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, or 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. (I have attached to this letter a small picture of Greg so you can see what I mean.) He lives in a very nice 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 continues to be a great communicator and evangelist, 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 his 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 believed in and 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