A few days ago, I watched Heidi Ewing’s 2006 documentary “Jesus Camp”, which follows three children as they attend “Kids on Fire School of Ministry” in North Dakota, a camp run by Becky Fischer, a pentecostal children’s pastor.
The documentary itself is quite bold, in that the filmmakers themselves are never seen or heard; there is no commentary except for some short information lines that appear when necessary. The entire message of the film is delivered by images and interviews. And what it has to say honestly grieves me.
I can’t honestly say that I have nothing against the pentecostal/charismatic movement (to me, the two terms are synonymous). I do – even though some years ago, at the start of my faith, I was part of it and an ardent advocate for it. I believed, with so many others, that this was where Christ was leading His Church; this was the “new thing” God was doing with His people and that there was no way you could be a fulfilled and committed Christian unless you were right into it.
And then I read the Bible.
But let me not go into that. What I want to do is talk about “Jesus Camp”, and outline what worried me so much about it.
The documentary’s concerns are more political than anything else; it views the camp and the people behind it as a growing religious and extreme right-wing group that makes sure its progeny is adequately brainwashed and fanaticised to carry on the mission of turning America and the rest of the world into, well, them. In fact, Becky Fischer herself does not shy away from describing her work as the Christian answer to the radicalisation of youths in islamist camps. Bad choice of words, but even more worrying is that she actually believes it.
The actual services shown in the film belong to the usual recipe used by practically every charismatic congregation:
- Kick-off with upbeat “Christian” music and “cool” acts to get everyone “in the mood”.
- Continue with emotional talk with lots of tears. Preferably use terms like: “New generation”, “new thing God is doing”, “revival”, “dry bones” (Ezekiel 37:1-14), “claim”, “anoint”, “blessing”, “take back the world for Jesus”, “army/soldiers/warriors of Christ” etc. Like Pavlov’s dogs, it gets the audience salivating. Also, don’t forget to throw in some passages to appear like you are talking from the Bible. Any random or irrelevant passages will do; don’t worry about doctrine, just go for volume.
- Finish off with screaming in “tongues”, convulsing on the floor (“slain in the spirit” in charismatic slang), laying hands on people and things that need to be “anointed”, and the notorious general chaos that we are often told we must unquestionably accept as God’s work. But what is frightening is that here it involves children.
What is my problem, I hear you ask. After all, I am a Christian myself, and, if anything else, I hope that this blog has shown that I take my faith seriously. Well, for one, I agree that this is brain-washing. Yes, the Bible tells us to teach our children the Word of God from an early age (Proverbs 22:6; Eph. 6:4) (I myself have been tremendously blessed because of my Sunday school years), but teaching also involves learning to think by yourself (aka “discerning”), and the Bible has no problem with that (Hebrews 5:13-14; 1 John 4:1). In other words, I am all for teaching the Word of God to the young ones but not cramming it down their little impressionable throats. Because, after all, what kind of faith is a faith that has been force-fed rather than watered and cultured?
This is dangerous ground, I understand that. On one hand, it is wonderful to see children from one of the most decadent and materialistic cultures in the world being taught that life is much more than just “eat and drink for tomorrow we die” (Is. 22:13). It is great to teach them that before the world gets into their heads with its own version of how to live. But what this documentary illustrates very clearly, is the extreme of that: Christian homeschooling, Christian music, Christian family rituals, Christian T-shirts (except the one with “My Dad’s in the Army” on the front)… well, naturally you’ll get “Christianised” kids – they just don’t know any better! But am I wrong to say that keeping them locked up inside a “Christian” ghetto only perpetuates the idea of monasticism, of isolation from the world rather than separation from its evil, and that God can only be with you as long as you stay within the protected (most likely “anointed”) circle? Step outside, and you’re lost.
One look at the three kids that are focused upon, and you’ll see it. Interviewed, they are self-assured, using words they probably can’t spell and phrases they probably can’t understand, and you feel sorry for them when you see them playing and fooling around like actual children, which furthers the suspicion that their seeming spiritual “maturity” is merely an emotional product of their upbringing. In other words, you have to wonder if their apparent faith is nothing more than imitating grown-ups. After all, they’re just kids.
And in terms of coming to know God through His Word? Unfortunately, charismatic theology (if there is such a thing) started and has grown far apart from the Bible, and a few interviews show how profoundly these children have soaked it up (“I’m shy, except when I’m in the Spirit”). To help you, I include a sample list of the traditional charismatic views, and next to them I’ve added some Bible references that demonstrate how unbiblical those ideas are. I would strongly encourage you to check the references.
- The Bible is more of a reference rather than God’s complete revelation to us (Deut. 4:2, 12:32; Prov. 30:6; Rev. 22:18-19)
- The Holy Spirit works through trances, ecstasies and lower-brain babbling (1 Cor. 14:33, 40)
- Anything preceded by “I feel the Lord saying…” is a prophecy worth canonising (Deut. 18:22; Mat. 7:22)
- Anyone who calls himself a Christian and is not into all that is abandoned by God and will wind up in hell and that anyone who disagrees (for example, me) will suffer a similar fate (1 Cor. 1:13; Eph. 4:3).
- Salvation is fully your responsibility to maintain (Phil. 2:13)
- If you’re sick or poor it’s because you don’t have enough “faith” (1 Cor. 10:13; 2 Cor. 12:7)
- If you pray for something and not get it it’s because you didn’t pray and/or fast enough (Mat. 6:7; 1 John 5:14)
- Sinful habits are actually demonic possession/influence (Rom. 7:18; 1 John 1:8)
- Jesus can’t return unless we make the world ready (1 Thess. 5:1-2).
So sad. I hope that the passages I have referenced also give an idea of how erroneous such teachings are; but to pass on that kind of error on to children, is frightening. We have a duty as Christians to teach God’s Word to our young ones, and to teach it to them in a clear manner that will bring them closer to God, not obscure Him with religious paraphernalia.
After all, a person’s faith is never real unless it’s tested (2 Cor. 10:18, 13:5; James 1:3; 1 Pet. 1:6-8).
But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea – Mark 9:42