Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Red Carpet

There are certain distinctive characteristics that one should expect to find upon his first visit to a New Testament Christian Church. I should like to address this topic in two variations. The first variation describes what might be called The Graham Experience. The second we shall call The Usual. When we refer to The Graham Experience, we are speaking of the headquarters of the entire organization, located in the rural town of Graham, Washington, a Tacoma ’suburb’ situated in the beautiful farm-and-forest countryside that adorns the lush foothills of gorgeous Mt. Rainier. One should keep in mind that the beauty of the setting lends itself to poetic transports, and has long been used by the organization as proof that the entire endeavor is blessed directly by God. One might well ask if the Building Projects of Donald Trump, or the home of Bill Gates, or the Jade Buddha of Tailand are also blessed by God. But NTCC seems to think that their building projects are evidence that The Almighty is ‘on the move’ and is using them to spearhead an attack on the devil. Thus, the beauty and expense–er…exp anse…you see before you.
  The Keep
  And indeed, behold! As you approach the campus, you will find the entire complex surrounded by a rather stark chainlink fence, through which you will drive into the parking lot and see, if you are alert, several youngish men in suits, perhaps toting umbrellas if appropriate for the time of year, who act as ‘guards’, and report by radio to a gentleman whose job it is to coordinate the operations of these ‘guards’. One might well ask, “What is this, a fortress? Why the security? It seems like a relatively sleepy area. Is that fence really needed? Why, the thing seems to stretch half a mile in one direction!” And one would be wise to ask just such questions. In years gone by, the Founder and Chairman of the Board of New Testament Christian Churches, a man named R.W. Davis, decided that the recent (early nineties) crime wave in the area (someone’s car was broken into during church services) warranted the erection of a security fence. The organization has spend hundreds of man-hours in the intervening years attempting to convince the locals that they are not dangerous, not Branch-Davidians, and do not have a rifle range on the premises.
  The truth is, there is little of value within the gate that anyone would actually bother to take, except for a few computers (which weren’t there when the fence first went up) and some mechanical equipment that is bolted to the ground. There are churches all over the world without fences. It tends to make a place appear rather unwelcoming. All of which brings us hard up against a fact that should be stated quite clearly at this juncture: New Testament Christian Church and its leaders are possessed of a seige mentality designed to create enthusiasm and cohesion by making an enemy of the outside world. In the absence of actual persecution, they seek to enliven the loyalty of those who participate with this defensive frame of mind. Be sure to ask your host about the fence, and enjoy his attempts to reassure you that it is perfectly normal and not at all strange.
  The Village
  You have now entered the confines of the New Testament Christian Church property. On your left you will see what appears to be a lovely chapel bedecked with artificial stone, once used as the main chapel before growth dictated a move. This is not the church proper–this is the children’s church, a separate building for the use of children aged 7-9. If you have children in that age range, you are better off leaving them here than taking them with you to the adult church service. The people who teach your children are very kind, and they will be perfectly safe.  But be aware–they look upon children mostly as a doorway to the parents (not unusual in churches that place emphasis on growth for the sake of growth). There are plenty of churches in your area that offer lively programs for children all the way up to and including the teenage years. NTCC, on the other hand, believes that all children over the age of nine belong with the adults. In fact, it has only been in recent years that the leadership of the organization “discovered” what normal Christians had known for a very long time; that children are important. NTCC existed for years as a group that discouraged childbearing, encouraged their ministers to undergo vasectomy procedures, and looked upon family life as detrimental to “the work of the Lord.” This is very revealing as to their military roots, and their view of life as a whole.
  To the right is a small building that generally matches the chapel in style. This building is largely unused. Beyond this, also to your right, you will find a small, octagonal library that is kept locked at all times and is also seldom if ever utilized. To the left beyond the children’s building is a two-story office facility. This is the nerve center of an outreach that covers most states and maintains small outposts and military-oriented churches in several countries, most notably the Philippines, Germany, and Korea. It is staffed by a small band of young, computer-literate men who go beyond mere diligence in their daily duties–they toil almost in fear, dreading mistakes and guarding their tongues at all times lest they run into disfavor with the leadership of the group. These men have accepted long ago the belief that there are no real prospects of eternal salvation outside of New Testament Christian Church because all other churches are in their estimation wrong,
compromised, worldly, and luke-warm. Therefore their eternal soul, like the eternal soul of each person you will meet in this church, depends largely upon their loyalty, faithfulness, and success within the organization. They have grown accustomed to living under this cloud, and appear externally to be quite happy and content.
  Far back behind the library, largely out of view, you might notice a stretch of homes extending approximately one half mile down the road. These are occupied by a collection of ministers, teachers, office workers and other assorted staff members. The mammoth stucco structure just beyond the library is the all-purpose classroom building for New Testament Christian Seminary, a training facility for prospective ministers and their wives. The seminary purports to be exclusive. The young men and women who attend there are told before they enroll that “only the best” can qualify. Then when they arrive they are subjected to a battery of stringent regulations designed to keep them under tight control and subject them to the “pressures of the ministry”. It is not an academically rigorous or difficult school. It’s chief subjects are Punctuality and Obedience to the leadership.
  These young men and women, having been persuaded at some point that no other church is right, and that God has called them to do something for Him from which they cannot turn aside for fear of eternal damnation, have trapped themselves willingly and earnestly into believing that this organization holds their very lives in its hands. Without the opportunity to fulfill “the calling”, they have no hope of salvation, and without the approval of R.W. Davis and the staff of the seminary, they cannot begin to fulfill their calling. In this manner they are locked into an array of stultifying behaviors, requirements and thought patterns from which many desire relief, but from which few will dare to escape. By the way–this building is usually empty except for a few children’s classrooms and on seminary class nights.
  Beyond this is The Fellowship Hall. You must circumnavigate this building to reach the main church parking lot further up the hill. This facility also sits empty, or mostly empty, much of the time. “Why”, you might ask, “are there so many underutilized structures on this campus?” A just question. The explanation that most appropriately speaks to the fundamental mentality of NTCC is this: In order to engender enthusiasm, and have something to point to as evidence of God’s hand at work (evidence of God’s approval), a church needs to embark upon a series of well-timed, periodic building adventures. That is the only explanation necessary. The organization is very close-lipped about “where all the money goes”, and whenever the subject of financial accountability arises, the favorite remark used to change the subject and make the question sound ridiculous is to wave a hand across the vast array of structures and proclaim laughingly, “Just look around you!”
  The Villagers
  Now that you have arrived in the main parking lot, you can get a better look at the main chapel facility. This is neither a huge nor a magnificent building by modern church standards, yet many who attend here have participated in its construction and are very proud of their accomplishment. Noteworthy are the wonderful brass doors, shiny in the morning sunlight, bearing an imitative sunburst pattern of their own. There are reserved parking spaces close to the building. These are not merely for the disabled  and infirm; these are for the preachers, and may God have mercy upon you if you park there. Try it and see what happens. The leaders themselves will not say anything; others are trained to step in and “be the bad guy”.
  In order to remove all obstacles to your coming to church with her, your hostess (or host) will have encouraged you not to “worry about how you’re dressed! Just come!” She will have instructed you to “come as you are”, and unless you took the trouble to wear a suit (if you are a man) or a dress (if you are a lady) then by now you are beginning to notice that you have come badly underdressed and are beginning to feel a bit out of place. That is exactly what is intended. In spite of Stephen’s question, taken from the prophets and deliverd on the day of his stoning, “What house will you build me?” these people believe very strongly that the Church building is “God’s house”, that it is necessary for a real Christian to wear his ‘Sunday best’; that their righteousness is having an affect upon your conscience, and that you are beginning to say to yourself “Verily, God is in these people”. They believe that the conviction of the Holy Spirit is now beginning to show you your sinful state and is making you feel very uncomfortable. He may be, and if you are not a Christian already, you would do well to pay heed to the Spirit of God no matter where you find yourself. But do not forget that your feelings of discomfort are being encouraged by this church, and if the Holy Spirit cannot convince you that they have exactly what you need, then they will tell you themselves.
  You have now ascended the stairs to the main chapel, and are about to walk beneath the overhang and pass through the emaculate doors of New Testament Christian Church. Don’t worry–those are not rifles you see propped against the building; just umbrellas. This IS Western Washington after all. As you pass through these beautific portals, be very careful to remember one thing: If you already claim to be a Christian, they will not believe it until you forsake friends, family, and all other bonds of fellowship and join their church.  Everything that takes place inside this edifice is engineered to win your trust, your future attendence, your full participation, your enthusiasm, your unwavering dedication, and your financial support, for the rest of your life.
This article is part of a series entitled ‘The Circumnavigators‘.

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