(written by “Jane Doe”)
I am sharing this story with my fellow Nazarenes not to be divisive or cause disunity, but to open peoples’ eyes to what they may be occurring in their own church. I am changing my name, my husband’s name and the church’s name because it is not my desire to cause any problems for anyone involved.
I and my husband were raised in the Nazarene church, went to a Nazarene college and my father-in-law was a Nazarene pastor. We have always been fairly open-minded. We like hymns, but sing choruses just as well; we don’t mind drums and guitar; we have attended churches that double as gymnasiums. . . no problem.
When we started attending “X Church of the Nazarene” (XCN) we were immediately drawn in. We became very involved, and built very, very strong friendships and really felt like we were “growing spiritually”. This seemed to me like just about the most amazing, alive, growing church I had ever been a part of. The pastor was wonderful. We had him VERY high on a pedestal and felt very cheated when we missed his sermons.
We attended that church for maybe a year and a half all together, I guess. We told everyone we knew how wonderful this church was, how wonderful the people were and how full of love the pastor was . . . and meant every word completely. We secretly gave. . . we gave to the pastor when he had financial need, we gave to friends who were in need, gave whenever there was a need, tithed over and above. The pastor called us “one of the pillars of the church”. He said something to the effect that we were the unofficial leaders of the young adults.
Things changed, however, with three situations:
One was when we started being introduced to the teachings of a pastor named Rob Bell. His series “NOOMA” (which is a phonetical spelling of “pneuma”, meaning breath. . . you’ll understand as you read further) started being used in morning worship. On the surface, these teachings sounded biblically sound and were deep and thought-provoking. One couple that we were very good friends with at XCN encouraged us to read his book, “Velvet Elvis”. She (the wife, who was also on the church board) said that the pastor asked the church board to read this book. They had apparently read it and been crazy about it. (More about this later.)
The second was when my husband was at the mens’ Bible study at XCN (he had just started going to this) and they were asked to close their eyes and start meditating. Now we do believe that the Bible says to meditate on God’s Word, but we never understood it to mean clearing your mind and closing your eyes in a group, etc. This concerned my husband, along with a particular “NOOMA” that stated that Peter sank in the water because he didn’t have faith in himself, not Jesus. I really scoffed at my husband’s concerns. . . after all this is a NAZARENE CHURCH we are talking about, not Jehovah’s Witness or a(nother) cult!! When you are born and raised in a denomination, you are much less likely to question its teachings.
The third was when another couple, our close friends, who were new Christians told us that our pastor told them during membership class that the Nazarene denomination did not have a problem with drinking alcohol.
Anyway, I decided to read the book “Velvet Elvis” for myself. What I read was very shocking (and I sincerely hope and pray that you don’t subject yourself to reading this . . . it is a dangerous lie that will eat away your faith. It took me several months to recover my ability to read my Bible without seeing it through the “eyes” of Velvet Elvis. It reminded me of Satan in the garden when he said to Eve “Did God really tell you not to eat from the tree of life?”, and went on to reshape her mind.
In my opinion, the whole premise of Velvet Elvis is that truth is not something you can be certain of. . . including the truth of the Bible, the truth of the story of Jesus (He may have just been a regular guy that got elevated to a tall tale.) If you have seen the movie, The Da Vinci Code (which, by the way, was recommended by the pastor of XCN and, consequently, I watched), you will understand what I am talking about.
ANYWAY, because our close friend who was on the board told us the following things:
1) The pastor called Rob Bell “HIS pastor”. . . in other words, the person he looks to for spiritual guidance.
2) They said that he listens to the sermons of this pastor online every week and that he wanted to be on Rob Bell’s staff. And I myself had heard him singing the praises of Rob Bell.
3) I was told (can’t remember who by) that Velvet Elvis was recommended reading for the District. I never confirmed this either way.
I decided that it was necessary for me to research this Rob Bell, because this was the direction where I saw my church heading.
What I found were sermons that twisted the Word of God into CONTRADICTIONS of the Word of God by going back to the original Hebrew or Greek and then using an alternate meaning of that word. In this way, he (for example) stated that Romans 8:16 “The Spirit Himself (A) testifies with our spirit that we are (B) children of God” was interpreted to mean that the Holy Spirit is attained by our spirit, which he took back to the original Hebrew (or Greek?) to mean “breath”. He went on to say that if we need more of the Holy Spirit, we needed to do more deep breathing. He actually taught breathing techniques during this sermon and he and the congregation participated in this for several minutes! This sermon has been taken off of Rob Bell’s church site, but I do have a link that may still work. He has also invited Directors of “spiritual centers” to come in and teach techniques to the congregation.
Anyone who is grounded in the Word of God and prayerfully prepares themselves can go to the Mars Hill website (this is the name of his church) and listen to several of his sermons. It takes a discerning ear and the knowledge of the context of the scriptures he quotes to catch the subtle twists of scripture. He is extremely skilled at making his point sound biblical when, in fact, it is contrary to scripture if read with full knowledge of the scripture. (Most in his congregation are new/atypical “Christians” who have very little knowledge of the Bible.)
All of the above was what led us to leave the church. We first met with the pastor and discussed our concern about “Velvet Elvis”. We were first told that this was recommended to the board in the same way you might recommend a book about Muslims, etc., that it was to gain a defense against the ideas in the book.
I asked the pastor to read my critique of the book and give me his thoughts on the same ideas. He agreed and we set a date to meet again.
In the meantime, I did the above research on Rob Bell and became increasingly concerned. We emailed back and forth and talked on the phone. What concerned me the most was that I found an outline of a series of sermons of Rob Bell’s and it was nearly IDENTICAL to an outline our pastor emailed to me during this time regarding the direction XCN was heading. I took this as God’s confirmation to me that this was a serious problem and that it was not just my imagination. Also in my research, I began to see a pattern of sermon imitation. I noticed phrases, ideas and quotes of Rob Bell that were identical to what I had heard preached from the pulpit.
Our pastor was concerned about his credentials (though I never thought of taking this above him). He was also worried that we would take many of the young people with us if we left. What we were hoping for is that he would just see something he had missed about Velvet Elvis and renounce it. We did NOT want to leave our church. We just wanted to open our pastor’s eyes about the dangerous path we were on.
Unfortunately, when we met the second time (this time with a former D.S. at the pastor’s request so there would be a mediator (and in our case, a witness. . . someone of high respect in the church to help our pastor see the error). . . our pastor took a different stand. He defended Rob Bell completely and let us know in no uncertain terms that we were wrong. The former D.S. at first defended our pastor. . . but after we played the “Spirit” sermon I mentioned above, he became very concerned as well.
If our pastor had shown us that night that he saw that Rob Bell was not someone he should look to for leadership and direction, we might still be at that church.
We sorrowfully left that church. I compared it to a horrible divorce. We loved those people very deeply and miss them still.
I want to be clear about one thing. . . there is nothing wrong with change. There is nothing (in my opinion) wrong with music with a beat. I believe that people who go into a church LOOKING for evil will find it in some form or other. We are all human and we ALL have failures. I am not writing this so people will go out and try to sniff out evil in their church.
I am writing so that people won’t just take everything that is presented to them as truth. . . that you will be fully grounded, yourself, in the Bible. . . that you will have your eyes open to what direction your church is heading (and hopefully head it off at the pass if it goes this direction) and most of all, that you won’t be deceived by the lies that are so rampant in the Emergent Church movement and similar movements and books.
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Here are some links to insights on Rob Bell:
The Scoop on NOOMA (This was one of the first links I gave in 2008 when i started warning about Rob Bell)
http://watchwoman.blog.ca/2009/09/21/o-who-of-little-faith-7007262/ (includes a video sermon by Cameron Buettle critiquing the “walking on water” sermon by Bell)
http://www.viddler.com/explore/GoodNewsTo/videos/12/ (Watch with care and discernment, this is Rob Bell himself. He is very good at twisting words and historical accounts)
Additional Resource, Eric Barger’s Article: Divorced From Church