Stephen Sanders

Audio/Video Editor at Salem Web Network

You Might Get to Heaven, but...

In a recent discussion about my past experience with Word of Faith teaching, someone asked me: 

Why do you think that this “particular group of believers” didn’t believe that Jesus death was enough? What were those conversations like once you realized you were becoming an “outcast”? How were you treated, and what did that feel like?

“Sure, you might go to heaven, but if you really want everything God has for you, then you need to do ____________.” I can't even begin to tell you how many times I heard that. Basically, anytime someone tried to justify things like not tithing and giving religiously, not being healed, drinking alcohol in moderation, listening or watching anything that was secular, etc.

It wasn’t necessarily one’s salvation that was ever in question. They claimed to believe that if you had accepted Jesus into your heart and confessed Him as Lord of your life, then you were saved. But there was another level of spirituality that one could obtain… which I think stemmed from the belief that there is a separate Baptism of the Holy Spirit with proof of speaking in other tongues. In other words, if you don’t pray in tongues, you don’t have the Holy Spirit…you just have Jesus.

This mindset carried on into other areas as well:

-If you don’t tithe and give, then you are cursed and you don’t get God’s blessing.
-If you were sick and you didn’t get healed, then you didn’t have enough faith or were "in sin."
-If others thought that you may be backsliding, then they would avoid you because they didn’t want to become infected with your sin.

…and so on and so forth…

When I look back on it, I see a very flawed system of biblical teaching (even though they claimed to be a “Bible-believing church”). We never went into any in-depth studies on specific books of the Bible; it was always topical. This left a lot of room for teachers to select a few passages of scripture to establish a doctrine…and because they were “showing it to you right there in your Bible”, it was reliable teaching.

Some instances in scripture just got dodged altogether. In my 8 years there, I never heard any teaching on the Book of Job at all…not once! However, I sure heard Malachi 3:8 quoted once a week from the pulpit.

As far as specific conversations that I had with people once I began to start noticing this trend, I’m going to attempt to not get too particular about that. I will say that I do remember getting a lot of blank looks from certain people who were in leadership positions there. Especially when I’d question things like the daily tithing message that ended with, “tithe and give and God will be able to bless you.” They would say things like, “Well, you know what he really means…” or just side-step the issue altogether.

Once I suggested to one of the leaders, “if we feel the need to preach a daily message about anything, shouldn’t it be about love?” That was followed by a blank look. Man, I sure did get a lot of those…

There was a lot of side-stepping, a lot of blank looks and never any real, honest dialogue. Sometimes, you’d get mocked for not being as spiritual as they thought you should be or perhaps out of jealousy. Some would get really loud and obnoxious if there were a lot of people around with a few “thank you, Jesus-es” or “praise the Lords.” That way the subject got changed or you’d get embarrassed for saying anything in the first place.

Since I was a part of the church leadership as well, I quickly began to lose trust in many of these people. There was about a year and a half period there where I knew I had to leave but God hadn’t yet provided a way. During that time, I just avoided many people and tried to surround myself with the most positive people I could find. I quickly found that many of these people had the same questions I did but also knew that it wasn’t going to change.

Some had experienced worse church environments in the past so they used that to justify their staying there. There’s also the classic, “no church is perfect” excuse. Of course, guilt kept a lot of people there too.

Also, many were convinced that this specific church, out of all the churches in the city, was the one that had “the anointing” because of what the pastor and visiting pastors told the congregation on a regular basis. There was always some “new season” around the corner and you “didn’t want to be one of the people to miss out on what God was going to do there”. I’d gotten to the point that I’d just shake my head and laugh when I heard that. While I knew God was there in some capacity, I couldn’t get on board with these religious games because of the things I had witnessed behind the scenes.

You know what is really funny though? Even though this time of transition was very difficult for me, looking back it was the closest I’ve ever felt to Jesus. I’d already started an in-depth study of the Four Gospels shortly before these things had started to take place. I remember asking God for a lot of answers during this time; constantly reminding myself exactly why I was taking the stance I was taking. I began to feel peace during times where people were mocking me and taking advantage of me to keep their reputations clean. I was gaining the courage and the selflessness to bless people instead of get offended. Heck! God even opened doors for me to preach some messages on love in those closing months!

Since I left, God has brought a lot of people my way who also used to attend that same church. It’s been so encouraging for me to see them seeking God faithfully. Many are now in churches where the pastors do expository teaching on Sunday mornings. A lot of them, like myself, still hold on to the belief that the gifts of the Holy Spirit have not ceased while, at the same time, rejecting prosperity theology.

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About Stephen Sanders

Stephen Sanders is the Audio/Video Editor at Salem Web Network, a husband and a daddy. He's a proud native of eastern Kentucky, a musician and lover of music, coffee and sports. www.twitter.com/1stephensanders

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