Sunday, 22 May 2011

"The Other Side of the River," by Kevin Reeves

It took me a while, but I finally finished reading The Other Side of the River by Kevin Reeves. It is his personal and true story of his involvement at one of the “River” (or “Word of Faith”) churches. From his twelve years of experience in the congregation, he describes some of the many strange signs and manifestations that are characteristic of this hyper-charismatic sect, that in the end, he says amounted to little more than a form of “neo-gnosticism.”

His purpose in writing is stated at the outset, namely “that this book will have a two-fold purpose. First, I pray it might be helpful to those who have recognized and turned away from distortions of doctrine and practice that have crept into the church today. Secondly, I hope it will be a warning and an eye-opener to those who are still involved with hyper-charismatic teachings or have loved ones who are.” Not having grown up in that tradition myself, this was an eye-opener and a reconfirmation of what I’ve sometimes dubbed “pseudo-Christianity.”

In this well written book, the author takes us along with him from his early days in a leadership role in the church, through his questioning some of the teachings and practices, and finally to the place where he and his wife make the difficult decision to leave.

In response to some of those bizarre manifestations, Revees reminds us that, “we must be careful to let the Scriptures be silent where God has ordained silence.” Just because the Bible doesn’t speak clearly on a certain subject, doesn’t mean that we have license to do whatever we want. When we don’t allow the Scripture to be silent, we become prone to what he calls “presumptive prophecy” which is characterized more by emotional experiences than sound orthodoxy.

Time and again he warns us to be careful not to take everything as being from God. Just because someone is supposedly “slain in the Spirit” (whatever that really means) or clucking like a chicken on a church pew, doesn’t mean that God is there in it. He says that when we do treat all such things as being from God, it is like “driving a car while wearing blinders. You can’t see the big picture. Your actual focus becomes so constrained that you miss necessary landmarks to indicate proper direction – not to mention the fact that sooner or later you’ll get sideswiped by a vehicle you never saw coming.” Soon you no longer resemble the body of Christ, as the early church knew it to be, but rather look more like a circus or a zoo.

The book raised a huge question for me, namely how we as Christians should respond to other so-called believers who have broken away from sound orthodoxy. The tendency today seems to be to embrace everything that even remotely calls itself “Christian” in an effort to promote a spirit of ecumenical unity. However, is ecumenism for the sake of “unity” a good thing in and of itself? I really don’t think so. I’ve long since believed that we must point out error when error creeps into the church. I know that some will disagree with me on that. They would suggest that “airing others dirty laundry” is not very loving. But does true orthodoxy not trump love for the sake of ecumenism? Can we point out error and genuinely love at the same time?

Revees puts it this way: “It’s as if it is considered unloving to bring serious departure from the Christian faith out into the light, and openly name the person involved. Interestingly, Paul had no such compunction (2 Timothy 2: 17-18), nor did the apostle John (3 John 9-10). Jesus called out the Pharisees to their face, in front of multitudes. We have the pattern set forth in the Word, but we simply refused to follow it, shrinking back behind an unbiblical definition of love.” It seems to me that, if we don’t fight for the truth and purity of the Gospel, soon we’ll have nothing left that is worth fighting for, much less recognizable as Gospel. In that sense, Kevin Revees’ book is as important as it is timely.

Despite some of the disturbing pictures he created of the antics done in the name of Christ, I enjoyed the book. It is also good to learn that he and his family didn’t simply stop fellowshipping altogether when they left that church sect, but that they are now in an evangelical church where, in Revees’ words, “the teaching is solid, biblical, and – think of it! – in context.”

I whole heartedly recommend this book.

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