Several years ago, my wife and I went looking for a church where we could put down roots. What we didn’t expect was a place whose roots seemingly went deep into the mines of Moria.
What do I mean?
Well, the first clue was the inclusion of the words “Eagle’s Nest” in the church’s name. As anyone who’s read Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, or indeed seen the excellent Peter Jackson films, knows: eagles figure largely in the plot. Large eagles figure largely in the plot.
And so it was with this church: the logo was indeed a large eagle.
So? You might ask. Lots of churches have the words eagle, or eagles, in their names, right? Maybe so, maybe so.
But I’m not done. Not by a long shot. Whether it gets better, or worse, I’ll leave up to you.
So, after we made our way past the giant eagle, my wife and I were assaulted, er, greeted, by two very large men. And when I say when men, I mean cave trolls. These dudes were ginormous!
And if the impression this “fellowship” wanted to give by the selection of these giant gentlemen as their greeters was one of intimidation, they succeeded. In spades.
As we made our past them, and through their cave, we passed into the sanctuary, or as they called it, the “fellowship hall.”
Interestingly, just to the left of the main doors of the hall, was another, smaller, room, with a sign above its doors: “Upper Room” (may as well have read “Mines of Moria”). Inside, there were a number of people praying. I stopped to listen for a moment, and to my amazement, they weren’t praying in English!
For all I know, it could have been the Black Speech of Mordor:
“Ash nazg durbatulûk, ash nazg gimbatul,
Ash nazg thrakatulûk agh burzum-ishi krimpatul.” (“One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them, one ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them”).
(Ok, so I exaggerate. We didn’t walk out then and then there because we were familiar with the Scriptures where Paul wrote of “speaking in tongues.” Thus, we concluded, in admitted naïveté, that this church was “operating in the gifts”).
But it gets better, or again, worse: we found our seats, caught again the occasional snippet of non-English prayers wafting from the “mines,” and prepared for a sweet time of fellowship with the Lord.
The praise and worship started normally enough: the songs were in, you know, English. But it quickly became something else: glossolalia, like Gandalf at the Council of Elrond, broke out everywhere. And like his utterance of the Black Speech at that council, it was pandemonium (to our ears anyway).
Not only that, but we seemed to have somehow found ourselves seated directly in front of Boromir! What do I mean? Well, this dear brother’s gift, like Boromir, was his amazing ability to wind his hunting horn!
During the praise service!
(“The horn of Boromir! Quickly! The hobbits are in trouble!”)
Ok, you get the point. The foregoing is an entirely true account of our (my wife and I) first, and last, visit to that church. I felt comfortable in relating this tale for two reasons:
1) This church is long since defunct, and I’m not likely to hurt anyone’s feelings; and
2) Such excesses still routinely occur in the name of “operating in the gifts.” (Snake handling, anyone?)
In all seriousness, what if my wife and I had not been believers, had been seeking the Lord, what would our impression have been of Christians, and indeed Christianity (based on this fellowship)? In addition to thanking God that he prays in tongues more, Paul addresses this:
“13 Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray for the power to interpret.
14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful.
15 What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also.
16 Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say “Amen” to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying?
17 For you may be giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not being built up.
18 I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you.
19 Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.” (1 Cor 14:13-19, ESV).
What do you think? Have you ever had an experience like this?