Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Epistles to Lonnie Frisbee

Letter #3


Seraph Postal - Forever
Dear Lonnie,

I received your letter this morning, a bright and sunny day. It came in my mailbox with my other mail, mostly bills, junk mail asking me to buy gold IRAs, supplemental Medicare insurance, and political opinion polling questionnaires. While I was at my mail box, I noticed that your letter stood out in the bunch because it had the Seraph Postal stamp. The envelope also appeared to be made from something like very high quality linen-rag paper, or maybe like papyrus. It wasn't until I took my mail indoors, out of the bright sunlight, that I noticed your letter also glows in the dark. It was brightly phosphorescent in fact. I also noticed that the ink appeared to be golden. So in more ways than one, your letter was very interesting. I suppose that mail sent from Heaven to Earth via the Seraphic Mail Service follows a different protocol, since your letter doesn't appear to be written on vellum, which is what I am required to use to send from Earth to Heaven.

First of all, thank you for putting in a word about Roger Sachs, your ghostwriter. I imagine that he will be very surprised to get an "angelic visitation" soon from a couple of Heaven's stranger looking angels, who have multiple eyes and wings, with all sorts of burning fire and awesomeness. That will shake him up. I can just imagine it now. Roger is sleeping in bed and wakes up to see the ceiling above him open up, letting in a blinding light from Heaven. He then hears a very loud noise, like a jet engine — or rather like what Ezekiel the prophet experienced when he saw the holy tetramorphs of the Merkabah and heard the deafening roar of their wheels-within-wheels — as the angels descend down into Roger's bedroom and are standing at the foot of his bed, with lots of little multicolored blazing orbs rapidly flying around the place. They are looking at him with a multitude of glowing eyes and sternly say "Roger Sachs, thou sluggard! Hearken and take heed!" Next, they tell him to stop delaying and publish the third book of Lonnie's autobiography, immediately, right away, and now — no ifs ands or buts. Of course, Roger will be scared spitless by the sight of these terrifying heavenly beings and promise to publish the third book posthaste. The angels finally blast upwards out of Roger's bedroom and the ceiling closes behind them.

If nothing else, this will prove that they have a big sense of humor in Heaven. Anyhow, Lonnie, I will try to tackle your questions that you asked me, but I am not sure how I am qualified to answer them. I will try to give you my perspective, which is very limited one.

You asked me how your old friend and protégé Greg Laurie was doing. Well, he is doing great, by all appearances. However, I can't say that I ever got to know Greg personally, even though I went to his church for about 15 years. The opportunity just never materialized. Maybe I just didn't try hard enough. He always seemed kind of "busy." In all the festivities up there, Lonnie, did you ever bump into Greg's son Christopher? He might be a good person to ask, and he can tell you much more about Greg than I can. Greg is now starting to show his age, very bald and a bit on the leathery handsome side. I guess the leathery appearance comes from going surfing out in the sun a lot. He lives in a gated community down in Newport Beach, so he's not far from the ocean. Greg is also a smart dresser, very photogenic, and always looks very cool. It's enough to cause me or anybody to have a man-crush on him. He has always been a good communicator, but the one thing I have noticed is that his voice is beginning to sound a little more "raspy" than how I remembered it when he was younger. I think the mellowing of advancing years causes this.

The second book of your autobiography did an excellent job of setting the record straight about how Greg's church actually was started. Fred and Ruth Waugh were the ones behind the scenes who got the show rolling in Riverside. They gave a great testimony about this. Not very many people know about Fred and Ruth or what they did to support you in your ministry afterwards. They shouldn't be forgotten, Lonnie, and it's good that you mentioned them. I am sure you still remember coming up from beautiful Orange county and starting to preach to the kids that gathered there at All Saints episcopal church in smoggy Riverside. I especially want to thank you for this, Lonnie, because it was your preaching at All Saints that won my wife over to Christ. The Waughs were also kind to her. As you already know, the Riverside baton later got passed to Greg Laurie, and eventually the church moved to its current location and headquarters on Arlington Avenue. Somewhere along the line its name was changed from "Calvary Chapel of Riverside" to "Harvest Christian Fellowship." Now it is just "Harvest."

Since that time, Greg's Harvest has grown into a huge megachurch, with over 15,000 members, that has seven different campuses, one of which is located in Maui. You can go to any one of them and watch Greg preaching on a big screen simulcasted. Greg is also Billy Graham's de facto successor and does the mass evangelism thing in big stadiums in a magnificent way all over the country. (Billy is now retired, very old, and any day now will be arriving up there where you are, Lonnie, so be sure to give him a big welcome.) Greg is also a major author with dozens and dozens of books to his credit. Who could have foreseen this? I would very much love to be Greg's ghostwriter or editor. Everything about Greg bespeaks enormous success and celebrityhood, in a good way. He rubs shoulders with some of the famous politicians as well. Yes, Lonnie, it amazes me how things have changed over the years because I can remember how things were back when Harvest started and Greg still had hair.

The latest news is that Greg has joined the Southern Baptist Convention. Some people were surprised by this recent announcement because they thought that Harvest was a "charismatic" church, and Southern Baptists are anything but. (I know what I am talking about because I started out as a Southern Baptist; that's where I was baptized.) Well, Lonnie, people shouldn't have been surprised at Greg's recent move, nor should you be surprised. I am not surprised at all. Yes, it was charismatic at one time, many years ago when it first started, but Harvest later became, what I call, strictly pro forma charismatic — in name only. As I recollect, this trend picked up speed after the elderly pastor Keith Ritter left. First, the charismatic stuff, such as speaking in new tongues and prophecy, was relegated to a backroom, out of sight. Next, the stuff gradually got shoved out the back window. Finally, as best as I can describe it, things went through a process of "rationalistic redefinition," in effect where the numinous baby gets tossed out with the bathwater. So now if you were to ask him about these things, Greg will say that "nothing has changed," and I think he would be in his mind quite sincere about this. The terms might be much the same, but the meanings have shifted. However, the proof is in the pudding, Lonnie, so don't expect to see anyone in the Harvest congregation actually operating in prophecy, tongues, words of knowledge, casting out demons, healing the sick, miracles — you know, the kind of supernatural, Kingdom stuff you used to do. Remember?

Well, I remember, which is why I am a little sad at how things developed. Since Greg generally goes around through the Bible, expounding it over the course of time, he'll get to the parts that mention the "stuff." I keenly recollect the last time I heard him deal with this topic from the pulpit. Greg spent so much time expostulating upon the possible "abuses" and all the resulting dreadful horrors that, by the time he was finished with the subject, nobody in the congregation would ever want to touch the stuff again with a ten-foot barge pole. I could hardly blame them — for getting the impression that using the spiritual gifts was like playing catch with bottles of warm nitroglycerin. Though people's skulls are getting stuffed there with plenty of good Bible knowledge, the bottom line, Lonnie, is that the charismatic stuff has effectively ceased to function at Harvest in any practical or meaningful way. We can be big and successful without needing the stuff, in other words. That's why I call Harvest "functionally cessationist," in contrast to the more absolutist cessationism as taught by guys like Warfield or MacArthur.

Anyhow, Lonnie, what I am trying to say is that the Southern Baptists have nothing to fear and everything to gain from Greg Laurie, and that Greg Laurie didn't have to suddenly change anything in order to become a good Southern Baptist. He had already arrived at that port for a long time now, and he will fit in quite well with little problem. I should warn him, however, that Southern Baptists can be a bit ornery sometimes, and he might be in for some criticism from the younger, more hot-headed, neo-calvinist Baptists out there, who rather dislike the idea of mass evangelism. So expect occasional flack. But Greg's motives for jumping aboard the Baptist ship are understandable to me. On one level, it was a very smart business move on his part. He can now elicit more cooperation and support from the numerous Baptist churches out there when he is doing his Harvest Crusades in different parts of the country. This will allow him to expand his operations. I wouldn't be terribly surprised if other CC pastors decide to jump ship as well and join up with the Southern Baptists along with Greg.

Oh, by the way, Greg hasn't said anything about the ridiculous split that I told you about in my earlier letter. So far, the last I checked, Harvest is listed in both the CGN and CCA "church finder" databases. I guess Greg has decided that it's best to play the mugwump for now and sit on both sides of the fence. This might be the best policy because Greg Laurie is pretty much his own brand name anyhow.

Unfortunately, I am now running out of vellum and don't have enough room left to answer your other questions. But several of my ewes are pregnant again, and so I expect to have some more lambskin soon for processing into vellum. I tell you, Lonnie, I really hate slaughtering these poor little lambs, but protocols are protocols, and the Seraphic Mail Service will accept no artificial substitutes. I have had to take up Greek style cooking and am eating a lot of lamb gyros nowadays. I will try to write as soon as I can. Let it suffice for now to say that Greg would not be enthused about inviting you to preach a service at Harvest, if you were still here today somehow. As John Wimber once wrote about you, "he was unpredictable when he spoke," which was a deadpan understatement if there ever was one. Pastors by and large don't like unpredictable. I don't think Greg does either. And you must admit, Lonnie, that God did some pretty unpredictable stuff when you were here ministering.

Sincerely yours,
Sad and Disappointed

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Epistles to Lonnie Frisbee

Letter #2


Seraph Postal - Forever
Dear Lonnie,

This is my second letter, and I would like to share some recent news about a territory that's familiar to you. Before I do, however, please give Chuck Smith and John Wimber a big hug for me. I am sure you guys are having a great time there in Heaven.

Well, anyhow, a kerfuffle has arisen not long ago about a "split" in Calvary Chapel. Brian Brodersen, the senior pastor at the venerable Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, gathered up his gumption, quit the CCA (Calvary Chapel Association), walked out, and started a new outfit of his own, called the Calvary Global Network (CGN). There has been a lot of undue consternation because of this turn of events. About 95% of what is said on the Internet about it is complete rubbish. I decided to add to the mess and share with you a few of my observations regarding this situation.

I guess those who forget their history are doomed to being surprised when it repeats itself. No one should have been surprised at what has happened. Schisms in Calvary Chapel are really nothing new. As anyone can recall (who's old enough), back in the early 1980s, Chuck Smith kicked out John Wimber, his CC of Yorba Linda, and a bunch of other CCs because — when you boil it all down — papa Chuck just didn't like the idea that somebody somewhere was getting excited or maybe "speaking in new tongues" right out in the open for everyone to see. And as you pointed out in the second book of your autobiography, you were right there in the middle of things when this unfortunate schism occurred, starting with your famous "Mother's Day" service all the way to when Chuck finally lowered the boom on what you had catalyzed. You also said that "as much as I love Chuck, it was not pretty." As you well know, the CCs that got the boot decided to conglomerate together with Kenn Gulliksen's churches, and under John Wimber's leadership, they became what is known today as the Vineyard USA. You would probably agree that the schism that happened back then was a sorry affair and very regrettable in many ways. I imagine that both Chuck and John now realize that they actually needed each other. Chuck needed John, and John needed Chuck. Tacos and hamburgers can do good when combined together, even if it doesn't appear that way at first. Nevertheless, I think this more recent "split" is pretty mild in comparison.

As you probably have heard from Chuck, he picked his son-in-law Brian Brodersen to be his successor at Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa. The extensive assets there are now under Brian's control and supervision. I am sure that Chuck knew Brian better than most and knew exactly what he was doing when he entrusted everything to him. And in a court of law, all that matters is what documents have Chuck's signature on them, and I am sure that Brian is all fair and square on this point as well. Case closed. And just like papa Chuck years ago quit the Foursquare denomination, Brian has decided to quit the CCA. Now If Brian wants to use his "Moses Model" prerogatives and to go out and start a club of his own, then there is nothing to stop him, and he has complete freedom to do so, every bit as much as papa Chuck had. Other pastors can join Brian's new club or stay in the old club, or both, whichever they choose.

If you remember those old church bulletins, Lonnie, they stated that Calvary Chapel is "not a denomination." This is the solemn truth, and I think that you would completely agree. The "Calvary Chapel movement" never has been and never will be a denomination. That is how Chuck wanted things. The CCA was never meant to be a unitary ecclesial government. Nor is the Brian's newer CGN for that matter. Each one is a "club for pastors." The CCA club was started by Chuck, when he was still here, to replace the earlier, now defunct, problematic CCOF (Calvary Chapel Outreach Fellowship), mainly because of legal issues that Chuck very much wanted to avoid. The CCA became a vehicle for Chuck to exert a wide, irenic influence without incurring any liabilities, or getting hit with lawsuits if someone misbehaved. And if there is anything that can be said about the church in Costa Mesa, it was successful, passing beyond even Chuck's wildest dreams — your autobiography shows the pivotal role that you had in all this. Being in the club provides the club members an attractive "brand name" cachet associated with it, and everybody wants to imitate success.

Clubs come and go. And I cannot think of a better term to describe how things actually operate. Each club provides a framework so that "like-minded" pastors can "affiliate" and get together and attend conferences, where they can hobnob and chew the fat, compare notes, swap sermons, and hang out with big name celebrity pastors. Well, Chuck has gone to Glory now, but he was the glue that made it all stick together and the motor oil that kept the CC gears turning smoothly. When you have gathered together a bunch of stout personalities who all believe that they are each the typological equivalent of Moses, eventually there is going to be some friction and a few sparks, especially now that the oil is gone. Lonnie, I don't think anybody should be surprised by this outcome. Most of the time the club members get along, and sometimes they don't. And if people no longer like the club they are in, sometimes they go out and start clubs of their own. This is precisely what pastor Brodersen has decided to do, as I have said earlier.

Nevertheless, I think it is very sad that Brian Brodersen and the CCA could not have worked out some sort of modus operandi for peaceful co-existence. Their differences seem trivial to me. Having a "Calvary Chapel Association" minus the eponymous Calvary Chapel that started everything looks pretty silly. But these guys aren't taking my advice, Lonnie, so I don't bother trying to give it. I don't think they would take your advice either if you were still here. But one thing is certain: there are no schisms up there in Heaven.

In any case, the people in the various CC congregations should not worry, because there was really nothing substantial to split. Each CC church is already completely and totally independent of the others. Absolutely nothing changed about this. Each CC senior pastor is a little version of "Moses" as far as the congregation is concerned. He calls the shots and is not "accountable" to the CCA or CGN or any other outside organization. Therefore, how a particular CC church operates is already determined by the character and methodology of the individual pastor. And I will wager dollars to donuts that, as far as the laity are concerned, it won't make ten cents worth of difference which club the pastor joins. Besides, as you well know, Lonnie, the people in the CC congregations don't have a vote about the matter anyhow.

I daresay that things at the local level will be business as usual. So everybody should just relax. The preaching at a particular CC will continue to be just as good or as mediocre it was before. The quality of the worship music will continue to fall somewhere in a spectrum that ranges from the downright dreadful to the just barely bearable, just like it did before. Nothing will really change. The most that will happen is that the church will get listed or delisted in somebody's "church locator" database. The pastor might get invited to attend a conference over here in this place as opposed to over there in that place. In fact, if he doesn't do anything, his church will end up being grandfathered into both databases. And the pastor's email box will fill up with invitations from both places. The congregations shouldn't fret themselves about this.

Unfortunately, many people believe the nonsense — which gets re-posted on their Facebook pages — coming from the "online discernment ministry" (ODM) bloggers out there on the Internet who are busy pontificating about this matter. The ODMs are mostly crackpots who suffer from special mental tics all very their own. You know this from the rotten treatment they've given you over the years. They're already making it out that Brian is some kind of apostate too. It's the crazy Internet, Lonnie, so not much can be done about this. I try to tell people to ignore this stuff.

Anyhow, Lonnie, I have run low on vellum, but I thought I would share this bit of news with you. Please let Chuck and John know what's going on. I imagine that they would want to pray about the situation. In the end, everything will shake out. I will be writing you another letter soon, for I still have some Seraphic Postal stamps left. Unfortunately, I have to slaughter another sheep to make some more vellum.

Sincerely yours,
Troubles and Woes on Earth

Monday, October 09, 2017

Epistles to Lonnie Frisbee

Letter #1


Seraph Postal - Forever
Dear Lonnie,

It's been a long time, more than 24 years, since you crossed the Jordan river to the sweet bye-and-bye on that beautiful shore. For us here on Earth, time seems to drag on, slowly grinding and grinding humanity between its millstones. I am sure that 24 years barely seems like a blink of an eye for you now.

Nevertheless, I very much want to apologize for the long delay in writing to you. You see, sending a letter via the Seraphic Mail Service is a very involved process, which requires very strict adherence to protocols. It's taken me many years to finally learn the process and execute it correctly. The holy angels are sticklers for details, and any letter that doesn't meet their exacting standards will be refused delivery to any addressees in the Heavens. All letters must be written on lambskin vellum, and so I had to learn how to raise sheep in order to produce the vellum that is required. That in itself is a long and messy process, for the animal has to be fed a strict diet, must be without blemish, slaughtered, and its hide has to be processed just right. Besides that, I had to learn to make iron gall ink, because that's what you have to use to write on the vellum. The gall itself has to be derived from a specific subspecies of terebinth tree that grows in the vicinity of the Mount of Olives, near Jerusalem. The iron oxide used in the ink has to be dug up from a particular spot near the Hill of Megido (also known as Armageddon). The pen is very specially constructed, having a nib made from a peculiar alloy of gold, osmium, ytterbium, and neodymium. Since at this point I don't have very much vellum and ink for writing this letter to you, I will have to keep things as short as possible. Please bear with me if my words appear to be terse. I don't mean to be harsh. Fortunately, I was able to obtain a good supply of the needed Seraphic Postage stamps.

I want to tell you that I appreciate the chance to read your autobiography, entitled Not by Might Nor by Power. So far I have read the first two parts of it, books one and two. They were fascinating and made me very much regret that I never had the opportunity to meet you personally here on Earth. It is very unfortunate there has been a delay in publishing the final and very important third book, in which you tie everything together. I am at a loss to understand the reasons for this long delay. Your friend and ghostwriter Roger Sachs has never explained why he is dragging things out, in getting your autobiography fully available for people to read. It is amazing to me that it took almost twenty years for Roger to even publish your first book. Especially now that Roger has more people helping him, you would think that the third, final book would have been published by now. But no. It's still not out yet. I wish somehow I could appeal directly to Roger to please accomplish the finishing of your autobiography, but contacting Roger is a very difficult thing to do. All my attempts have failed. Writing a letter to a departed saint in Heaven is easier in comparison.

I hope that the third book will be published soon and that I live long enough to read it, for there are many questions remaining that you have left unanswered. The biggest one is why are you dead, Lonnie? Your passing on to glory occurred at age 43. You must admit this was a youngish age to die, and it appeared untimely or tragic, earthly speaking. Many people have their opinions about this. The Internet propagates and echoes those opinions far and wide, and since everyone believes everything the Internet says, everybody assumes that this matter has already been settled. Back in your day, Lonnie, the Internet didn't exist in all its ferocity. So trust me when I tell you that the Internet is a very hard thing to fight here on Earth. And because your friend Roger delayed things for so long, there had been nothing around to show anyone that you, Lonnie, also had your own opinion about you, Lonnie. To speed up finishing this project, perhaps you can put in a request that Roger gets an "angelic visitation," where a couple of heavy-duty angels show up and give him a kick in the butt and a solemn word of exhortation. Maybe that will shake him up, and he will stop procrastinating and finally publish the third book of your autobiography.

Lonnie, the Devil tried to label you all during your ministry, as you have said in your second book. Although he cannot touch you now there up above, people on Earth continue to do this very thing. In fact, the whole labeling business has gotten out of hand in today's society, much worse than it was in your day. Everybody gets labeled by being assigned to an "identity group" of some kind, no matter whether you want it or not. This whole operation is very politicized now, with big agendas attached to it, along with complicated rules of "intersectionality" that regulate everything, from where in the hierarchy of victimology you reside to what your utilitarian value will be within the grand social dialectic. Your intrinsic humanity is replaced with a classification label, and the whole meaning of your life is reduced to what collective you have been pigeonholed in. In other words, "Lonnie was XYZ," where "XYZ" is your label, albeit nobody bothered to ask you if you agreed with this or not.

In your case, the XYZ pigeonhole gets utilized on the Internet, broadly speaking, by people in two different ways. One needs you to be an XYZ so you can be used as a poster boy. Then people can point at you and say that you were the poor XYZ guy who was stomped on by some mean old church leaders who hate XYZs, and therefore the Church is bad, bad, bad. The other needs you to be an XYZ because this can be used to discredit your ministry and all its results. These will say that Lonnie was an XYZ and therefore of the Devil. And from there it's guilt by association all the way down the stack. Either way, you get shrunk down to being somebody's propaganda weapon, totally without your permission. Unfortunately, even if you come back from the grave (like Lazarus) and loudly declare "you guys are both wrong", they still wouldn't listen to you. For once the "identity" label gets applied to you, Lonnie, you can't shake it off — with either a crowbar or a blowtorch.

But I think you already understand this whole schtick. It is not the main reason I am writing you, so enough said about this. Besides, I have run out of vellum, in this my first batch. I will need to prepare another batch. Believe me, I don't relish killing and skinning lambs. Although I try to do this as humanely as possible, it's still a yucky business. As soon as I can, I will write you more follow-up letters. It would be good, in the meantime, if your ghostwriter, Roger Sachs, got off his duff and finished publishing your side of the story. Lonnie, is there anything you can do to help speed things up? I know that there is an Altar of Incense up there, from which the prayers of the saints always ascend like a fragrance before the Holy of Holies. Possibly you can intercede and add a little more incense?

Sincerely yours,
Full of Sorrows.