Friday, April 27, 2018

The ministry of magazine gifting

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All of my adult life I have been annoyed by the (usually) poor quality of magazines at public waiting rooms, such as barber shops, auto repair shops, and doctor’s offices. The latter are particularly notorious for having unappetizing stuff like Golf Digest or Gynecology Today as they only reading materials available. Hair salons, where I have often taken my wife, are also notorious for their awful stuff that varies from entertainment rags to catalogs for nail polish.

Last year, when my wife spent a two weeks in the hospital mending a broken bone in her leg, I noticed the hospital waiting rooms were also ill stocked.  Nothing was offensive, but little was worth reading.

It struck me that I have many magazines in my home, and some of these could do useful duty in the hospital’s waiting rooms. I inquired with a nurse if I could donate and place my used magazines in the waiting rooms. She said I was welcome to do so, provided that the personal mailing sticker is removed. I did not ask the reason why, but I guess it is a privacy issue of some sort. (Have you ever noticed magazines in waiting rooms with the stickers cut out?)

I went to work and prepared four bundles of magazines for the four waiting rooms on the floor that my wife was on. Each contained a mix of several good secular magazines and Christian ones. The bundles included a copy of National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, and several copies of Charisma and Christianity Today. The Christianity Today magazines were in pristine condition.  I subscribe to CT so that I can read it online without restraint during the slow time at my work. Subscribing to it gives me access to the archives of it and as well as its fine sister magazines, such as the wonderful (but alas, defunct) Books and Culture.
Most of my magazines generally come in plastic envelopes, so I did not even have to do any cut outs. I prayed over the bundles, asking the Lord to bless especially the Christian magazines so that they might do the work of evangelization and discipleship. As in many ministries, I do not know, nor am I responsible, for the results of this effort. I just trust the Lord that His Kingdom will be expanded and enriched in some way by people reading them.

I now make it a practice to have a reserve bundle or two ready to go in care I get a call to visit a sick fried or must make an unexpected doctor’s appointment. I would encourage you to do likewise.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

New Research Shows American Christianity is in Better Shape than Many Believe

I  wrote this review article for Pneuma Review, and it was posted there on April 19, 2018, and now re-issued. For the article (which is more acceptable for citing in papers or research journals, etc.) go HERE.  Hint: if you are a Spirit-filled Believer you should bookmark and  check out this fine journal often.

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Glen T. Stanton, “New Harvard Research Says U.S. Christianity Is Not Shrinking, But Growing Stronger,” The Federalist (January 22, 2018) HERE

The above cited article is a summary article, and below is original research that encompasses many studies on the topic. Both are very encouraging, especially in view of the bad news we Christians have been hearing about the eventual demise of the Church in America, or at least its marginalization as has happened in Western Europe. New and careful analysis shows, for instance, that in the US the percentage of persons attending church services once a week has increased every decade since the Nation’s founding.  Yes, that‘s right, many a patriot soldier of 1775 was also an agnostic or deist. Thank God there was a leaven of Christians.

The percentage of Christians who go to church often has been steady for decades. The losses in Church attendance and the rise of the category of “nones,” those not affiliated with any church, is not necessarily bad news. That is, those losses are almost entirely due to decline in mainline churches where belief in the Bible is weak and liberal theology strong.

The article below shows, in great detail and with graphs, that the percentage of Christians who go to church often, has been steady for decades. The losses are from nominal believers who no longer feel social pressure to remain in church or be identified as Christian.

Landon Schnabel and Sean Bock, “The Persistent and Exceptional Intensity of American Religion: A Response to Recent Research,” Sociological Science 4 (2017), pages 686-700. HERE

Here is the abstract from that article:

Recent research argues that the United States is secularizing, that this religious change is consistent with the secularization thesis, and that American religion is not exceptional. But we show that rather than religion fading into irrelevance as the secularization thesis would suggest, intense religion—strong affiliation, very frequent practice, literalism, and evangelicalism—is persistent and, in fact, only moderate religion is on the decline in the United States. We also show that in comparable countries, intense religion is on the decline or already at very low levels. Therefore, the intensity of American religion is actually becoming more exceptional over time. We conclude that intense religion in the United States is persistent and exceptional in ways that do not fit the secularization thesis.

Let me personalize this. I recall from my  childhood in the 1950’s that most of my Catholic relatives would have said “yes,” if they were asked if they were Christians. But in reality they were only nominal Catholics who attended church on holidays and weddings (and their own funerals). As a Hispanic in New York, part of their specific identity was to be called “Catholic.” This is the type of person who is now leaving the churches in droves, and it is not a bad thing. It avoids statistical confusion, the persons who stay in churches now are mostly really disciples of the Lord, and the “nominals” are now “nones” and clearly outside of the Church. 

With this situation there is less problem of so-called sheep stealing. For instance, one of my uncles became an Evangelical in the early 1960’s and that was a scandal to my other Catholic aunts and uncles, many of whom did not go to Church, but as part of the Hispanic middle class considered Evangelicalism low-class, emotional, and cultic.

Today, as the research shows, the persons who remain in church are more likely to be real disciples of the Lord. In the world we are in there is a social pressure not to be a Christian. This is especially true of certain academic and service professions such as counseling. What remains in many churches, including the Anglican Church of which I am a part of, are persons who are truly Christian, believe in the Bible and pray powerfully.

This is a sea-change from most churches decades ago (excepting Pentecostals). In my childhood I never saw a person healed by prayer, a layman laying hands on a sick person, or someone in distress praying out loud fervently. I see such things practically every Sunday and that now is common in many Evangelical and Spirit-filled churches.

All of which is to say that Christians in America have shifted from doctrinal confessionalism to doctrinally casual but experientially active, as in various healing ministries. This is especially true of many “non-denominational” congregations which blend Evangelical theology with various degrees of charismatic activity. Usually they are not bound to traditional denominational catechisms.

So I personally witness to the correctness of this article. The statistics may show a decline, but in reality there has been a steady increase among devout Christians.

I think something else is happing.  God is setting the stage for another Great Awakening in America. As this process of shedding the “nominals” and weak believers continues, the surviving churches will be filled by pastors and lay persons with ever greater faith and skills in effective prayer. This is an exciting time to live. There could be a moment, when all this comes together and churches across denominational lines unite id welcoming a new Holy Spirit revival.  Let us pray that we see a new Awakening begin!

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

The Legacy of John and Paula Sandford

We just received the news that John Sandford has gone to his heavenly reward. He and his wife Paula where one of the most graced and influential leaders of the Charismatic Renewal. Paula passed away several years ago. Their co-authored work, The Transformation of the Inner Man, is a must read for those in the inner healing movement. He is often mistaken as the son of Agnes Sanford, but no, note the "d" in his name. Actually, Agnes considered John Sandford more of her "spiritual heir" than her natural son, John Sanford, who turned to Jungian psychology, much to her regret. Here is text of the section I wrote on the Sandfords form my work, Agnes Sanford and Her Companions: The page breaks and notes follow the text, and I hope will not be confusing to you:

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John and Paula Sandford: Spiritual Law Clarified  and Inner Healing Explained Biblically

The definitive apologetic for inner healing and the description of biblical spiritual laws was done through the counseling and writing ministry of a husband-and-wife team, John and Paula Sandford.1 Both were children of the Depression and learned habits of thrift and resilience from that traumatic period. John was born in 1929 and is still living; Paula was born in 1931 and died in 2012. John’s mother, an Osage Indian, had been raised in the old exuberant tradition of Methodism which believed in the Bible and affirmed the absolute reality of its moral laws. During her first month of pregnancy with John, she had a dream in which she felt a thousand volts of electricity run through her body and heard God’s voice announce, “Do not be afraid, for I am God. You are to have a son who will be my servant.”2 Unfortunately, by the time of his birth she had drifted into liberal Protestantism, and John was raised in that weakened
1.         No biographical book has appeared on John and Paula Sandford, certainly one of the most influential couples of the Charismatic Renewal. A brief biographical article by Julia Loren, “Healers of Wounded Soul,” was done for Charisma. John and Paula’s writings give details of their lives with disarming candor. Some of the biographical information in this section is based on conversations the author had with the Sandfords at various CFOs in the 1980s, especially a long interview during the North Florida CFO in Leesburg, Florida, on January 18, 1986. Note that all of the Sandford’s books are still in print and may be ordered from the Elijah House website, http://www.
2.         Loren, “Wounded Soul.”
form of Christianity. Paula’s household, on the other hand, was richly and devoutly evangelical.3
From his Indian heritage John inherited a special sensitivity towards both people and nature which is often given the pejorative term psychic. As a young man he was especially sensitive to the meaning of dreams, and on several occasions received prophetic, or precognitive, dreams of dreadful events. At the time he did not know that the function of prophetic dreams is to trigger intercessory prayers to lessen or cancel the impending event. Only after his baptism of the Holy Spirit and his encounter with Mrs. Sanford was he able to fully understand, interpret, and pray through these prophetic dreams. In fact, his later insights on the role of dreams in the Christian’s life are among the best in
Christian literature.4

John attended Drury College in Springfield, Missouri, where he met Paula. They fell in love and eloped. They both felt that the Lord had placed them together for his service. John did well at Drury and earned a scholarship to the renowned, and liberal, Chicago Theological Seminary. There he worked towards a Master of Divinity degree as he pastored a small church in Streator, Illinois. He also drove a taxi in Chicago to provide for his growing family. At seminary he accepted the predominant liberal theology and higher criticism perspective of his teachers and was well on his way to becoming yet another liberal pastor preaching social activism, situational morality, and very little gospel.

But the grace of God intervened.

During his practice preaching he attended a minister’s breakfast meeting in Streator where he met Fr. Wilber Fogg, rector of the local Episcopal church. Fogg had attended a School of Pastoral Care and been baptized by the Holy Spirit, and was moving his congregation towards what became the Charismatic Renewal. He felt called to activate his Spirit-filled prayer group to pray for John, especially that he be shown the glory and the fullness of the Holy Spirit.
Within a few months of his ordination, John Sanford consciously and deliberately decided to reject liberal theology and to affirm the literal truth of the Bible. That decision was quickly blessed by God as John experienced the baptism of the Holy Spirit during prayer. He was confused by the experience and went to Fr. Fogg for advice. Fogg laughed and rejoiced
3.   Sandford, Wounded Spirit, 19, 21.
4.   Sandford, Elijah Task, chapter 12, “Dreams, the Sleep Language of God.”

at this and was able to explain the biblical basis for his experience. John then quickly led Paula into the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
At the urging of Fr. Fogg, John attended one of Agnes Sanford’s Schools of Pastoral Care in the summer of 1959. John was suffering from severe back pain and asked for prayer. Mrs. Sanford discerned that the root cause was a spiritual problem, specifically, his dysfunctional relationship with his mother. Although John had reconciled with his mother, deep hurts remained. Agnes ministered inner healing prayer and then laid hands on his back, and he was completely delivered of all pain and back problems.5 This was John’s first experience of inner healing, a topic that would occupy much of his ministry and writings. In a later session of that same SPC Agnes prayed for his anointing in ministry and prophesied over him. She sensed John’s deep thirst for the things of the Lord and his keen intellect, and a close friendship developed between them.

John rapidly read through the Agnes Sanford’s books and the charismatic books that were beginning to appear. Paula began ministering with John at his parish charge, putting into practice what they had learned from Agnes Sanford. They also were particularly influenced by Derek Prince’s writings, whom they personally met, and by the writings of Watchman Nee. John was led in a prophetic dream to move to Council Grove, Kansas. There he and Paula pastored the Wallace United Church of Christ until 1973. They practiced and further developed what they had learned from Agnes Sanford on inner healing and deliverance, and the gifts of the Spirit. 6

John was Mrs. Sanford’s assistant as often as he could get away from his pastoral duties. He accompanied her at healing missions, CFO engagements, and as many as six Schools of Pastoral Care per year. At the beginning John’s principal duty was as intercessor for her. While Agnes was speaking he would pray in tongues for her anointing. Within a short time John began to share some of the actual teaching tasks. His academic training and pastoral experiences as a Spirit-filled minister made him wonderfully qualified to assist Mrs. Sanford. By 1961, when he finished his MA in theology, he had become the lead minister of the schools.7

After Ted died in 1962, John also doubled as Agnes’ chauffer, as she disliked driving and often got lost. He was careful to drive conservatively
5.   Sandford, Inner Man, 4-5.
6.   Sandford, Elijah Task, 177–78.
7.   Interview of John and Paula Sandford on January 18, 1986.

and quite unlike a cab driver in order to please her.8 On one occasion Mrs. Sanford had received several criticisms that the schools were run too loosely. Actually, they were structured to allow the Spirit maximum reign. But Agnes was determined that the next one would be more carefully managed, and instructed John and the other staff to be meticulously prepared and to keep to schedule.
John picked up Agnes at her home, but for the first time he got lost. When it was apparent that they were going to be late Agnes cried out, “The Devil take to one who first calls hold!” and John drove on like a crazed Chicago cab driver. In spite of that, they got there late, with Agnes’ hair a mess, only to find that the venue had been changed because of a flash flood. Everything had to be improvised, and everything was off schedule. It turned out to be one of the most powerful schools ever held, as the Lord showed Agnes that he could move in the midst of chaos.9

In December of 1973, in response to the Lord’s leading, John resigned from his very successful pastorate in Council Grove. He and Paula received direction to move to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. There they did not seek a church, but set about writing a series on the inner healing ministry, starting with The Transformation of the Inner Man. They also began a counseling ministry that served the local churches and ultimately became Elijah House Ministries. There inner healing and deliverance and ministering under the anointing of the Holy Spirit were taught to ministers and laypersons alike. It became something like a residential School of Pastoral Care. Thousands of students and ministers have taken its courses, either at Elijah House or via its videos, and it continues to this day as an effective school of Spirit-filled ministry.10

Refining the Theology of Inner Healing

It was during his years with Agnes that John was forced to examine the biblical basis of inner healing, as he was constantly challenged on this. John carefully combed and elaborated what had been described by Mrs.
Sanford. Recall that Agnes had originally cast the ministry of the healing
8.             Others who regularly assisted Agnes at CFOs and other healing missions this decade included Tommy Tyson, a Methodist charismatic evangelist, and Fr. Francis MacNutt, a healing evangelist and theologian for the Catholic Church.
9.             Sandford, “Blessedness of Brokenness,” and an interview by the author on January, 18, 1986.
10.          The website of Elijah House Ministries is

of memories as a form of Eucharist intercession and burden bearing. John quickly found verification for this form of ministry in the New Testament, specifically Galatians 6:2; John15:13–16; and Colossians 1:24.

At the same time, he recognized that the evangelical critique of intercession and burden bearing had some merit. Truly, one person cannot repent for the sins of another individual. John came to the understanding that the intercessor and burden bearer did not repent for the other person, but rather served as a channel for God’s grace of repentance to come to the other. Similarly, as we pray for salvation of a friend or relative, that does not imply we are saving that person, but rather we are serving as vehicles for God’s saving graces. Ultimately every person must receive his or her own salvation, and repent of his or her own sins. But intercessors are called by the Spirit to stand in the gap while the person is weak and not even aware of their spiritual needs.11

The Sandfords’ understanding of Jesus’ burden bearing accepted Emmet Fox’s theory of Jesus’ suffering at Gethsemane (see chapter 17). But the Lord showed John another section of Scripture that was especially important in burden bearing:
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Rom 8:1–4)
Under the Lord’s prodding John realized that the law of the Spirit which replaces the law of death in the heart of the Christian is the commandment to imitate Jesus’ burden bearing and self-sacrificing love for others. Then Sanford also came to understand that inner healing is a gift to the church that assists the life of sanctification. That is, it is not just a ministry of the forgiveness of sins, but also is a ministry that breaks the obstacles to sanctification and allows a person to proceed from glory to glory in the grace of God.12
11.      The Sandford’s theory of burden bearing in relation to inner healing is covered fully in chapter 14 of their Wounded Spirit.
12.      Sandford, Inner Man, 4–5.

John was especially concerned with Ruth Carter Stapleton’s books on inner healing, as he saw her books as a dangerous oversimplification of this ministry.13 Mrs. Carter Stapleton had been on the CFO circuit, but not an instructor at the Schools of Pastoral Care, which were more demanding theologically, nor was she theologically trained. John also saw that the coupling of inner healing with Jungian vocabulary, as in some of the CFO women and in Agnes’ own talks, would lead to trouble. He prophesied to Mrs. Sanford that her ministry would suffer from this. John set about writing his work on inner healing, The Transformation of the Inner Man, to remedy these issues. The very title indicates that he would use no vocabulary other than biblical vocabulary to express the profound truths of this ministry. John hoped his work would be finished and published to dampen what he foresaw as a wave of anti–inner healing literature. Sadly, that did not happen (see chapter 21 below on Dave Hunt’s work). John is now retired from active ministry, and his son Lauren carries on the leadership of Elijah House.

The noted Pentecostal scholar Dr. Jon Ruthven wrote a very positive review of my book, Agnes Sanford and Her Companions: The Assault on Cessationism and the Coming of the Charismatic Renewal. You can access it HERE.

The book may be purchased on Amazon, either print or inexpensive Kindle HERE   The publisher, Wipf and Stock will give you a better price on the print copy if you order direct from them HERE

Just released is my first book of  plays. Pentecostal (and Anglican) Plays (and Postscripts). It includes two plays and their postscripts.

The play, “One Day at St. John’s” depicts what everyday life can be like in a church that practices the gifts of the Spirit and the healing/exorcism ministry as normal. Among the events that occur in the course of the play are the healing of a waitress who was scalded with hot coffee, an exorcism (led by a layman) and the “laying of a ghost” to rest.

Pentecostal (and Anglican) Plays (and Postscripts) can be purchased HERE at Amazon.

The second play, “Joseph ben Jacob,” explores Joseph, husband of Mary, as the dream interpreter, master carpenter, and father of Mary’s other children. It helps explain why Joseph was able to discern correctly his dream about Mary’s first-born.

The postscripts examine the controversial aspects of the plays and focus on two false early gospels which distorted the meaning of the true Gospels. The “Proto-Gospel of James” claimed that Mary was “every virgin” and never had other children, and the “Gospel of Nicodemus” cancelled the true meaning of Jesus’ “descent into Hell” and his ministry there as described in 1 Peter 3 & 4

Watching God Work: The Stuff of Miracles by [DeArteaga, Carolyn Koontz]

My wife has written a funny and inspiring story of how she transited from a cessionist and Baptist to a Spirit-filled Believer. The book has many stories of our three decades of ministry together.  It may be purchased HERE.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Charismatic Leaders Fellowship Meeting (February 19-22, 2018)

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Image result for alleluia community augusta gaThis year’s CLF took place in Augusta, Georgia, and was hosted by the Alleluia Community of that city. The Alleluia Community is a predominantly Catholic (but ecumenical) covenant community where families live in close proximity to worship together and support each other. Like other covenant communities, the Alleluia Community attempts to follow the pattern of the Jerusalem Christian community described in Acts. 

My friend, Bob Garrett, a Methodist lay person has led the community for years.  He also led the worship team in skilled and wonderful worship music.

Mr Garrett is with the guitar in the dark blue shirt.               

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A better picture of him with his wife                                                     

The sessions took place in the Alleluia Community’s school, a wonderful Christian school for grades k thru 12. Our encounters with the children of the school, were universally positive, even awesome. The kids parade every morning around the school’s perimeter with a cross and prayed for spiritual protection and guidance for that day – a great idea in view of the current school shootings.

The CLF is the descendent of the “Charismatic Concerns Committee” which in the 1980s did great work in discerning the various movements within the Charismatic Renewal. Now the CLF is of less importance, but it still attracts many of the heroes and pioneers of the Charismatic Renewal. Sadly for us, some of these pioneers are now going to their reward with the Lord.  The meetings opened with the announcement that the Rev. Larry Christenson, who was the leader of the Lutheran Charismatic Renewal, and a faithful attendant of the CLF, had passed away a month before.  Thankfully, Sister Nancy Kellar, one of the most important leaders of the Catholic Charismatic renewal (dating back to 1970) attended, and I had the pleasure of renewing my friendship with her. She and my sister had been members of the same charismatic Catholic convent (Sisters of Charity, New York)  for many years.

Sister Nancy Kellar is to my right, and her traveling 
buddy is sister Mary McCormick

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The theme of this year’s meeting was “spiritual warfare” and various speakers presented their experiences and denominational perspectives on the topic. The Rev. Scott Kelso, a Methodist minister and seminary instructor, and moderator for the CLF, opened the sessions with a talk reminding us of our authority and position in Jesus Christ.

The second session was by Mrs. Jane Guenther.  She is an exorcist with the Catholic diocese of St. Louis, and coordinates her ministry with the official priest exorcist of that diocese. She also teaches exorcism to Catholic seminarians. She presented the traditional Catholic understanding of the demonic, including a description of the work done by the desert Fathers in developing the understanding of the seven deadly sins. Many of the attendees found this information fascinating, as they had never been exposed to it.
I was somewhat disappointed in the fact that her presentation covered only the Catholic perspective on exorcism. I wondered if this is how she taught the seminarians.  In the question period, I asked her if she was familiar with the Pentecostal contribution by Frank and Ida Mae Hammond, Pigs in the Parlor, with its revolutionary contribution to ministering to schizophrenics. She acknowledged she was aware of it, but did not indicate it was part of her program for seminarians or that the Pentecostal contributions mattered much.

The next presenter was from the Alleluia Community, Chuck Hornsby, an elder and one of its original founders. He presented “tidbits” or various incidents of prayer and spiritual warfare that the Alleluia Community had done in its corporate life. For instance, when they first settled in Faith Village, their cluster of homes, they had a number of break-ins. This was stopped when the members got together and performed a prayer walk around the perimeter of the community.

The Next presentation was by Fr. Timothy Cremeens, a priest of the Orthodox Church and regular attendee of the CLF. He gave a description of Eastern Orthodox liturgy and worship as spiritual protection and warfare. Most of the attendees found this interesting, as few Americans know much about Eastern Orthodoxy. But I found the presentation lacking specifics about spiritual warfare. When I asked Fr. Cremeens about how the Eastern Orthodox tradition handles ghost hauntings, he described how Orthodox homes are always blessed with holy water – not a very satisfying response. When I pressed further, he responded that on occasion he had used holy water plus a prayer from one of the Fathers to discharge a ghost. I commented on how the false Gospel of Nicodemus had confused “sheol” with hell and muddled the possibility of our understanding of ghosts.[1]  He replied that the Gospel of Nicodemus was loved by many of the Church Fathers - a puzzling reply.

Very significant was what transpired the next day, when time was given for mutual prayer and ministry. Fr. Cremeens came to the podium and shared his sorrow (and despair) over the state of Orthodoxy today. He lamented that after the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe (1989) the various Orthodox Churches had fallen into a form of “demonic nationalism.” This has resulted in rivalry and non-cooperation among the various Orthodox churches. For instance, Russian bishops and priests bless the men, weapons and bullets of Russian volunteers sent to fight in the Ukraine against Ukrainian Orthodox soldiers.  The Russian Orthodox Church boycotted last year’s Orthodox Ecumenical meeting when it appeared it could not get its way. In America the various Orthodox churches (Greek, Russian, Ukrainian, etc.) are all loosing members and most priests only welcome into their parishes members who are of their own ethnic origins. In other words, there is no serious evangelism in the American Orthodox churches. Naturally, Orthodox churches are mostly graying and decaying.

As he went on with this, Bob Garrett went to his side and started to pray for him and the Orthodox churches, and invited all of us to do the same. It was a touching sight, but also a negation of his presentation. Splendid liturgy, incense, vestments, and classical theology are not enough in themselves to prevent serious demonic confusion and destruction in the churches.

The sub-text to all of this is equally tragic.  The Orthodox Churches in this country and abroad are contemptuous of the Western churches and their wreckage in liberal theologies of various sorts, as in acceptance of homosexuality. They will not listen to anything that comes out of American or Western Christendom, as in the splendid literature on spiritual warfare and territorial spirits that has developed in recent decades, and could be so helpful to their present situation.

But now to return to the presentations at the CLF.  Session #5, the evening of the second day, was given to Dr. Richard Roberts, M.D.  His theme was not spiritual warfare, but a description of a new denomination in the UK called simply “The New Church.” This was a great presentation and held everyone’s attention. The New Church is a Charismatic fellowship, with minimum hierarchy, and practically no distinction between ministers and lay persons. They do not ordain their leaders. They claim their roots are in the Pentecostal theology of Smith Wigglesworth, with some influence from the American “Fort Lauderdale Five” (Derek Prince, Bob Mumford, and the others).  They are growing rapidly as they minister in “signs and wonders.”  It was wonderful to hear that the UK, where the Church of England is in such sad decline due to its own fall into liberal theology (a special sorrow to me) has an area of church growth that is flourishing. 

Perhaps the highlight of the CLF conference this year was the presentation by Deacon Johannes Fichtenbauer, an Austrian Catholic, who is coordinator of Jewish - Christian reconciliation for the Pope. He led the 50th anniversary (penitential) walk of the “death march” of Hungarian Jews to concentration camps in Germany.[2]

His life id a great witness to God’s grace and mercy. His grandfather was a dedicated Nazi, even after Germany’s catastrophic defeat in WWII. He convinced the boy Johannes of the righteousness of the Nazi view, including blaming the Jews for Europe’s woes. Johannes did not repent of that view until he came to Christ at age 17, and began to love the Jews. 

His talk was called. “The Mystery of the Olive Tree” based on Paul’s use of that image in Romans 11.  It laid out “ten hypotheses” about the Messianic Jewish churches, and their importance in fulfilling the task of the Church Universal and in ushering in the Second Coming. We have space to mention only several.
-          The historic splits among Christian denominations and groups began after the establishment of “replacement theology” which discarded the importance of the Jewish churches.
-          The Body of Christ will not be complete until its Jewish component is restored.
-          There needs to be a miraculous (not man planned) resurrection of the Jewish component of the Body of Christ.
In the discussion period Deacon Fitchtenbaur related that the work of reconciliation has much distance to go. Presently the Jews of the world mostly disdain the Messianic churches and consider them to be Christian churches with Jewish window dressing. Thus the last point mentioned, the need for God’s sovereign intervention in this reconciliation.
Another highpoint of the CLF this year was the presence and ministry of Mrs. La Donna Taylor. She was raised in a Pentecostal church and very dedicated to the Lord from an early age. As a young girl she discovered she had a gift of healing, which included people being healed while she played the violin. She did that at the conference several times with especially good results during our ministry time.

 This is an unusual form of the healing ministry, but it is biblical. Recall that David playing the harp soothed and bound the demons resident in King Saul.  About 30 years ago I recall seeing Dr. Francis MacNutt, one of the greats of the Charismatic Renewal stand in front of an audience and sing in tongues for their healing. I do not believe he did that consistently, as Mrs. Taylor does in her healing ministry.

Over all, this year’s CLF was a wonderful event, in spite of  a few weak presentations. The fellowship was terrific, learning and seeing something of the workings of a covenant community was a great experience. If you are in a leadership position of a Pentecostal or charismatic church consider coming to the next one. We will be meeting at the Alleluia Community again.

[1] See my article “More Mercy,” Pneuma Review. Posted March 5, 2017.
[2] The Hungarian Government during WWII was allied with Germany against Stalin’s Soviet Union, but it tried to shield and protect its Jewish population until finally forced to turn them over to the Nazis in 1944.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

UFO and conspiracy theories: A Christian historian’s reflections

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The recent revelation of Pentagon UFO monitoring program gives me hope that the U.S. Government is relenting in its suppression of UFO information. Yes, I believe in UFOs and their extra-terrestrial origins, as does a large section of the American public.[1] I also believe there is a U.S. Government conspiracy to hide these UFO visitations.

In this article I wish to clarify my case against conspiracy theories, and to affirm that occasionally there are indeed conspiracies to hide the truth. To be clear, I am not a dedicated UFO student, following every report, etc. However, like many Americans, I listened regularly to the Art Bell’s late night talk shows in the 1980s where he often featured witnesses to reported UFO incidents, “area 51” accounts, and UFO abduction reports. I do not claim to bring to the public new evidence on this issue, but rather apply the reasoning of historical scholarship and its tradition of witness evaluation, plus a certain amount of theological reasoning. Certainly the latter must be held especially lightly until further evidence is forthcoming.

Readers may remember me as an opponent of conspiracy theories, through my article, “The Sinfulness and Destructiveness of Conspiracy Theories.[2] There I made the case that that conspiracy theories are usually sinful and destructive to spiritual maturity, often leading to a sense of, “I am better, and THEY are wicked.” For instance, the theory that President Roosevelt knew of the Pearl Harbor attack in advance, or that Princess Diana was murdered at the orders of Queen Elizabeth, or that the American landings on the Moon were bogus. This latter conspiracy theory has been particularly destructive by debasing a love of science, especially among some minority children.[3]
Most governments do in fact keep secrets, many of them are necessary for various security or economic reasons. It seems that the U.S. Government has for 75 years suppressed much information and physical evidence on UFOs, perhaps for good reasons, such as attempting to reverse engineer a UFO and gain a technological edge during the Cold War. Hopefully it is now ready to relent, and come forth with the truth.

It just seems natural that the truth in this matter is better than a falsehood which spreads general distrust of government. On the other hand, supposing the Government knows that the wave of UFO sightings in the 1950s was a preliminary reconnaissance of our planet, and that in a few decades a fleet of UFOs will come to attack us, as in the picture “Independence Day” (1996).  Hiding that information would be a prudent and responsible act. Recall that Jimmy Carter as presidential candidate promised to release all information on UFOs held by the government. But as President not a word on the issue followed.  What did he hear in his UFO briefing?

Image result for UFO graysLike many, I have believed in reality of extra-terrestrial UFOs most of my life, and that such belief is not contrary to the Bible or Christianity. There have been many mature and educated Christian leaders who have agreed in this. C.S Lewis put his conviction about this into a novel trilogy which included a planet in which “original sin” had not yet occurred, and another in which the hold of the Demonic was even worse than ours.[4] 

Of course, other Christians, including some highly educated ones, have resisted the idea that there may be other self- conscious, spiritual/material beings in the universe.[5] Among those who believe we are the only spiritual/material beings in the universe are Christians who affirm that UFO sightings are real, but demonic apparitions designed to confuse Christians in the End-Times.[6] This is a far-fetched theory that cannot be disproved until we have public access to an extra-terrestrial body, such as rumored to exist in certain Government vaults, or of a UFO vehicle of unearthly construction.  That is, Satan can truly produce metal delusions, as in a person believing it sees something, but he cannot create a physical being or vehicle, etc.

On the subject of demonic counterfeits and confusion of the UFO phenomenon, let me personally affirm that indeed there is much Satanic input into this topic. The internet is full of sites where persons claim they are being channeled by “space brothers” to give saving advice to humanity, etc. This is nothing but opportunistic demonic mediumship. The demons are quintessentially opportunistic, working and distorting whatever is in the public domain of knowledge.

For example, in the history of American Spiritism (mediumship) the demonic spirits who channeled thought the mediums of the 1880s to 1900s typically claimed to be wise philosophers from ancient Greece or China, categories approved by Victorians, but not so fashionable today. These spirits universally informed the public there was no such thing as reincarnation. Things began to shift in the 1930s with the rise of Theosophy as a popular occult system. Perhaps the demonic entities decided that there was more spiritual mayhem to be made with reincarnation than not, and the doctrine of reincarnation remains to this day normative to spiritualism.[7]

I personally saw an incidence of “extra-terrestrial” channeling in my sojourn into the occult. In 1976 I attended a séance at the Atlanta “Foundation of Truth,” where the medium, a young woman, channeled a “space brother.” That demon gave the usual Gnostic/demonic advice, be nice, love, don’t eat animals, and meditate (i.e., don’t pray or worship, or worry about your sins, etc.). It was all very banal but of course gave no real information about any real extra-terrestrials. (No emails please, I long ago repented of that stuff, and the Lord has turned my sin and error of those years to good use.) Many such channeled accounts can be found on the web.

Another objection to the reality of extra-terrestrial life that I heard came from a Christian brother I met several decades ago. He was more studied in UFO reports than I was, and believed in a form of “demonic counterfeit” theory. He asserted that none of the accounts of communications with the extra-terrestrials made mention of Jesus Christ, and therefore they were demonic. I assumed he was smart enough to discount mediumistic reports, and was referring to telepathic and other communication between extra-terrestrials and humans that have been reported on several occasions.

That assertion was a theological fallacy, and C. S Lewis would surely have caught it immediately. In a planet that had not fallen into an original sin as deeply as ours God would not have had to send the Logos as an incarnate being to bring salvation. Those on the planet could proceed to spiritual maturity and worship through some form of God the Father centered worship similar to the Old Testament pattern. Also, note that in the Old Testament “Lady Wisdom” of proverbs is a form of pre-existent Logos, and encourages the Jewish believer to be wise and collect information (Proverbs 9). Thus extra-terrestrial beings may be responding to a cosmic spiritual imperative to acquire knowledge as part of honoring and appreciating God’s creation. This might explain the extra-terrestrial’s’ carefully designed and crafted vehicles and time consuming treks to visit earth. All of which is to say that, not knowing that the Logos incarnated on our plant as Jesus does not mean the extra-terrestrials are demonic. They may have revelation of the Logos as “Lady’ or “Gentleman” Wisdom.

Image result for roswell nm crash
On the UFOs, unlike most readers, I am old enough to remember the first sustained wave of multiple UFO sightings that sprang up after the famous Roswell, New Mexico, account of a crashed UFO in 1947. I recall my father reading to the family a long article on UFO sightings and supposed encounters from a major magazine (cir. 1952). A few years later my brother George, ten years older than me, had a job as a camp counselor in upper New York State, and one night, in company with other counselors chatting at a fire pit, saw a UFO. It was oval in shape, glowed throughout, made no noise.

His account, like almost all UFO reports, have the disadvantage of not being caught in a lab and repeatable in public, peer reviewed, etc. so it must remain the realm of what I term “half-knowing” –  just like mystical experiences. But my brother had absolutely no reason to invent such a story, and had no gain in reporting it, just like the majority of UFO witnesses.

Let me share another story along that line. (The UFO literature if full of similar ones.) In 1993, just before I accepted a post as Hispanic pastor, I was working as a security guard with a man who had come out of a tour in the US Coast guard. Four of us were at the office during shift change, drinking coffee, the conversation turned to UFOs.  We were all Christians (this was in Georgia).

USCG photo of USCGC Hamilton (WHEC-715)The ex-Coastguardsman shared a hair-raising incident that occurred when he was on duty on a Coast Guard cutter. He and others in the crew saw a saucer like UFO come from the horizon and trail the ship, passing close by, as if it were inspecting the ship, then diving into the water, and coming out the other side and off into the horizon. The craft had window ports, but he could not see the creatures inside. When the cutter made port, a high ranking officer was at dock side and the crew that this UFO incident was to be kept secret, and any break would result in serious charges and court martial.

My brother’s account, and especially the one of the Coastguardsman, point to an important element of historical investigation (as well as police work). That is the reality of a reliable witness. That is, someone who has no interest or gain by telling a lie, but merely shares information because it its true and relevant.[8] A person who lies has a purpose to do so, self-glorification, covering up a fault, etc. But neither my brother nor the Coastguardsman had any such motives.  A reading of the UFO literature shows countless other testimonies that gained nothing but suspicion or ridicule from others. As a historian I must conclude that what many of these witness saw was true and most probably extra-terrestrial, although such reports must reside in the realm of “half-knowing” until we have some sort of public physical evidence. I must also conclude that there is a government cover-up about these. 

Image result for yeti animalThere is at least one other Government cover-up and conspiracy that I will briefly mention: it deals with the Abdominal Snowman (the Yeti, in its Himalayan manifestation). In 1977 I had a room-mate who had worked as Government contracted psychologist at an Indian tribe in large reservation in New Mexico. We were talking about UFOs and the conversation turned to the Yeti type creatures.

He said, “Oh yeah, they are out there. On the reservation when the Indians find a body they bury them reverently. Oops. I should not have said that. It is a Government secret and I can get in trouble.” Why I asked would the Yeti be kept secret. He said that the Government does not want public storming in and disturbing them. It seemed to me that is a thin bit of reasoning, more likely bureaucratic rationalization, but he was reluctant to argue or discuss further.

Again, the issue of a reliable witness.  He was a sincere Christian, I respected him for his wisdom and education, and he respected me for the work I was doing on spiritual phenomenon at the time. We had no motive to fool, impress or deceive one another.

To summarize what I have written about conspiracy theories in this and my earlier posting: most conspiracy theories, especially those that give simplistic understandings of historical situations we don’t like, are destructive and false. They harm the formation of a person’s spiritual and emotional maturity. The Bible is a great guide on this as the Old Testament is a long history of how things did not turn out right.  That is, the Temple was destroyed and the Jewish people scattered. But the biblical account places the blame of that evil squarely on the spiritual disobedience and hard-heartiness’ of the Jews themselves, not on some devious conspiratorial group.

However, in some cases there are indeed conspiratorial groups or governments. The Nazis conspired to conquer the World, and for decades the Communist International directed its followers to ferment communist resolutions. But such plots are at the edge of true conspiracy theories, and might be classed secret state-sponsored activities. 

But in this essay I have described a set of secrets that are held together by Government, “secrets” laws, and memorandum, and enforced by the government police and Armed forces. The rumored “men in black” probably do exist, in spite of the fact that the popular picture about the group, ran to farcical exaggerations.  

I hope it is time for the Government to come clean on this issue. We need a dose of truth form our Government, even if it hurts.

[1]Lee Speigel, “48 Percent Of Americans Believe UFOs Could Be ET Visitations,” Huffington Post.09/11/2013 08:32 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

[2] Pneuma Review. Posted June 29, 2015.

[3] Ibid.
[4] The Lewis novels are: Out of the Silent Planet (1938), Perelandra (1943) and The Hideous Strength (1945).

[5]Fr. Stanley Jaki, a great Christian historian and physicist, with a specialty on the relationship of Christianity to the rise of science, insisted all his life that the earth would prove to be the only planet in the universe capable of sustain intelligent, spiritual/material beings.  He died in 2009 before the newer generation of telescopes were able to prove that the universe indeed had many planets similar to the earth, and some even orbiting at a “sweet spot” where liquid water (and life) are possible.
[6]Jessilyn Justice, “End-Time Deception: People Seeing UFOs Everywhere,” Charisma.  Posted 4/27/2017.
[7] See my Past Life Visions: A Christian Exploration (New York: Seabury, 1983). 86-87

[8] The principal is coved in readable form by the classic work about historical investigation, R. G. Collingwood, The Idea of History. (1993) in the section/parable of the detective doing a murder investigation.