Friday, February 21, 2014

Troubling Trends: Steven Furtick, the Church Industrial Complex, and the Future of Christianity

There has always been conflict in the Church since the day it was born. The Early Church had to protect itself from Gnostic heresies and other serious doctrinal flaws among diffent sects. The 1500’s was a time where the Church needed to undergo serious change since they had gotten away from the traditions of the Fathers, intent on selling salvation to the highest bidder (side note: I still don’t believe the Reformation was a net positive because it ended up fracturing the Church and promoting some other seriously disturbing doctrines). In more modern times, you have an increase in atheism/agnosticism, the rise of cultural Christianity etc. Today, I think we’re facing an even tougher challenge.

Steven Furtick is the “Lead Pastor” of Elevation Church in Charlotte, NC and Taylor Laughtner look-a-like. For those of you who don’t know, his church has recently released a “How-To Guide” on how to do “mass baptisms” by planting volunteers to come forward at the call to “pressure” other people in the audience to come forward. This is just another controversy in a long line for Furtick who is currently building a home bigger than the wealthiest family’shome in North Carolina, among other things. Furtick is at best a very polarizing figure. There are some people who will defend him and his work at Elevation Church while others are quick to criticize him.

I, unfortunately am one of those who is very critical of the things that go on at Elevation Church. Not only do I think these things are dangerous to the people at Elevation specifically, but also because I think Furtick and people like him are dangerous to the catholic (universal) church as a whole. 

Furtick is the poster boy for a new kind of church. Some have called this process the “Disneyfication” effect due to the absolute prioritizing of numbers through processes that micromanage every aspect of the service, and the emotional manipulation of those who are in the audience. While I think the Dineyfication effect is certainly an applicable term, I think I would call this the Church-Industrial Complex. This mentality is so prevalent in Protestant churches and institutions today. For example, I have taken some ministry classes at my school and this is the mentality they teach from.This is cause for concern. We have a generation of students who are going to be the next generation of leaders in the church being taught that not only is this a valid form of worship but that we should actively promote it.  Even if not every student that goes through the doors of these institutions becomes a mega-church one day, this “style” of church is becoming normalized in Protestant America.To me, this is very, very troubling and something that needs to be spoken out against. 

Now I know that not everyone who is reading this will agree with me. In fact, there are multiple supporters of Furtick who think he’s doing great things. “Look at all the people being saved!” They say before citing Phillipians 1:15-18 (NASB): “Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice.”

This is all well and good. I agree with the principle behind these verses but I don’t think criticizing pastors like Furtick. You see, this verse is strictly talking about motives, not practice. I do think there are multiple times when Paul calls people out for bad religious practice (The Judaizers would be one example). Not only do we have a precedent to do so, I think we have complete obligation to because bad practice breeds bad theology (for more on this, I recommend Flickering Pixels by Shane Hipps). 
 
Furtick is a false prophet who needs to be stopped. It’s very important that this kind of Christianity be called out and confronted. Here’s hoping that people will begin to see the errors so prevalent in the modern churches like Elevation.