Circus Town Revisited, Part 2

Circus Town Revisited, Part 2

Hi Everyone.

This is a follow-on from an earlier post – Circus Town, Revisited – Part 1, re-examining my earlier assessment of Arise Church, to see if either they have changed, or if I need to eat some humble pie, and ask the Lead Pastor, John Cameron, for forgiveness.

So firstly, let’s take a look at the Arise website, to see if anything has changed.

The landing page is busy – I am presented with the message “Know God Know Life”, with a video montage playing in the background. Pretty modern and snappy, for a modern church.

Clicking on the hamburger menu, it displays multiple locations around the country. There’s many more on the list than before – I hope that’s a good thing, not a bad thing!

Ok, let’s click onto the leadership page. Straight away I am met with a full page picture of John & Gillian Cameron, with the title ‘Lead Pastors’. Uh-oh, that’s not a good start.

I know it’s not popular these days to criticize a woman working in a man’s role – more so in the workplace. I get it, this is the 21st century… So, why should it be a problem in Christ’s church? Can’t a woman do just as good a job as a man in leading a church? Am I being sexist?

Luckily, God’s Word speaks on my behalf:

“Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. Nevertheless she will be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control.” (1 Tim 2:11-15).

So Paul stipulates that a woman is prohibited from teaching and having authority over men, but not because at the time of writing the letter women were somehow inferior. Paul actually harkens back to the 6th day of creation, when prior to the first sin, God instituted a perfect order to follow. According to Paul, the reason is For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. Adam was responsible, and is credited with the first sin, but Eve was responsible, and credited with the first deception. She stepped outside the bounds of headship and protection from her husband, the order that God had instituted. She thought she could take matters into her own hands, but as a result, she was deceived, and fell into transgression. 

The church is designed to be a mirror of this union. When a man endorses a woman to act outside her God-given role in the church, he is inviting deception and transgression into the body. But note that what I am NOT saying. I am not saying that men cannot be deceived. The only reason Paul gives is the deception of the woman, so that is all we can read into it. However, we can determine that, just as Adam was held responsible for the sin of the woman, so too will the men of His body for disobeying His Word, and allowing women to have authority over them. 

I’m not getting any further into the Complimentarian vs Egalitarian argument. Nor am I brave enough to admonish Paul for being a sexist dinosaur, and not with the times. If I question him on this subject, what sort of Pandora’s Box does it open with regards to his other teachings? To do so would be a dark spiral into disobedience. In the end, it is just easier to let the verses speak for themselves.

Moving along, If I drill into the Wellington City Campus, and scroll down, nothing has changed with regards to their Pastors either – the leaders themselves have changed, but are still a husband and wife co-Pastor-ship of Ray & Emma Moore.

If I click on the Hutt Valley link, I see a nice architect’s rendition of the new Arise Centre. It looks very flash indeed. I have driven past it on State Highway 2 and have been awed by it hundreds of times. They have a husband and wife Pastor-ship of Chris and Anna White. It looks weird, but it seems the Wellington & Hutt Valley Campuses both meet at the Arise Centre in the Hutt Valley, but have different pastors.

So, church leadership is still a big problem at Arise Church – they are still disobedient in that regard. That’s sad. Really sad.

OK, so let’s browse the sermons. At the time of writing this, it seems they are in the middle of a series entitled ‘Check the Foundations’. Not a bad thing to do occasionally, to have a health check, to ensure you are on the right path. I seem to remember when I visited they were teaching along this line as well – ‘Why We Do What We Do’ Series. What a train wreck that was, so let’s see if anything has improved.

The latest offering is from Gillian Cameron, so I’ll bypass that. Since it’s a disobedient woman teaching to men, it’s automatically a false teaching. I’m guessing the opening line will be something like “God placed this message on my heart to share to you”. The truth is, God would want nothing to do with a woman giving Him the proverbial finger, and flagrantly disobeying His Word by teaching men. Good luck with that on Judgement Day, is all I can say!

The previous offering was from John Cameron, entitled ‘Drifting into the Shallows’. Hmm, a strange title. But, OK, it could be a warning towards the temptation of sin. It could be a plea to keep yourself grounded in the Word, in order to prevent straying away from God. I’m keeping my options open here. There’s no real point trying to exegete a sermon title. So, let’s click on it, and see what we’ve got. 

 

 

Straight away the video previews. It has a sermon excerpt on the screen “The quality of your life is primarily decided by the quality of your relationships”. Hmmm, I’m not sure if I would want that to be a phrase that captures the essence of a sermon I would preach. I hope he’s not going to turn a catchphrase into a sermon. Relationships and shallows – I’m guessing, given the sermon title, it’s a play on words about shallow relationships?

So, I’m taking a big breath, saying a prayer of protection, and clicking on the video…

The sermon opens to Cameron sitting on a chair, centre stage. He has a few others around him, also seated, spaced apart. The sermon was dated 13 September, so I’m wondering if they were still affected by COVID-19 restrictions. He’s looking into the crowd, so it looks like there is still some semblance of a congregation.

He says he’s going to preach a sermon that he’s “super excited about”, and believes God is going to do something super powerful. Apparently the Lord spoke to him during his wife’s “powerful, life-changing message”, and that He told him to “re-lay the foundations”. Alright, then. I am confused as to why he didn’t hear God chastise him for letting his wife lead, and preach to men, but there you go. That throws doubt into whether either of them are capable of hearing anything God says. Man, I wish the manipulative piano playing would stop.

He says they are on a second wave, that they are going to go bigger, go further, reach the “whole nation of New Zealand with Arise Campuses all over the country”. OK, so we are starting with preaching about themselves. “I” and “We” are the dominant nouns here. COVID-19 has infected, and mangled this country, but it will be a walk in the park compared to the spread of Arise-itis. But, not only that, they are “going international, outside the shores of New Zealand”. OK, so they want another worldwide pandemic. This is scary stuff – someone better alert the Prime Minister and the W.H.O. At this rate, we’ll be headed for another Level 4 lockdown!

He wants me to go back and listen to a sermon entitled “Relational Faith”. Apparently he’s going to build off of that sermon. I think I’ll pass for now.

We are turning to Mark 3:14. Before he reads it, I stop the recording to get some context. A quick look from verse 1 tells me it’s when Jesus heals a man’s withered hand inside the synagogue, which is a big no-no to the Pharisees. This is when they start to plot to have Him killed. A huge crowd from Galilee follows Him, to the point that – because He healed so many of them – he had to source a boat to whisk Him away from them. He went to the top of the mount, and appointed His 12 apostles.

Cameron reads verse 14 out. He’s zooming into the reason why he chose the 12, that they might be with Him, and that He might send them out to preach.

Cameron prays, and afterwards, phew – the piano player finally stops.

Cameron begins by telling us how COVID-19 has affected our connectedness – with all the online availability, it is causing us to become shallow. 

He emphasises the point again, and the 6 people around him start taking notes, and making the yummy sound – you know, that noise you make when you take your first spoonful of that delicious morsel you’ve been yearning for all day. I’m wondering if that’s the reason why they are on stage with him.

So he carries on this theme of making our social media our real lives, when it’s all staged. By the nodding and the yummy agreement, I think they’ve got it now, John. It’s time to move on.

He’s focusing on the fact that we are more intent to let the world see more of the person we want them to see, rather than the real person. It hides a persona of insecurity, and shallowness. Good yummy responses to that. Let’s call it the ‘yummy-ometer’, to help us gauge the impact of what he is saying.

Apparently we exude the culture of openness, but are more apprehensive about real intimacy, and real commitment. I have no idea what any of this has to do with Mark 3, but let’s keep going.

“We value persona over character”. The yummy-ometer agrees with that, but I can’t find anything in that throw-away statement to link to Mark 3.

“We are selling illusion over reality. As a culture, we are drifting into the shallows”. Look like I was right with regards to the play on the sermon excerpt.

Apparently we can be with people, but more worried about our online persona. The disciples never owned cellphones, so apart from making the same point over and over, I fail the see what this has to do with Jesus calling the 12.

“Drifting into the shallows comes at the cost of the depth of our relationships.”. That’s a nice catchphrase, but this is supposed to be a church service, not a TED Talk. We are 10 minutes into this ‘sermon’, but so far Jesus hasn’t rated a mention. So far, all you’ve pointed us to, is ourselves and our faults.

“What will define your life is the depth, connectedness of your relationships”. That earnt a spike on the yummy-ometer, but that has, and never will, define me. If I had no relationships on this earth, I should still be perfectly happy, because my identity is in Christ, not myself. This is like an anti-sermon – pointing us away from God.

“We need to sit back and ask ‘What would Jesus do with my smartphone? What would he prioritise if He was living my life in 2020?’. Because if I could live the way Jesus lived, then I could have the plan that Jesus has for me”. First, that doesn’t even make sense. And secondly, it’s not even a biblical argument. All that does is put us under the law – the LAST thing we should do is compare ourselves to the Son of God, the only perfect person to have lived. The yummy-ometer didn’t think so, though.

“Jesus prioritised the depth of His relationships with others”. Again, comparing ourselves to Jesus just makes us feel inadequate. It puts us on a path of works righteousness, which is futile. It is like a hamster on a wheel – we exude a lot of energy trying to improve ourselves, but it gets us nowhere, because we never arrive – there is always another spiritual rung to reach for.

“The first events of Jesus on earth are not sermons, but conversations with His disciples. When you look at the life and times of Jesus, you will see that He has not given His lions’ share of time to crowds, and a publicly presented persona”. One of the people on stage has a lightbulb moment, and starts making notes. I read the first part of Mark 3 earlier, which makes a mockery of that statement. I would argue that Jesus spent more time in public trying to convince all His followers (disciples or not) of exactly who He was – the Son of God in human flesh.

Cameron is trying to convince us that Jesus would rather spend His time with His disciples than with the public. Cameron is reading into the verse something that isn’t there.

“When the crowds are largest, we find Jesus praying all night”. That’s not in Mark 3. I think he’s confusing the Gospel accounts with when Jesus was in Gethsemane the night before His crucifixion. He says that Jesus prayed all night before He appointed His disciples. That’s not in the text, either. I don’t know where he’s getting this from.

 “He chose 12. Why? That they might be with Him, and that He might send them out to preach. That they may have increased proximity to Jesus, and that they may have increased influence on the world”. The yummy-ometer is working overtime, but Cameron is pulling a fast one here. Christians are not called to have influence in the world. The world hates us because we love Christ: 

“If the world hates you, know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its’ own. Yet, because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (John 15:18-19).

 A sure sign that you are a Christian is if the world hates you. This should be a good thing. Christians are promised persecution (2 Tim 3:12). We should be preaching the Gospel to the world, not trying to buddy-up and be influencers of them. Those that try to be friends of the world often end up being back-stabbed by them, and get dis-heartened when they thought the world would accept them with open arms. Cameron is setting his flock up for failure, by promising them false hope that the Bible warns against. This does not sound like a Pastor who cares for his flock.

He said ‘I’m going to prioritise those who I have the greatest impact on. There is so many things that can compete with my time”. No verse says that. Cameron is adding to scripture by putting words in Jesus’ mouth – a very foolish thing for a preacher to do.

For some reason, Cameron again reverts back to the dangers of social media, saying to his flock they should stay off Tinder, and instead come to meet someone at church. He wants an ‘Amen’ for that, and the yummy-ometer crowd oblige. You can feel his hype increasing. They like it when he preaches nice things about them. He repeats himself, and the yummy crowd are now cheering him on, like his own select mosh-pit.

“He appointed the 12 so that He would have the greatest impact on them, and they would have the greatest impact on the world around them”. Um, again, Christians aren’t called to make an impact, we are called to make disciples.

“What’s your priority, your investment? Jesus said ‘here’s my investment – I want to be with some people’ “. I can’t read those words in Mark 3 anywhere. He must be quoting the Cameron Paraphrased Bible.

He (mis)quotes Jesus again ” ‘ If I can be with people, then I can send them out.’ And if  you and I aren’t committed to being with people, then our impact on people is going to be superficial, and with equal certainty, our impact on the world is going to be superficial too. So let’s make sure we learn from Jesus, and we’re being with people – prioritising relationships, getting out of the shallows that we’re drifting into as a culture”.

There is no teaching in the Bible that says that my impact on the world is conditional to my level of personal relationships. That’s because it’s not a Christian teaching. This is why Cameron should stick to the text, and not his made up doctrine. The yummy-ometer mumbles. I think they were a bit confused with that one. I heard lots of ‘wows’. Apparently that was deep, but it was actually more akin to gift-wrapped equine scatology.

Cameron directs us to Acts 4, so let’s jump ahead to get some context. This is the arrest and custody of Peter and John for preaching Christ. The next morning they are brought before the High Priest, and asked to explain themselves. Peter takes the opportunity to preach, convict and astound them. They determine to threaten Peter and John to not preach anymore, to which they replied that they listen to God, not man. When they let them go, they went back to their companions and told them what happened. They praised God together, and were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Nice story, but let’s see where Cameron takes us.

 He starts in verse 13, honing in on the fact that they were amazed at what Peter and John could do. “People have a perception of what they can expect from you. They decide that from where you come from, the way you look, the level of education, the number of followers on your social media. Here were Peter and John, they were fishermen. When we are looking for influencers…that is not where we look…you may not have the education, the followers, the influence…they couldn’t believe it, because here were 2 people making a massive dent on culture”. I hope he’s not going to compare ‘massive dent in culture’ with preaching the Gospel. Please, no.

“Now, let’s read the second half. When they saw they were unschooled and ordinary, they were astonished, and took note that they had been with Jesus. Unable to put their finger on a natural cause for the influence Peter and John were having on their society. They said the reason they had a profound impact is because they had been with Jesus”. Cameron twisted the last bit. The text doesn’t mention any ‘societal impact’ of being with Jesus. The yummy-ometer needle spikes again.

“The X-factor of their lives was their connectedness to Jesus”. Horray, finally a truth statement, but I’m suspicious where he’s going with it.

“The depth of their relationship with Jesus is credited the reason for the impact they were having on the world in which they lived. And friends, I want you to know that it’s not just those disciples that can be a credit to the power of deep relationships. But the people that you meet every day, the others that can be in your world – that is the way that you and I can see change come in the world in which we live. It’s when we are committed to getting out of the shallows. The greatest gift you can give to others is your deep relationship with them”. I think the yummy-ometer just hit 11.

I’m a little confused as to who I’m supposed to be developing deep relationships with. Is it other people, or is it Jesus? Peter and John had a deep relationship with Jesus, and each other. Who else? Alternatively, what if I don’t have any deep relationships with anybody – am I useless to God? Can I therefore not ‘make an impact’ on the world? According to the first part of the sermon, I had to be more like Jesus. Now I’m supposed to develop more deep relationships in order to be able to change the world. If I’m more like Christ, surely that part would take care of itself? This is a bit ambiguous. I feel Cameron is trying so hard to squeeze his ‘drifting into the shallows’ doctrine into scripture, but it has rendered scripture powerless, and the sermon has lost its’ meaning.

“Sharing your time with others…investing your time with others, is the greatest gift you can give. And it’s the best way Christians can have influence in the world, and bring change.” He wants a big ‘Amen’ for that, but I feel exhausted. I feel like I’m being chastised, and whipped for not bettering myself. This is all pointing to me – what I am lacking, what I need to do, what principles I need to put in place to be a better person; a heavy yolk that I have to bear myself. No cross-bound Jesus in this sermon. It’s all about me.

“We are the church, and we need to get out of the shallows. We need to be committed to real relationships with others. Jesus said He was going to give 12 people close relationship to Me, because if they can be close to Me, then they will be with me, and I can send them out to preach. I’m going to have a great impact on them, they are going to have a great impact on the world around them.” None of this discourse is found in the Bible – Cameron inserted it in.

“Then we flip it to Acts 4, where they are having a massive impact, changing the culture of Jerusalem, bringing the testimony to Jesus, less than 70 days from His crucifixion.” Can you tell me a bit more about this crucifixion please? Why was he crucified? So that we can have better relationships with others, just like He did?

“Then people can say ‘look at their courage. They are unschooled and ordinary. And the only way we can credit their success is that they have been with Jesus. You gotta understand that we are reading a testimony in the Bible that real and deep relationships WORK!” The word ‘work’ was screamed out. Apparently deep relationships bring change to the lives of people, and lead to a changed world. And there you go, it’s all about who I can be. I can be an influencer in the world. Please stand up, and applaud. Give glory to me, because I’m somebody. I’m important. I’m changing the world! This is making me nauseas. 

Cameron says that in order to make a difference in the world, we need a deeper relationship with God and others. We gotta be committed to it. Apparently this is the will of God for us in our lives. Well, if it’s God’s will, then you better snap to it! It’s all up to you! 

“I preached this a few weeks ago – what was the greatest commandment? Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love your neighbour as you love yourself…in other words, the greatest things you need to know, the entire will of God that you need to know is the greatest commandment that God ever gave you, was love God and love people. I love that, because Christian, hear me – you can be in the will of God so easily.” Apparently, this is all you need to know – you are in the will of God if you just wake up every day and say ‘let me love you God wholeheartedly, and let me love people fervently.’ “When that’s your daily prayer, you are in the will of God”. Good luck with that, is all I can say.

OK, this is the easiest lie to refute. It’s easy, because it’s Christianity 101! The condensed law that Jesus narrowed down in the Gospels to loving God with all heart, soul, and mind, and loving your neighbour as yourself (Matt 22:37-38), was the 10 Commandments. This was for the Jew to keep. Obviously, this was impossible to do, so the High Priest would atone for the sins once a year through the slaughter of a perfect lamb. If the Messiah had not come, the Jew would still be required to do this today.

Enter Jesus, the Messiah. Jesus did not come into the world to abolish the law, but to fulfil it (Mat 5:17). He became the perfect sacrificial lamb that would take away the sins of the world. He was the only one who could atone for our sins, because He was the one who had never sinned. A one-time act, to redeem all who placed their faith in Him – both Jew and Gentile! A Christian does not have to work to fulfil the 10 Commandments, because his faith is in the one who fulfilled them for us on the cross. We are not justified by keeping the law. We are justified because Christ has already redeemed us from the law.

So, working to keep the law for us is pointless. It is impossible without recognising that it is already done for us by a merciful Saviour.

Somehow, all this is lost on Cameron. This begs the question: is John Cameron actually a Christian? I don’t know his heart, but if he was, then why is he saying the things that are counter to the Bible; namely pointing people away from Christ and to themselves, and trying to fulfil the law in their own strength?

Let’s move on: “Have you found that we are more connected yet more isolated? I can see what you’re doing, but know you less than I did before…it isn’t God that’s bringing superficiality into our world, and it isn’t God that looks at the world and says ‘I want it isolated’. Jesus came so we would be connected to God. And Jesus came so that we would be connected to other people…”. Well, that’s true, but tell us how He did that, John. Please! You have people out there that need to know the Gospel. They are tired from all the work, work, work that you have laid on them. Please, give them some hope!

“…but the devil measures his success by the degree by which he can isolate us from meaningful relationships with God, and other people. The more our culture feels alone, the more hell is winning”. So how has God conquered the devil, John? I can’t do it on my own, I need Christ’s resurrected help. I’m too tired from trying to fulfil the commandments, from doing good. Tell me about how I can be saved outside of myself!

“We are the church. We don’t let the devil win. We love people, that’s what we do.”. We, meaning safety in numbers? Or we as a group of people redeemed and justified already in Christ? It’s hard to know with this message.

Cameron leads us to Revelation 2:2-4. “I knew the Lord lead me to this, so that I could preach it to you this morning.” Again, I doubt it, but let’s humour him. Ugh, the cheesy keyboard has started up again, a manipulation technique to try to convince us that the Holy Spirit is now descending on them. I feel sick.

He reads verse 2 & 3:

“I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary.” 

“Don’t you love it when God just looks at you and says ‘you just didn’t quit. I’m so proud of you, you didn’t quit’. But then he says “But I have this complaint against you; you don’t love me, or each other, as you first did.”. What? The verse actually says: 

Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love.

“You don’t love me, or each other, as you did at first”. Not sure what translation that was, but I’m sure Cameron is twisting the verse in order to fit his narrative in. This is despicable.

“You’re drifting into the shallows. You’re letting the superficial win”. This sermon is now drifting into absurdity. What’s the point of reading the Bible, if you’re going to completely ignore what it says?

“I feel that at Arise, for this season, the Lord is telling us for this season that we are drifting into the shallows”. Well, that’s a relief – it’s only for Arise, for this season. I feel sorry for his flock, who get fed scraps of garbage with no nutritional value.

“We are His church. And God doesn’t want us to drift into the shallows”. If you were His church, He would have made sure you gave his sheep the Gospel.

 “God wants us to change the world.” No, He wants you to preach the Gospel. You read it out yourself in Mark 3. If you want to go and change the world, it probably wasn’t God talking to you.

“At Arise, we have 6 values: Love, Grow, Give, Smile, Excel, Unite, Arise. Our most important value? We love other people. I’d go to the wall over that”. You would go to the wall over a commandment that’s impossible to keep? No wonder you keep needing to berate your flock every week.

“If the church had 100,000 people attend, but no one loved the person next to them, I would shrink the church until it did”. Your membership role would be zero if that was the case. I’ve given up recording the yummy-ometer, as it is getting as drony as the keyboard.

Cameron is going on and on about Arise. It is finishing as it started – the ‘We’ and ‘I’ nouns have taken control again.

“I’ve preached this lots of times, but let me remind you again of this one thing: the greatest determiner of the revival potential of the church will always be our willingness to pay the price of relational discipleship”. What a load of unbiblical drivel.

And that sums it all up, folks. If that was the main value painted on the wall of a church, would you walk through its’ doors? I wouldn’t. No mention of Christ. No need for Christ actually, because apparently it’s all up to us. Love God and love others. Trying to fulfil the law that Christ has already fulfilled for us.

So, in summary, has Arise changed? Has John Cameron changed? I would say, sadly, no. Am I surprised? No, but I am disappointed. Instead of repenting of his Bible-twisting, Cameron has doubled-down. It seems he is deliberately taking scripture, and emphasising the opposite of what was written.

I pray for the flock that come under this teaching. I pray the scales will be lifted from their eyes. I pray that they will see the deception for what it is, and flee the wrath.

But mostly I pray for John Cameron. I pray that the Lord will convict his heart of the lies and deceit he has taken on, and dispensed. I pray that as Cameron reads God’s Word, his eyes will be open, and the Holy Spirit will reveal Himself through the inspired words. 

Without God saving him, he will be doomed.

“All you beasts of the field, come to devour,

All you beasts in the forest.

His watchmen are blind,

They are all ignorant;

They are all dumb dogs,

They cannot bark;

Sleeping, lying down, loving to slumber.

Yes, they are greedy dogs

Which never have enough.

And they are shepherds

Who cannot understand;

They all look to their own way,

Every one for his own gain,

From his own territory.

“Come,” one says, “I will bring wine,

And we will fill ourselves with intoxicating drink;

Tomorrow will be as today,

And much more abundant.” ” (Isaiah 56:9-12)

Blessings,

Craig

Note: all sermon photos are snapshots from the sermon video “Drifting Into The Shallows” on the Arise website.

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