“Don’t be late!”
Every Saturday is official soul-winning day at New Testament Christian Churches throughout the world. Attendance is essentially mandatory for anyone who wishes to be treated as a Christian, and pastors typically gossip acerbically about those who do not perform this duty. In Graham, Washington, attendance is mandatory for all students and ministers by codified standard. Each Saturday, a particular quadrant or zone of the locality is bombarded with hundreds of ministers and students wearing sport jackets, loafers, white shirts and ties, who canvas the area knocking on doors in order to advance the Kingdom of God. They are organized into teams, each having a team leader or “lay-pastor” whose duty it is to inspire greater results from the efforts of the team.
If you show up late for the soul-winning session, do not even bother coming in to the building, because the man who runs the show is going to berate you for not caring enough to show up on time. You will probably have to sit in your own special section like a kid in school wearing the dunce cap and sitting in the corner. This is his way of showing you that he appreciates your soul-winning efforts. He is demonstrating “leadership” and teaching you how to get the most out of people through shame, guilt, and intimidation. This is considered preparation for the ministry, in that each student is being exposed, by practical application, to “the way it’s done.”
But the way it is really done is a matter of perspective. The troops on the ground are led to believe that their efforts are somehow paying off. Meanwhile, the leadership stratum knows that the purpose of this weekly exercise is to keep people busy so they do not have time for anything but the program. Every effort is made to create the appearance of activity so that enthusiasm is maintained. When things get a little boring and humdrum, the routine changes slightly in order to “keep things fresh”. What the students are learning is the primary lesson that NTCS has to teach: Busy people are happy people.
One would think that the results of so much time spent in door knocking and “follow-up” would yield fantastic results, but such is (fortunately) not the case. The school teaches that “a crowd begets a crowd”, meaning that a large crowd provides legitimacy and comfort to newcomers and enquirers, and that people will come to a church where there are already large numbers in attendance. Yet in the nearly ten years that the Graham church has been open to the public, its overall growth has been limited to approximately 25%, for an annual increase of less than 3%. Also consider the fact that the Graham church is partially an amalgam of several Tacoma-area churches that have consolidated during that same span of time in order to create an illusion of vitality. Remove from consideration this local influx and the growth dwindles to a rather anemic zero percent. This condition exists despite the size of the crowd, the beauty and magnificence of the facility, the high-pressure efforts of soul-winning teams composed primarily of God’s “elite special forces”, the proven experience of the leaders, and the supposition that “God is on the move in Graham”. What are the reasons for this?
To begin with, it must not be overlooked that this is a Pentecostal church. NTCC despises that label as indicative of The United Pentecostal Church, an organization that eschews the Trinitarian Doctrine (which NTCC supports). But fundamental Pentecostalism still reigns here, to include a heavy emphasis on “Getting the Holy Ghost”, an experience which NTCC declares is always accompanied, without exception, by speaking in tongues. This dogmatic position is open to question, and most Christian people who visit the church recognize very quickly the fringe nature of certain such doctrines. This applies to the “holiness” rules that NTCC esteems as equal in importance to the actual imperatives of Christ. Visitors feel out of place in an environment in which a uniform standard of clothing and hair is enforced. They are reluctant to make a spectacle of themselves. The congregation has been taught that the effect of their visible righteousness, their evident submission to the will of God, is pouring conviction down upon the lost sinner and leading him or her to repentance. In reality, most simply think the church is a cult.
Secondly, there exists within the current stream of activity a trend toward reform, but only that of a surface nature for the sake of social acceptability. Whereas the organization’s strident stance on outward standards often guaranteed a steady flow of one-time-only visitors in the past, the accepted method stemming from today’s Graham program is to trick people into coming more regularly by giving these marginal issues a much lighter treatment. Nevertheless, these peculiar doctrines eventually trickle out, and visitors to the church discover that their Christian experience is not taken seriously until they have fully conformed to the 1950’s, ultra-conservative, hillbilly Pentecostal mold. The offensiveness of this is ordinarily enough to obliterate trust and send them packing.
Thirdly, the soul-winning efforts have produced a deadening effect on otherwise lively souls, completely rescinding a Christian spirit in exchange for a programmed promotion. NTCS’s delusions of success result from its preening hubris as a self-proclaimed leadership and salesmanship Mecca. The joy of sharing the gospel has been greatly diminished for many who attend, because the concern for souls and the spontaneity of witnessing have been de-emphasized in favor of mass promotion. Lay pastors have been taught how to use guilt, fear, and bullying tactics in order to induce greater attendance. Most have thankfully shown a resistance to such strategies, but are under heavy pressure to fulfill quotas and goals.
Another reason may very be the most simple explanation possible; the fact that RW Davis’ preaching is intolerable to the average listener. As head of New Testament Christian Churches of America, Inc., Davis enjoys the privilege of preaching on any given night of the week. There is a universally feigned excitement in anticipation of these events, everyone scraping and bowing and exclaiming all over themselves that “Pastor is preaching tonight!” The reality is that, while his sermons have occasionally been gems of uplifting inspiration, they have always contained enough condemnation and assertions of personal opinion in place of scripture to gag a shark. Over the years he has lost energy and developed simultaneously an inflated opinion of the importance of his ministry, so that he has become increasingly dry and lengthy. The congregation at Graham actually dreads the seemingly interminable period and wish they had brought blankets. As if this were not enough to suffer through, listeners are often told that they will “split hell wide open” for infractions that no sane person would describe as sinful. This euphemism suggests that God (or the angels) will not hesitate to fling a soul (say, that of a woman who has trimmed her hair) into the nether regions of Eternal Torture with such energy as to actually rend the entire place asunder. One can only speculate as to the level of righteous indignation necessary to produce such a destructive impact. When reminded “If you don’t like it, get OUT!” many have accepted the invitation gladly.
This article is part of a series entitled “What Can I Expect From New Testament Christian Seminary?”