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If film and restaurant reviews help people make more informed choices, why don’t more of us who sample worship in various churches — whether near or far — write up reviews of what we have witnessed?

Our impressions could only serve to highlight the good, the bad and the downright ugly.  I haven’t been in a position to review churches for a couple of years, but I do appreciate those who do.  So, I am pleased to bring you one such critique from Reformation Anglicanism, written by the redoubtable Donald Philip Veitch, a retired chaplain who served in the United States Marine Corps and the Navy.

The excerpts from ‘My recent experience in a Pentecostalist Hothouse’ demonstrate why those of us who have grown up with and value a beautiful, structured liturgy find a Pentecostal service puzzling. We believe that God is to be loved and awed as our Creator and Father.  As such, we see no place for strong emotions but rather dignity — as best as depraved men can manage — in His presence.

A few Charismatics have commented on my blog from time to time asking why everyone isn’t a  Pentecostal, seeing what personal joy it brings.  Yet, those of us who grew up with liturgical services and confessions of faith (including the Anglican 39 Articles of Religion) learn that worship is not about us and our feelings but the one, true, sovereign God of the Bible.

Without further ado, I present you with excerpts from Mr Veitch’s church review of Rivers of Life (ROL), 1940 Gum Branch, Jacksonville, NC.  It’s also worth explaining that Mr Veitch undertook this assignment as part of continuing theological learning for a course he is taking, REL211, where students were required to write a paper concerning Acts 2.42-47.  If you enjoy reading about worship, please read his excellent blog post in full.  Emphases in bold are mine, apart from the conclusion.

Rivers of Life (ROF) or Rolling on the Floor

The church appears to have several pastors, although a Mr. and Mrs. Chris and Miriam Phillips are the “Senior Pastors.” 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, this Pentecostalist hothouse.


Some contextual observations are made. Upon arrival, the parking lot was packed. Security personnel directed incoming and outgoing traffic. The security personnel appeared to have communication devices associated with Secret Service and law enforcement agents, that is, circular-corded ear-pieces while speaking into devices on/around the wrists. The building is rectangular with a beige-stucco-exterior. A light-green “Dove” is affixed to façade … Greeters glad-hand attendees 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 and chummy. By assumption, this may be what they probably call “fellowship,” or, κοινωνίᾳ … Oddly, the man next to me had his security device as he spoke quietly to his wrist. The man to my right, as I would learn after the service, was a 1st LT, USMC, a battalion adjutant. The service was 106 minutes long. As a service, it lacked all the difficulties, challenges, austerity, and demands (e.g. thinking) associated with my background in Confessional Presbyterianism and Prayer Book Anglicanism—those generations of demure and rational types. ROF was a stark contrast.

A Brief Look at Acts 2.42

Acts 2.42: … “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” … The question at bar: Did this service, or does ROF, reflect “devotedness” and “steadfastness” in these four areas of apostolic doctrine (teaching), fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayers. In short, “apostolic doctrine” would not describe the service. As to “prayers” (plural), there was one. As to the Lord’s supper, that was promised in the few weeks to follow. As to koinonia, that was impossible to assess.

The Worship Service Itself

Although conditioned to quiet prayer (with kneeling), quiet preparation and reflection prior to worship (as taught), there was none of that here. The contrast between austere and disciplined preparation for worship with reverence and 400 people milling about, chatting, laughing, backslapping, and talking was stark and vivid. This scribe arrived early—20 minutes before showtime—and observed the (my) tension with the ethos as well as the inattention, the indiscipline, the noise, and giddy socializing. Also, it would be false to think the crowd was discussing apostolic doctrine (theological inquiry) or praying.

While the chatty crowd continued, 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, chancel, choir stalls, quire, reading desk, LORD’s Table, or pulpit. There was no pulpit—until later. When the Pastor arrived later, they place a plexiglass-looking pulpit on the stage. The acting stage was raised perhaps 5 feet above the floor level. Each of the 19 singers had a microphone. That is correct; each singer had one microphone…19 microphones. There was no opening prayer, no invocation or call to worship, and no biblical citation thereto by a Pastor or Rector. 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—by singing as the chatty crowd sought out seats.

The 19 performers started the show. The first of five songs lasted 11 minutes. The song-time was 46 minutes in length … It might be argued that worship, literacy, and vocabulary parameters should be geared to an elementary school level; poly-syllabic words are not allowed. While this might not satisfy Shakespeare or a Professor, simplicity prevailed. Thus, any objection that the Christian message is incomprehensible will not stand. Furthermore, the simple message was ratified by jumping, loud singing, mind-numbing repetition, loud accompaniment and periodic shouts of “Glory!” and “Hallelujah!”… I had one reaction: “Eegads!”

The fifth song, another two-liner, was “Nothing is broken, nothing is missing!” While they repetitiously sang this for 9-10 minutes, yes, 9-10 minutes, difficulty was entertained. Everyone stood during the song-show … Onwards they sang with gusto: “Nothing is broken, nothing is missing!” However, 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!” Or 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 Oxfordian, 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)? How could they sing, “Nothing is broken, nothing is missing”? Tell that to a combat veteran without a leg, I thought.

… 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.

The Sermon and Acts 2.42: Anti-intellectualism

… Mr. Chris Phillips ambled to the stage, suavely dressed in a grey-suit. I thought he might have had grey-suade 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.” He 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.

Phillips wanted to see miracles. One point resonated, to wit, “Let us unleash the power of God.” Phillips spent about ten minutes on this point, “unleashing God.” “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?

The second and third points appeared to be the centre of the sermon: (2) proud and arrogant doctrine and (3) the architecture of their new building. He appeared to spend about 15 minutes on each point.

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. Phillips pointed out that doctrine was problematic. Doctrinal Christians were “dead Christians.” 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.” Phillips suggested the mind is dangerous to a “power encounter.” This invoked consideration of 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. Second, 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. So much for “apostolic doctrine” 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.

Personally, after this second point, it was hoped that Phillips would be self-consistent and end the sermon by concluding, “Words, reason and doctrine does not matter, including my own, so, like the London philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein, who stopped writing, lecturing and talking, let us end this service without a further word, without further ado, without further reading, without a further thought of any kind, and without anything else. Words and reason are worthless, so I hereby end point two in this sermon about `doctrine.’ Again, leave your brains at the door. Good bye.” However, with a great contradiction, Mr. Phillips pressed on to his third point. No one appeared to be the wiser in this raucous crowd

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?” 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. Rather, such teaching as Phillips—as Luther rightly observed about the Schwarmerei and Wiedtauffer of his time—at heart they remain Romanist in doctrine. Following this Charles Finneyite event, the six were directed offstage to counselors. 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

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.


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.

In closing, let this post — thanks to Mr Veitch — stand in support of traditional liturgical worship and, as he has referenced, the ‘apostolic doctrine’ of St Paul’s letter to the Romans.  There are reasons why we oppose an unscriptural view of worship and belief;  this review proves our case.

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