Another Eyewitness Account
"This man has a vision, and God is going to honor it!"
So says Rick Shelton, pastor of Life Christian Center in St. Louis, of one Rodney Howard-Browne, self-proclaimed "Holy Spirit bartender" and the man who brought 'holy laughter' to America.
I wonder amid thunderous applause and cheering when it was, exactly, that God started honoring the visions of men. Who reversed the roles? And by what authority?
But this audience seemed quite convinced of the truth of this statement. And Howard-Browne himself certainly must have been, to rent out Madison Square Garden in the heart of Manhattan with a seating capacity of 20,000 for a full month's time, 'believing God' for the three million dollars needed to pay for it. A down payment of $500,000 was apparently made, with the rest due to come in with the 'masses of people' who'd be brought into the Kingdom through his outreach and of course would immediately have the means and willingness to give generously to his offerings.
He's not looking quite so confident now, however. On the first Friday night of this crusade, perhaps 2,000 people 'flocked' to hear the message. Ironically, the number of volunteers for this outreach is about 2100.
A song was sung by a talented, enthusiastic young blonde, which it was
claimed had been given to her by divine inspiration specifically for this
event. It was called "Sea of Faces", a moving tribute to the crowds
who were supposed to be filling the seats. Unfortunate, perhaps,
that the divine inspiration did not include the fact that the 'sea' would
more accurately be
described as a pond. Not that you'd know the numbers were so sparse by watching the event on Sky Angel; everyone acted quite as pleased as if the place was filled to capacity. Except near the end, when Howard-Browne revealed a little tension after he ordered the worship team to start the last song and they weren't quite ready on his command.
"You should've been ready," he snapped in a tone not far short of a snarl, "you knew what we were doing."
Things don't seem to be going quite according to plan. Perhaps God hasn't realized the importance of this 'vision'; perhaps our Lord and King isn't hearing the clock tick louder and louder as the new millennium draws nigh and all the enthusiastic 'prophecies' by certain people about a 'great revival' that would sweep the nation and even the world before the year 2000 seem to be in danger of coming to naught. These 'prophecies' that promise revival, peace, and further prosperity to a nation and an established church that sinks deeper into depravity every day, and whose judgment is long overdue already by the repeated extension of God's incredible grace.
My personal theory is that Mr. Howard-Browne has taken it upon himself to try and prod the hand of the Lord a bit. He had a dream in which this 'vision' was imparted to him by Billy Graham - incidentally, I wonder since when is Billy Graham paying house calls via the astral plane? - to duplicate the revival Dr. Graham led in NYC back in 1957. With the reputation of so many 'prophets' on the line, it seems Howard-Browne feels obligated to try and manipulate God into honoring prophecies which He never uttered.
Jeremiah, it seems, saw the same kind of thing in his day. And here is what that true prophet of the Most High God had to say: "Then I said, 'Ah, Lord God! Behold, the prophets say to them, "you shall not see the sword, nor shall you have famine, but I will give you assured peace in this place."'
And the LORD said to me, 'The prophets prophesy lies in My name.
I have not sent them, commanded them, nor spoken to them; they prophesy
to you a false vision, a divination, a worthless thing, and the deceit
of their heart.'"
(Jer. 14:13, 14 NKJV.)
But this is a serious accusation; we can't just go calling people false
prophets. So how do we identify a false prophet? God would
never hold His people accountable to do something they cannot or should
not do - it is not His nature. He told us quite clearly in Deuteronomy
18:21, 22 how to spot a false prophet: "And if you say in your heart, 'how
shall we know the
word which the Lord has not spoken?' --- when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him." (NKJV)
So there we have it. Nothing in the New Testament in any way negates this, despite what we hear now about 'baby prophets' who are 'learning' and who sometimes 'make mistakes'.
In all fairness to Rodney Howard-Browne, he did preach a solid evangelical Gospel message. However, since almost the only people there seem to have been his own volunteers, his altar call was subtly geared toward rededication rather than to salvation, and sure enough over half of the audience obediently streamed down to the front. Is this the 'great harvest of souls' that is supposed to duplicate Billy Graham's New York outreach in 1957, at which it is reported that over 55,000 people came to Christ in two weeks?
We were told at first that 10,000 souls had thus far come to Christ
(as of July 9th). Later the number dropped to 7,000. Either
way, I have to wonder where they all are. It seems more likely to
me that perhaps the same volunteers are rededicating themselves every night
and being counted over and over again. I don't know, but God certainly
does. So does Satan; and I
don't get the impression that that fallen angel is feeling very threatened by this new stunt of the "Holy-Ghost bartender".
Of course, if Rodney Howard-Browne sincerely wishes to change his image,
we should be more than willing to encourage and help him; but all of us
who have come to a saving and living knowledge of Jesus Christ know that
the first step in a change of heart is repentance. Have we seen or
heard of any repentance for past irreverences, some so ugly that they flirted
obscenely with blasphemy? I can only answer for myself; I haven't. Again, Jeremiah puts it aptly:
"'And from the prophet to the priest, everyone deals falsely. . . . Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? No! They were not at all ashamed, nor did they know how to blush. Therefore they shall fall among those who fall; at the time I punish them, they shall be cast down,' says the Lord." (Jer. 6:14,15 NKJV)
Another noteworthy thing which Howard-Browne will need to do should
he truly want to change his tune is ditch people like Rick Shelton, who
have the attitude expressed so eloquently by Jan Crouch and Benny Hinn:
"I'm a shepherd, and I go before the sheep because I don't wanna get pooh
on my shoes!" as if we weren't all the flock of the Lord, with Him as our
Good Shepherd, and forgetting that if you're not a sheep, then you're not
in the flock. Mr Shelton did not say this in such distinct terms,
but the attitude fairly dripped from him. He gave a pre-sermon sermon
concerning (what else?) the offering, and in the midst of it he actually
stopped to say to the people, "Are you gettin' it?" They all laugh
and nod and say aye. Shelton
sneers in an expression of contempt, "You are NOT gettin' it! You people ain't gettin' it. Now pay attention." The audience laughed appreciatively, as if he were a great wit. I was insulted for them, that any so-called 'man of God' would so rudely and unapologetically address the people of God, especially while asking for - no, I should correct that - while demanding their money.
Shelton's message consisted of a twisting of Luke 5:1-6. This wonderful story of how Jesus requested the use of Peter's fishing boat as a platform from which to teach the people, and then later instructed him to go out deeper and let down his nets for a catch which nearly broke the nets, became in Shelton's mouth a standard seed-faith-gimme-your-money-and-God-will-owe-you-for-it-100-fold sales pitch.
We are told that "even Jesus couldn't do it alone", that he needed someone's
boat. And that "the same goes for Rodney today; he can't do it alone,
he needs your 'boats'; your 'boats', of course, being in your wallets and
purses," Shelton explained for those of us too dense to comprehend his
meaning. The comparison of my Savior to Howard-Browne - or indeed,
man - was enough to offend me, without all this 'boat' business.
And it will, of course, be remembered by most of us that the story in Luke 5 ended with Jesus telling the men to forget fishing and 'boats' altogether, to follow Him and learn to fish for men's souls. Also, it should be noted that Jesus gave Peter back his boat immediately after the teaching.
Therefore, if that's to be our model, all of the money should have been returned and multiplied 100-fold before the givers left the building that night. But apparently that's where the 'model' breaks down.
My heart cries out for all of my sincere but misled brothers and sisters who are caught up in this. It is apparent to me that they honestly believe they are serving God, and I see in many of them a sweet and genuine - if immature - love for our Lord. Their worship was in large part a sincere reaching out to God through Christ. However, having been there I have to say that He was not there in the sense of a corporate move of God. He was there within me, within Jackie, and within the heart of every true believer there; but His Spirit was grieved. The worship was glorious musically, but empty of the pure and joyous presence of God. There was much hype and little true content.
The thing which proved it to me was this: when Howard-Browne gave the 'altar call', there were two bag ladies, obviously homeless, who went forward. These were perhaps the only ones in the place who were unsaved, and one of them stayed behind when all the other 'penitents' were herded into a side room. She tried hard to get Howard-Browne's attention; her hands reached out to him almost as if in supplication, he was so high above her on the stage. I watched carefully as this 'minister of the Gospel' looked straight at her, hesitated a moment with a look of irritated awkwardness, and walked away without looking back or even sending anyone to her.
His people followed suit, and she stood up there alone and forlorn, praying with tears on her face, as the group dismantled the sound equipment around her exactly as if she were invisible. Finally we pointed her out to one of Howard-Browne's young men, and he went to take care of her.
Suddenly the trendy question "What Would Jesus Do?" seemed poignant as I watched this sad little drama. "Not that," I replied to myself, thinking of Rodney Howard-Browne's total indifference. "Surely not that." That's certainly not at all the way Jesus acted when I came to Him a poor, wretched, blind and dying woman. No, Jesus is never afraid to get Himself dirty with touching us - but maybe that's partly why He didn't own any 5-thousand-dollar suits or ride around in shiny white stretch limos. His priorities don't include those things; they do, however, include us. And we who have been so graciously saved are honored with the privilege of being His representatives on earth. Yet what a travesty I watched that night; had the Spirit of God been actively moving on any of the hearts there, that woman - for whom Messiah died as surely as He died for you and me - would not have stood alone and ignored for so much as a minute. No wonder that He should be grieved.
I'll leave you with more painfully applicable words of Jeremiah - the weeping prophet, who mourned the sin of his people:
"'For among my people are found wicked men; they lie in wait as one who sets snares; they set a trap; they catch men. As a cage is full of birds, so their houses are full of deceit. Therefore they have become great and grown rich. They have grown fat, they are sleek; yes, they surpass the deeds of the wicked; they do not plead the cause, the cause of the fatherless; yet they prosper, and the right of the needy they do not defend. Shall I not punish them for these things?' says the Lord. 'Shall I not avenge Myself on such a nation as this?' 'An astonishing and horrible thing has been committed in the land: the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule by their own power; and My people love to have it so. But what will you do in the end?'" Jer. 5:26-31(NKJV).