Elevation ‘Video’ Church – A Visit to the Early Service at Matthews, NC – by John Beardsley 9/11/11
Spurgeon warned in his day that, “When the old faith is gone, and enthusiasm for the gospel is extinct, it is no wonder that people seek something else in the way of delight. Lacking bread, they feed on ashes; rejecting the way of the Lord, they run greedily in the path of folly” (As quoted in Ashamed of the Gospel, p. 67).
I went the morning of 9/11/2011 not knowing what to expect but that I’d need earplugs. I knew this from past experience when reviewing the so-called c-rock concerts of DC Talk and News Boys back in 1996 and 1997 for the Christian Conscience (now Herescope- when these so-called Christian Rock bands were introducing new things like head-banging, body-surfing and moshing for our Christian youth along with the rock-n-roll).When I arrived at the Elevation Church in Matthews, NC, just a little after 9am the greeters in the parking lot were very friendly, guiding their guests where to park, giving a real “VIP” treatment. Some of my Baptist friends and others could learn a thing or two from showing such outward hospitality. I was handed a VIP folder just after getting out of the car with a music CD and shown the way to the auditorium, and later was provided with a DVD on the history of Elevation (that I will touch on later). The people I met and staff all showed Christian charity. I want that to be clear throughout my visit to this service but unfortunately, that is the best and only compliment I can offer.
If you are going to Elevation Church and you are looking for:
- that friendly Pastor’s face and hearty handshake with a smile you need to know which of their video outlet churches to be at – or
this is NOT your church!
- a sober atmosphere not charged with bass so loud it surges through your body – again this is not your church!
(From their website, worship page “…music is loud (loud enough for us to offer earplugs to anyone who wants…)
- music that edifies your spirit as you sing to the Lord – this is not your church! At least in the service I attended!
- a church that is not bringing in rock-n-roll or even a form of hip-hop and calling it Christian – do I need to say it again?
Next thing that I knew would never fly in the church I attend – was immodest dress of those greeting us for a casual appeal to the youth. In spite of this, I chose to see for myself what the service was all about… I went into the lobby to by the auditorium (sanctuary) where I was told the doors would open shortly – frankly it reminded me of a movie theater more than a church.
Then to the right a rather COLORFUL placard wall with “The Making of a Movement” above it. A placard with “F-Bomb” on it, in the entry hallway just outside of the auditorium would really cause most adults to pause! I am sure it is referring to something else as an attention getter but this is just one sign of poor judgment being used, these are some of the first things a visitor sees coming in. Above and to the right, is an advertisement for his book Sun Stand Still but they are ‘over the top’ with a number of these placards stretching down the hall with room for more! Remember I am a first time visitor, what sort of impression would this make on the average unsaved moral person!
Zoomed in on the following placards – haven’t we all had enough of the sex talk stuff? (Bringing Sexy Back is mentioned in the DVD I will mention later) and next to the placard “Confessions of a Pastor”!! – before any critic says you have taken it out of context the sign above is what says “The Makings of a Movement,” sorry a movement of what!? Go further down the signs, and note “Entourage” (isn’t that some crude HBO series according to the Internet Movie Database IMDB it is rated M for Mature!) and the sign with “Made” a play on the old Godfather movies so loved by the world? So are we supposed to be in the business of copying the world or “Romans 12:2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what [is] that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”
Answer, this is NOT acceptable for any Bible believing Church. But I will say it accurately depicts the church I visited this morning and its man in charge. (Apprising links and videos) If it is a church, it is (his) Furtick’s church not Christ’s -more to come on why I say this so strongly.
Then there resource store with more about the movement, t-shirts and cans of hair mousse or some facsimile thereof (you can see placard wall in distance) just so you have a sense of the environment of this church lobby:
A few more minutes passed and the time arrived to go in, and I was handed a contact card to fill out (if I so chose too) and offered ear plugs (no surprise). Inside looked like I was there for a rock concert, complete with a movable band stage and loads of speakers, and three large video screens. Another screen came down in the middle so they could watch their Pastor Furtick on simulcast video:
I noticed others around me were of varying age groups so it was not all youth but I could see the emphasis is the youth – of course we need to be reaching them for the future of the Church, not arguing that point —- but WHAT Church is my point!
Starting with a video 3 minutes before the service they introduce what the youth have been doing all around Charlotte – lots of community service… nothing wrong with that, showing Christian charity. Then with a countdown on the video screens it hit 9:30am and the lights were dimmed greatly then “boom, boom, boom” the bass started thumping from a simulated heartbeat that was part of some weird so-called video Christian hip-hop song. A rather strange get up much like what was advertised on America’s Got Talent with LED type lights on the chest of this fellow blinking like a heart then on a hat and etc. (Short video clip very dark in auditorium)
- It made me very glad I had the earplugs in! Next, their own band started playing a rock-praise song and the bass was so VERY loud it pulsed through my body giving me a light wave of nausea – and I was in towards the back of the auditorium. I even noticed the clothes on my body resonate with the bass and the distortion could not be helped in this clip — it was that loud! (Video clip)
This went on for about 30 minutes and we got to where the message would be preached by Pastor Steve Furtick, about 10am he got started – not from the pulpit or anywhere in the front of the auditorium but simulcast to all of his churches. I had expected this since I knew they were opening two new churches today.
Furtick went on to talk about a number of things: the usual talk about getting people to do things, motivating those listening to essentially get out of their comfort zone for Jesus. He bragged on the youth and how they are a part of the main services and encouraged them to participate. He said,
“I purposefully do not put a lot of youth programs in this church because I believe the students should be a part of the church not just little kids growing up to be good little boys and girls, I believe they are growing up to be great men and women of God… get every student into a small groups, meet you, encourage you, “ And a clip
I noticed his huge emphasis on helping the community, again. I would agree and do what God has enabled me to do and admonish others to help wherever and whenever they can. – The last time I made a visit such as this was well over 14 years to examine the so-called c-rock concerts mentioned earlier. So for my critics and other readers, my purpose was to have a look at why from Furtick’s own lips, is the 2nd fastest growing Church in America today.
What is it all about, why is it so attractive to those who come? I asked a few people, they say what a friendly, loving bunch of people are there… no argument all those I met showed me a degree of Christian love you would want to find in a Church. I had no doubt there are sincere people there at Elevation, and I know and have explained before when dealing with the so called c-rockers in spite of bad teaching, bad music or bad whatever God is in the business of saving souls – qualified if you get the Gospel of Jesus Christ! The Elevation website lists the way of salvation this way under their beliefs:
Elevation Church aggressively reaches out to people who are far from God. Rather than run from culture, we have chosen to harness it to connect with people and show them God’s timeless truths. Although our approach is anything but traditional, we believe in and maintain a conservative theological position.” (bold emphasis mine)
“Salvation – God’s only way
The blood of Jesus Christ, shed on the cross, provides the only way of salvation through the forgiveness of sin. Salvation occurs when people place their faith in the death and resurrection of Christ as sufficient payment for their sin. Salvation is a gift from God, and it cannot be earned through our own efforts. (Isaiah 1:18; 53:5-6; 55:7; Matthew 1:21; 27:22-28:6; Luke 1:68-69; 2:28-32; John 1:12; 3:16, 36; 5:24;Acts 2:21; 4:12; 16:30-31; Romans 1:16-18;3:23-25; 5:8-10; 6; 1 Corinthians 1:18; 2 Corinthians 5:17-20; Galatians 2:20; 3:13; Ephesians 2:8-10;Philippians 2:12-13; Hebrews 9:24-28; Revelation 3:20)
And next part mentions the Gospel:
“The Church – God’s Design for Community
The Church is a local community of baptized believers unified through faith in Christ. It is committed to the teachings of Christ and obeying all of His commands, and it seeks to bring the Gospel to the world. The Church works together in love and unity, intent on the ultimate purpose of glorifying Christ. (Matthew 16:18-19; 18:15-20; Acts 2:41-47; 5:11-14; 13:1-3; 14:23; 16:5; 20:28; 1 Corinthians 7:17; 9:13-14; 12; Ephesians 1:22-23; 2:19-22; 3:10-12; 5:22-32; Colossians 1:18; 3:15; 1 Timothy 4:14; 1 Peter 5:1-4; Revelation 21:2-3)”
Throughout the service I was listening for that Gospel message – it proved elusive, it was not there! For a church claiming a “…conservative theological position” I found it odd… only a reference to asking Jesus to forgive your sins, and nothing on repentance but again there is nothing in the list of beliefs directly either – unless it is in one of the many verse references?
The sermon was based on a loose interpretation of Nehemiah as cup bearer where he was downcast before the king and Furtick shows how God used Nehemiah’s passion for rebuilding Jerusalem turning his misery to ministry with four points he gives in his 40 minutes:
1 Embrace your misery and make it ministry, it may be your burden or brokenness that is used for God.
2 Would you exchange your comfort for your calling?
3 Will you put the wrong people out of your life and bring the right ones in?
4 Will you take your stand against the enemies of you God?
In one part a sort of funny thing but then gets serious, (sports joke Furtick ends with a slam on a rival team) “We Furticks never cheer for that team EVER!” – SC Gamecocks and he goes on to say with GREAT fervency,
“I want to say to all of you who bear the name of Christ, ok, when you are part of the family of God there are certain things you take a stand against. We stand against sin, we stand against compromise, we stand against injustice, we stand against the devil, we take our stand against his schemes …Like Nehemiah, taking your stand with God.”
How could anyone disagree with that but it is so very hypocritical in the light of everything around it! So my thought to answer Furtick – is yes I will continue! You are next who I count as an enemy to the teachings of God’s Word. The misery I see you bring God fearing Bible Believing Churches is worthy of taking a stand against! Equally GREAT fervency if that is possible in my response!
Most of the sermon was about Elevation, its new churches and community outreach, boasting of rebuilding broken down walls, reaching those struggling with issues of life and death with the apt analogy showing so many in the churches today,
“…suffer with complacency and mediocrity, our decision is not where our next meal is going to come from… -and- …will you exchange your comfort for your calling?”
My response to Furtick, put God FIRST and see what happens, tossing out doctrine to make an attractive social Gospel message is not the answer! – There was no clear Gospel message but one of outreach in general terms only. Sin needing to be forgiven was mentioned but no mention of what any traditional conservative theological church would cover including what it means to repent – so I must ask according to their belief’s page how that:
“…aggressively reaches out to people who are far from God”???
— With crude edgy talk to appeal to the youth that as you flaunted in the message this morning on 9/11?
— An aggressive arrogant sounding tone as heard in Furtick’s sermons (documented on Apprising Ministries and other sites)?
Elevation is not my church nor one I could recommend to anyone. It teaches through actions the adoption of worldly practices to entice our youth as so many others do today. It is a church for today but not the church we see in scriptures. It is not set apart from the world, it adopts and even bridges the world’s ways — to an extreme “audacious” sort of faith that on the surface may seem vibrant and desirable, it is like so many other faddish things going on in the name of Christ that stand far away from our meek and humble Saviour!
It is so very, very wrong and it grieved me to my core to see so many swept away in this facade of a church. I normally am not so emotional in my writing but Elevation epitomizes so many “youth” focused churches. In order to reach the youth they take on worldly practices starting with the music, the language and dress and it is all setup by whom? HOLLYWOOD! Its stars, its rock stars, hip-hop and you name it all to be relevant to this generation. - That is what so very many churches have adopted!
Going back a few years, I have seen it firsthand as these pied pipers (with the so-called Christian Rockers / c-rockers) who draw our children away, some well-meaning but it is purely evil in its sources. Music acts as a leader pulling the ears of youth’s flesh, loving that sound and the next thing you’ll hear, “Mom and Dad can I am go to church with Joey next week?” – The following week and then the next they are asking “why is our church so boring?” – So was it REALLY a generational gap we had as teens or was it another LIE we were told? It is something more subtle in the way the new music has replaced so much of the music that had sound words and doctrine – with shallow repetitive worship words, is it not plain to see? Are these musicians (or producers) playing with the minds of the youth and usurping our parental authority to pad their pockets? Again as we have shown with the so-called Christian music industry, it has strong ties directly to the secular music industry – has everyone forgotten what filthy lucre is? “Titus 1:11 Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake.” GREED!
Next, why go to Elevation when you can watch it on the Internet afterwards? Since Furtick is really not there but at one of the video church outlets, is it really a Church in a Biblical sense? To me, in spite of the good people I met it was very disconnected having their pastor at another location, making it feel very impersonal. This to me is like the Corporate CEO having a video conference, very businesslike but not a church. Maybe it could pass as a parachurch organization with a powerful outreach. Well I’ve seen it, heard it, met the people and documented it.
The big push at the end was to get people (mostly youth) to stop at the orange tent out front and sign up to be a part of their e-groups which are said to be studies. Guessing some study in the Bible from what I heard and asked. Good! Perhaps if they get enough of the real Word of God they will depart this nonsense and realize they are being played by a kingdom building type preacher.
Baptism Crazy? Even more on the Elevation site at: http://www.sunstandstill.org/baptismkit
Taking a tiny step from here, Furtick in my experienced opinion is no better than the likes of those he takes shots at – comparable to someone like Jack Hyles of the not so distant past with his inoculations to the Gospel – a Gospel like what I heard lacking repentance, essentially get the kids saved, get the numbers of them baptized along with a host of “fun” programs. BUT Furtick takes that to the next level (elevates) introducing that sort of method mixed with the seeker-sensitive type programs whereas not even the Hyles types use rock or hip-hop. Furtick has no compunction at all about it. Consider the opposite to be true,
“Nothing in Scripture indicates the church should lure people to Christ by presenting Christianity as an attractive option. … The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing (I Cor. 1:18). There is no way to make it otherwise and be faithful to the message. … The gospel itself is disagreeable, unattractive, repulsive, and alarming to the world. It exposes sin, condemns pride, convicts the unbelieving heart, and shows human righteousness — even the best, most appealing aspects of human nature — to be worthless, defiled, filthy rags (cf. Isa. 64:6)” (Ashamed of the Gospel, pp. 72, 111, 128).
In their DVD given me earlier along with one music CD, still no clear gospel message. The DVD “This Is How We Changed The World – The Documentary” at Chapter 9 at 45.24min – a number of people are heard, “it was like Pentecost…” – referencing all the people coming to Christ and being baptized then someone states – “…it was just crazy, we start talking about sex and attendance sky rockets to 1800… it was nuts… was our vision from God coming to life… what are you guys doing…” Then continuing, bragging on Pastor Furtick speaking at those Christian conferences they used to attend. Heard “Catalyst”, 12000 clapping, and the “C3” Conference. They are clearly quite proud of their leader!
All of this is based on the vision of Pastor Steve Furtick starting when he was 16 as seen on this placard “It All Began When Pastor Steven Was 16 Years Old”: (Heard this mentioned several times during my visit)
Sounds like a successful entrepreneurial business venture the more I hear – and read less and less like any church. Most of this is NOTHING new like many of the others already documented. Furtick has taken a bit of this and a bit of that from the other emergent and seeker-sensitive churches and rolled it into his, including the sex talk to draw in larger numbers still. So is this the Holy Spirit convicting hearts of sin? Seriously!? Maybe you think I am being too harsh but I have been around long enough to see the rise of quite a few ministries like this and watch them fall. Too much stock put in the man versus Jesus Christ, too much stock put into making Church relevant to this rebellious generation. I state Pastor Steve Furtick is not doing Christians any favors feeding the rebellion and taking our kids that he claims as so important down the path towards something other than the Christ of the Bible – I believe that is not opinion when held to what else he is teaching and standing for.
Again, I do not recommend this church for these reasons, as appealing as it may seem: missing a real Gospel message, it’s a fleshly appeal with music, edginess, and lacking any reliable Biblical teachings to raise up our children in the way they should go. You may get some good moral people who believe in helping others without a living faith in Jesus Christ. I can point to a number of people just like them not seeing a real need for any doctrine and likely on their way to a Christless eternity! Elevation makes it a big point to focus on the “do’s” (I asked them some questions after the service) but while focusing on all of the “do’s” of the Bible they wash over the “don’ts” that must be preached to have a complete Gospel message.
Additionally, Furtick’s many associations with other heretics, emergent church leaders and etc. also gave me pause leading me to make this visit. I will leave that list for Apprising Ministries and others to continue documenting. Last, Furtick’s many immature rants from his pulpit – again as outrageous as those of Hyles and others! Ironic, so ironic!
A related side note to friends and critics alike: A word of warning if you decide to visit, I believe the music is harmful to your health physically! There are plenty of studies out there to prove heavy bass damages your hearing. Wonder if stocks in “Bell Tone” hearing aids is going up – one shot of humor not advocating gambling in stocks or wishing anyone hearing loss but we often hear that awful loud bass going down the road by us! This is a serious side issue not only with Elevation – but in many of the edgy “youthful” churches today. The high decibel levels and repeated exposure to bass will damage your hearing. As a former F-16 fighter technician, the USAF drilled that into us, even WITH hearing protection eventually you will get a degree of hearing loss… just a word of wisdom – Get educated for your kid’s sake too!