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Why I Walked Out of Hope Church This Morning

posted Feb 12, 2017, 11:43 AM by Nathan Wheeler   [ updated May 4, 2017, 4:22 PM ]

If you've already read this, and are looking for the most recent update on this topic, see: Those Aren't the Words We Would Have Chosen...


My wife and I have been looking for a church that fits both of our spiritual needs since we got married last August. In our search, we’ve attended quite a few different churches. In the past, I’ve visited literally dozens of churches. Shortly after moving to the last place I lived, I spent a year going to nearly every church in the town and getting to know other Christians in the area, and it was a great experience.

I’ve never walked out of a church service before. I’ve been in some pretty crazy services where people did some pretty crazy stuff, and I’ve never walked out. Other times that I’ve been in those crazy services, it was a simple case of some people who were very genuine, but simply misguided. Today was very different.


Our in-laws invited us to attend church at their church - Hope Church, 2121 S. Blackman Rd., Springfield, MO. (Not to be confused with Hope Baptist Church, which from what I know actually has sound doctrine.) We walked in right on time, church started 5-10 minutes later, as is pretty typical for most of the churches that I’ve ever gone to. “Let’s all stand and worship together.” I’m still tired. I don’t function well in the morning.


Music starts out slow, builds up a little in the first song. People come in and choose the row of seats right in front of us, and carry on their conversation through the rest of the song. Meanwhile, other people are walking to the front of the church and dancing. One guy in the front is jumping up and down with the music like he’s at a Van Halen concert hearing Jump for the first time. This is not something that I'm unfamiliar with. It doesn't make me in the slightest uncomfortable, although I don't participate in this sort of behavior myself.

My wife leans over to me and comments about the people in front of us talking and how it’s hard to pay attention to the service with people talking. As we move into the second song, I realize that over the sound of the music, the sound of conversation can be heard as well, and it isn’t just the people in front of us. Throughout the entire congregation of people, various couples and groups are all talking and having a good time.

That still, small voice tells me it’s time to leave. My wife won’t like walking out. Our in-laws attend here, and they’re going to ask how we liked the service. I’ve never walked out of a church service before. What if people try to stop me on the way out?

After the second song, one of the musicians starts talking. The words out of his mouth absolutely floored me: “When we were getting ready to do that song this morning, I had a revelation from God. God’s love for us is a violent, aggressive love.” He goes on to describe a crazy, stalker god (‘g’ intentionally not capitalized) breaking down the door of your house to get to you. What? I whisper to my wife that I think he just watched the new 50 Shades Darker movie last night or something.

The crowd in the front of the building continues growing, and looks more and more like a concert crowd, swaying and bouncing with the music. The woman in the row in front of us is literally dancing like she’s in a bar. I’m getting more nauseous. I’m trying to hold it in, and just stay. I’m going to have to explain why we walked out to several people, including my in-laws, and it’s not going to be easy. Not everyone is going to understand.

After around 3 songs, one of the guys (I’ve lost track now which person is talking) says, “We’re going to have the prayer team come up here now, and they’re going to release God’s Spirit for you.” Again, what? I don’t even know what to say to this. God’s Spirit is always with all of His children. He doesn’t need His Spirit released for us by anyone. The guy goes on to say that they’ll pray with anyone who wants to come up to the front.

The band continues playing, while the prayer team is “releasing God’s violent, aggressive love” for people. The front of the crowd is now in full concert mode, with just a little strip across the front for the prayer team. Other people around us are still chit-chatting with their friends about nothing to do with church (yeah, I was eavesdropping). I notice that a woman has gotten up on the side of the platform, and is seemingly practicing tai chi or something in rhythm with the music.

In a short break in the music, the pastor comes up and introduces a man from the crowd, and says he has something to say to the congregation. The man gives a shortened version of the story in the Bible about the lost sheep - then somehow twists it into a story about God pouring His Spirit out on people in the church who we might not expect because of the way they look. No mention of salvation, no mention of anything that the parable actually meant. He doesn’t say God’s going to go save people that we don’t expect because of the way they look, he talks about God filling people and working through people that we don’t expect. The pastor backs the man up, saying how that everyone in the congregation is “going to be the one that God goes out and pours His Spirit on.”

I’m done. A woman somewhere up front and to the right is screaming at the top of her lungs. They’ve hit three “wrong theology” strikes and we’re still in just the music & worship portion of the service. I step into the aisle past my wife, and tell her, “I’m going outside, and I’d like for you to come with me.” I head to the door, and the people in the aisle clear a wide path without even being prompted. A man toward the back rushes to the door and opens it for me. I don’t know if it was the look on my face or what, but they seemed eager to let me leave, and I was ready to not be there any more.

I’m a bit shaken by the whole experience. Some people are going to see this and claim that I was “under conviction and needed to pray.” Other people will be able to relate. There was certainly a spirit there, but it was not the Spirit of God.

UPDATE: I emailed the church about this experience, and I'm including the conversation here. The pastor in charge of that particular service denies that anything that I mentioned to him actually happened, and invites me to find a different church:

From: Me
To: info@hopechurch.net
March 1, 2017, 8:45PM

I visited your church on February 12, and I ended up leaving before the worship service had ended. I was deeply disturbed by several of the things that were said and done during the course of the service. I've given it some thought, and decided that I should reach out and speak to a representative from the church about the various things that I had heard and seen. I would love to hear back from you regarding these things, and hopefully open a dialog to establish either what the intended message was of the things that were said, and ultimately to establish God's truth as it is found in the Bible. We can set up a time to sit down and talk, or we can do a google hangout or even a phone call. Please let me know what works best for you.


Thanks,
Nathan Wheeler.

To: Me
From: Gina P.
March 2, 2017, 9:01AM

Hi Nathan!

Thank you for taking the time to contact us about your experience at Hope. I've sent your email to our Associate Pastor, Josh T... since he was leading service that Sunday. He should be in touch with you soon!

Thanks again!

GINA P.
Director of Hope Intro & Life Groups

To: Me
From: Josh Thompson
March 2, 2017, 9:30AM

Hi Nathan,

I received your email in regards to the church service you visited on March 12th.

I wanted to follow up and find out from you what the disturbing aspect of the worship time was for you?

Please respond at your convenience.

God Bless,

Joshua Thompson
Worship and Associate Pastor
Hope Church

To: Josh Thompson
From: Me
Match 2, 2017, 6:29PM

So, the first thing that really struck me was when one of the musicians, after playing a song, made the statement, "When we were getting ready to play that song this morning, I had a revelation from God. God's love for us is a violent, aggressive love..." and then proceeded to describe something that I can only rephrase as "stalker God," since I cannot remember verbatim what was said. The sexual undertones in his description were so overt that I actually leaned over to my wife and whispered, "He must have watched 50 Shades Darker last night or something." This is not descriptive of the characteristics of the God of the Bible. According to the Bible, God draws us to Him (John 6:44, 12:32). God does not chase us down or hunt us. Never in Scripture is God portrayed as in pursuit of man. God's wrath could be described as violent (Genesis 19, for example). God is never in the Bible described as aggressive. The truth is never to be established through a single individual (Deuteronomy 17:6, 19:5, Matthew 18:16, 2 Corinthians 12:14, 13:1), and it never contradicts God's Word (1 Corinthians 14:33).


The second thing that caught my attention may have been a simple matter of poor phrasing. At some point in the worship portion of the service, the prayer team was called up to the front, and the statement was made that they would "release God's Spirit for you." Even as a matter of a poor choice of words, it has some pretty serious implications - on the magnitude of Roman Catholic error in understanding of the very essence of our relationship and interaction with God. The statement implies that I would need another man to act as mediator between myself and God, as opposed to what the Bible teaches (John 14:12-21, Hebrews 4:14-16). I understand that the statement was used to indicate that those individuals would pray with the members of the congregation, but the statement itself contains a fairly concerning error.


The third issue that I had was on the interpretation of the parable of the lost sheep given by a member of the congregation. The story of the lost sheep was made out to be a story about God pouring His Spirit out on members of the church that man would not expect, due to their appearance. This is not the meaning of the story at all. The parable of the lost sheep is singularly about Jesus (the Good Shepherd) bringing back to and keeping His sheep in the place that He has set aside for them (John 17:12). The story is about His sheep (which already belong to Him). One of those sheep is "lost" (not that God would ever "not know" where His sheep was, but it is simply not in the fold, or in the place that the Shepherd has set aside for that individual). Again, going back to the reference to God's "violent, aggressive love," Jesus says, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me" (John 10:27). God will draw us into the place we should be by His words. He doesn't chase us down - we follow Him because we are His. This parable is simply not about God's Spirit moving through individuals that man does not expect. However, after the gentleman was finished, this interpretation was reinforced and approved of by whoever the individual was who had invited the gentleman to address the congregation.


My wife and I just got married last August, and have been looking for a church home where both of us can learn, grow, and serve. One of the things that I set as a rule as we started visiting some of the churches was a limit of "three strikes" - three doctrinal errors in a single service while attending. I understand that there is no "perfect church," and I'm willing to filter and teach my family how to weigh and balance what is taught at church against God's Word. Three errors in a single service seems like, at least in my mind, a gracious margin for error. This, of course, would be limited to only a single error which would impact salvation. I understand that each of us is at a different point in our walk with God, and each of us is still learning and growing if we are truly hungering after righteousness (Matthew 5:6). This was actually the first time that I've hit three doctrinal errors in a single service thus far. For this I only count errors made from a position of authority or with apparent approval of the church leadership (like someone leading worship or invited to address the congregation). In any body of believers, the individual errors that we all make would total to a significant sum.


There were a few other issues that I noted (but did not count as "doctrinal errors") during the service. However, these were relatively minor, and while concerning, should probably be saved for a future conversation, as they are not related to things said or done under the authority of the leadership of the church.

I appreciate your prompt response, and your attention to these matters, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Thanks,
Nathan Wheeler.

To: Josh Thompson
From: Me
March 13, 2017, 10:59PM

Josh,
I just wanted to confirm that you had received my previous email listing concerns I had with the church service when I visited on March 12. If you would like to sit down and discuss my concerns, I'd be happy to arrange a time.

Thanks,
Nathan Wheeler.

To: Me
From: Josh Thompson
March 15, 2017, 3:08PM

Hi Nathan,

I appreciate you taking the time to share your perspective. I was in that service and did not have those impressions and actually did not hear the things you have mentioned or in the way you have mentioned them. I know that there are literally hundreds of churches in Springfield and hope you and your wife can find a wonderful place to plant and grow!

Blessings,

Joshua Thompson
Associate & Worship Pastor

Hope Church

** UPDATE 2: At this point, having been "dismissed," I posted this article to my Facebook feed, and posted a 1-star review on their Facebook page. The review stated: "The church is teaching heresies, and when asked and confronted about the issue, they deny that anything like this happened, and invite you to find a different church. Contact me if you'd like the whole story and conversation, and I'll be happy to share. We need to pay attention to what's being taught in our churches, and listen to the Good Shepherd, rather than following men."

After having posted that, the pastor contacted me again that evening. The story is still developing, and I will keep this updated.

To: Me
From: Josh Thompson
March 15, 2017, 6:66PM

Hi Nathan,

Our social media person showed me your post from today. With the magnitude of your concerns and public posting that Hope Church is "teaching heresies", if you would still like to sit down and talk about what happened in the service on March 12th, let me know.

We have been in an incredibly busy season with expansion and the needs of our congregation, but will make time to meet.

If so, let me know your availability next week.

Thank you,
Joshua Thompson
Associate & Worship Pastor

Hope Church

To: Josh Thompson
From: Me
March 16, 2017, 6:47PM

Josh,
I'm available to sit down any weekday next week after 5pm, with the exception of Tuesday. Saturday is fairly open this weekend as well. If you need to push the conversation out further, just let me know.

Thanks,
Nathan Wheeler.

To: Me
From: Josh Thompson
March 22, 2017, 5:08PM

Nathan,

We are not able to make it happen this week unfortunately. Every night there is a conflict. What is your schedule like for next week?

Joshua Thompson
Associate & Worship Pastor

Hope Church

To: Josh Thompson
From: Me
March 22, 2017, 8:55PM

Next week I only have Monday and Friday evenings available.

Thanks,
Nathan Wheeler.

At this point, I waited nearly a month to hear back, but no word ever came. I sent the following email, and modified my blog post to include the church name and address, and include the reason I had been visiting the church in the first place - because my in-laws had invited us.
To: Josh Thompson
From: Me
April 21, 2017, 12:06AM

Josh,

I had really hoped that you would be willing to follow up on this, but apparently either the possibility of anything going on in your church being out of line with the Scripture is so far removed from your mind that you don't find it important enough to discuss, or you really are so busy that you can't take the time to talk about it. There are troubling aspects to either of these possibilities. If you're uninterested because you think you are wiser or know more than someone else, then that is a serious problem. If you are legitimately so busy with a building that you don't have time to talk about souls and the gravity of heresy in your church, then that is a serious problem. If your congregation is so in need of you that you can't take a single meal or an hour or two to sit down and discuss this, then that is also a serious problem. Each of these are problems for different reasons and in different areas of the church - arrogance, priorities, and leadership, respectively.

I'm going to give you a bit of background that I think you should be interested in. I was invited to your church. My wife's parents attend regularly in the early service. Since we were unable to make it to the first service for various reasons, but were looking for a church, we agreed to attend, but went to the second service. When I voiced my concerns over what I had seen in the service to my father-in-law, he said that I should contact you. He was certain that you would take time to explain and address any concerns I had. Since he wasn't in the service when these things happened, he was unable to provide any answers. It seems clear that his confidence in you was sorely misguided.

I recognize at this point that you are extremely unlikely to bother meeting with me. I've documented my entire experience with this, including our communication, and it has been posted publicly. This email will also be included in that post, along with any future correspondence or discussions. If, for some reason, you do decide to meet with me (which I would still be happy to do), it will be recorded and posted as well. I have done my best to follow the Biblical prescription for dealing with problems in the church, according to Matthew 18:15-17 - I brought it up with you personally, and tried to meet with you. Failing to be able to meet with you at all, the second step of bringing two or three others with me is impossible. We are left at the final step: tell it to the church. I had started this step, and you said you would like to meet. Since then, it's become obvious that your invitation was disingenuous, and you simply didn't want bad publicity.

I appreciate your time in at least emailing me the few times you did, even if it was to simply deny and try to prevent bad publicity.

Thanks,
Nathan Wheeler

To: Me
From: Josh Thompson
May 1, 2017, 9:59AM

Hi Nathan,

We would still like to meet with you. Are you available to meet during the day this Wednesday or Thursday? We'd also like for you to bring your father in law if that is possible.

Let me know and we can set the time.

Thanks,

JOSHUA THOMPSON
Associate & Worship Pastor

Hope Church

To: Josh Thompson
From: Me
May 3, 2017, 9:51AM

Josh,

I haven't had a chance to talk to my father in law yet, but I would be happy to meet with you Thursday (tomorrow) around 11:45. That's really the only time I have available during the day this week. Sorry for the delayed response, our team at work had a large presentation to complete, and I wasn't sure what day I would have available of the two until last night when everything was completed. Please let me know if this time works for you. Is this time ok for you, and where would you like to meet?

Thanks,
Nathan Wheeler.

To: Me
From: Josh Thompson
May 3, 2017, 10:54AM

Hi Nathan,

Let's plan on 11:45 at Hope. Our middle main entrance is closed during the week for construction. You can enter through the door to the left of the main entrance if you are looking straight at the building. We have no offices due to construction but we can meet in a classroom.  I asked Pastor Gary to join us as well. If you are able to still bring your father in law that would be great. 

See you tomorrow,
JOSHUA THOMPSON
Associate & Worship Pastor

Hope Church

Finally, after two months of emails, a meeting was held. See the follow up, and my thoughts on the meeting: Those Aren't the Words We Would Have Chosen...