Furtick’s philosophy under fire

The pastor’s methods have been criticized, but where do we draw the line between authenticity and manipulation?

The Christian community has been in an uproar in the weeks following the most recent scandal surrounding Steven Furtick, pastor of Elevation Church.

Furtick’s ministry — which draws approximately 16,000 attendees weekly to multiple campuses in and around Charlotte, N.C. — has been the subject of intense criticism as attackers claim Furtick and his church have been manufacturing “spontaneous” baptisms of thousands of people and passing it off as miraculous.

CONTROVERSY — The megachurch’s method of baptism has caused disputes. Google Images

CONTROVERSY — The megachurch’s method of baptism has caused disputes. Google Images

I understand this issue may be concerning, but the question of whether or not Furtick has indeed been manipulating the system is, in my opinion, misguided.

Yes, we as Christians are absolutely obligated to search the scriptures and hold leadership accountable for what is said and done in church. In no way do I condone blindly following our pastors simply because they hold a title. We are exhorted in Hebrews 10 to balance biblical submission with standing up against false teachings and leadership.

But, on the same note, if Christians are taking salvation personally and responding to a true prompting of the Holy Spirit, no amount of special effects will be able to influence this calling. The core issue in the allegedly manipulated baptisms is the more important fact that church members are so easily swayed into responding from emotion.

If Elevation were to be charged with anything, it would perhaps be with not preparing its baptism participants with the truth of how significant and consequential an event like baptism truly is. Are people being rushed into this decision? But, again, the responsibility falls back to the individual.

The church is intended to be a system of support for the believer who is daily in the word of God and constantly seeking after him, not a once a week refill of encouragement provided by a cookie cutter, feel-good message.

Yes, Elevation may provide a flashy, atypical version of church: The music is loud and pounding, the atmosphere is clouded with dense fog, the technology is modern and pricey. But, as a good friend of mine once explained, the church is telling the greatest story ever told — why should it not do so using the very best equipment and products available?
Warren Cole Smith, a critic who wrote concerning Furtick for World magazine, claims unease about the mega-church pastor’s character and doctrine.

“People were willing to excuse his flamboyance and extravagant lifestyle by saying, but ‘he’s doing such great work,’” Smith wrote. “Now, this new controversy calls into serious question the legitimacy of conversion rates the church has been claiming.”

And yet, the legitimacy of conversion rates is not a standard that man is qualified to answer. Despite any of our best efforts, we will never see the true intentions of the heart. If critics are primarily worried that salvation statistics have been skewed, I would retaliate with equal concern as to whether or not so-called believers have the best interest of the church and of Furtick in mind.

We speak the truth always, but we do so in love. To the critics insulting for no other reason than to cause controversy and chaos for a pastor who is provably dedicated to preaching the word of God, you too will stand before God to answer for your words.

As Furtick said in his rebuttal against the media, “This is not the last thing that is gonna be said about us unless we put the fire out, unless we just stop growing.”
I am as wary of the mega-church movement as the next Christian skeptic, but I am equally as cautious to speak out against a man of God. Christians are cautioned throughout scripture not to speak wrongly against God’s anointed.

Neither Furtick nor his congregation are in any way immune to sin. Furtick, like the rest, is human and thus fallible and prone to err. As Christians, we recognize the shortcomings inherent in humanity, and we remain ever-conscious of the fact that we follow a perfect God who has called on an imperfect people to carry out his work.

Elevation Church is still young — it has only just celebrated eight years of ministry. Furtick and his team have a long way to go as they continue to learn and to grow. It is unfair to place the amount of expectations and standards of perfection that have been donned on this young pastor and congregation.

If sacrifices are being made for the sake of an image, and if numbers are being used to shape that image, there is a question of integrity that indeed begs addressing. Church members should not be pawns in a self-serving religious system.

And yet, wrestling with the answers to these questions and discussing the role of the church is precisely what strengthens the Christian faith and pushes us out of our complacency.

I am confident that God both has and will continue to move in the ministry at Elevation Church. And as a Christian who is earnestly concerned with seeing the gospel preached throughout our nation and our world, I pray continued anointing and boldness for Furtick and the members of his congregation.

One comment

  • I would say that Furtick is indeed manufacturing baptisms. It is all planned out, as it is shown in their “How To” guide to baptisms. To have a few people “lead the way” for others to follow is definitely an intent to provoke some kind of response. So, I would say that the authenticity of these baptisms is in question since the congregation is “swayed by emotion” indeed. How so? I have spoken to a member of Elevation and he said that the volunteers are indeed intended to sway people to respond positively to Furtick’s call, because (as the member said) they do not want them to be swayed by the devil. I know this may not reflect the thinking of Elevation, but that was the answer I was given. So the role of the Holy Spirit is questionable. As to what those of Elevation are placing their faith in, is it the Spirit or their own methods?
    The responsibility does not, sadly, fall on the individual. If the church is supposed to inform and teach others, if it fails to teach others (who do not know any better since they do not know doctrine) it falls on those who do know. Thus, Elevation is responsible for properly teaching about baptism.
    As for their flashy methods, preference is not necessarily a sin. But “why should a church not use the best equipment available?” Well, I would say because that money spent on equipment (which could cost thousands) could be used to help people in need. Furthermore, the word of God needs nothing to make it more effective.
    True, we can’t see inside someone’s “heart.” But we are to know true believers by their fruit, that is, their character. Sadly, Furtick’s character has been cast in a negative light. Do I have the best interest of the church and Furtick in mind? If I am saying this to keep them from following false doctrine, yes, since I am keeping them error. If I am doing it just to dislike them, then no. I am definitely the former. And I do it in love. If someone was in danger and did not tell them, that is not love.
    I would not be so quick to judge Furtick as a man of God or God’s anointed. That is a big, big leap of judgment. Sure he has helped many and given millions to charity. However, there will be some to claim to have done things in God’s name who will not see heaven (Matthew 7:21-23). It does not matter how many good things he has done. That is not what makes someone a “man of God.” It is much more than good works. Standing up for sound doctrine another (Titus 9), which is something Furtick has yet to do. Yes we are all imperfect AND sinful. This does not excuse us or make anything we do acceptable. Believers are to rebuke each other if they are in sin. I definitely do not want those at Elevation falling into sin and not understanding what Christianity is about.
    It is correct that Furtick is young and has a lot of growing to do. And that is telling. He has a long way to go, and if he is not told what the right path is, he will head down the wrong one, along with those at Elevation. It really is sad to see how they respond to critics; they are unwilling to listen. Also, I do not think they are on the correct path, but headed dangerously close towards a cult. A close look at their Code will show that more importance is placed on Furtick and their rules than on God and His word (see Codes 4 and 10). I am not “hating” on Furtick or Elevation at all. I do not think most critics are either. We are concerned. There are false prophets among us, and we must be able to discern who they are (1 John 4:1).

    Thanks for the article, and God bless.

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