Evangelical Preachers and the Elijah Syndrome 

elijah prophets of baal fire from heaven

Many evangelical preachers have what I call the Elijah syndrome. In First Kings chapter 18, we find the story of the prophet Elijah doing battle with the 450 false prophets of Baal. According to the Bible, Elijah decided to prove to Israel that Jehovah was the true and living God. Elijah did this by building an altar, placing a slaughtered bullock on the stone edifice, and calling fire down from heaven to consume the bullock. This all-consuming fire was so hot that it melted the altar’s rocks. According to modern science, melting rock into molten lava requires a heat of 1,000 to 2,400 degrees Fahrenheit. Certainly, if Elijah did nothing else, he put on a good show.

After God demonstrated his power, Elijah told the people of Israel to gather up the false prophets and slaughter them. Nothing says I’m a loving God like some old-fashioned bloodshed and slaughter. When Queen Jezebel heard that Elijah and the Israelites had slaughtered Baal’s prophets, she sent a message to Elijah that saidSo let the gods do to me, and more also, if I make not thy life as the life of one of them by to morrow about this time. Elijah, fearing for his life, ran away into the wilderness.

In First Kings chapter 19 we find Elijah camped out underneath a juniper tree. An angel appeared to Elijah and told him that he needed to eat because God had a long journey ahead for him. After eating, Elijah journeyed 40 days to Mount Horeb, the very place God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. The Lord came to Elijah and asked him what he was doing at Mount Horeb (which is strange, because an angel, one of God’s celestial beings, told him to go to there). Here is what Elijah had to say:

I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.

Elijah saw himself as the one remaining true prophet in the land. God reminded him in First Kings 19:18 that there were actually 7,000 prophets who had not yet bowed a knee to Baal.

Every time I think of this story I am reminded of the fact that a lot of Evangelical preachers see themselves as some sort of modern-day Elijah. And like Elijah, each thinks he is the one remaining prophet in the community standing up for God, the Bible, and Evangelical morality. Such preachers delude themselves into thinking that they alone are standing true, that they alone are preaching the right message. Some of these preachers, men such as Robert Lyte and AW Pink, think that the Christian church is so morally compromised that they can no longer in good conscience be a part of it (Susan-Anne White would another example of this, even though she doesn’t claim to be a preacher).

As readers of this blog know, the longer people steep their mind in waters of Fundamentalist belief, the more extreme they become. Over time, sin lists grow, beliefs harden, and certainty and arrogance convinces preachers that they alone are standing for God. While every community has numerous Christian churches, there are always a handful of churches that think they are above the murky waters of generic Evangelicalism. Like Elijah, they believe that they have been chosen by God to speak on his behalf to the world.

I remember thinking this of myself back when I pastored Somerset Baptist Church in Mount Perry, Ohio. Everywhere I looked I saw churches and pastors who were not winning souls and waging war against Satan, sin, and godlessness. As the church began to grow, I convinced myself that people were attending the church because they wanted to hear a true man of God. What I understood later is that these people found me likable and enjoyed my sermons. So much for being a rugged, stand-alone prophet of God.

The next time you see a street preacher just remember he likely thinks that he is like Elijah, the lone prophet of God. After all, he is the only one standing on the street corner, right? If all the other neighboring churches and pastors really cared about America they too would be on nearby street corners preaching against sin, gun control, abortion, secularism, atheism, Barack Obama, evolution, liberalism, and any other issue deemed a moral affront to the thrice-holy God of Evangelical Christianity.

This I alone remain true to God way of thinking is what turns preachers into insufferable, arrogant, hypocritical pricks. Thinking that they have some sort of inside knowledge about God and the Bible, they are determined to share what they think they know with everyone, even if people don’t want to hear it.

Preachers like Jack Hyles and Fred Phelps did not start out as pontificating bloviators. Over time, they convinced themselves that they had been chosen uniquely by God to speak on his behalf. Once convinced of this, their pronouncements became more severe. These Elijah-like prophets of God, thinking that most churches and pastors are Biblically and morally compromised, withdrew from the larger Christian body.

Inherent to the nature of Fundamentalism is the need to separate and divide. The Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement is a good example of this. The IFB church movement was born out of rebellion against perceived liberalism in the American, Northern, and Southern Baptist conventions. Originally this separation was due to German rationalism and higher textual criticism. These days, IFB churches and pastors separate due to silly things like music, Bible translations, long hair on men, and whether women should wear pants. Recently, Bob Gray, Sr., the retired pontiff of the Longview Baptist Temple in Longview, Texas wrote a blog post about the importance of being a prophet like Elijah. Here is some of the issues Gray thinks are important:(link no longer active)

In our fundamental churches, schools, and colleges we have some rules, regulations, and standards. We have rules about dating, dress, haircuts on the males, makeup on the females, hairstyles, clothing, smoking, dancing, bad music, Hollywood movies, speech, respect for authority, proper conduct, etc.

Immediately the accusations begin to come when such a stand is taken. The cry is always the same, and the charge is always the same. “Why, that is nothing but legalism with all those rules, standards, and regulations for they are nothing but promoting legalism!”

The truth of the matter is, when you associate legalism with rules, regulations and standards, people with neo-evangelical hearts who masquerade make such statements in fundamental Baptist clothing. Sometimes they are made by people who were real fundamental Baptist at one time, and yet have become weary of the battle and long to return to the onions, watermelons, leaks, cucumbers, and garlic of acceptance. Also, this cry of legalism often comes from the desks of colleges and seminaries built on fundamental foundations with walls of compromise and a leaking roof of pseudo liberty.

We have grown to desire that our truth be accredited by worldly educated error. We want a license from wrong to do right! My (sic) I remind all of us of that fundamental world we believed in and practiced before we had teenagers, home-schoolers, liberal fundamental colleges, Bill Gothard, Oral Roberts University, Benny Hinn, his girlfriend Evangelist Paula White, amusement parks, and before Jerry Falwell slid down a charismatic water slide!

….
This generation must not listen to the prophets of compromise who are silently bridging fundamentalism to a liberal Southern Baptist Convention in order to garner the crowds. No one is legalistic who insists on standards. When someone adds anything to salvation, other than the shed and applied blood of Jesus Christ, is by definition a legalist.

When you conveniently compromise you are not only betraying Billy Sunday, Sam Jones, Bob Jones Sr., Mordecai Ham, John Wesley, John R. Rice, Curtis Hutson, Lester Roloff, Lee Roberson, Tom Malone, and Jack Hyles, but you are betraying your own standards of just a few years back.

If we cannot have our padded pews with hell-fire and brimstone preaching, then let us go back to the sawdust trail and the store front buildings while sitting on wooden benches.

If we cannot have organs with trained choirs without the seven-fold Amens and the crusty anthems, then let us go back to the “pie-anar” and tuning fork.

If we cannot have a marriage of proper grammar and the mourner’s bench with preaching on Hell, Heaven, the rapture, the second coming, and separation, then let us go back to split infinitives, dangling participles, and hung gerunds.

If tiled restrooms and chandeliers are not conducive to the old-time religion, then let us mark off a path and build an outhouse. Let us screw a 60-watt light bulb in it and order a Sears & Roebuck catalogue for the outhouse and get right with God.

If we have to include Kierkegaard, Brunner, and Niebuhr in our required reading in order to be intellectual theologically, then let us go back to the Blue-black Speller, the ABC’s, the alphabet, and the simple preaching of thus saith the Lord God! We have listened too much to psychologists in the pulpit and not enough to leather lunged Baptist preachers. We have listened too much to philosophers and not enough to old-fashioned prophets of God. We have listened too much to so-called Christian TV and radio and not enough to men of God.

….
Legalism is not a godly mother who insists that her daughter dress modestly. Legalism is not parents enrolling their children in a Christian school that believes as they do about separation from the world. Legalism is not a dedicated aged godly dad who takes his son to the barbershop instead of a beauty shop every two weeks.

Legalism is not a faithful youth director who insists his teenagers dress appropriately. Legalism is not a hard working pastor who insists that his Sunday school teachers not smoke, not drink alcohol, no tobacco use, no movies, they visit absentees, and go soul winning.

Legalism is not the careful godly educator who forbids his students to dance or listen to bad music. Legalism is not the man of God who cries aloud against mixed swimming, in essence mixed nudity, against vampire lipstick promoting drugs, and young males with their Billy Idol bleached porky pine spiked chili bowl hair do!
Right has not changed and wrong has not changed just because you enter into a different century. Black is still black and white is still white. Good is still good and bad is still bad. Legalism is not the faithful man of God who cries aloud against sin.

….
Most of the Scriptures are about rules on how Christians ought to live! I challenge you to take Genesis and try to show unsaved people how to be saved or redeemed from going to Hell. Now you will find types of salvation, but you will have a tough time finding the plan of salvation in Genesis.

….
Liquor, dope, elicit (sic) sex, Hollywood, cigarettes, bad music, etc., enslaves and is addictive. God’s do’s and don’ts builds walls of protection for his people!

Gray states in no uncertain terms that most of the Christian Bible is about “rules on how Christians ought to live!”  Gray, Sr. has finally reached IFB Nirvana, a place where love, compassion, kindness, and caring for others are replaced by rules, standards, and regulations. When I first started preaching 40 years ago, any preacher making a statement like this would have been roundly condemned. While certainly the Bible has many laws, precepts, and teachings, it is far more than God’s Revised Code of Conduct-2016 Gray Edition©.

The good news is this: the IFB church movement is dying on the vine. Their churches and institutions are but a shell of what they once were. Instead of taking a hard look at why IFB churches are dying and young adults are fleeing to the friendlier confines of “worldly” Evangelical churches, preachers like Gray, Sr. double down on legalistic standards and rules. Instead of considering whether their controlling, abusive behavior is to blame, these Elijah-like preachers blame those who rejected their moralizing and checklist Christianity. Gray, Sr. will go to the grave believing that if people would just follow the rules about “dating, dress, haircuts on the males, makeup on the females, hairstyles, clothing, smoking, dancing, bad music, Hollywood movies, speech, respect for authority, and proper conduct,” the shekinah glory (glory of God) would fall from heaven and all would be well.

Do you have an Elijah-like preacher where you live? Is there a preacher in your town who thinks he uniquely speaks for God? Perhaps you once attended a church that was pastored by a man who thought he was special or unique. If so, please share your observations in the comment section.

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18 Comments

  1. Randy

    Can I confess I’ve been that preacher? I came out of atheism in 2002 and fell straight into a Southern Baptist Church. I started ditching all of my old music, lots of my old books, stopped consuming alcohol, and spent pretty much every day doing something that involved the church or God. When I got called to the ministry in 2006 I had a real fire of zeal burning inside me and felt God had called me to be different than all the compromising Christians and preachers out in the world. I regret my lack of grace. I am sorry for my overzealousness. I sat in a class on Systematic Theology last night filled with Southern Baptists (I’ve since moved onto a non-denominational church) and was stricken by how hard line their stances were on so many issues. I asked my wife this morning, “Did I used to be a religious extremist? Am I better now.” She just smiled with that loving attitude she has and said, “Yes, but you are not that way anymore.”

    I used to want to only discuss religion to shame others and twist their arm into believing what I believe. Now, I really just want to have a dialogue. I think we can live and let live. I think we can peacefully coexist. I don’t believe I have all the answers anymore and I don’t believe I am an Elijah anymore. If I model my life and ministry on anybody now it is Barnabas – a man who sought to encourage and love others. I’m done with the rules and regulations. I don’t just listen to K-LOVE on the radio anymore. I enjoy a nice cigar and a good glass of bourbon on a regular basis. I put my family first now. If God is real, I believe he wants my first ministry to be my family and not the capricious people in church. Also, I make boundaries and carve out time for myself and my own personal enjoyment, where I used to feel guilty anytime I did that and resented other for doing it. I am much happier in my life and my faith now.

    Reply
    1. John Arthur

      Hi Randy,

      Thanks for sharing this. I am former Evangelical who is now an agnostic Christian humanist. On rational grounds, I am an agnostic. However, because I do not know if God exists or not or what happens after death, I choose to believe in the existence of a God of compassion, healing mercy and loving kindness. I reject the god of evangelicalism and of a literal interpretation of the bible. I don’t see any intervening God who answers prayer in any systematic fashion.

      Like you, I no longer think that I have all the answers. Since I began practising meditation and contemplation, I have sensed a presence that seems so compassionate and peaceful that I think that some kind of God might exist. On the other hand, this may be something that is going on in my head and heart without having any existence outside myself. I simply do not know.

      I concur with your last two sentences, completely. Thanks for your post above. I really enjoyed it.

      Shalom,

      John Arthur

      Reply
  2. KatieS

    “yet have become weary of the battle and long to return to the onions, watermelons, leaks, cucumbers, and garlic of acceptance”

    What does that even mean?

    Reply
    1. Lydia

      I’m wondering the same thing. Is there a denomination that forbids all of these foods? (I sure hope not!)

      Reply
      1. Ahab

        It refers to the foods that the Hebrews ate when they lived in Egypt. The phrase refers to longing to return to a life of comfortable evil, instead of fighting for righteousness. Or something.

        Great. Now I want some watermelon.

        Reply
        1. KatieS

          I want all of them. Not all at the same time though.

          Reply
          1. Angiep

            Except for the watermelon, add some lettuce and you would have a really nice salad. But you could have the watermelon on the side…Yumm..
            And the word is “LEEKS,” not “LEAKS”….*sigh*

  3. Angiep

    “My (sic) I remind all of us of that fundamental world we believed in and practiced before we had teenagers…” Yes, back in the good old days before there were teenagers!!

    Reply
    1. Chris

      Lol! “Most pithy comment award” goes to… Angiep

      Reply
  4. Another Elijah Complex

    You listed the extreme of religious legalism but not the plague of appeasement to progressive liberalism that has enabled once-biblically-motivated denominations to allow openly homosexual ministers (and homosexual marriage), mixing Christianity with Islam (even calling Allah “the same God”), and several other ills in today’s churches and ministries.

    You wrote of this “Elijah Syndrome”: “This I alone remain true to God way of thinking is what turns preachers into insufferable, arrogant, hypocritical pricks. Thinking that they have some sort of inside knowledge about God and the Bible, they are determined to share what they think they know with everyone, even if people don’t want to hear it.”

    Indeed, you’ve subscribed to the progressive notion that everyone has a right to not be offended. Only politically correct (or progressive rhetoric) demonstrations and opinions are allowed. Your way of thinking has led to all things that were once celebrated in our formerly Judeo-Christian nation being removed from public buildings, schools, courtyards, etc. The entire Judeo-Christian worldview is under assault on every front, and you pick a battle against fundamentalism, making the fundamentals of Christian faith something evil as the secular progressives do.

    We need more Elijahs today, millions in my opinion, rather than indifferent appeasers of the lukewarm collective. As for Elijah, you are indeed mistaken by postulating that he was wrong for being the only one left. He was the only “prophet” who actually stood while the others cowered in hiding, in caves and secret chambers. Ahab and Jezebel had an international warrant out for his head. And you make him out to be a coward when he went to Mount Horeb, not discerning that Horeb was the place where Israel stood with Moses. Elijah gave the people a reason to stand with him and assemble there as a nation, but they didn’t show. They quickly fell back into their routine of compromise and indifference, which is why God sent them into Assyrian captivity in c. 722 B.C. Their hearts were not truly turned back, and they lost their nation, their possessions, and their tribal identity. They became slaves and were scattered around the world, and are lost to this day.

    Before you condemn Elijah, you should do a more comprehensive reading of the last chapter of Malachi, for God has chosen to sent ELIJAH before the great and terrible Day of YHVH, which burns as an over. All who do wickedly will be burned up and left as ashes under the feet of the righteous. As the Messiah said, “Surely Elijah shall come and restore all things,” but obviously you count all things already restored. You resent those who claim to have special knowledge from God (via dreams and visions) rather than testing all things and learning. Listen very closely and learn now: The time of refreshing, the Sabbath millennium of Christ, will not come until this restoration of all things (Acts 3:19-21). And since Elijah will be revealed, along with a second witness in Moses, you are sure to find him offensive, and likely you will be one with the worldly who make a brief holiday out of their deaths (Rev. 11:10).

    In conclusion, you offend and call people “pricks” while carrying on foolishly about how offensive “fundamentalists” are. Indeed, you are both a hypocrite and an enemy of truth, no matter what you may have been. If you think your sword of the Spirit is sharp, and you pride yourself while abasing those whom you count prideful, I would be happy to spar with you. I guarantee that you are the one who needs to change and come out of Babylon rather than those who are separating as a called-out assembly: an Ekklesia. As it is now, your voice is the world speaking.

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      Aw, Lew. You hurt my feelings. By all means wave your sword around. That’s what dick fixated Evangelicals do. Don’t be surprised if you find out that your member is not as big as you think it is.

      There’s nothing for you to gain here, Lew. I can’t imagine what you could possibly write that would cause me to change my mind. Oh wait, your screed wasn’t for me. It was for your fellow dick-waggers.

      Thanks for commenting.

      Bruce

      Reply
      1. Brian

        Oh gosh…. I laugheth….

        Reply
    2. KatieS

      Wow, you couldn’t have illustrated his post better. I’m impressed.

      Reply
    3. Geoff

      AEC, I’m not able to answer questions about Elijah or Malachi, whoever the hell they are, but I have to object to the suggestion that you think people round here support a right ‘not to be offended’.

      I agree there are elements elsewhere that seem to be heading in that direction, especially university students, but I consider that free speech allows me to be extremely offensive, and that is a ‘progressive’ liberal view, as opposed to ‘regressive’. So I say that any worldview that supports belief not supported either by reason or evidence is potentially dangerous. Examples include the belief known as Islam, pretty well in its entirety, and fundamental Christianity. Your words prove my point.

      Reply
    4. John Arthur

      Hi AEC,

      This character Elijah is no example to follow. He murdered 450 prophets of Baal. If you think this guy is an example of what it means to follow God then have another think. This barbaric butcher shows us what is wrong with certain parts of the OT. Elijah followed a god of violence, not a God of compassion, healing-mercy and loving kindness. To butcher people because their religion is different has caused problems in the church in the past. e.g. the crusades.

      Your exegesis of the coming of Elijah before the day of the Lord comes as in Malachi does not refer to a literal Elijah. Most biblical scholars think that when Jesus was asked by the scribes to comment on the “coming of Elijah to restore all things”, he pointed them to the coming of John the Baptist as the fulfillment of what was written in Malachi (Mark 9:9-13). The reference to Elijah and Moses in Rev:11:10 is not to a future literal Elijah and Moses. Such an interpretation denies the symbolic nature of much of the book and its literary form as apocalyptic. Furthermore, your literal futurist pre-millennial interpretation of the book of Revelation is in conflict with “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place … (Rev:1:1) .

      Moreover a literal Fundamentalist approach to the book of Revelation shows Jesus to be Jihadi Jesus with rivers of blood flowing and is in contradiction to the peaceful Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon on the Plain. Why would anyone want to follow the god of violence and bloodshed that we find in Revelation. He looks more like Satan than God. Of course, Satan is a mythical figure and so is your Jihadi god who permits the wicked Elijah to slaughter 450 prophets of Baal.

      Shalom,

      John Arthur

      Reply
  5. don

    I think that the very first thing God did after creating the heavens and the earth, accordingly to the bible, was to divide; divide the day from the night. The remainder of the bible continues this theme: divide and separate. It is the core belief of fundamentalism. Divide and separate till its just you. Then divide and separate your very essence and being till there is a pure you and the impure you can have affairs and visit prostitutes..

    Reply
    1. Karen the rock whisperer

      And diddle children? Sorry, that’s just where that seemed to be leading. 🙂

      Reply
      1. Brian

        The destruction of a healthy self via the indecency of fundagelical assault does indeed lead to all kinds of sickness. Jesus may save but the saved can easily end up a diddler or somebody who respects the bodies of children while raping the spirits of older folk.

        Reply

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