Things I took away from Sunday’s service at Father’s House Church International:
Israel and the Jews are important. An Israeli flag stood on one side of the stage. One of the hymns, in the midst of raising the roof and shaking the foundations, slipped in a bit of Hebrew: “Let all of Zion sing/ Baruch haba b’shem/ Adonai, Adonai, every knee will bow to you Lord most high...” Pastor Greg Stephens invited congregants to join in a one-mile walk to raise funds for the rebuilding of a Jewish high school in Gaza. “They’re under constant rocket attacks from the practitioners of the ‘religion of peace,’ just because they live there,” he explained. He noted that he was trying to help a Hebrew school find a building and that he had offered to pay for the repair of the vandalized sign at the Ner Tamid Synagogue in Poway “because Christians don’t act like that.”
Religion, on the other hand, is not important. In fact, it’s to be avoided. A woman offered testimony about having been saved years before but then mixing it with “the rules and regulations of religion.... Part of me was never giving enough or loving enough.... I would actually feel distanced from the Lord.... A few weeks ago, I was praying, ‘God, break down these religious walls inside me that I know are blocking me from a freer, fuller walk with Him.’” She described envisioning a coffin, “hammering shut the lid on religion.”
“We are what I call a presence-driven church,” added Stephens, “meaning that we desire the presence of God and not the approval of people.... We could care less about who you are or what you’ve done.... We care about God’s word.... We care about you becoming everything He calls you to be.... We care about praise and worship.... We could care less about being religious, looking like all that. Jesus called those people whitewashed sepulchres. We’re not religious. I talk about tipping sacred cows. I don’t tip them anymore; we’re gonna have a barbecue.” Applause and cheers rose up to the point where Stephens was drowned out.
The problem with religion — at least, the problem Stephens laid out in his sermon — was that “Religious people — I call them Frankensteins — have a tough time receiving from God.” And “faith is receiving. There is no self-effort. The only thing we’re required to do is receive what has been done.” Religious people were like the church Paul wrote to in Galatia, who had “nullified God’s grace by mixing some law with it.... The law makes your faith void.” The law, he said, “was given to prove that you can’t do it on your own. You need help.”
Later, he said, “There were only two people in the Bible where Jesus said they had great faith.” The two? The centurion and the Phoenecian woman. The connection? “They were both Gentiles. Neither one was born under or influenced by the law of Moses. So they’d never learned to disqualify themselves for what God had freely given. Religious tradition had not taught them that they were not good enough.... I bless Israel and I bless the Jewish people because of my covenant with Abraham; not the law of Moses.” And, “How did Abraham become righteous? By faith.... You want to know why you haven’t received? You have allowed the traditions of men to tell you you’re not qualified, when Jesus came and qualified you, and said, ‘It is finished,’ and God accepted what He did!”
And with regard to receiving, prosperity is somehow tied up with spirituality. During the prayer before the offering, Stephens prayed, “Because I have a covenant with You, the covenant of Abraham is upon this house, upon my life, because I’m a doer of Your word in this area” — that is, the offering of first fruits. “I’ve accepted You, and the curse that You paid for with Your body. Therefore, because of what You did, the curse of poverty is broken upon my life. The kingdom of heaven shall be expanded in my life....” And later: “This is why I say I’ll never be broke another day in my life! Why? Not because of the law of Moses. Because of the covenant of Abraham ratified in me! It’s His grace and His mercy that will prosper! It’s His grace and His mercy that got this house! It’s His grace and His mercy that got this car! Grace is the finished work...and finished work qualifies me for everything that He’s done.”
What happens when we die?
Stephens left before the service ended to light a candle for the righteous Gentiles at the Jewish Community Center’s Holocaust Memorial. But there was this warning from the sermon: “You can’t mix some of the law and grace together. It doesn’t work. You can’t do it; you’ll die in your sins.”
Father’s House Church International
Address: 8691 Echo Drive, La Mesa, 619-741-0630
Founded locally: 1989 (Stephens took over in 2001)
Senior pastor: Greg Stephens
Congregation size: between 300 and 400
Staff size: 8
Sunday school enrollment: n/a
Weekly giving: n/a
Annual budget: n/a
Singles program: no
Dress: some casual, but mostly semiformal
Diversity: majority Caucasian, but diverse
Sunday worship: 10 a.m.
Length of reviewed service: 2 hours, 10 minutes