

          By assumption, this may be what these Baptacostalists call “fellowship,” or, κοινωνίᾳ.  A few older folks, like myself, take a seat.  What, pray tell, is all of this?  What is going on here?

          This scribe took a seat in the middle at the rear, just in front of the elevated DJ-stage.  Just behind me were sound and light technicians. Quite a gig! Oddly, the man next to me had a security device…he spoke quietly to his wrist as if some terrorist event was going down. What was this about? The man to my immediate right, as I would learn after the service, was a 1st LT, USMC, a battalion adjutant. That’s another story, this young LT, a Pentecostalistic loon, but I digress.

          Contextually, we have given some idea of the setting.  To extend a bit further, the service was 106 minutes long. Imagine that, 106 minutes.  Not quite 2 hours, but almost.

          As a service, it lacked the difficulties, challenges, austerities, Biblical lections, confessions, absolution, LORD’s Prayer, Apostles’ Creed,
Nicene Creed, and the thinking and emotional demands associated with Confessional Presbyterianism and Prayer Book Anglicanism—generations acquainted with demure, deliberative, scholarly and rational types.  Did ROF or its enthusiasts think about these issues?  It suffered a total lack of insight.

          ROF, or Rivers of Life, was a stark contrast to intelligence, thought, historicity, catholicity, Biblicality, depth, dignity, decorum, decency or, even, moderation.  

          This was the context upon entry.  This follows.  

A Brief Look at Acts 2.42 

          As we approached the task of assessing a local parish, the Professor asked us to assay this text: Acts 2.42: “ἦσαν δὲ προσκαρτεροῦντες τῇ διδαχῇ τῶν ἀποστόλων καὶ τῇ κοινωνίᾳ, τῇ κλάσει τοῦ ἄρτου καὶ ταῖς προσευχαῖς.”  Or, in English (ESV), “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”  This was the governing text.

          The English translation (ESV) correctly gives the reflexive sense and middle voice of the verb with “they devoted themselves.” Although not technically accurate, an active voice works suitably in translation for reading purposes, e.g. “They were constant,” that is, “they were devoted,” or “they were steadfast.” The use of the participle, προσκαρτεροῦντες, suggests the active and continuing nature of the action, namely, the early church’s dedication and steadfastness. Four datives as spheres of governance and interest are specified by the text: apostolic teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayers.  Ergo, apostolic doctrine, fellowship, the breaking of bread and prayers?

          The question at bar:   did this service, or does ROF in Jacksonville, NC, reflect “devotedness” and “steadfastness” in these four areas of apostolic doctrine (teaching), fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayers. So, what’s the story in Jacksonville?

          In short, “apostolic doctrine” would not describe this service. As to “prayers” (plural), there was “one prayer” offered by one cleric, Rev. Phillips. As to the Lord’s supper, that was promised in the few weeks to follow.  As to koinonia, that was impossible to assess.  Here’s our larger sense of things.  

The Worship Service Itself 

          Although conditioned to duty, propriety, dignity, quiet prayer (with kneeling), preparation and reflection prior to worship (as taught), there was none of that here.   These were chatty folks in the south.

          The contrast was this.  Austere and disciplined preparation for worship with reverence compared to—perhaps—400 people milling about, chatting, laughing, backslapping, and talking.  This scribe arrived early—20 minutes before showtime.    The contrast and tension was noted.  The ethos as well as the inattention, the indiscipline, the noise, and giddy socializing was disturbingly shallow. Vis a vis the assignment, Acts 2.42, it would be false to think the crowd was discussing apostolic doctrine (theological inquiry) or praying.

          While the chatty crowd continued here, there and throughout the sanctuary, a group of 19 singers filed to the stage—never mind the concept of a preparatory prayers, a pipe organ prelude from the classics of sacred musical literature, a nave, choristers, chancel, choir stalls, quire, reading desk, LORD’s Table, or pulpit. The 19 musical Dudes and Dudettes took command of the environment,

          As to setting, again, there was no pulpit—until later.   The 19 musicians took to the stage and took command.

          As to a pulpit, when the Rev. Mr. Phillips arrived later in the service (after all the music), they placed a plexiglassed-looking pulpit on the stage. The acting stage—itself—was raised 5ish feet above the floor level. The 19 singers had a microphone.  We counted.  Each singer had one microphone…that is, 19 microphones for 19 singers. No invocation, no opening prayer, no call to worship, and no biblical citation by a Pastor. Among hundreds of invocatory texts, one might think of Psalm 95.6-7 (ESV):

Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker! For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.

Rather than use the Bible, the 19 singers started the show—Showtime, Cinemax, HBO, Prime-on-Demand—by singing as the chatty crowd sought out seats.   The transition from all the “Chatteers” to the Showmen was stark.

          The 19 performers started the show. The first (of five songs) lasted 11 minutes.   Again, the first song was eleven minutes.

          The song-time was 46 minutes in length. The first was followed by other songs.

          The first song was:  “Let us jump for joy,”   That the first line of the first song. The second line is now forgotten, but it equaled the length and vocabulary level. Again, eleven minutes of mind-numbing and drum-beating mantras. 

          The vocabulary depth for all five songs was probably seven words, all monosyllabic. Are people this stupid?  We think so.

          They sang this two-line song repetitively—again repetitively—for 11 very long minutes. From the standpoint of crowd control, it was enough to get the crowd seated and—within minutes—the enthusiasts were literally jumping around like an aerobics class.

          Levity and non-doctrinal-depth is a fair characterization.  Can anything else be said, but that we are dealing with intellectual lite-weights?

          But, in fairness, one rebuttal might be registered. This puerile song allowed ease of memorization. Every six or seven year old could read the lines projected onto the dominant wall screen. It might be argued that worship, doctrine, literacy, and vocabulary parameters should be geared to elementary school levels; poly-syllabic words are not allowed.  In order to reach illiterates, we need to be illiterates ourselves.

          Again, eleven minutes of a mantra-like, mono-syllabic, drum-beating, and illiterate assertion of inane comments.  While this might not satisfy a Shakespearean scholar or English Professor, simplicity prevailed. Who, pray tell, needs English teachers and professors?  Thus, it could be argued, any objection that the Christian message is incomprehensible will not stand.   Ergo, let the ignorant lyrics and music stand. 

          Furthermore, the simple message was driven home and ratified by jumping, loud singing, tub-thumping, drum-beating, bongo-beating, hand-clapping, mind-numbing repetition, loud accompaniment and periodic shouts of “Glory!” and “Hallelujah!”   That fairly characterizes the 46 minutes of noise.

          However, as a rejoinder to the rebuttal, “apostolic doctrine” as a body of faith, well-digested thought and competent literacy, was there anything intelligent, deliberative, creedal, scholarly and educated?   I had one reaction: “Eegads!”

          As noted, the folks (about 1/3 of the congregation) began jumping up and down, around, and back and forth, repeating the mantra during the first song of 11 minutes.  The level of illiteracy was astonishing.  They assumed command and the chatty folks took to their seats.

          In addition to these 19 microphone-eating and hip-swinging singers, there were 9 musicians to the right who were not singers—an electronic piano, a drum kit, a bongo drummer, a bass guitarist, and a few others. Fortissimo was the only musical dynamic on offer.

          The extremely loud beat was at a pace of about a normal heartbeat—normally about 60-80 beats per minute.  I made measurements.

          As noted, the entire service was 46-minutes of loud noise with small literary achievements for revivalistic enthusiasts—enthusiasts, a term employed by Cranmer, or Schwarmerei, Luther’s favourite. It was a hothouse atmosphere.

          As noted, the first song was 11 minutes long followed by four more song of the same literary depth, quality, and significance—or lack thereof.  46 minutes of tub-thumpig. n

           Liturgically, the service was simple. 46 minutes of music followed by a 50-minute sermon and then a 10-minute pitch for money. Thus, it was 106 minutes long. This scribe remembers the fifth song in the 46 minutes of ignorance.

          The fifth song was a winner.  It was another two-liner of similar insignificance and theological shallowness.  The first line was “Nothing is broken, nothing is missing!” While they repetitiously sang this for 9-10 minutes, yes, 9-10 minutes, difficulty was entertained.  Of course, throughout the 46 minutes, everyone stood during SHOWTIME.  At the 40-minute point of 46 minutes, I experienced light-headedness.   I realized that there may have been substantial de-oxygenations.  Again, with enthusiasts hyping around throughout the room, there were significant exhalations of carbon dioxide and significant inhalations of oxygen. With all the hype and hoopla, this scribe wondered if scientific metrics might explain the personal light-headedness. While most were waving their hands and complying with the revivalist ecstasies, Dionysianism, this scribe’s mind developed rebuttals.  As the show-boaters continued,  the mind was not surrendered.

          Onwards they sang with gusto: “Nothing is broken, nothing is missing!”   Enthusiastically, they continued.

          However,  a few rebuttals emerged as these illiterates waxed loudly.  What about “Bob’s Salvage Yard” on Highway 258 and Highway 17, full of cars after car accidents? What about Dad’s death last year? Or, what about the Onslow Sheriffs, Fire Department, and hospital personnel who attend to accident scenes and the ill? Or, my own scarred war memories? Or, our “Wounded Warriors” at Camp Lejeune Hospital? While they continued the repetitious mantra, my mind was objecting.  Or, what about Al Quaeda, the nation’s fiscal crisis, or the range of uprisings in the Middle East? As long as they sang, my mind ran averse to the lyrical mantra (as usual, all fortissimo), “Nothing is broken, nothing is missing!”   My conclusion as they sang?  These are half-whacks and half-literates.

          The objections continued as they worshipped.  Even biblically, what about the Wilderness wanderings (Exodus-Numbers), Judges (used during Lent for Confessional Anglicans for the OT lections), David’s conflicts with Saul, Job’s sufferings, Jeremiah conflictions with the leaders, Christ’s Cross, St. Paul’s imprisonments, or the Imperial persecutions under Domitian or Decius? Or, closer to my tradition, what about the English Reformation martyrs put to fire under Queen Mary 1? What about that august Oxford Churchman, William Tyndale, in 1537, strangled and burned at the stake in Vilvroode, Belgium? What about Hebrews 10.32ff., a catalogue of suffering but faithful saints? Or, what about St. Paul’s list of imprisonments, shipwrecks, lashings, beatings and sorrows suffered during ministry (2 Cor.11)?  

            Did these half-loons know anything of these things?  We conclude that they know nothing about these matters.

          ‘How could they sing, “Nothing is broken, nothing is missing”?  Again, 10ish minutes repeating this mantra for the brain-dead.  Tell that to a combat veteran without a leg, I thought. The divagation or distracted thoughts, however, was promptly corrected by more repetition. The troubling thought re-arose later, “Leave the brains at the doorstep of the church.” In fact, that thought fairly characterizes this scribe’s view of the doctrinal, intellectual and moral content of the songs—ignorance in the music as well as the sermon to follow.

          As to the 46-minute musical dance and drama, the question of “apostolic doctrine, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayers” was not an issue. Who needs doctrine, prayer and the Lord’s Supper? Just turn up the volume, sing five songs (10 lines total with perhaps a 30- word vocabulary depth ) for 46 minutes, hype the crowd, toss the brains out and EMOTE.  But, the sermon by the “Rev. Mr.” Phillips was worse.

          As an aside, education is important.  And what is Phillips’s education? 

The Sermon and Acts 2.42: Anti-intellectualism 

          Following the interruptive (my personal) objections to the fifth song, “Nothing is broken, nothing is missing,” Mr. Chris Phillips ambled to the stage, suavely dressed in a grey-suit. At least there was some relief from the non-liturgy and the ignorant music.  The sermon followed suit.

          As to the Pastor, I thought he might have had grey-suede shoes. On cue, the 19 singers filed offstage. Thus far, there were no prayers. Phillips delivered a 40-minute sermon followed by a 10-minute “alter call.”   If the music was dreary, so was the sermon.

          The old boy had three points: healing, a rant about anti-doctrine, and the new building (about to be built). After the 40-minute sermon and the 10-minute altar call, a 10-minute pitch for money followed.

          Mr. Phillips sauntered centre-stage and played off the theme of the fifth song, “Nothing is broken… nothing is missing!”  (Again, two lines for about ten minutes.)   Old Chris warmed to his theme.

          The general theme in his first sermon-point was that the Christian Church “prayed for healings” but that—throughout history, his term, “throughout history”—the heaings experienced were inadequate.   ROF  wanted more.

          Phillips wanted a “move of power” beyond these insufficient prayers. He mentioned Benny Hinn of TBN-infamy. For this scribe, things had already gone south earlier, but this was a deeper nadir. Phillips wanted to see miracles.

          Theology proper?  The first loci of dogmatics for a beginner seminarian?

One point resonated, to wit, “Let us unleash the power of God.”  Phillips spent about ten minutes on this point, “unleashing God.”   Go ahead, Phillips, “unleash”
God.  Give Him permission to do your—Phillips—bidding.  This is childish and backwards.

          “Apostolic doctrine”—a biblical doctrine of God—did not come to mind as he exhorted the enthusiasts to “unleash God.”  God’s absolute sovereignty was put on the human leash, much like a dog. On Phillips’s defamatory view, His Majesty is a lapdog on our leash; unless His Majesty. My reaction?  Has this man ever read any books about God?   Frankly, we doubt if he has read anything of depth of significance.

          The second and third points of the sermons appeared to be the centre of the sermon: (2) proud and arrogant doctrine and (3) the architecture of their new building.  Things were going further south by the minute.

          Phillips appeared to spend about 15 minutes on each point.  However, points two and three appeared to be the thrust.

          As the second point was developed, he read quickly a portion from Acts 17 and the early verses of Acts 18. Sub-points were developed. First, St. Paul engaged the “proud Greek philosophers”—the Epicureans and Stoics on Mars Hill, geographically, about 1000 feet downwards at the foot of the Parthenon in Athens. As a result of their “proud philosophy,” Paul left Athens. However, given Phillips’s view that God could “be unleashed,” St. Paul must have failed to unleash God on these Greek philosophers.  Given Phillips’s first point, was St. Paul a consummate failure?  Of course, Phillips and his unthinking crowd weren’t thinking.          

          Phillips pointed out that doctrine was problematic. Doctrinal Christians were “dead Christians.”   At this point, Phillips’s anti-intellectualism, like all Pentecostalists, was on full speed ahead. 

          At this point, it became noticeable—in terms of a repetition of the word “power encounter”—that this was a formative concept. I did not notice that until about half-way through this odd soliloquy—“power encounter.”  He loved the word “power,” of course, without examination or analysis.

          Phillips suggested the mind is dangerous to a “power encounter.”  This was the last straw.  No more mercy, kindness, patience or tolerance of these anti-intellectual enthusiasts. As to Acts 2.42 and the assignment, pray tell, who needs a mind? 

          This invoked a debated concept, to wit, cultism that disabuses one of one’s rationality and orients one to the authoritarianism of the cult-leader.

          But that was an aside as this scribe attempted to follow Phillips.  We tried to give him a fair audience, but his pleadings failed.

          Second, we were told, that St. Paul moved onwards from Athens to Corinth because of obstructionist pride in these Greeks. Suffused throughout this was the rant about “indoctrinated Christians” being problematic. One wondered if he was arguing with himself or with some recent interlocutor. Phillips was working it.

          The theme was clear: thoughtful, informed, well-read, well-considered doctrine and teaching results in “proud Christians” who are not—in fact—Christians.  It was what it was, a screed for ignorance and backwoodishness well known and tolerated by these Baptacostals and Pentecostals.

          So much for “apostolic doctrine” vis a vis Acts 2.42 as a matter of reason, thinking, words, phrases, paragraphs, summaries, and discussion. It was Phillips’s “Doctrine about Anti-doctrine,” a smooth and suave rant. Phillips tanked here.  He was an illiterate advocating that others be like him—ignorant.

         Personally, after this second point, it was hoped that Phillips would be self-consistent and end his own sermon by concluding, “Words, reason and doctrine do not matter, including my own words and paragraphs.”  Or, since reason, thought and deliberation does not matter, neither does my own 40-minute sermon, an exercise in futility.  But, Phillips lacked consistency.

          One might have wished that this Baptacostalist exhorter in Jacksonville, NC, would have been consistent.   At least the London philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein, stopped writing, lecturing and talking, without further ado, without further reading, and without a further thought without anything else. Words and reason are worthless.  Again, “leave your brains at the door.  Good bye”  was the chummy Pastor’s exhortation.  Why does anyone listen to this loon?

          However, with a great contradiction, Mr. Phillips pressed on to his third point. No one appeared to be the wiser in this raucous, ignorant, illiterate and half-educated crowd.
          The third sermonic point was a description of architectural concerns that Phillips had for their proposed new building. A building project was to begin in Sept 2011;  ground was to be broken in Sept 2011. They raised $174,000 for the $8 million dollar project. Phillips wants the money to be in hand and to proceed without a mortgage. (Why doesn’t Phillips just “unleash God, but that is a justifiable aside.)   Where is Phillips’s God?  Unleash “Him” man?  Thus far, in 2012, we know of no building projects for ROF in Jacksonville, NC.

          Then Phillips reported about a recent trip—that very week—to Chicago to talk with an architectural firm dealing with churches, called “Church Solutions.”   Here were some developments.     

          Yawn, but here we go. One architectural pattern was presented to Phillips by the firm. The new church was to have a main sanctuary with a mezzanine-level above, replete with tables, chairs, waiters and waitresses, like a restaurant, where worshippers can order popcorn, sodas, pizzas and other things. Without making much sense at all, Phillips disliked the proposal since it argued against a “power relationship with Jesus.” Yes, it is estimated that Phillips used the term, if not fifty times, then at least thirty times about a “power relationship”—a real “power tripper.” This third point was not developed much further than this disapproval of this architectural plan.

          Following this inane 40-minute sermon of three points, Phillips offered an 10-minute altar call. He directed attendees to bow their heads while he made a pitch for those seeking salvation to raise their hands. I refused the direction, kept the eyes open, and assayed the obedient crowd with lowered heads. Six ambled to the front during the pitch. With mike in hand, he publicly interviewed each of the six. He asked each one, “Are you coming to be re-saved?”   The ignoramuses and illiterates answered as prompted. 

          Re: the altar call of the last 10 minutes tacked onto the insufferable 45ish-minute sermon.  Each answered yes. So much for “apostolic doctrine” concerning God, predestination, providence, the fall, covenant, Christ’s atonement, justification, adoption, sanctification, perseverance of the saints, and assurance of salvation, salutary rubrics for exposition amongst thinking Churchmen in the Confessional tradition. Do these illiterates know anything of these things?

          Rather, such a teaching or sermon as Phillips offered is Romanist at its heart, but what would he know of these things?  Luther rightly observed  that the Schwarmerei and Wiedtauffer of his time were Romanistic, commanding God as if He was some schoolboy doing our narcissistic bidding.

          Following this Charles Finneyite event, the six were directed offstage to counselors.  Off they dutifully filed to the port side.

          Big picture on this bizarre affair?   Some thoughts.

          This raised the very legitimate question of Phillips’s understanding of St. Paul’s verbs, nouns, adjectives, adverbs, participles, sentences, paragraphs and arguments—“apostolic doctrine”—in his Epistle to the Romans. Again, there were no prayers here either; we had a brief 2-3 liner at the beginning of the sermon. In fact, “prayerlessness” of the entire service might be a fair characterization. Following this 50-minute ordeal, the money pitch followed.

          Following this, another man—with the last name of Phillips—came to the front. Whether this Phillips had any relationship to the Mr. Chris Phillips is unknown. This exhorter had the same last name. He conducted a ten-minute call for money, including a handout of envelopes and a collection. At the end of these 10 minutes, quite abruptly, the man said, “That’s it. Have a great week.”

          Again, no prayer. Apostolic doctrine, prayers, fellowship and breaking of brad?  Sorry, de nada, zippo.  


            Charitably put, there was no “apostolic doctrine” in the songs or sermon vis a vis Acts 2.42ff . It was an exercise in anti-intellectualism.

           Fairly put, it was a prayer-less and irreverent service put on by ignoramuses, enthusiasts and illiterates. In terms of the breaking of bread, the service bulletin indicated that His Majesty’s Table, the Lord’s Supper, would be held on Easter Day. As to koinonia, fellowship, that would be impossible to assess on one Sunday. Recommendations: (1) I will never return to that hothouse and hotbed of anti-intellectualism, ignorance, enthusiasm, and revivalism. (2) Put out an advisorial to friends about this place. (3) Perhaps write a book to vitiate and void this embarrassment to apostolic doctrine, prayers, and the Eucharist.
          Who can have “fellowship” with these types? Not this scribe, not now, nor ever, world without end. Away with them!
          As usual, we need to ask "Benny Da' Big Thinker and Academic" for his views. 
"Benny, do you like these anti-intellectuals like River of Life and Phillips in
Jacksonville, NC?"  We fear his answer.  Benny:  "Like wow, Dude, get real man.  
 ROF is cool.  Stop being so mean, Dude, they are cool!  The music is `far out, man.' 
 Get a life, Reformation Anglican.  We don't want and we don't need no doctrine, no
how, noway and not never.  OK?"  Sorry, Benny, again we differ.

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