What it’s Like to Go to an Evangelical Church

March 29, 2006 | By | 14 Replies More

Subtitle: Fear and Darkness

On June 26, 2005, I attended the 9:00 a.m. service of the first Evangelical Free Church of St. Louis County as an amateur anthropologist. The large physical church is a spacious modern structure that appears to seat about 2000 people. As I approached the parking lot I encountered the “Church police.” Wearing safety vests marked “police,” they directed traffic into the large parking lot. Large and expensive automobiles populated the parking lot. I attended the early service. Another service was scheduled to begin at 10:45 a.m.

I sat toward the right side of the pews, facing across the large expanse toward the large stage where the services was to be held. I immediately noticed the large stage and extensive stage lighting of the nine musicians on duty. They performed several songs at the beginning of the service, many of these having a gentle beat and lush harmonies characteristic of 70’s folk rock. The 70’s were probably the era during which many of the worshipers in came of age. Most of the adults looked to be between 35 and 55, all of them squeaky clean and looking content. There were almost no elderly people to be seen. That’s too bad, since the evangelicals have invested good money on first rate cushions are kind to old bones.

Every churchgoer I saw (there were probably 1500 people in the building) was Caucasian. Several hundred of the worshipers were wearing T-shirts printed with a quote from Proverbs 9:10: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

The sound system was professional quality and stage lights were run by a person perched in the balcony. There were no prayer books in the pews; words to the songs are displayed on several large monitors positioned around the church. The lyrics to songs hovered over only a few topics: one needs to constantly praise, worship and glorify God (who is apparently a very insecure Fellow). Fear and obey God without question. According to some of the song lyrics, even the mountains bow down to God. During the music, numerous people held their hands up in a gesture somewhat between a crucifixion and a touchdown. The were especially prone to do this when the music changed from verse to chorus or when the music modulated to a new key. Apparently, God waits for those moments before coming down to touch people.

The leader of the service was a distinguished looking man approximately 60 years of age. I believe his name was Kevin Hughes. He spoke of the traveling done by members of the church to spread the Good Word. He spoke of the good “harvest” the church had in Czechoslovakia. This December, members of the church will try to do some more harvesting in the Middle East. He thanked God for “being who you are” (God apparently appreciates our approval as much as our obeisance). Hughes thanked God for “not hiding from us” (though one of the song lyrics I searched “only the light hideth thee.” Hughes preached for almost forty minutes. For forty minutes, however he didn’t revel in a single natural mystery. He didn’t express any hint of joy or wonderment regarding life on this planet. It was all serious stuff.

His focus was warning the flock to stay on the straight and narrow. The audience members were told that they must accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior and work hard to get other people to do likewise. The job of the church car is to believe without any question. This “blows away all the doubts and darkness.” The purpose of life is to “glorify God forever.” He mentioned “I’m politically very conservative. I don’t mention this except when it relates to the Bible.” He mentioned that he’s met people who aren’t conservative. “They support people I can’t even bear talking to.” (audience laughing).

Hughes spoke of his many travels and his many encounters with many people. He dropped the names people with whom he has rubbed elbows over the years, including corporate executives. He spoke of many incorrect ideas regarding books on religion that he has read. He is up to this task (of daring to subject himself to incorrect ideas of others) but sternly warned the flock that they shouldn’t get any ideas to do likewise. They should stick to reading the Bible itself. “A good way to get into heresy is to read books about religion other than the Bible. Don’t do this! Any book beyond the Bible is false. Everything in the Bible is true.” He warned to sheep that they shouldn’t discuss religion with any group that considers any writing other than the Bible. “Don’t go! They are heretics!” Churchgoers should stay far away from new-agers like Shirley MacLaine Hughes sneered. He warned to beware of modern-day Gnostics “who claim that Jesus was not really a man but only a ghost.” Churchgoers should especially avoid “atheist” evolution. “Don’t believe it!” And don’t discuss any of these topics with others who promote these ideas. That is a sure road to darkness, he warned.

Hughes showed himself to be an arrogant and humorless man. He is absolutely sure that he knows the truth where others fail. In fact, many other evangelicals fail, but not Hughes: “There are many false evangelicals today.” He rails at anyone who disagrees with him. Hughes warned the churchgoers about the pomposity of those who preach falsehoods. They offer only “sin and egoism that drag us into darkness–for them, it’s my way or the highway.”

A solid ten minutes of the sermon was spent doing scriptural exegesis. This line means this and that verse means that. It’s apparently no concern of his that a God who can rise from the dead, etc., can’t write the Bible clearly enough (or inspire a translation clear enough) that its readers can understand it by its plain meaning.

Hughes had nothing to say about helping the poor or helping anyone in need. A member of the church might protest that I just happened to show up on a day when this important topic was not covered. For this reason, it is instructive to carefully read the church’s slick Welcome Brochure. On page 3, a section called “We Believe” sets forth the church’s twelve articles of faith. None of these articles recognize any obligation to help the poor or give any sort of physical assistance to needy others. The entire focus is on snuffing out one’s sense of skepticism and being a good sycophant. The lack of such a doctrinal position might serve as an invitation to continue buying their SUV’s without any guilt.

Getting saved is not the “ultimate purpose” of reading the Bible, Hughes admonished. Instead, we should be seeking “fellowship.” He then opined (in circular fashion) that fellowship would lead to sharing lives with each other and uniting bounds that “would bring life eternal with Jesus and God.” Hughes claimed that going to heaven is like a banquet in where “we’ll never have to go home and we won’t get tired.” [This brought to mind George Bernard Shaw’s quote on Heaven: “a place so inane, so dull, so useless, so miserable, that nobody has ever ventured to describe a whole day in heaven, though plenty of people have described a day at the seaside.”]. Hughes didn’t need to remind the audience that there is only one alternative to the heavenly banquet, because it is set out on page 3 of the Welcome Brochure: “everlasting conscious punishment.”

What really fires up the Evangelical church members is converting others. The big monitors repeatedly reminded the churchgoers who they are: “First Free — Contagious Christians Who Pray Fervently . . . and Passionately Spread the Flames to Metro St. Louis and beyond.” Don’t use your mind and work hard to get others to do likewise. It appeared to me that church’s approach to maintaining these flames of passion was to brainwash the audience. The clear message was that churchgoers cannot and should not think for themselves. Hughes was not there to offer assistance or encouragement. He was there to take away their intellectual teeth and to convince them that they desperately needed him to pre-chew their ideas.

He talked down to this audience from start to finish. He treated them like an abusive parent would treat his children. What else could one call it, where a man high up on a podium calls down to one’s grown children that their only duty is to unthinkingly obey or they would be severely punished. Thus is worship at this Evangelical church.



Category: Religion

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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  1. Erich Vieth says:

    Here's another first hand account of what it's like to go to a big evangelical church: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2006/5/29/193711/69… . Check out the artwork at the end of the article!


  2. Erich Vieth says:

    88 percent of the children raised in evangelical homes leave church at the age of 18, never to return, according to the Family Life Council. Not surprising, based on what I witnessed at this church. http://www.sbcannualmeeting.net/sbc02/newsroom/ne

  3. Mike says:

    I have had similiar experiences. There really are though ministries that are meaningful and spiritually healthy. I believe that God is real and that God loves and accepts us even if we are conservative with power issues, or another extreme. We are all just people and don't get close to getting it right even at our best. No matter how genuine and truely kind or spiritual we try to be, it would never be enough. That's why God became a little boy born into poverty and grew up to be one of us and die in our place to communicate love. Love that makes us all drop open our mouths in silence acutely aware that we are equal with everyone on the planet in every way. We can't look to any one else as an example of goodness except God. This love sees past our human-ness. Because of this acceptance and forgiveness we can be given humanity and can in the same way accept, forgive others and share this gift. We may even begin to have some wisdom.

  4. Bob Cork says:

    I agree with your assessment and add to it this comment. It isn't considered to be evangelical if it doesn't voice absolute support of modern Israel, despite their apartheid treatment of Palestinian Christians, who are not "evangelical"

  5. rebecca says:

    It's very arrogant to think you know what is right. There couldn't possibly be more than one truth. The evangelical church know that truth. It is Jesus. There has to be justice, even in this dark world. God would be very unloving to send Hitler to Heaven. There is a law, a moral law. We all have that law ingrained in us. We are subject to this law, and to punishment when we offend it. When we sin, we break the law. We all sin. Jesus came. Some of the most brilliant of athiest admit to a man named Jesus of Nazareth coming 2000 years ago, only to be put to death on a cross for High treason. There is enough proof that he came. No one was ever able to locate his dead body. For a great reason many people have loved hard and been put to death on account of Him. He is the one truth. When your eyes open to this truth, your mind will see the church differently. He is the gateway to heaven. Without Him all of us are doomed to Hell. Where we should be. God is good. All we have to do is believe in order to have eternal life. That is where the joy is. That is His gift to us. We don't deserve it, but he gives it to us because he loves us. If I am wrong I go where you believe to be nowhere when I die. If I am right I go to Heaven. If you are wrong, you go to hell. a lake of fire. Where thieves, murderers, and liars live. there is no way out. Id rather be me than you any day.

    [Admin's note: Although this comment flagrantly breaks DI's preaching policy, I let it through as yet more proof that I am going to hell.]

  6. Jay Fraz says:

    Be sure and get to heaven so you can say hi to Jeffrey Dahmer (he converted in prison), its to bad about those people he killed during their sins though.

    Ironic, everyone Dahmer killed lost the opportunity to repent as their prurient interest got them into their situation, yet Dahmer himself got to repent.

    Dahmer in Heaven.

    Sounds like a good name for an atheist site actually.

  7. Jay Fraz says:

    Oh MY, I actually google 'Dahmer in heaven', I didn't expect this comment.

    Amen, a true testimony of the healing power of JESUS!

    Yes, Brother Jeff did commit homosexual acts with teenage boys whom he enjoyed drugging, torturing, photographing, raping, emasculating and freezing, but GOD saw past all of that, and redeemed Him as one of His own!

    And let's face it: In the end Dahmer was removing gays from the Earth, which means he was doing something right. After all, even a broken clock is right twice a day!

    I know a lot of the actions he engaged in were wrong, but I can't help but feel True Christian pride in Dahmer's willingness to rid us of the queers. I feel much of the same pride regarding John Wayne Gacy, for his attempt to exterminate the "punks and queers" of our planet! Is that so bad?

    from this post.


  8. Jay Fraz says:

    I've been hoodwinked. That is a parody site.

    I read a little further and was like their is no way this is real.


    all is good.

    Except Dahmer IS in heaven.

  9. Brandon Johnson says:

    It is amazing how many people in the world today have still not crawled out from the narrow-minded mindset of the dark ages. How can anyone worship such a selfish, egotistical maniac they consider their Lord and Savior? These evangelicals are not Christians, their only interest is to serve themselves by getting into Heaven. Christian or not, people should be focusing on helping one another and making the world a better place. Not worrying about being cast into some mythical lake of fire their whole lives! I am sorry, but the evangelical depiction of God is a monster! What kind of loving God would throw his children into a horrible place where they will be tortured for always and eternity just because they do not accept everything some wacko church preaches! In fact, early early Christianity did not even have historical records of Hell. It was probably made up by some psychotic religious leader who used Hell as a scare tactic into converting everyone for political gain. It is high time for Evangelicals to wake up!!

  10. Jim jorgensen says:

    What is so horrible about a God who loves his creatures enough to offer a way of payment for their rebellion against Him? We all innately understand justice and our consciences accuse us. What we all deserve is hell now! Seek glory in the the things of this world or proclaim the glory of the Creator.

  11. Penny says:

    Three major areas where I disagree with what evangelicals say: first, I do not believe in as$urance of salvation. No matter how repentant we are, and how good we strive to be, it is only by the grace of God that any of us will get into Heaven. Their extreme focus on the world’s end means they tend to forget what is important on earth: helping the poor and needy, taking care of our animals and natural resources, and developing qualities like humility and patience. Second problem I have with the evangelical church is that they believe conversion to their way can only be motivated by fear of hell. How do you raise up a child in a good way? You balance the correction with lots of love and encouragement. You keep in mind that it is about progress, not perfection. Third major issue is sola scriptura. The printing press is a relatively new invention. How, then, was the written Word taught and spread around the world? Orally, of course, and over hundreds of years. Scripture was interpreted and voiced in different ways. I am a Protestant, but am getting increasingly fed up with its fragmentation. The disagreements over how to worship and spread the Gospel is enough to confuse anybody.

  12. Mike M. says:

    Penny, only three?
    Anyway, “increasingly fed up” is a positive, natural evolution leading eventually to the freedom and clarity of not worshiping and not spreading any other gospel but your own.
    Self-rule = true liberty.

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