10/08/2011 | Share this article: View CommentsBy Larry C. ~
"Brother John" was a gregarious Baptist preacher who pastored The First Baptist Church of Oldsmar, Florida in the 1970s and early 1980s. Sometime in the 1970s Brother John switched from being a traditional Baptist preacher and went Pentecostal. But John just didn't go mainstream pentecostal. No, he became attracted to the lunatic fringe (of the lunatic fringe?)of the pentecostal movement: the Word of Faith message as promoted by evangelists Kennth Hagin and Kenneth Copeland.
Hagin and Copeland took the idea of the absolute authority of the bible to the nth degree. The Word of Faith movement emphasized the idea of "faith" to the point that you could reject modern science, medicine, etc. if one truly believed in "the promises" of God for one's health and financial prosperity, then you don't need all this man-made treatments and props. The Word of Faith folks are like Bible-believers on speed.
Though he had no formal theological education, and perhaps not even a high school diploma, he was called to be the pastor of a small, country Baptist congregation of two dozen people.
John's natural gift for public speaking, story-telling, drama and comedic timing, quickly made Oldsmar Baptist a growing church. When John discovered the Word of Faith message, he used his persuasive skills to convince people that they didn't need doctors, medicine or be concerned about anything IF they were "walking in faith". John, also claimed that he had been miraculously healed of a fatal heart condition and so was a living testimony to the truthfulness of his message of divine healing by faith alone. John would tell us that God is "no respector of persons"; what he did for him he'll do for you; if you will only "believe" God's message of healing.
But here was the other message I also received from sitting under Brother John's preaching: if you don't get blessed with health and wealth, then the fault is not with God, the bible or the Word of Faith message. No, the problem is YOU. You somehow, by lack of a pure enough faith, secret sin, or some kind of uncleanness, were blocking God from being able to deliver on His promises. God wants to bless you so badly, but you wont let Him! Therefore, you need to study His Word more, pray "in the Spirit" and "pray without ceasing," and fill your mind with nothing but that which is holy and heavenly. This meant, of course, that reading the daily newspaper was pretty much out; so too television, movies and all those media outlets which do nothing but spew fourth "doubt and unbelief" about the things of God.
The longer I was in the church, the more cut-off I was from what was happening in the world. I was living in a large metropolitan area, but for all practical purposes, I was mentally disconnected from all that was going on around me: go to church; go home; go to church; go to work. Monkey see, hear or speak nothing that isn't "biblical".
Some very terrible things happened under Brother John's glory (gory?)days at the height of his pastoral ministry during 1980-1983: people died trying to make the "promises" for healing work.
In my own case, I can now see how I got seduced by it all. I was in my mid-twenties, broke, working at low-paying jobs with a psychotic wife (I interpreted her problems "biblically" and had decided that she was demon-possessed).
I was also depressed and anxious from the continual struggle to survive. I wanted to believe that things would get better; Brother John said they would if I followed the bible and walked in faith. Brother John's personal charisma, confidence and preaching. . .and the ever growing congregation, seemed to be evidence in my charismatic way of thinking, that "God" was blessing him and he had been chosen by God for this ministry at this time. I, therefore, needed to pay attention to what he said. I felt that God had led me to Oldsmar to prepare me for future ministry. And as a step towards eventual ordination, Brother John "licensed" me as a Baptist minister.
I felt fortunate to be at a church where real revival was breaking out, people were getting healed and God was working miracles. It was all so exciting. The music and worship were so uplifting. In hindsight, I now see that I used the music and messages as a form of anti-depressant medication.
At that time in my life, I was an addict; I was hooked on this religious high that I had to keep returning to week after week in order to get my fix and to help me ignore my depression and the reality of living. And like all addicts, I was up to my ears in denial about what was really going on. When you are trained to think only in "biblical" terms, as I had been, then you have learned how to not think at all.
I should have questioned things when we had this new member die. He was a Type 2 Diabetic. He took Brother John's Word of Faith message to heart and applied it to his own health. He decided to stop taking his insulin and "claim" the promise of God for healing. After a few days of being off of it, he felt fine. He got up before hundreds of people on a Sunday morning service and testified how God had healed him of his need for taking insulin. Brother John gave him a big hug after his testimoney and shouted "Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord!" The congregation was ecstatic. Our own in-house Jesus rock band cranked up the music and we were dancing and singing in the Spirit.
But things turned out not to be all that miraculous as the week went on: the young man started going into insulin shock. John and the Elders were called to come and pray for him. They stood around and prayed in faith that he would get the victory over his illness. And right as he started drifting into a coma, the young man uttered the words, "Take me home Lord Jesus." He died shortly there after.
His death sent shock waves throughout the church. People were starting to ask questions: were we taking this faith thing too far? Maybe you can go to the doctor and still believe the bible? John stood up confidently before the congregation the following Sunday and gave us God's view of all this.
He started out by saying that Satan was trying to use this death to sow doubt and unbelief in the fellowship; and that this death would either "make or break" our church. This young man's death did not shake his faith: he was still going to believe The Word no matter what!
John went on to explain why this man died. What had actually happened is that God did do what the young man asked; for right before he slipped into a coma, he uttered his final words, "Take me home, Lord Jesus".
"And guess what God did?" John asked. "God answered his prayer!"
John explained: had the young man just kept believing for his healing, he would have surely been healed because that is what the bible promises (and God 'can't lie'). But he had made a "confession" for death, and God granted it to him.
Relief swept over the congregation. We knew there was a clear "biblical" answer for why he didn't get healed: he was responsible for his own death. Clearly Brother John and the Elders did not do anything wrong. Everything they did was based on clear biblical principles. They are absolved of all responsibility.
And the church's mentality? It was this: Praise the Lord! God's promises are true. And some day we'll get to see our brother in heaven! Thank you Jesus!
John further elaborated that this young man's death may have been God's will all along because prior to him becoming a born-again Christian, he had lived a very sinful life. Perhaps God knew that he might fall back into that sinful living again and end up in hell forever. So, God did him an eternal favor by taking him now before he messed things up for himself. Wheeewww! Praise the Lord! The ways of God are truly beyond us.
The church did not break apart; in fact, it continued to grow and things got crazier.
John also allowed Carol Balizet, the high priestess of loony charismatic faith healing culture, to promote her Christian home-birth views from Oldsmar (1979-1983). Carol was another wing-nut who promoted the Word of Faith extremist approach. Most of the kids born under her "ministry" were ok, but some were not, such as my son. My wife had a three-day labor and Carol and other christian "mid-wives" were there offering prayer and faith and encouragement to not bother with hospitals, doctors or medicine (because that was all part of the 'Babylonian' world system that Jesus is going to destroy when he returns).
The end result was my son was born with preventable disabilities due to a lack of oxygen, although at the time of his birth we did not know this. We named our son Joshua, which means "Jehovah Saves".
When he was born, Joshua was gray in color and limp as a dish rag, Carol never once - even with her 30 years of work as a nurse - say anything to me that something may be wrong and we should get our kid to a hospital. No, everything was "praise the Lord" and staying in la-la hyper-spiritual charismatic fantasy world of "victory" in this life.
I almost died myself shortly after my son's birth by refusing to go to the hospital in April of 1982 when I came down with an appendicitis. I kept confessing my victory over the pain and that "by his stripes" I am healed. After about ten hours of the most pain I have ever experienced, I told my wife to drive me to a hospital ER where they did an emergency appendectomy. The thing almost burst. A real close call.
(I didn't have health insurance because I had turned it down at work as an act of faith in God's provision. Brother John taught that having health insurance was a sign that one was not truly trusting God for everything. At the for-profit hospital ER I went to, they had to beg a surgeon to come in off his golf game and do the appendectomy. I overheard staff pleading with him by phone that, "No, he does not have any health insurance" and the appendix was close to rupturing. The doc eventually showed up three hours later!)
I lost my job as a plumber's helper because I couldn't work for several months. We packed up everything we owned in my car and returned to Tennessee and stayed with family. I ended up joining the Army in the Fall of 1982 just to have a job and to be able to pay for my son's mounting medical bills. I was still a believer, but I was starting to become open to questioning things.
About a year after leaving Oldsmar, I heard that our mighty "anointed" man of God had resigned as pastor because he had been having a long-term affair with the young, married (ex-nudist) lady who ran the "tape ministry".
The revelation of his affair floored me. So it turned out that while John was telling us to "walk in faith" and to take risks on our lives (and that of our children), he did not even have enough "faith" to keep his pants on!
The news of the affair also caused me to start questioning the whole pentecostal belief that God can still speak by prophecy.
Why had The Lord not revealed that Brother John was a fake and possible had prevented the deaths that occured due to his persuasive preaching?
Why had the Lord not revealed to any of our prophets in the church what the real deal was? God was always giving us prophecies via different brothers and sisters in the congregation, so why had the Lord not given someone a message like this:
"Yea, my people, Brother John is doing the tape ministry girl and he needs to repent or I will punish him for his sins"
Now, that would have been a real prophecy!
I discovered that Brother John passed away a couple of years ago. I was told that in his later years, he had a number of illnesses and was in and out of hospitals for treatments. Eventually, he ended up in a nursing home for years with Alzheimers before he died.
It has now been over 30 years since I was caught up in all that craziness. This past week my ex-wife (who is now on medications which manage her psychosis well) and our other four, adult children, all gathered to celebrate my son Joshua's 30th birthday. Mentally, he has the intelligence and personality of a four year old. I carry with me deep regret that he has never had a normal life; and it was all because we became involved with Brother John and his fantasy message of faith. I look at him now and wonder what he would have been like had we just had a regular birth in a regular hospital. I still tell Joshua "I'm sorry," but he doesn't understand.
I found on the net some accolades about Brother John's life and ministry. I read these tributes and they make me mad. You know, what a wonderful "man of God" he was and how he blessed so many people with his preaching. No reference to banging the hottie who ran the tape ministry which brought down his ministry. No reference to the people who died as a result of his preaching. As far as I know, he never made any amends to anyone for the terrible things that happened. I know he never made any amends to me or my son.
As a young man, I looked to Brother John to help me learn how to be a "man of faith" like he was. In the end, he did give me a precious gift: THE GIFT OF DOUBT.
Thank you John Stanton. May you rest in peace.