Wednesday and Thursday, I received a series of messages from my wife and four friends in the Sidney, Montana area. All said something like “Thought you might find this interesting,” along with a link to the same story in The Dickinson Press. The headline read: “Two men dragged out of River Church revival event: Montana church followers protest national pastor and women speaking in church.”
I immediately recognized one of the two men pictured in the story. There, talking with a police officer in a dark parking lot, was none other than Jordan Hall, pastor of Fellowship Baptist Church here in Sidney. And it just so happens that I have been known to butt heads with Jordan a time or two in recent years. My wife and friends knew I would be interested to see what he is up to now.
I cannot say I am surprised he made it into the papers for this. Of anyone I know, I would vote Jordan Hall most likely to be dragged from a Pentecostal revival and have the cops called on him. Yet I am concerned. And I would like to comment on this latest development in Jordan’s storied career with regards to at least two critically important points.
The Christian’s Two Guides
First, I am a believer in the needfulness of challenging questionable doctrine and attitudes within the church. As Christians, we are not permitted to invent an endless variety of novelty tenants to suit ourselves or the culture around us. Nor should we sit quietly as others do.
As Christians, God has given us two guides. First, we have God’s inerrant, infallible, and Holy Word, the Bible. The Bible is our first and final standard for distinguishing between truth and falsehood. Second, we have God’s Holy Spirit living inside us. The Holy Spirit makes a home in Christians to convict us of sin, comfort us in our afflictions, and to lead and empower us in honoring and promoting Christ in fulfillment of The Great Commission.
I have met many Christians who favor one of these guides to the exclusion of the other.
Jordan Hall is one who favors the Scriptures and diligently studies them. Or, when he doesn’t, he at the very least studies the writings of others who have studied the Scriptures. In this latter aspect especially, I have witnessed him err often, and sometimes grievously. His error is confusing the traditions and opinions of his favorite theologians for God’s Word itself, then rebuking others for violating those traditions and opinions which go beyond the Scriptures.
Meanwhile, Jordan is extremely uncomfortable with Christians who do not subscribe to the same traditions he does, or who claim to have received a new and special revelation. This is not entirely without merit.
We live in an age where truth is largely considered relative and subjective. To insist that truth is not relative, but universal and concrete, or that others are sorely mistaken – this is called hateful and intolerant. And that is deeply troubling, not least because of how many are mistaken.
The Spirit Without The Word
The Pentecostal revival in Dickinson, North Dakota which drew Pastor Jordan Hall and another member of his church in Sidney to attend – with body cameras, I might add – was highly suspect theologically. The main speaker, Rodney Howard-Browne, is a nationally known preacher who has styled himself the “Holy Ghost Bartender.”
Here I will confess. I was not at all previously familiar with Rodney Howard-Browne. To write this article, I did a little research. And by “a little research,” I mean that I Googled his name and read the first link that came up.
In that one link, a brief Grace To You blog post from back in 2013 titled ‘Not Laughing Now,’ Phil Johnson quotes Howard-Browne regarding John MacArthur’s Strange Fire conference for its criticism and rebuke of the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement. At the bottom of this short blog post is an embedded half-hour YouTube video taken at one of Howard-Browne’s events. I watched exactly 7-minutes of that video before my morbid curiosity was satisfied.
In 7-minutes what I saw was a lot of hysterics. There were mentions of the Holy Ghost and of power, but no actual preaching. There was no mention of Christ’s atoning sacrifice, nor of repentance, nor of any other part of the gospel. In short, there was no substance. There was nothing at all whatsoever which could even be mistaken for substance. All I saw was lunacy in church-clothes, and it would have seemed far saner if there had at least been some jokes now and again which explained the “holy laughter,” a truly ridiculous thing which I can recall absolutely no Biblical precedent or support for.
And let me be clear. It is good and right to challenge such things. It is needful to rebuke such nonsense claiming to be Christianity.
God Sets The Standard
It should be noted also that The Dickinson Press elected to highlight only Jordan Hall’s objection to a female pastor being allowed to speak. It also turns out that the Sidney Herald, which had been publishing a column by Jordan, has since the events of Monday night decided to stop publishing him.
Of course, supposed misogyny would be the principle outrage. Misogyny in public life is today a cardinal sin, along with so-called homophobia, Islamophobia, racism, bigotry, etc. The wider world is apathetic about speaking in tongues, “holy laughter,” and all the other eccentric trappings of Pentecostalism. But sexism from a pastor? That’s the stuff headlines are made of.
Yet we Christians need to be less vulnerable to mere headlines and sensationalism. The important thing is not whether we grab headlines or don’t. Both Jordan Hall and Rodney Howard-Browne types in the church would do well to remember this – as would those criticizing such men. The crucial thing is neither acclaim nor infamy, but whether we conduct ourselves in accordance with God’s revealed will.
It is beside the point that what is called misogyny is politically incorrect today. The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Timothy 2:12, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.” If that makes you ill, either take it up with God or else concede that you do not accept the Bible as ultimately authoritative. Only you cannot say Paul did not say that. He clearly did.
Just so, we who desire to honor God and revere His Word must agree with Jordan Hall insofar as he echoes the Scriptures. Conversely, we must not disagree with the Scriptures even where we might object to his manner of communicating them. And I do object.
There are things to object to in Jordan Hall’s handling of the truth. I say this as someone who attended his church for a few months when we first moved to Sidney. Our families visited one another’s homes. We were in the same homeschool group as his family and a few others from his church. He and I were connected on Facebook until this past year. And I am close with several people who formerly were not just members of Jordan’s church in Sidney, they were leaders in it.
Most importantly, I speak as someone who has felt at times – or wanted to feel – a certain kinship with Jordan. Many people would put us in the same category for routinely saying things which frustrate and upset people. If you squint, we maybe both look like bulls in china shops. And I do genuinely appreciate Jordan’s stance on more than a handful of things. Sometimes I even like and am encouraged by his bluntness.
Yet I know Jordan Hall as someone who does not distinguish between primary and secondary issues in the Christian faith. More importantly, I know him to be a bully. He does not only make people uncomfortable when necessary. He openly relishes making people uncomfortable as an end to itself, and I fear the truth is often a convenient excuse for doing so.
Yet there is no reciprocity. Jordan Hall submits himself to no one except distant celebrity pastors and long-dead theologians. He surrounds himself with sycophants. This he does so you cannot disagree with or rebuke him. He misinterprets where the Scriptures call overseers to be above reproach. Yet this puts both he and anyone who follows him in a very dangerous place. The rest of us also must guard against throwing babies out with bathwater.
Of Chain Saws and Scalpels
I appreciate godly rebuke of nonsense in the church. I am not even entirely opposed to an event being interrupted in some extreme case of heresy. Nevertheless, what disturbs me about the recent incident in Dickinson is that I cannot give this man the benefit of a doubt to have handled it appropriately.
I would liken it to my wife Lauren. Suffering from bad knees, the cartilage has worn almost entirely away. Her knees now grind when she walks or climbs stairs. She recently had surgery to clean up the cartilage in one, and hopefully delay knee replacement for a while.
Yet if the orthopedic surgeon had strolled into the operating room revving a chainsaw, it would have been right to throw him out. Barring that, it would have been necessary to leave as quickly as possible. Needing knee surgery would not justify that surgeon using that tool to conduct the procedure.
Much harm comes from using chainsaws where scalpels are needed. It would be better to postpone and go to a saner physician. Yet it would also be a mistake to conclude that such a spectacle proved one did not actually need surgery.
Just so, we must be on our guard for two errors here. The first would be to support any reaction just because there is a problem. The second would be to deny the existence of the problem or its need to be addressed simply because someone makes conspicuous habits of doing so inappropriately.
Someone who supports Jordan Hall may reply by stating the reverse. Scalpels are useless where chainsaws are needed. And this is true. Yet I would not go logging in the woods either with a surgeon who brings chainsaws into the operating room.