In Appreciation of Five Friends

I have some old friends that are treated rather poorly in my estimation. It makes me a little sad and defensive to be honest, but that’s what happens when you grow up Pentecostal. I would love to talk about some of the people that have had a formative influence in my life, but whenever I do other Christians seem to sputter and cough. Things have definitely improved in the last 30 years, I should say. The landscape has softened considerably. Pentecostals are not avoided as they once were. And it’s difficult to find a true cessationist anymore. Most would take a mediating position of ‘open but cautious,’ which is a great improvement.  You see, back in the old days (in the 70’s), when mom and I went door to door witnessing with our church, one lady said that her pastor taught that Pentecostals were demon possessed, to be able to speak in tongues like that. So, to see Pentecostals and Charismatics not so misunderstood and generally accepted in the greater evangelical community is encouraging indeed. Although the movement has received broad acceptance (how could it not, being the fastest growing sector of Protestantism?), I’m still finding its specific leaders continually held in suspect. I won’t speak of them all, just these five – five friends that have had a monumental influence in my life. And as a kind gesture to each them I would like to provide a short defense.
    1. Kenneth Copeland – This friend gets a bad rap for being one of the main voices in the Word of Faith movement. And although I don’t assume that particular flavor of theology, I have never found any reason not to believe Copeland is biblically sound. But the reason I appreciate him and consider him my friend is that he was instrumental in getting our family hooked up with the Lord. My grandpa got saved around 60 years of age. 60! And who was there to feed him? Kenneth Copeland. And Copeland got my grandad fired up for the Word of God. I still have my grandpa’s Bible today and he poured over that thing and methodically marked its pages. I would say my love for the Word came from grandpa, and his love for the Word came from Copeland. When grandpa passed away Copeland’s tapes sat on his shelves for years until I came of age. When I got going in Jesus myself I rounded up all those tapes and headed off for college. I walked all over campus with my Walkman and Kenneth Copeland. And that guy had me so fired up for the Lord that I pressed into Jesus harder than I ever did in my life up to that point. Sure, he has an emphasis that I wouldn’t assume today, but the man never claimed to be a pastor, and thus never felt obligated to speak upon the whole council of God. Frankly, I know of few men as devoted to the Lord Jesus as Copeland and I’m proud to call him my friend.
    2. Frank E. Peretti – The criticisms leveled against Peretti aren’t so pointed. People dismiss his novels on spiritual warfare as overblown fantasy. Well, that’s neither here nor there. When I read This Present Darkness at the age of 18, I received a wake up call. I was a thoroughly disengaged teenager, just blundering along spiritually and this book gave my sensibilities a good firm shake. It ignited my imagination for the things of God. I actually wanted to pray beyond just praying for a nice day. Things were never the same after reading that book. I couldn’t enjoy the same things the world did anymore either. It was the catalyst that moved me out of myself, out of my context, and got me thinking seriously about the Lord. Thanks, Frank! I owe a lot to your writings.
    3. Watchman Nee – While not a Pentecostal himself, many Pentecostals read Nee. Nee’s bent for ‘subjectivism’ and ’emotionalism’ causes many unease. But, his two books Love Not The World and The Normal Christian Life were tremendously helpful to me in my young walk with the Lord. And, from my memory, nothing in those books were biblically questionable. I know some of his other books have been seen as questionable, honestly I haven’t read them, but I feel like we throw out the baby with the bath water with Nee if we refuse to countenance his works. And I wonder if authors like Nee don’t fit very well in our Westernized and Protestant categories, and so we get scared and run. With Nee, I think that would be a mistake. Judging upon what I’ve read Nee has some incredible things to say on life in Christ
    4. T.D. Jakes – This guy is the best modern preacher I know. When I was in my late 20’s, my friends and I would be so inspired by his preaching. This man re-enacts biblical narratives like none other I’ve seen. And the way he can apply biblical truth to everyday life is phenomenal. And his delivery is like visiting Mt. Sinai; it’s not staged, it’s just who he is. He’s a monster. Many people think he’s a prosperity-gospel guy, but I’d  beg to differ. That is not his main thrust. The guy preaches a balanced word and he’s sound theologically. Being originally ordained in a Oneness understanding, he has since modified his view to be more orthodox, but still considers the trinity a mystery. Personally this doesn’t bother me. Jakes can’t be written off; he’s a nuanced thinker in his own right and the best preacher of the gospel I have ever seen. Proud to say he has marked my life in a positive way.
    5. Trintiy Broadcasting Network – I probably should be careful here. This is not a wholesale commendation. It’s hard to back up a major industry. Too many comings and  goings. Too many people to track. And certainly there’s a lot to differ with. The ‘prosperity gospel’ and lavish lifestyles of some of it’s spokespeople are grievous to me. They will have to answer to God for themselves on that one. Although there have been troubles, has God used them? I believe He has. Was Abraham squeaky clean? No. How bout Jacob? Oh, he was rotten. Moses? Pretty sketchy. David? Oh, boy. Any of us? Pfft. Does God use these shady characters. Yes he did and He does. As a friend once told me “faith trumps character,” and I believe there’s something to that. So, does he use TBN? We would be pretty smug to say he doesn’t. Should we count them as brethren? Theologically, their core commitments, as expressed in their statement of faith,  are solidly Evangelical. So, I believe we should. But, my interest is not defending them as much as expressing my appreciation. The thing I must say is that TBN was essentially my lifeline during my teenage years. We weren’t a part of a church for those years. I didn’t want to go. But, mom had TBN playing all the time. ALL the time! Even if I didn’t want to go to church – I had church running through my veins like an IV.  I constantly listened to the great Pentecostal preaching of ministers like Mike Purkey, R.W. Schambach, and Lester Sumrall. I listened to gospel singing like The Gathers and LaVerne Tripp. Being a Pentecostal network, TBN did a commendable job of bringing on voices from the different branches of the church. It was very ecumenical in that regard. In those years I became acquainted with Baptists such as Charles Stanely and E.V. Hill, the Calvary Chapel evangelist Greg Laurie, and even the venerable Presbyterian D. James Kennedy. This was my church, in a sense, and it offered great exposure. Was it perfect? No. But, it was my lifeline and I appreciated what they did for me at that particular juncture of my life, and I still recognize what it could do for others. And if Christ be proclaimed, then with Paul, we should all rejoice (Phil. 1:18).
I may not be terribly close with these friends anymore. Honestly we rarely talk. But, I do have fond memories and special feelings for each one I mentioned. So, I wanted to take a moment to voice my appreciation for these, sometimes beleaguered, friends and sincerely thank them for all they’ve done for me and for the rest of the Body of Christ.
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3 comments

  1. Glenda Adee Rogers · · Reply

    I love it! 🙂

  2. Tom Thompson · · Reply

    Very good word my brother! Yes, how us Christians so often are the first ones to attack our brethren because something they say or do is not done the way we think it should be. Copeland was one of my major influences as a new Christian while serving in the Army in West Germany in the late 70s. I had planter’s warts on my feet and went to the Army doctors in Frankfurt and all they could do was give me this black stuff to put on my feet every night. Didn’t do much at all. Then one day after I was saved I was listing to a Copeland tape about the Name of Jesus and the power in that name. So I followed his instructions, put my hand on the warts and spoke to them to be gone in Jesus name and just started to believe that was the case. Nothing happened at first, then the tingling pain went away as they healed from the inside out. Eventually after a few weeks they just went totally away, never to return again.

    God used that as a witness to a non-believer a short time later. We were in the field at Hohenfehls doing manuevers. Our barracks were large one room buildings with cots arranged in rows. One of the guys noticed I wasn’t putting on the black gunk anymore and asked about the warts. I was able to share how I was healed by the power of Jesus. That didn’t cause him to come to the Lord at that point, but I believe it was seed God planted in his life. He couldn’t really say much at all since he knew I had been healed.

    So yes, God uses us imperfect vessels to bring his glory and presence to a fallen world. If we were perfect, we wouldn’t need a savior!

  3. Beautiful, Tom. Thanks for adding your testimony here!

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