This one had me shaking my head… but not because I was doing the hokey pokey. And it was hard to watch start-to-finish, because I know that there are very sincere folks involved. This happened a church/ministry that I have visited… a place where I still have some really good friends who are truly doing some really great things for God.
The hokey pokey… it’s hokey. It’s silly. But there’s nothing wrong with having a little fun at church, acting silly and child-like, loosening up a bit. I believe that there’s a time for a little levity, even as a part of worship.
But these clips (originally edited together this way by the church that held the meeting — so it was not edited by critics to make it look bad) also bother me, and I’d like to try to articulate that a little bit.
I have a hard time with on-the-spot miracle testimonies. We have no idea who these people are. We don’t know their history. We don’t know if they really had a medical problem in the first place. We are expected to take their testimonies at face value. If we dare question, we are being mean and judgmental. We have a critical spirit. Questioning is frowned upon. Asking for proof is considered insulting.
But this isn’t how we operate in real life.
In real life, when we’re being asked to make a decision that has a significant bearing on our lives, we are expected to weigh the evidence, look at the options, do research, and make an informed decision. Anything less would be considered foolish. If I was going to buy a house, and I didn’t have it inspected, but just chose to believe the seller’s report… I have no recourse later on if I get burned in the transaction. The seller is motivated to make the house look good, not to give me a good deal. That doesn’t make the seller evil; but it means that I have to take an active responsibility for what I choose to buy.
When we go to a church or conference, we’re essentially being asked to buy something. I’m not talking about the book table — I’m talking about the philosophical buy-in, the choice to believe. In certain circles, it is deemed more noble to NOT do your homework, to trust that the preacher has pure motives and a direct line to God. To simply take it on faith that everything is exactly how it is claimed to be. That’s dangerous.
The sellers are not necessarily motivated to be fair and balanced. The preacher wants his ministry to grow. He may have wonderful reasons why he wants his ministry to grow — noble things that he hopes to accomplish — but he is motivated none the less. He is going to talk about the successes much more than the failures. (And when he talks about the failures, usually he’s going to turn that around into a success story too.)
The person giving the testimony of being healed can also be motivated by something other than honesty. Some people desire attention, and this is seen as an acceptable way to get it. Some people are so committed to a church or a ministry that they will exaggerate or even fabricate in order to make that ministry look good. Some get caught up in the moment, and the emotion or the adrenaline might actually make them believe that something happened when it actually didn’t. And some people have been trained to believe that lying is actually a form of faith — say what you WANT to be true, not what is true. Therefore, if I WANT to be healed, I’ll get up and say that I am healed.
There are also sociological and psychological forces at play. If I tell you that I was stuck in traffic for an hour, you might feel compelled to share about the time when you were stuck in traffic for two hours. And that might motivate someone else to talk about being stuck in traffic for 4 hours. There’s a very real human tendency for one-up-manship. So, for a mixture of reasons, and a mixture of motivations, what we hear from the platform at testimony time might not really be true.
But for a moment, lets lay all of that aside. Let’s assume that real miracles are happening in a place where really weird things are being done. Does a miracle validate a specific practice – is it an endorsement, a sign that the practice should be repeated and continued? If a miracle appears to be connected to something, does it turn that “something” into a sacred, untouchable thing?
In the Old Testament, when Isreal had sinned and a plague was spreading through the population, God chose an unusual means to heal the people: a bronze serpent. Anyone who looked at the bronze serpent was healed. This was a pretty straight-forward case. God told the people to do something, they did it, and they were healed. God used that means at that moment. It was definitely and unquestionably a “God-thing” – it’s in the Bible! But fast forward a few centuries, and we find that the bronze serpent has become an idol, something that the people worship instead of worshiping God. It had to be destroyed. And destroying it was also a “God-thing.”
When a surgeon removes a tumor, we don’t build a shrine around the scalpel. The scalpel can’t heal without the surgeon’s skill. One of my favorite programs growing up was M*A*S*H. Often, those surgeons were working in conditions that were less than ideal, and sometimes they had to improvise when the proper instruments were not available. I remember one particular episode where the chaplain did a tracheotomy on a soldier in the field using a pen, while one of the surgeons talked him through the process on the radio. And it worked! We praise the chaplain, but apart from the surgeon he couldn’t have done it. And even as we marvel at the flexibility and teamwork of the M*A*S*H team, we understand that this is not the preferred method to do a tracheotomy. If someone needs a tracheotomy, we’re not going to go looking for a chaplain on the side of a road.
But too often, that’s exactly what we do in the church.
At the beginning of this video, you hear the speaker explaining that they had done this “Holy Ghost hokey pokey” before and folks were healed, so they were going to do it again and see what happens.
Sounds a lot like a bronze serpent to me…