Here are some stories from my personal experiences with charismania. Some are sad, some are funny. Actually looking back it wasn't as bad as it sounds, I mostly make light of it now, and leave the darker parts to rest in peace in the past.
I was a Charismatic for 15 years and a strong word-of-faither for the last year or so. It was the extreme teachings of the word-of-faith movement that eventually caused me to exit the movement altogether.
Many ex-charisma testimonies talk of the abuse they received. Well I gave as good as I got, so my testimony is a bit different. In retrospect I also engaged in a remarkable amount of self-flagellation. My humblest apologies to all who were on the receiving end of my prideful behaviors and were caught by the ricochets of my self-destructive behaviors.
My first exposure to the Charisma was reading my Bible when attending a Presbyterian church. I don't know which one. I only recently learned there are over a dozen denominations that call themselves by the name Presbyterian.
I had started going to church because I had a bad experience with a girl-friend, first time I ever had my heart broken, it wouldn't be the last, but I didn't know it then.
I was 23 and fresh out of college. I had a nice new job and was living by myself in a one bedroom apartment in Largo Florida. I read only the parts of the Bible that had red letters in them, you know the four Gospels and acts. Actually I didn't finish acts because it only had red at the beginning. I thought that was all God had to say, and that the rest of the Bible was dry history.
I was under this impression because once as I kid I tried to read the Bible. I opened it to somewhere near the beginning, and read a few pages of so-and-so begat so-and-so. I closed it and never opened it again until then.
I picked a Presbyterian church because my grandfather was a Presbyterian minister. Later I was told he was a "liberal" Presbyterian which was "good" according to my mother, who hates all those who actually take the Bible literally. Only fanatics do that she said, and she said her father told her that. She claimed her father told her that the book of Revelation didn't even belong in the Bible.
I once asked her, why then did he become a minister?
"Because he wanted to stand for something good." she said.
That response never made any sense to me, it still doesn't. He is dead now so I have no way of knowing if her assessment of his liberal "goodness" was true or not. For his sake, I hope she is wrong.
In my bedroom, while reading my Bible, I concluded that all Christians should speak in tongues. And in that privacy, I knelt down and asked God to give me this gift, that I so clearly thought the Bible said was for everyone, and absolutely nothing happened. I waited for at least an hour for my tongue to move before giving up.
I told God then that He wasn't real and that His promises don't work, and I quit going to church, and didn't give it another thought.
About six years later, I was married, my wife was expecting, and I met a Pentecostal Christian. He was crazy, I mean that in a bad way, but for better or worse, we became friends. To spare him, I am not going to chronicle all the bad things he did, but there were a lot of them. Some criminal, at least the IRS wouldn't like it very much, and that was the mild stuff. But he spoke in tongues which got my attention, and a lot of that bad stuff hadn't happened yet. He basically preached the prosperity Gospel, get with God and get rich.
Something wierd happened to me too, I woke up one morning after this guy constantly harassing me to become a Christian, and I had this complete conviction that I needed to become a Christian too. I thought I had lost my mind. Actually I was sure I had, but I was ok with it for some reason. I was a scientist I told myself and this does not make any sense. Actually I am an engineer, calling myself a scientist is a bit pretentious, but only a little. I have met people who do what I do with "computer scientist" on their business cards. That was before everyone in the world had learned that computers crash all the time and eat your data like a new garbage disposal. We software engineers are not so pretentious now.
I also had this deep knowing inside me that this would never change, I knew I was a Christian for life, and although I could not explain it I pronounced it to my mother. She was gratifyingly horrified but was polite about it. She obviously believed it was a phase that would pass.
My initial focus as a Christian was on obtaining God's blessings. It rapidly transformed into a desire for spiritual power however.
Next, this guy starts harassing me that I need the baptism of the Holy Spirit. For some reason all I could say was, "I dont need that", I denied that I even cared. But secretly in my prayer time I begged God to give me the baptism of the Holy Spirit. In my mind that moment is the event where the comedy of errors really begins to take off.
A year later I get the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, and my crazy friend hands me a book from Charles and Francis Hunter "How to Heal the Sick." In retrospect it was a pretty straight up word-of-faith teaching focussing on healing only, but I didn't know about such things then.
My wife was filled with the Spirit soon afterwards, and we began to pray for anyone who would let us. Only two significant miracles ocurred, so we eventually stopped praying for people as nothing happened in all but those two cases.
The first was my unbelieving brother, who had nerve damage in his face, which had caused him to lose his chosen career as a trombone player. He was working as a manager of a Payless shoestore, and while it wasn't a bad job, he wasn't that happy at it either. But my brother makes a career of not being happy wherever he goes.
Here is the interesting part, my crazy friend owned a music store, and we prayed for my brother at the store. There are four of us and him. We pray twice, and the second time he feels something, an electric tingling sensation, the music store owner whips out a trombone and says here play on this. It was quite dramatic.
The nerve damage in his face caused his lips to go numb and weak. But no numbness had happened to him in years. He hadn't picked up a trombone in a long time actually. I encouraged him to start practicing again, and sure enough, the numbness was gone. He is a trombone player to this day, and as unhappy as ever. We all congratulated ourselves on a great miracle, completely forgetting that the wound had five years to heal on its own. But the electric zapping was enough for us. My personal opinion to this day is that a miracle did in fact occur.
As a result my brother converted to Christianity for a while. I preached the prosperity gospel to him, tithe and God will make you rich (more or less), with disastrous results. He left Christianity as soon as he had a financial blow. He invested with a friend in something or other that was quasi-legal, and the SEC confiscated the whole thing. He was out $40,000 (his life savings at the time) and was furious at his friend (who was also a professing Christian). My brother left the Church and never went back. He also has never been friends with that person again.
After that they formed a healing prayer team at our church, and we joined. Here was one of my earliest lessons in Pentecostal believers who don't practice what they preach. The healing team was open to anyone who wanted to join. I thought the entire congregation would show up. Only a dozen people (out of over 300) showed up. I don't understand that to this day.
One person on the team actually got healed of something major during our training sessions (we used the Charles and Frances Hunter video training tapes), but nobody we prayed for was healed. During one of the training meetings my wife manifested a demon. She reports being on the floor hearing screaming, and being surprised to realize that it was her doing the screaming.
The team shut down after three months because the leader of the team had a disagreement with the pastor. I didn't help either, I offended the leader also, and have been ashamed ever since. She invited us over for dinner, and we didn't show. We thought it was for the whole team, turned out she meant just us, and she cooked all afternoon and we never showed up. When she confronted us I was dumbfounded. She left a few weeks later.
The other significant miracle was my wife developed rheumatoid arthritis around the age of 27. Her joints swelled up and she could barely walk. The condition developed slowly over six months. I prayed for her and the pain disappeared immediately and the swelling went down over three days. It is now over 15 years later and she is still healed. Things like this are why I will never be a full cessationist.
She came to me the next day however and explained that she had been stealing money from me and had run up $8,000 on credit cards over a period of about two years without me knowing about it. She was under the impression that if she did not confess she would not keep her healing.
We refinanced the house and paid off her debt. But she never repented of actually stealing money, in the divorce ten years later she had another surprise $13,000 that she was forced to disclose in the legal proceedings. I was forced to pay it as part of the divorce settlement and considered it worth the price to be rid of her. Yeah I was bitter for a while, and angry too, but it passed in time, thank God.
By then I was a Pentecostal for eleven years and my spirit filled wife had left me for her unsaved lover while denying they ever had an affair. I was the only one who believed her denial, but that didn't last. When she moved in with him a few weeks after she announced she was leaving I sort of had to admit that everyone else was right. She admitted the affair few months later and confessed it was her idea. Initially I was heartbroken that she left, but after that and the financial disclosure I was sure God had done me a favor to let her go. That didn't make it any easier though.
Her boyfriend died five years later and then she re-confessed that yes they had a full blown relationship throughout the entire period before and after the divorce (there had been sporadic denials to me and to her family). They even got seperate apartments to keep up appearances, but she admitted that was a sham. Then she said she was glad to finally be free of her constant sin with this guy.
That was the wierdest repentance speech I ever heard actually. Like a newly blind man praising God to be free of pornography. And her praise of God continued throughout the entire time, what mighty and wonderful things He was doing in her life. What powerful and anointed women she hung out with, and on and on and on like that.
I am now a single parent (she didn't want our son but I did, so we all agreed on that score thankfully) I understand why God hates divorce now. Getting a divorce is like having your heart ripped out and handed to you on a platter. It takes years to recover.
In fact I had two years of deep dark depression after she left. But God worked in a bright spot there too. I got laid off a year after the divorce. I had barely begun to come out of the initial depression, but the layoff plunged me back into it again. It was a one-two punch, I was down for the count and couldn't even try to get back up. I sat at home that summer, unable to leave the house. I started the car once a week to buy groceries. My car battery died after about six weeks of that because I wasn't driving it enough to keep it charged.
I lost all hope too. Two months into it I was anticipating bankruptcy six or so months later when I calculated the layoff package would run out. I had a plan for when I had to sell the house and move back in with my parents. I still believed in God, but I had no strength to work up any "faith" for miracles, or to speak the word, or even to search for a job. I felt bad about this too, notice how charismania kicks you when you are down? I managed a quick thirty second prayer, "God I got nothing, no faith, no hope, and no strength, you are gonna have to get me a job because I don't have the strength to do it myself."
I did everything wrong from the word-of-faith perspective, I was confessing in the negative, I had no faith at all (their kind of faith to force miracles to happen at our wills), but I still clung to God as my only hope. They called me less than two weeks later to offer me my old job back at a 20 percent cut (which wasn't bad at all). It was one of the more important lessons in my Christianity, about what the meaning of true "faith" really is.
I even ended up $20,000 ahead from the layoff package. I joke about it now, if I had known He was going to do that it would have been a great summer off, but nooooo, I had to have a pity party instead. Word-of-faithers would say I lacked faith, my response is that I lacked nothing because I had Him.
I bring that story up when word-of-faithers come on to me with all of their junk. God is faithful even when we are not. He is still as omniscient today as He always was, He doesn't need us to remind Him of His promises. And He is still omnipotent, He doesn't need our help to fulfill those promises.
I also ditched my crazy friend during the divorce because I didn't want to be around crazy people any more. I had begun to realize that my people pleasing behavior was catnip to crazy people casting around for ready made victims. Yeah I haven't harped on that much, but I passed tests for being a people pleaser with flying colors. I finally gained awareness that volunteering for victim status is not a form of ministry (I used to think it was). I spent twelve years counseling him that his behavior was self-destructive and that if he would just stop, he would be fine. And I let him suck me into his life and become very controlling of me. Little did I know my own behavior was also self-destructive.
I can't tell you how many times I dropped a hint that just maybe some of the calamitous things that constantly besieged this guy might possibly be his own fault, only to have to listen to a twenty minute (minimum) lecture on why I was wrong and he was right. He had a long litany of all the people who had betrayed him and how much it was their fault. I heard that lecture hundreds of times. To date I have never met a more bitter or unforgiving person, or a more unyielding one. Although I have met many like him. He could be surprisingly charming when he wanted to be however. He actually had a charismatic personality and tended to suck people into his whirlwind life. I was one of the suckees.
I had a woman friend from college too. She like to call a lot. Her idea of a conversation was to talk while I listened. If I just tossed her an "Uh-Huh" every once in a while, she would keep talking for at least an hour or two. And she had the same litany, it was everyone else's fault her life sucked. Her life wasn't actually that bad, but she managed to consistently alienate the people around her (just as my other friend did), and was therefore always in hot water with somebody somewhere. Again, she was totally unreceptive to any suggestion that she change her self-destructive behavior, and could not even admit that there was anything wrong with her behavior. I listened to a lot of defensive lectures from her too.
The five years beginning on the day of my divorce were the most interesting part of my Christian life to date. God did several great miracles during that time, the first was that he opened my eyes to my upbringing, that mild emotional abuse had been a part of it, and that I had married someone just like my mother. Oh gee, like I am the first guy in the world to ever do that. In defense of my mother though, she has always been faithful to her husband. We get along fine too as long as we don't talk about politics or religion.
Another miracle was that I learned to recognize abusive personalities in people. I thought I had been given discernment of spirits at first. After spending years with crazy people I found I could spot them much more easily than other people could. Oh what a blessing, at least I wouldn't marry another one again. I ran into a problem though, when I looked into the mirror, my crazy detectors would go off too, not as strong as with some others, but it was still depressing.
I no longer think of it as supernatural, but Godly wisdom. I had learned how to spot very subtle behaviors that I knew were the tips of icebergs. Behaviors that if you were married to would make your life a living hell.
I resolved to at least manage my own negative behaviors, I no longer have illusions that a quick fix cure is possible. The evil still lurks in me, and it comes out every once in a while. Managing abusive behavior was actually easier than dealing with the people pleasing aspects that made me a magnet for abusive people for all those years. You see not being mean is relatively easy, but not being a people pleaser requires courage to stand up for yourself with dignity and graciousness. I am not saying I get it right everytime either, but at least now I know more or less what I am supposed to do. I was blind, but now I see.
I also began to notice that almost everybody I met had some of that craziness that I had learned to spot. It is a matter of degree. Some have a little, some have a lot, and some have that wall of total denial they have anything wrong with them that I have learned to associate with full-blown personality disorders. I had earlier thought it was an on or off thing and that if I just avoided all the "evil" people in the world that I would be fine. I have also noticed a complete inability to change in almost everyone, people are what they are, thay can manage their behavior to some extent but fundamental change has to come from above.
I studied the "evil" behaviors in people with dark fascination, I read books on Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), and learned how it makes a person totally evil in their motivations by giving them a self-centered total disregard for others. It also makes them master manipulators. People with lesser problems can have parts of that too. I am convinced the Devil has NPD and probably all the others disorders too. The list of symptoms that appears in the Bible describing people's behavior in the perilous end-times (lovers of self, boastful, without natural affection...) is a near perfect list of NPD symptoms. For a while I even thought NPD was a fulfillment of prophecy.
I started looking for a new church about three years after the divorce. And I found a nice Four-Square church (they are a Pentecostal derivative denomination and practice a mild form of Pentecostalism). My twin condemnations of that church in retrospect is that they tolerate (athough mildly deprecate) word-of-faith, and worse, easy believism is taught there. Sin is almost never mentioned, so in practice they plant tares more than wheat.
About this time I also resumed my heavy watching of TBN. Word-of-faith is preached there, and I liked it. Although even I winced when I heard sermons like "You are Worth Your Weight in Wealth", Dr. Mark Chironna, Feb 2005. In it he preached the first of several keys to obtaining said wealth, but came on at the end and for only $29.95 you can order your DVD with the other necessary keys to obtaining your wealth. Even in my blinded state I thought he was doing the body of Christ a disservice by operating like a snake oil salesman.
My prayer language by now had slowly reduced to where it was just a single phrase that repeated over and over again, like a tape loop. I didn't use it much either.
I had a dramatic second conversion experience soon after I started attending that church. I became convinced that I had never "bowed the knee" to Jesus, and that my prideful self-righteous attitudes in my earlier Christian days were evidence I had never truly been converted. My entire life flashed before my eyes, and I saw that not one work I had ever done for Him had been done with pure motives. A little bit of self was in all of them. I desired to be seen working hard before men, and I desired the glory of doing miracles for Him. I saw my pride for what it was, grievously sinful before a righteous and holy God. It was a step in the right direction anyway.
My Pentecostal friends tried to talk me out of it, but I would have none of it and made them pray for me to be baptized in the Holy Spirit again. I was convinced that God had told me to do this and that I shouldn't worry about what had happened before. "lean not on your own understanding" was my verse for that one.
They laid hands upon me and I felt something really strong (emotionally) and burst forth in tongues (I can still remember the exact words):
That was all I got out, it sounded like baby talk to me so my glorious moment stopped abrubtly in embarassment. But my friends were elated, said they never saw anyone get it that fast before. I went home and asked God to give me another language, or at least one that sounded better. I also had a great fear that parts of my old language would come back. I had a conviction that it was a false language. I was afraid to label it demonic, for fear of blaspheming the Holy Spirit if I was wrong. But I knew it was false and wanted none if it.
I got a Charles and Francis Hunter tape, and was given "freedom in the spirit" by watching it, I could now speak fluently in my new language. I was overjoyed. I was able to control the language too, I could make it sound however I liked. I could even make it sound like Chinese. I thought this was cool. But I was worried that I should not try to interfere with the Holy Spirit too much when I was speaking.
I also learned to use bigger words, and that if I spoke slower it was easier to sound better:
Shandala Shandai ma-da-da-da-la-da-da-da.
I could never completely get rid of the da's, they just kept coming back. About a week into this though my old tape loop reasserted itself once. I was aghast and stopped immediately. What was I to do now? Was the false mixing with the true? With some effort I could keep the false out, but I had to concentrate.
I met a guy in our church who confided in me a similar problem. He was so ashamed of his prayer language that he would not speak it in public. He spent six months practicing it before he considered letting others hear it. You should hear our pastor though, his prayer language is a highly polished piece of art, beautiful to hear.
About this time a few of us in our home cell group decided we should get together and study deliverance. The church wasn't practicing deliverance enough so we were going to fix it.
We had big dreams of a deliverance ministry, and the whole church coming to us and thanking us for restoring this important ministry to the church (no kidding we actually thought this was going to happen). God had placed us four together for a purpose.
Since it was my idea to start the group, one lady dubbed me the apostle of the group. I was their apostolic anointing she said. I feigned humility, but I actually thought it sounded pretty cool. People weren't yet bowing down to me as I walked by, but I was hopeful they would come around in time.
About this time I was sure God told me that if I prayed for this one guy in our cell group, that he would be healed. He had some pretty serious medical problems including cerebral palsy and scoliosis severe enough to cause disabling pain. My cell group leader got wind of this, even though I was trying to keep it from him because I thought he was not spiritual enough and would try to stop me.
I was right actually, he was pretty upset and commanded me not to pray for this guy, and accused me of pride. I didn't defend myself (too much), and thought I was dealing with a spirit of religion. I called an emergency meeting of our gang-of-four deliverance Bible study and we cast the Devil out of him and did spiritual warfare, all behind his back of course.
I went ahead and prayed for that guy anyway, he invited me over to his house after I told him God had told me to pray for him and he would be healed. Gee fancy that? We prayed for at least an hour. This guy got really into it to. He started binding the Devil over his house, the city, the county and over the whole country. Man did we kick the Devil's butt that day. But he was no more healed than he was before.
That took a lot of wind out of my sails. And I was called into meetings with church leadership. They didn't listen to a word I said, well they listened but were dismissive. I talked about the fulness of Christ, and the power of miracle ministry for witnessing. They told me that if I did it again (pray for someone without permission) I would be kicked out of the church. They said I was not allowed to pray for anyone at that church ever again without someone in leadership present.
They claimed that it was church policy that nobody was allowed to pray for anyone or have meetings without church leadership present. They explicitly meant regular attenders as well as members. They also included prayer on and off campus even in our own homes. I asked them to repeat themselves because I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I still remember that conversation feeling like I was Alice in Wonderland.
You can imagine I was furious. A lot of spirits of religion got cast out that night. But I also had enough sense to realize the guy wasn't healed. So I backed down and agreed to behave myself. I figured I needed to learn to hear the voice of God better. I asked for training in this at the church and they just looked at me like I was from mars (aren't all guys from there anyway?). And again they were dismissive without explanation, like I was the village idiot or something.
But I knew I was an engineer, and had a higher IQ than the lot them (not to mention a higher income too), so I was determined to show them and set about trying to learn to hear the voice of God better, so that I could adequately demonstrate the mighty power of God to all these unspiritual people.
Note: remember all this occurred after I thought I had been born again for the second time, and had truly repented of pride, and was serving Jesus in maximum humility. Hopefully you can see the irony in this. Word-of-faith is one of the most pride-making self-puffing doctrines I know of, and I was majorly puffed-up as you can see, and was admirably fulfilling the role of village idiot.
After this my buddy in the gang of four was fired as an apprentice home cell-group leader. He was also accused of pride and lack of submission to church leadership, because he didn't initially back down when he was confronted like I did. At this point I was sure I had stumbled into a controlling cult. We were not allowed to pray or meet together without supervision, I mean really!
Our little Bible study was disbanded at their command also.
Note: The one thing they didn't do was to sit me down and try to explain why what I believed was wrong, they were totally unequipped to do that or disinterested or both. I don't know. They only seemed interested in shutting us down.
I actually called a Christian legal organization and asked them if they had the legal right to order us not to pray or meet without supervision. He said no way and it sounded like a controlling cult and I should get out. I did not heed his advice immediately, although I agreed with his assessment at the time.
Later I came to the conclusion they did the right thing to shut us down. It wasn't handled well, and some of the things that were said were ludicrous, but I have seen no further evidence of the controlling cult I initially thought I was dealing with. If they truly have such a policy as they described to me, they have a highly selective enforcement of it. The only other instances I have heard of it being used was against other word-of-faithers like we were.
I stayed with my plan however. Next I got a book from Mark Virkler on how to hear the voice of God. He taught journalling of one's prayers, prophecying to oneself, and journalling those too, meditation to hear God's voice better, guided visualization (daydreaming that Christ is speaking to you), and writing down ones dreams. It means a notepad (or PDA) next to your bed because you have to write down the dreams before you forget.
I had some great dreams at first, God was going to raise me up as a voice in the wilderness to set the church straight. I would join my voice with many others to do what those bad pastors weren't. If they were shirking their duties then God would raise up others like me.
The dreams got wierd however, I dreamed I was the little mermaid once (we watch a lot of Disney). She was trying to find her father in the throne room. She had the ability to turn others into mermaids too by breathing on them. And they would inherit that ability too. I reasoned she was searching for Father God, and being turned into a mermaid was symbolic of being born-again. Turning others into mermaids was symbolic of preaching the Gospel in a mighty soul winning ministry. No matter how wacky the dream I could always assign Christian symbols to it. And I could always work in the bit that I was going to be mightily used of God too.
I had a dream where I was a tehnician at a power plant, and the power went out. In the room above was a bunch of TV transmitters, and each one had a Christian channel on it. I single handedly restored the power, and figured this was yet another sign I would be mightily used of God.
There was a wacky lady with super-powers who couldn't remember her name running around in the power plant. I helped her remember who she was. I labelled her as a symbol for the church. I was gonna rescue the church lock, stock, and barrel. Oh Yeah!
I began to prophecy to myself and journal those too. I saved them for my hall of shame, and a reminder of what can happen. But generally they tended to have God promising to answer all my prayers, grant all my dreams, etc, etc, etc...
After some practice I felt I was ready to begin prophecying to others. My older sister was buying a house, and she needed some money, I was going to give her a small amount, but God told me in the shower I needed to give a bigger amount. A week later it turned out she needed exactly that amount because the appraisal for her new house had come in low. I was stunned and excited, at last my time had come. I know a lot of "prophets" that get their best words in the shower too. :-)
Next I elatedly prophecied to myself the hundred-fold anointing, if I gave God $20,000 dollars (remember my layoff profits), he would give me two million dollars two years later. I actually did this, thankfully I gave the money to a ministry that was feeding desperate people in the Sudanese civil war. Meaning it wasn't a total waste, unfortunately they are a word-of-faith group, and even worse, a oneness pentecostal organization. The two year clock hasn't run out yet however, maybe I will be a multi-millionaire yet.
I left out that I did this once before. Under John Avanzini's hundred-fold anointing I sent $10,000 to TBN. The guy on the phone even said to me, "Wow, a million dollar return!" Three years later I was divorced and paying alimony, near broke and in debt. I survived by cost cutting measures: a refinance, and a cheap car. I never did get my million dollar check for the first one, and am still waiting on the two million dollar second one. Technically God is now three million in debt to me according to the word-of-faith teachers.
After the $20,000 incident I decided I should tithe gross (I was only tithing net, and deducting the hefty alimony checks from my titheable income too). In order to do this I had to stop all contribution to my 401k. I figured God was more important than my retirement savings and accepted blindly the word-of-faith teachings that He would take care of me if I put Him first in this way.
I considered these great victories. It takes lots of faith to do these things you know, I was proud of my new-found super-spirituality, convinced it was a harbinger of the mighty ministry that would be mine. But like a drug addict, I wanted more, I bought another book by Mark Virkler called "Am I being deceived." In it he defends his position from his critics who have pointed out that all of his techniques to hear God's voice are identical to the New Age.
His defense was that we both contact the spiritual, therefore the spiritual contact methods are valid, but we contact the true and they don't, so it is ok. Something went off in my mind (I guess the real Holy Spirit was still in there somewhere), and I had this feeling that I had just read an argument where he said: "I know it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, but trust me, it isn't really a duck." Another more chilling way to say it is that all the methods the New Age uses to communicate with familiar spirits are somehow ok to use when communicating with God.
I didn't buy it. It was the straw that broke the camel's back actually. I ran across some critics of Mr. Virkler on the internet. They showed up in a Yahoo search when I was looking for a place to buy more books by him. But more transpired before this moment so let me back up a bit.
Dr. Virkler runs a small online Christian university, they have courses on healing, prophecy, and multi-level marketing schemes. You are expected to use your faith to get rich.
I still believed I had received the call to preach at this point, remember my mermaid call? Oh yeah! Princess Ariel to the rescue! I didn't have the money to pay for a college degree at the time, but Mr. Virkler's site had a course syllabus and list of textbooks for every course. I resolved to buy every textbook for an entire three year masters program and read the material. I intended to sign up when my finances improved, I would just be reading ahead a bit.
During this time, after my second born-again experience, we got deeply into deliverance, remember that was the theme of our gang-of-four Bible study.
I learned about demons, and groups of demons. I learned that generational curses are real, and that they are demon energized. Every time you sin you give demons license to enter into you and your children so you have to keep casting them out and breaking the generational curses you create to stay above water.
I learned that anything that looks demonic probably is, and that any unclean thing in the Old Testament was actually symbolic of demons.
I cleaned my house (for the third time in my Christian life). I threw out my "pagan" Christmas tree, anything with owls or frogs on it (unclean spirits). Including a children's book with a wise owl cartoon figure on it. We resolved to avoid all "pagan" holidays in America, including Christmas, Easter, Valentines day, and Halloween. Involvement in those things would of course invite demonic activity into myself and my son.
The big one for me was giving up computer games. I was an avid computer gamer, my son and I liked to play computer games together. In fact it was a major father-and-son activity for us. I got them all together on a table. The table was covered a foot deep. Games have manuals and strategy guides, and large amounts of hints on the internet you have to print out, I had it all.
I called my son into the room and announced that God had told me to give up my idols and the games were going to go. My son freaked, he went into shock and leaned back against the wall. His hands began to writhe nervously. "A Demonic manifestation!" I was sure of it. I knew when you get rid of idols the demons come out, and are mad. I whisked my then 14 year old son off to his bed and cast the Devil out of him. But then I remembered I couldn't since the idols were still in the house and therefore they still had a legal right to torment him.
So I threw them all out, and then we cast the Devil out of him, again.
He threw all of his games away the next day, being terrified the demons would come back into him.
We lived the next four months without any worldy entertainment at all, no TV, no games, nothing. We sat and stared at each other all day. Even though I did come out of it, my relationship with my son has not fully recovered. We are not as close as we used to be.
Also during that time "God" told me I should give up my classical piano practicing and take up pop music. Church music is modern pop anyway so I should do that to glorify God better. I actually put my five hundred dollar classical music library into the trash bin. God told me a few hours later that I could go get it back out as long as I kept my priorities on Him, it was just a test and a lesson. So I did as He said. A few books had coffee grinds on them from one of my neighbors but were none the worse for the wear after that.
During this time I also read Scott Ross' personal testimony on the 700 club website, he had an autobiography going one chapter at a time each week on their website.
In it he chronicles how he almost quit his job at the 700 club because he thought God had told him to go preach to the Eskimos in Alaska. This guy had me beat, I always thought you had to go to Africa to be really spiritual, but the Eskimos were even better. He recanted of it later, and records a conversation with Pat Robertson (his boss), where Pat tells him that the Devil is the great counterfeiter, you just have to learn to tell the difference better.
Mr. Ross also describes an event when he got up in the dead of night and felt that his Christmas tree, by virtue of being a pagan symbol, had let a demon into the house (he felt an "evil" presence). So he dragged it out into the back yard that night. Apparently his wife didn't take it that well the next morning when she got up, and again he ended up recanting that it was God. Pat Robertson told him that most of our so-called Christian holidays in America have pagan roots and not to worry about it. In that I agree.
Looking back, Mr. Ross' testimony is just like mine, except he still believes in that stuff, I don't. I was more successful at getting rid of my Christmas tree however, mine made it all the way to the trash can. I had to buy a new plastic pagan tree to replace it.
During this time I also left my home-cell group for another one that was more "spiritual". They were deeply into word-of-faith. Their idea of a good time was to watch Paula White tapes. And C. Peter Wagner's name was tossed about as a great prophet of God. We had a Creflo Dollar fan and self-apponted prophet in the group too. About two weeks after I joined that group was when the house of cards came tumbling down.
My switch to a new cell group occurred just before the end of our four months of no worldly entertainment, which was when I stumbled across the criticism of Virkler's work. It accused him of being way way way out in left field. It was like a dam had burst, I found internet ministries that scripturally debunked all the teachers I had revered (and desired to be like) for so many years. I read like a crack cocaine addict for the first two weeks.
It took me two weeks to deprogram myself enough to where I realized that word-of-faith was heresy of the worst sort, and that TBN was one of the great peddlers of false doctrine in the world today. I still believed the gifts were in operation today, but I realized they weren't as prevalent as I had thought. I later came to a partial cessationst viewpoint, I deny the gifts are operating today, but do not deny miracles still occur.
I met with my new cell-group leader to tell him of my change of heart. I was nervous, I thought I was going to get kicked out, and thought I would save him the trouble and offer to leave. He was very gracious and asked me to stay, but his wife asked if I could tolerate fellowshipping with a bunch of people who no longer believed what I did. I said I would try and promised to not repeat my previous behavior that ticked off my old cell-group leader so much.
In retrospect I think I actually pulled it off. I never launched into a diatribe of "heretic, heretic, heretic," and I didn't engage in any behind the scenes sabotage like before. I also generally enjoyed their fellowship. It was a study in humility for me too, an excercise in putting other people first, in treating them with dignity and respect even though I disagreed with them. I hoped my cell leader will let me give at least a parting warning about the dangers of word-of-faith and false prophecy to the group. (Note, this never happened, but I did manage to talk to a few members of the group before it broke up).
As part of that meeting I launched into a short description of some of the false teachings. I was accused of lacking grace and he asked me to do a Bible study on grace. He was very nice about it, and asked me to present my study to the group. This was very different behavior from my last cell-group leader and I realized I had stumbled into a man who was gifted as a leader. I think what he was hoping for was I would talk myself out of my newfound positions. The opposite occurred however and in a really excellent way.
By this point I had decided that I should continue my studies to self-educate to the college theology level, even though I suspected my "call to preach" was self-delusion. I started systematically reading the reformation figures of history, starting with John Calvin, then Martin Luther, Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, Charles Spurgeon, and many others. I learned about Pelagianism, Arminianism, Calvinism, and Hyper-Calvinism. I learned that the great truths of the Christian faith are unchanging, and that I had no knowledge of the basics of the Christian faith after being a professing Christian for fifteen years.
I wasn't a five point Calvinist yet, but four of the five points (all but the limited atonement) were clear to me then. So I wrote my Bible study on four out of the five doctrines of grace and presented that to our group. It was a life transforming study for me.
I was set free from works thinking, pride in thinking I got things right and others didn't. I remembered back to when I first got saved, God zapped me, I woke up one day and knew I had to become a Christian for life. That testimony perfectly describes sovereign grace. It is now almost twenty years later and it has never left me. I am a Christian because I have to be. I don't question it, I just am one. And I am very grateful for it too.
I still remember when the last of the five points of TULIP became clear to me. I don't think anyone gets up in the morning and thinks "I shall become a Calvinist today." Arthur Pink gets credit for the last straw of the limited atonement for me. I still remember what a shock it was to realize that I had just become a five point Calvinist.
At some point I went back to my old cell group leader and apologized for my prideful behavior, and explained I had become a Calvinist. His wife had heard of it, but didn't remember what it meant. I explained I had been following false teachers and was no longer following them and didn't expand any more than that. It wasn't much, I didn't feel like any apology could be truly adequate, but they forgave me anyway which was gratifying.
As I mentioned previously, I was still attending my hyper-word-of-faith cell group during those six months. A lot of stuff went on that was interesting. When I told the leader of the cell group that Copeland was a heretic and why, namely that any of us could have died on the cross and did what Jesus did (according to Hagin and Copeland), he understood and was supportive.
He even tried to push back in future meetings when people said "our words our powerful", with "God is powerful, not us." They stopped showing Paula White tapes too (she is a baptist word-of-faith preacher which is an interesting combination). Although the baptists seem to be sitting on the fence about whether they are going to excommunicate her or not.
It turns out my new cell leader read theology many years ago, he knew of Spurgeon, Whitefield, Edwards, Calvin, and Luther. He is still a Pentecostal however so maybe he needs to re-read those guys, but at least he was sympathetic and was able to understand my position (hallelujah!).
In contrast, when I tried to tell his wife that the word-of-faith teachings were rooted in the worst heresy, her response was "I don't care." Ironically we had just talked about the verse "the power of life and death are in the tongue." Which in the word-of-faither's mind is blanket authority over all things given to the believer. I pointed out that the Bible clearly explains what is meant in that "by your words you shall be justified, and by your words you shall be condemned." When she said "I don't care." I knew she would hear those words again someday if she didn't repent. It was eerie like in a horror movie. You could almost hear the violins screetching.
We have a woman in the group who is a self-appointed prophet and deliverance minister. We also had a man come down with terminal cancer. Earlier our gang-of-four had prayed for him, and assured him he could be healed. However, his cell-group leader (different from mine) prayed a eulogy over him. That leader also rebuked his roommate for believing he could be healed. He was forceful about it "forget all that religious junk, he is going to die."
We were very critical of his behavior (secretly of course, we knew the futility of challenging church leadership at that point). The prophet in our cell-group later prophesied that he would be home soon, healed, and get married, all before the year was out. She said it several times actually.
The man died a few months later.
She appears unfazed. Clueless that the sin of being an unrepentant false prophet is as bad or worse than being an unrepentant adulterer or fornicator or idolater. It gives me shivers when I think about it. I plan to say that in my exit speech if I get a chance.
My friend in the gang-of-four, the one who was fired as an apprentice cell-group leader joined the local healing rooms ministry right after that. They prophesied over him that he would become one of God's four-star generals. That made him feel better. He never missed a healing rooms meeting after that either.
I went to a few meetings but dropped out after I heard that the cornerstone of their ministry is the belief that anyone can be healed if they just learn how to receive it. My initial epiphany occurred after the first few meetings I had with them. One of the things I learned early on is that the universal healing doctrine always ends up blaming the person when they don't get healed. The healing rooms teaches that too, the doctrine leaves you no choice. You can't possibly admit that your prayers are inadequate or that your doctrine is screwed up, it has to be their fault.
They were also big on the impartation of the anointing. The leader lady said she saw her job as primarily to travel around and pick up anointings for us and bring them back to us. The anointing as a finite transferrable power is an entirely occult teaching and has no place in Biblical Christianity.
They prayed for me when I went there the first time. I was a full word-of-faither at the time. I have a number of minor nagging medical conditions, none of which are serious, but they prayed for them all. No change, obviously I didn't have enough faith or something. I had to stand still for a long time while they prayed. My injured leg muscle began to twitch as they were praying for it. The prayer leader thought it was a great manifestation of the Holy Spirit. The trouble is it did that a lot. I didn't have the heart to tell him it twitched frequently. I wanted to get healed too so I couldn't allow room for doubt. It didn't help, the injury remains to this day.
They also gave me three words of knowledge or prophesies, one was quit striving. That one hit pretty close to home in retrospect, as Arminian word-of-faithers tend to strive a lot as a general rule. I can't remember the others. But they were fairly general stuff like that, like a Chinese fortune cookie.
My friend, the "general", had an interesting reaction when I told him I no longer believed in speaking in tongues. He got a really worried look on his face and asked "But you can still do it right?" He was clearly worried about my salvation, I had to supress the desire to burst out laughing, and I assured him that I still could. He looked quite relieved. What I was thinking is that I could make up gibberish just as well now as I could then.
I joined an ex-charismatic support group next. I wanted to look for a new church, but knew nothing about orthodox denominations, so I wanted help. In retrospect that was a good idea. Knowing orthodox theology in general terms is very different from navigating the ins and outs of the orthodox (reformed) denominations. But at least I had the vocabulary down, I could read statements of faith and confessions and know what to look for in the finer points of theology.
Within days after joining that group I heard others sharing similar things to what I had done. Without exception all had practiced their "prayer language" to make it sound better. One lady used her french language course to spice it up and make it sound better. Another used spanish. She said she sprinkled in english words like "Glory" and "Jesus" to make it sound cooler and more relevant.
She reconized my word shandala, I guess she heard it on TV (TBN) too, which is where I got it from (shandai also).
I mentioned my Chinese and called it hong kong fooey (remember the cartoon?). That got a good laugh. The spanish lady has a charismatic sister who believes she has lost her salvation by abandoning the charismata. I told her to do what I did and tell her she can still speak in tongues. She got a kick out of that.
The support group has a testimonies page that is surprisingly dark given the lighthearted nature of its forum. It is filled with stories of abuse. Funny though none of those ex-charismatics admitted to dishing out any abuse themselves. My testimony has me dishing out more abuse than I received. I told you I don't always like what I see in a mirror, now you know why. But these people were burned by it in ways I never saw in my pilgrimage through charismania. One testimony had a mother making her children cut the heads off their pets to show they loved God more than anything in the world.
I learned from the doctrines of grace that we are all sinners. That "evil" that I can see in people now is simply the sinful nature at work. We are all damaged by it, and hopelessly and desperately in need of a savior. It all makes sense to me now. It was one thing to intellectually acknowledge that I am not perfect and therefore technically a sinner. But it is another thing to look in the mirror and see it for the horror that it is.
I had to learn to accept and love people for who they are even though I can see the warts now. I also had to learn to avoid setting myself up as a ready made victim for abusers. My younger sister tells me I live in the real world now and not in denial. My response is that denial can be a nice place to live, for a little while (it's in Egypt right?). :-) I used to think there were very few bad people in the world (which made me a ready made victim). I hold the opposite opinion now, but strangely I enjoy the company of people more than I used to.
A few words about my younger sister, she followed me into charismania, and back out, she is the other staunch Christian in the family. My divorce would have been much more difficult without her, she was divorced a few months before I was, and we became best friends after that and our own little support group. There are many interesting tales of what happenened to her and her friends also as they travelled in and out of charismania, but that is another story.
One conclusion I wish to offer from my journey is that I have observed that the word-of-faith and Charismatic teachings tend to strongly appeal to people who are broken on the inside, those who suffered difficult childhoods, or for whatever reasons are desperately seeking something to make themselves feel better about themselves or to give their lives meaning.
But rather than truly helping their condition, it puffs them up with a narcotic-like high with promises of power and glory. And like a narcotic, it makes them feel better for a while, but it needs constant fresh new experiences to sustain that high, just like a drug addiction. The lows are just as bad as a drug addict too, because lack of a fresh experience means that God has left you, or has lost interest, or that you aren't having enough faith, any of which are terrifying things (and therefore mimic withdrawal symptoms). I said that charismania kicks you when you are down, it actually cons you into kicking yourself when you are down and makes you your own worst enemy.
The search for fresh new "miraculous" experiences causes people to engage in all sorts of self-destructive behaviors, because notice that the fresh experiences have to be earned by acts of faith. The terrible earn your miracle by works mentality guarantees they will wind up hurting themselves and the people around them.
It also encourages people to go way out on a limb (stepping out in faith), the farther out you go the better. This has resulted in lots of emotional trauma and even physical injuries and death. There are more documented cases of children dying in so-called Christian denominations from denying medical care to their children, believing God would heal them, than there are in the so-called cults who deny blood transfusions as part of their doctrine. I have heard testimonies of teenagers drowning because they tried to walk on water to escape a flood.
Besides behaving horribly to church leadership the main damage I did was to my son. He started having bouts of depression near the end of our four month abstinance from worldly entertainment. I later sat him down and taught him my Bible study on grace. It turned out he thought God hated him because he could never get anything right. That one made me want to cry.
I explained that salvation was a free gift that would never be retracted, and that our works we offer back to God are free gifts back to Him. We do it in joy back to a God who loves us, not out of obligation. I explained we are saved not of ourselves that no flesh should boast. I left that conversation thinking "the doctrines of grace to the rescue." I also kicked myself for not studying theology sooner. I think I fulfilled my call to preach right there in that moment too.
We had several sessions like that, I haven't taught him all five points explicitly yet, but the basic idea of sovereign grace is well understood now. Our relationship is starting to warm back up too. He told me the reason he stopped talking to me was that whenever he talked to me it made him feel bad. That made me want to cry too. Looking back it is no surprise however.
I console myself by thinking at least I never made him cut the head off his dog.
www.discernment.org - Check the ExCharisma menu item to get to the support group.