Well, Rodney Howard Browne is back! “Who?” you ask. In the 1990s, Browne called himself the “Holy Ghost Bartender,” serving up “getting drunk on the Holy Spirit.” Some of you will remember the ensuing “laughing revival,” in which people attending his services would and would fall down, laughing uproariously for hours. Eventually, the movement found its way to the Toronto Airport Vineyard, which became the hub of the laughing revival. As a result, the Vineyard movement severed its ties with the Toronto Vineyard.
Browne is a “word-faith” teacher, who, along with all other “word-faith” teachers, believes that faith is a force that God Himself uses. Once learning how to manipulate faith, we can have whatever we say, including the healing of diseases and the procuring of riches. But what has happened to Browne after his famous “laughing revival”?
Since 1996, Browne moved to Florida, where he has pastored a church called The River. He continues his ministry in that capacity, associating with the best-known word faith teachers, such as Benny Hinn and Paula White. He is also known for his association and support for President Donald Trump, as well as his prophecy that there are those in the United States government who are planning a physical attack on the president.
But last week, Browne was again in the news. He had a large “WARNING” sign put onto his church. In large letters, the sign said, “Welcome to the River at Tampa Bay Church. Right of admission reserved. This is private property. Please know this is not a gun-free zone. Any attempt will be dealt with deadly force.”
One of the pastors of the church confirmed that not only are there armed guards in the services, but that the parishioners also carry concealed weapons are and ready to use them. Associate Pastor Allen Hawes asked, “Would I rather ruffle feathers, or do I want to count bodies?”
I suspect the use of trained guards in larger churches is a far more common than a great many of us suspect. Larger churches have long had threats against them. Although we never had an armed protection, I do remember getting bodily threats as a pastor on odd occasions – one in which we called the police, and on another I merely preached, placing myself in God’s hands.
I would not condemn the leadership of a church for hiring security to protect their parishioners. One might argue that this is providing protection to those who come. That is not the point I wish to address. The point is the encouraging of regular worshipers in a church to be ready to use deadly force at the sign of trouble. The point is that church becomes an armed camp rather than the place of redeeming love.
That brings me back to the issue of false teachers. False teachers always lack balance. They are quick to run to extremes. Browne substituted the joy of knowing Christ with the frenzied, out-of-control laughter that descended into chaos. It presented the Christian faith as a movement that had no historic biblical roots, replacing it with a hysterical emotionalism. In an era where Christian leaders need a calm, measured response to gun violence, Browne again does nothing other than take his congregation to the extremes.