Monday 16 February 2015

Today, I went to Church.

Today, I went to Church... A Charismatic Evangelical Church.

Four members of High Wycombe Skeptics in the Pub went in response to an open invite from the Kings Church High Wycombe.

Kings Church are running a series of responses to the major objections to various aspects of the Christian faith. The series is called "The Big Objections".

This Sunday's Topic was "What sort of a God would send good people to hell?"

The Promotion for the event read thusly:-
"What are your doubts, objections and criticisms of Christianity? We asked our local community this question and stressed that no subject was off-limits or too honest. We had many objections raised about all sorts of issues including sexuality, science, suffering, hypocrisy and world religions. 
Over six weeks during February and March we will be addressing the most commonly raised objections. We would love it if you could join us on those Sundays at either 9.30am or 11.30am to hear the responses."

The fist half of the event was specifically to address the "Hell" objections after which we Atheists could leave if we wanted or we could sit through the regular Sunday service.

I have a lot of questions and objections to this fundamentally Evil belief so it seemed like a good opportunity to engage with the local Christian community and express our utter disgust with the concept of eternal torment in the fires of Hell.

Dan from HW SitP and myself arrived early and the Church Elders seemed to zero in on us asking lot's of questions about our background, nothing too intense, in-fact it was mostly polite conversation. Neil and Paul arrived just before the start of the event and were spared the awkwardness of the overly polite niceties.

The Event started with a Happy-Clappy song accompanied by a 7 piece band. Within 10 seconds people responded to Pavlovian style triggers, up went the arms, eyes closed or glazed over, swaying from side to side or bouncing up and down.

I found this disturbing and I'm not sure why. I've seen this behavior on religious TV channels and knew roughly what to expect.

I know these people are conditioned for this at least once a week and I was aware of the focused anticipation immediately beforehand.  These people were clearly in some trance-like euphoric state triggered by the Elders raising their arms and the music. But it was instantaneous, no build up, no preamble, just instant zombification. When the music stopped, everyone immediately switched back to "Normal" mode again.

We were sat front and center. I now wished we had sat further back to get a better view of the audience because the body language and the responses of the audience were far more interesting than the sermon we received.

Yes, it was a sermon, we were being preached at. There was no discussion about Hell, none of the objections raised by the community were mentioned. We had to sit for 60 minutes to be told that our objections (which were not asked for) were all invalid and of course that Jesus loves us and died for our sins. Hell is apparently not a fiery place where you are sent, Hell is a state of mind caused by separation from God. It is confusion, anger and discontentment that grows "Like a fire", not a literal fiery place.

The speaker was reasonably good, clear, concise and he presented well. But, There was no Q&A and there was no opportunity to present our own objections. This was clearly not going to be a 2 way dialogue.

I felt somewhat deceived, tricked into attending their sermon on the pretense that we would be exploring the issues around the concept of eternal punishment.

We now had the opportunity to stay for the main service, but to be honest I had a urgent need to escape from this stifling atmosphere of religious fervor. If susceptible people can be induced into a euphoric religious state so easily, the main service was sure to generate spontaneous weapons grade outbursts of Speaking in Tongs, flopping on the floor like a stranded fish and other forms of induced hysteria. I already felt extremely uncomfortable, It was time to go.  

Before we could leave, senior Church members descended on us again. Still polite, no pressure, but somewhat distant. We eventually made it to the foyer were we found the speaker and more senior Church members. This was my opportunity to find out about the theological beliefs of this Church.

This was again a fruitless exercise. No one seemed to have any understanding of formal Theology or Philosophy. I was told "all that stuff seems a little to complicated for me".  Even on issues like Creationism, they didn't seem to have any understanding of the debate. All that mattered was that Jesus loves you and he died for your sins.  I attempted to get a discussion going on Truth claims and Faith but got blank looks of puzzlement.  Faith IS Truth... Oh and now the speaker informs me that Hell IS an actual place after all and that people do get sent there by God but he was unable to define any of the attributes of this place.

They were pleasant good people with a strong community spirit but with very little understanding or concern for hardcore Theology. I would suspect that community spirit and the emotional intensity of religious euphoria are the driving forces in this church.

I wish them well but I will not be attending the remaining "Objections" meetings.

We retired to the Bootlegger Pub for Rehabilitation of the liquid variety.

Next week there is an open forum at the local Sunni Mosque so I'll need to dig out my "Jesus and Mo" T-Shirt and Dan can point out some rather interesting articles in his Charlie Hebdo magazine.
Kings Church High Wycombe


  1. You would be wrong to conclude that those WE spoke to are ignorant of theology. Certainly evangelical theology. I knew most of them personally, and - having been to their houses was aware of their bookshelves. Most came from reformed churches - such as baptist or presbyterian where doctrine was very important - taught according to “Systematic Theology” courses and books. Its just that having covered “that phase” in their earlier lives ( their 20s typically ) chose to emphasise other aspects - namely the experiential and “charismata” based aspects. Many of them will use the Greek bibles along with concordances wherever necessary. And many learned basic “Bible Greek” too in order to really “get into” the text material.

    In addition I have been to places where “Systematic Theology” along with every verse in the bible is covered VERY methodolically, and analytically - where everything is “tied up neatly” and made to fit the official theology. A Welsh Calvinist Chapel. It was intellectually refreshing - and meticulously detailed in meanings of the greek text, scholarship, context etc but only in very small doses !.

    Its more a case of what - personality- wise each congregant finds most appealing and thinks about on a daily basis. For a very small minority - reason , science and logic will be always on their minds - but as for the general public this isn’t what the ‘norm’ chooses to think about.

    Many of course leave these churches and evangelical belief systems - mostly not to become atheists but some kind of theist - ones who no longer adopt fundamentalist types of beliefs.

    What is fair to say is that the congregants don’t typically dwell on the thorny issues on a day to day basis. They will have reached some kind of opinion individually - on it all - having had the issues covered, thought about, and read about personally and in meetings for decades and simply choose to focus on what Christians do day by day - prayer meetings, worship meetings, good works, evangelism, community and trying to be kind and loving.

    Of those who left this church who I know don’t go to church any more just reject the ideas of revelation - or the fundamentalist ones. Becoming more open minded. There was also a split in the late 80s but the “breakaway” church was basically the same in doctrine.

    For sure tiny amount think like you and me Paul. Its down to personality. Lets face it - most of our SITP are geeks !

    Theres a _reason_ for that :)

  2. But i agree that the talk we attended to didn’t even begin to scratch all the logical issues around The Fall and Hell.

    He for sure did not cover “all the bases” - It was - as you say - a vehicle to talk about the cross. and that wasn’t covered in any detail. Time constraints ? for sure. It was clearly designed as something that general off the street might go for instead of something for us “reasonable doubters” . Not very satisfying for us. But also I suspect not exactly convincing, “altar-call-stuff” for those less into logic, skepticism or philosophy either.

  3. Dan,

    This is the Charismatic Pentecostalism that I'm familiar with.
    This disturbed me and disgusted me.

    When you first mentioned this visit you said the word "Charismatic" and this video has scenes that bring back memories of the Charismatic movement and how they can manipulate pre-conditioned minds.

    I'm happy that the Kings Church in Wycombe are not this extreme.

  4. Just read this, I somehow missed that you had written it! I was fascinated by your response to the "Happy Clappy" stuff, I have never seen the usually relaxed and confident Paul look so rattled by the experience. I guess I had a good decade of so of the stuff to innoculate me! An interesting experience though, maybe we can do it again one day, and get that long awaiting trip to the spiritualist church organised...

  5. Hey Neil,
    A trip to the local JW Kingdom Hall would be interesting.
    You up for it?

  6. no i wouldent go jw church if i were you i have been harrassed by them and had about 20 at my door which i used the my bible to get rid of them basically they have thereown bible new world translation translated in secret by unqualified scholors they distort the original text to fit there own ideology i have 10 bible scholors who have proved watch tower destorts scripure eg prof dr c. houtuan feb 18 1995quoted the new world translation is inadequate translation the watch tower misuses my articles by quoting sentences without there their context .dr julius r mantey john 1.1 aug 2 1974
    when scripture runs counter to their particular belifefs they try to change the scripure so will appear to have divine authority for their veiw point this is the most disturbing thing about it all
    he talking about the rejection of the jesus being part of the GODhead or trinity which jw dont believe they think jesus is an angel a created being therefor not the saviour and not the messiah not the word became flesh .
    they get baptised in the name of Jehovah old testement name of GOD rather than jesus or father son and holy spirit
    jw,s believe all the gifts died at the cross when jesus died no more healing .see liverpool gipped by revival EDWARD jeffreys 1899 -1974 thousands were healed
    they deny holy spirit as a person but see him as a force they think people dont go to heaven now but wait under ground for the day of judement .they also believe jesus died on a pole not a cross.the whole is controlled by watch tower bit like vatican controling roman church as they dont read the bible for them selves or come into relation with GOD through christ
    THE spiritulist church

    breaks all the rules because it contacts the dead giving people false hope this is evil practise condemend by GOD king saul did it before his death since men are to live once then face or give an account of there lives to GOD

    they arnt wondering around the earth only satan goes to and frow as in book of job as satan is master of deception . farther of lies and deceives the whole world it actually demons your contacting when you go to spiritualist church they confiet the person who has died as satan took a third of the angels with him when he rebelled and they reside in 2nd heaven you have to read book of daniel to under stand that and pauls quote in 2 corinthians 12.2
    in the book of acts and day of pentecost things happend as the spirit came when GOSPEL WAS PREACHED men spoke in tongues demons were deliverd bless you.s houghton

  7. If you want a Q&A then you need to go to an Alpha course, of which King's run often, or ask to speak with the eldership team during the week. Sunday is not the place for debate, as it is a time that most Christians attend for weekly fellowship with each other and teaching.

    It is the responsibility of the individual to grapple with subjects during the week. If you are in objection, the leadership team are all very willing to speak with you during the week and to go through your Q&A's then.

    You wouldn't go into a pub and start demanding answers from patrons there on why there certain rules within the pub. You would talk with those running the pub to speak with you at a specific date and time convenient to you both in order to bring up concerns. Not everyone in a church is at the same level of education or maturity in regards to the questions you want to ask.

    Ask for the leadership team, they can provide more assistance given the time.

    You should consider going onto the next Alpha course should you want to explore these subjects further. One Sunday there with the purpose of finding faults rather than listening to the message is not going to give you the answers you are looking for. If you don't agree with the concept of hell then talk to God about that, He is very willing to listen to you and very willing to answer you too. Find a quiet spot at home, with no disturbances and simply talk to God and give Him time to answer you.

  8. Hi Jane,
    Sorry about the delay Jane, I get a great deal of spam on this blog, mostly about a particular spell casting faith healer. Consequently I need to vet all visitor posts before they get published.

    You said that "You wouldn't go into a pub and start demanding answers from patrons there on why there certain rules within the pub."
    No I wouldn't, but if the management of the Pub invited me to the pub to address my problems with the rules of the Pub, I would be just as disappointed if they didn't address those issues and didn't understand their own rules.

    The person we spoke to in the foyer after the talk, was the person who gave the talk. If anyone was qualified and educated about the subject matter, I would have expected it to have been the main speaker. He was not able to answer genuine theological and philosophical questions.

    We did return for another talk in the same series a few weeks later by a lady from the OCCA. We invited the speaker back to the Pub for a meal, which she graciously accepted. We had a good robust discussion.

    I am very familiar with the Alpha course including the course content, Nicky Gumbel, HTB and what happens at the residential course down at Bracklesham Bay.

    As for your suggestion that I talk to your God, Suppose I suggested to you that you talk to Vishnu, Ahura Mazda, Odin or The Morrighan, would you do so in all sincerity? Would it seem absurd to you that I ask you to have a conversation with an entity that you don't accept has any objective existence?

    I quite liked the community spirit at Kings but I felt the people there were in a self-confirming bubble and were unable or unwilling to engage in some of the more difficult theological questions. I suspect we wouldn't even get as far as the PoE, The Euthyphro Dilemma or Presuppositionalism. The Alpha Course most definitely does not cover such issues.