Though evangelicals generally eschew the euphemistic notion of a departed believer “spinning in his grave,” it’s hard not to imagine the posthumous subterranean pirouettes currently being executed by one Adrian Pierce Rogers, who went to his reward in 2005. The twice-elected president of the Southern Baptist convention, known to most American evangelicals through his TV and radio ministries, served as senior pastor of
Bellevue Baptist Church in suburban , for more than three decades. And while he was no stranger to theological controversy, Pastor Rogers has been spectacularly eclipsed in that department by his successor, 54-year-old Steve Gaines, whose latest pronouncement on Christian giving has raised a few eyebrows—though apparently, not nearly enough. Memphis, Tennessee
|Pastor Steve Gaines of Bellevue Baptist Church |
may need to call another press conference to explain
why his parishioners have been dropping dead
’s annual “Prove the Tithe Sunday” service, Pastor Gaines preached from Acts 5, a text containing one of the most dramatic incidents of the New Testament church: the judgment and sudden deaths of Ananias and Sapphira. In a feat of eisegesis worthy of the Trinity Broadcasting Network, however, Steve Gaines, who holds a Ph.D. from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, declared this passage to be about tithing: Bellevue
“As soon as Ananias heard these words, he fell on the floor dead. God killed him....Every time a Christian refuses to tithe, they're just like Ananias and Sapphira. They're lying to God and they're stealing from God. If God treated us this morning in this room like He treated them in that day, how many people would be wrapped up in blankets and taken out the back door [dead]. Think about it. Think about it.”
Thus, completing a sermon series called “Live Life,” Gaines placed the emphasis on sudden death. It was only the beginning.
|NFL quarterback Tim Tebow, posing under the |
famous crosses overlooking Interstate 40 on
the campus of Bellevue Baptist Church.
Gaines made these comments on February, 5 but like the Trayvon Martin case, a very long incubation period has preceded their media saturation. Two factors are responsible for bringing this situation to the fore: attention from Christian bloggers such as Tom Rich of FBCJax Watchdog; and the fact that dozens of Gaines’s parishioners have been dropping dead.
|In recent weeks, vehicles from Kingdom |
Ushers Funeral Services have taken Tim
Help came from a very unlikely source, however, when the Benny Hinn Evangelistic Association offered the services of trained, professional “catchers,” those men you see during healing crusades whose responsibility it is to stand behind those “slain in the Spirit” by Benny Hinn, and catch them. Brother Hinn flew a team of twenty catchers to
free of charge in order to conduct training sessions on catching and “striking” felled believers from the premises. Memphis
“It’s a little more challenging with the dead weight—if you’ll excuse that expression,” said Marty Nystrom, head usher at
. But the Benny Hinn guys have been great. They’ve been doing this for a long time and they really know what they’re doing.” Bellevue
The death wave has proved a boon to local Funeral Home directors, most notably Les Apt, 57, of nearby Garden Meadows,
. The church has placed Apt on a retainer, a rare luxury in the undertaking industry. In fact, so many parishioners have been dropping dead that the arrangement has become a “win-win” for all involved. A fleet of hearses sits outside the church during all services, a commission which has enabled Apt to found a spin-off business, “Kingdom Ushers,” which is dedicated specifically to Tennessee ’s departed non-tithers. It has also led to terrific discount rates for the families of the victims. Bellevue
|At first blush, the campus of Bellevue looks like |
that of any other megachurch. A closer look at
the campus directory, however, reveals something
you don't see every day.
“I guess I was just in the right place at the right time,” Apt told us via Skype™. “And yes, if you’re wondering, I do tithe.” Apt reports that once
installed an on-site morgue (see photo), operations have become so efficient that he estimates they will soon be able to handle one hundred bodies in a single service, “Just in case.” Bellevue
But while some are marveling over the glory of God’s righteous judgment and the Church’s efficient response, others are perplexed at Pastor Steve Gaines’s atrocious pastoral theology.
|Funeral director Les Apt is making a killing off of non-|
tithers. Graciously, though, he passes the savings
right on to their families.
“I believe Gaines knows full well what he is saying is a total fabrication and stretch of scripture,” writes Tom Rich of the FBCJax Watchdog blog. “No credible theologian teaches that there is a connection between the Old Testament tithe and the story of Acts 5. Most scholars interpret this story as a warning against hypocrites in the church who deceive people with phony piety, who present themselves to the church as being super-spiritual to gain the favor and applause of men. To extrapolate that occurrence to the modern church, and to connect Ananias’ and Sapphira’s death to believers today who don’t practice the law of tithing, is spiritual abuse perpetrated by Steve Gaines on the believers at Bellevue Baptist Church.”