In case of doubt, go for the doubt – Light and fog at the Jesus Lifehouse

Stomping beats, blaring guitars, dancing youths in front of a glittering stage, I stand a little offside in the dark, reach out my arm and sing along to the unknown song. No, this not a rock concert, but a church in the middle of Tôkyô. Around me resonates the many-voiced pop-Alleluia of hundreds of Japanese and foreigners. The church is called Jesus Lifehouse, and in it my body feels as if it was time-traveling – back to the youth events in Germany that helped shape my teenage faith. Was I back to my roots? Initiated by the Australian Rod Plummer, the JLH has just in a few years not only managed to attract over a thousand visitors to its concert services, but also to establish itself in Ôsaka, Yokohama and Hong Kong, where young Asians dance in droves to the theology and music of the Hillsong movement.

That was last year in July. I was new in Tôkyô and after years without a stable church starving to reconnect to the Christian community. During my university times I had distanced myself much from the evangelical movement. Now I wanted to risk it again, wanted to belong to somewhere, to contribute time, energy, skills for God’s ministry. Kick-start a new life. Jesus Lifehouse, with its international flair, seemed to offer all this and more. It was like entering the fieriest talent smithy of the city. After being welcomed effusively they immediately wished to make use of my potentials. I sensed something flaring up: euphoria, the urge of being there when something cataclysmic happens, to make it, to deliver it. My biweekly visits were electrifying, something which one could hardly await. A church with a vision. For the first time in Japan, I was sure to be at the right place …

A month later, my enthusiasm had turned into bitter disappointment. I was about to become an unwelcome person. I left Jesus Lifehouse as suddenly as I had come, determined to not longer tolerate the radical evangelical cause as one variation in the spectrum of Christian dogma, but to oppose it.

What had happened?

JLH-A

First, I tried to engage as best I could. I joined a cell group, the ‘Life Group’, helped cleaning the stage, got to know new people. The fact that most members, instead of hauling books around, had saved their Bible on their iPhones and seemed to indulge quite openly in an urban consumer culture, was something I looked over. Life Group prayers were held preferably at McDonald’s. Among people called Tyler, Grant and Summer I felt like in an American sitcom. So this was the self-conception of young Christians in Tôkyô. We specialize in youth evangelism, I was told, and leave the rest to the other churches. Plausible, because it worked: Hundreds of converts, absorbing the “messages” from the pastors, hundreds of enthusiastic teens and twentysomethings, who had just escaped the sufferings from the psychosocial miseries of Japan. JLH delivered exactly what the young were missing in this society: Unambiguity. Community. Identity. Chances to unfold their potentials. Someone who told them how to live.
The two pastors Rod Plummer and Kimura Ryûta talked straight in their passionate sermons. They inoculated the catalogue of evangelical tenets into the congregation: the absolute truth claim of the Bible, formulas against the attacks of the devil, no sex before marriage etcetera. No BS, Christian life without tepid cowardice and boredom!

I was more interested in people than incited sermons. Over a Big Mac I was initiated into the cell group mechanics. It was simple.You read the Bible and write your associations into a journal. You speak about it in the Life Group.  The Life Group leader provides comments and advice, that`s it. There is no prescribed form.
I went with it. For a while things proceeded well. I put up with the impression that Rod’s sermons often seemed more like religious motivation training, and that the practical life advice from Ryûta ( who muttered Bible verses out so rapidly as if to achieve an entry in the Guinness Book ) didn’t really require some holy scripture to conceive. Even though I didn’t agree with about 50% of the teaching at least they caused some healthy turmoil in my inner apparatus.

Gradually, it became obvious that I didn’t really deem the absolute truth claim of the Bible, formulas against the attacks of the devil, no sex before marriage etcetera as decisive to my faith, or that much of this wan’t as unequivocal as it was to my Life Group leader, who was really caring to get me integrated. My affinity to the more contemplative and mystical forms of Christianity seemed strange enough, but doubting the divine authority of the Bible even a bit was out of question. For me it was a wonderful and central book, but which also contained concepts that a 20th-century Christian should dismiss respectfully as flaws of its times: patriarchic perception of women, homophobia, latent anti-Semitism, let alone its historical credibility. For my leader, however, this went beyond the pale. Quote: “At all Life Groups we believe that the Bible is the absolute word of God, 100% truth, and has to have total authority in our lives.”
We got into theologic disputes, in which any rationality was stifled by using the Bible as knockout argument. Many of my questions were simply ignored. “This book is the manual for life.” – And why do I have to believe in the Bible? – “Because it is God’s word!” – And who’s to say that? – “The Bible!” I, in return, was blamed in my own argumentation for circular reasoning, and that I was bending God’s commandments at will – to make myself a god. My doctrine was “poison”. I could only stay in the Life Group, if I abandoned my “self-delusions”….

Was JLH something like a club that systematically excludes all dissenters? I could not believe that, after all the initial warmth.

On the assumption of being able to change the group, I approached some more people – only to find that the other leaders were all on the same line. I was dumbstruck. The Life Groups were the integration sluice into the JLH world. Without one you were only a “tolerated” guest. I was afraid that the longer I hung around without a group, eventually rumors would make rounds about this lust-driven heretic German and that my views wouldn’t count at all. To get involved I would have to negate the spirituality which God had unclosed to me through stony paths during the last five years.
Was this His will? Didn’t the number of visitors alone prove who was right? Was not everyone there an exemplar of success? Good family, good job, and an X-Box at home. I, with my pragmatic worldview that is not afraid of reflecting on the shortcomings of life with a pinch of irony, looked like a cynical grouch in comparison. If my skeptical belief was true, why did I not have four hundred Facebook friends, half of whom had found Jesus through my flaming lifestyle? And next to their shocking self-confidence (shocking for local conditions) my Japanese ambivalence must have come across as a testimony of deep uncertainty.

I did not understand why faith had to be a zero-sum game. The fact that our debates indeed ran in a circle was certainly also due to my inability to formulate my views in a more orderly manner. I had hoped to find a place at which the dynamics of an exchange of many positions were alive, as elsewhere. But instead of cultivating independent thinking the Life Group was meant to steer thought into the direction specified by the church leadership. Discussions were not desired.
Slowly, I noticed other things. From the sermons one could discern the symptomatic complacency of those who think to be in possession of the final truth: ‘We against the corrupt world. We against the demonic religions of Japan. We are entirely different. Only we can attain true happiness and live decently.’ And the junior preachers of the church were eager to imitate the overzealous speech style of the pastors.

My faith was in crisis mode. I did not want to leave. Nevertheless, I had to tear away. Even at the risk of being again driven as a faith nomad. I decided, ultimately, with pleasurable self-destruction, to be an outsider. I also won courage for my refusal from the latest Tocotronic song

In case of doubt, go for the doubt and the inconceivability
For the interior contrition when you bare your teeth
In case of doubt, go for the collapse in front of the full hall
My life becomes disruption, my existence a scandal

And I have not regretted it. God had other plans for me, as I found out later.

I am not sure how to evaluate Jesus Lifehouse. There is no such thing as a perfect church. I do not want to condemn it, as this would do the many bright personalities there wrong. My impressions were certainly incomplete. The success, however, comes surely not only from an extra pot of blessing, but also from strategies that make the people in this country flock to cuckoo groups like Happy Science. What I criticize is the exclusivity towards dissenters and the one-sidedness of the teachings much detached from Judeo-Christian traditions. This anti-democratic, self-righteous element is dangerous. Will the the members be able to retain full freedom of decision, or will their lives sooner or later be heteronomous? Will they be induced to disconnect from opposing families and friends? Will they be allowed to drill down on hard questions when doubt starts germinating from blows of fate, or will they steadily be fobbed off with “Because the Bible says so”? And are there any supervisory bodies that control and regulate the actions of the “leaders”?

The congregation has moved to Roppongi by now, into a trendier neighborhood, and has brought another youth church in Nagoya under its umbrella. Easy to imagine that a megachurch is in the making here. For a wide Christianization, however, additional strategies are needed, since the concept of a youth church is hardly sufficient in Japan’s aging gerontocracy.
Should there ever be a mass revival in Japan, JLH will be at its spearhead. Another possibility is that it radicalizes under its hardliners into a cult-like sect, that rejects the diversity of other Christian ways of life and critical thinking. Whatever the case, Jesus Lifehouse is on the way to influence this city, this country. I see this development – yet again – with ambivalence.

(translated from German)


69 thoughts on “In case of doubt, go for the doubt – Light and fog at the Jesus Lifehouse

  1. Exactly! You are also on the money. To be fair they may explain it after why tell them AFTER instead of before? It’s bad because while I was going there I heard of many that raised their hand but they apparently misunderstood. Many raised their hands and never returned to the church again.

  2. Hi there,

    be careful of any forms of cults (luckily, they all share common traits to unmask them…usually, the “friendly faces” suddenly turn hostile, if you don’t comply and ask good questions).

    It sounds pretty terrible what happened to an all to promising new/modern Christian movement in Japan.

    I really do hope that the people at the top stop with these errant ways and return on God’s mission and not their own agenda.

    Unfortunately, thanks to such cults Japanese people will get a totally wrong (biased) impression of Christianity – they either live in a happy bubble (of false promises) or get scared to death and will avoid any further contact.

    Never put money (Mammon) and power over love.
    ~Jesus

    Best wishes!
    Jonathan Dark (ハーフ)

  3. Interesting that they dropped the JESUS from their name recently. That is very concerning as it sounds like from your blog that it’s all about Mr. Plummer the salesman.

  4. A pet peeve of mine about them changing their name to Lifehouse church is that there’s a very famous band called “Lifehouse”. I was still going there after they renamed themselves and whenever people would ask me what church I went to and I said, “Lifehouse” they then would say “oh like the band.”. I really hated that so I just kept on calling the church Jesus Lifehouse while I was still going there.

  5. Hi! This is very unexpected. I couldn’t find any explanation for this name-change on their website, so I really wonder how they explained it to the members… it’s a very bold decision to change an established brand, and even throw the name of the person out whose life and teaching is supposed to be the center of it…

  6. Pastor Rod just said the name of the church is changing to ‘Lifehouse’. He never explained why. Everyone just went with it and never asked. I’ve got to admit at the time I never bothered to ask either.

  7. Lifehouse (Jesus Lifehouse) church are not actually associated with any other churches officially. There’s no other church called Lifehouse has such. There’s a movement called Life Church but that’s the closest you’ll get. They say that they are associated with Hillsong but they aren’t. Pastor Rod and his family used to attend Hillsong Church. That’s it. There’s really no official connection.

  8. I find it very very concerning that Jesus has been dropped from the title of the church and no reason has been given by Rod. It seems like pastor Rod’s vision has taken over from God’s. Really worried about the people in the church. =(

  9. They are starting churches in other countries that are hostile or suspicious of the name Jesus. I visited the church and asked them. Come on people! Stop your conspiracy theories and fear mongering! : )

  10. Pat I understand that it may come off as a bit much to wonder why they dropped the Jesus name but it was very out of the blue and they didn’t explain it. If what they (who ever “they” are in this situation) said to you is true that is all the more reason to announce it publicly. To tell you the truth the name change is the very least of the church’s problems. I’m not sure what you are doing on this site but for all of us who have written here, we have had some immense bad experiences in LHC that shouldn’t exist in ANY christian church. To be fair, there was a time when Lifehouse Church was a great church but the core/leadership of the church became corrupt because the church focussed too much on “younger japanese people”. As someone here mentioned they literally pressured and microwaved young teenagers/university students into leaders who had only been christians for maybe 3 months and they had no real Godly knowledge or wisdom. Apart from the leaders becoming control freaks, this is where a few of the church problems started and have only gotten worse and worse from there. I know someone who started preaching in church regularly just after 3 months of being saved being all self righteous and a ‘know it all’. He preached to the congregation in a way as if he had been a christian for decades which I and quite a few others found quite offensive. Also what he was preaching about was total rubbish and really only related to teenagers. I don’t have any pleasure in saying any of the above but it’s ALL true.

    You may choose to believe or not believe what I am saying but just visiting a church is sometimes not enough to know weather if the core of it is healthy. Yes there are many people there but THAT DOESEN’T make it a good church. Seriously, ask everybody who left that church why they did and they will tell you some very similar reasons that at least tie within each other. After I left in early 2013 about half the congregation that was there at the time are all gone!

  11. I base this on absolutely nothing other than my own conclusions but I suspect that the change in the name might have come from the fact that when you typed “Jesus Lifehouse” into google the first thing that came up was the church’s websites and right underneath them was this blog filled with ex-members’ bad experiences and other websites calling them a cult. If your goal was to bring in new people to the church you really don’t want them googling the church’s name and seeing the word “cult” underneath it. If that was the reason for the name change it would make sense. Unfortunately I think the change in name is all that these stories of bad experiences have changed in the church.

  12. Kate – As much as I think that’s a strong possibility I don’t think it’s enough of a dramatic name change for it to detract enough of these websites from the search results. I just tried putting in “Lifehouse Church” into google.co.jp and as the name change does help not having some of these complaint or concern sites on the first page they still appear on the second with Patrick Spencer’s site still appearing as something like the third result from the top of the first page. Although, if your theory is true Rod was probably not willing to sacrifice the ‘Lifehouse’ brand and thought “Patrick’s site isn’t too bad” and went with it. Ironically Patrick Spencer is a pastor running a church also in Roppongi. Probably literally 300 meters from where Lifehouse Tokyo is held each Sunday. He actually helped the Plummers get setup when they first arrived in Japan. Now he despises them and their church just like many people who used to attend or visited.

    Or as much as I have to admit, Pat could be right and the name change could be for the right and legitimate reasons. After all as I said, keeping the ‘Lifehouse’ brand makes it not enough of a name change to detract these websites from showing up in Google. Even if it was, new websites will be created, the current ones will follow suit and rename to ‘cater’ to the new church name. Do you guys have any idea how many of these websites there are in Japanese!? If you searched this kind of stuff in japanese there would literally be pages of matching results! Lifehouse is INFAMOUS! But regardless of the reasons for changing the name I just think it should have been explained a bit more publicly rather than being sneaky about it. A church doing a name change is not something that should be taken lightly as I do think it’s a big deal.

  13. I think its their authoritarianism which prevents “true reasons” from it’s congregation, and that authoritarianism comes from heretical “Latter Rain” teachings.

    Kenneth Copeland is one of the main teachers of Latter Rain Movement, and Lifehouse is indirectly related to him through Hillsong and ARC Church Planting.

    Check about Later Rain Movement here. I think you would find Lifehouse resembles most of its characters : http://www.gotquestions.org/latter-rain-movement.html
    (Lifehouse is AG Australia, but there are also many churches affected by Latter Rain in AG Australia, such as Hillsong)

    There are many unbiblical teachings told from Lifehouse pulpit, and most of them are strongly affected by “Prosperity/Health Wealth Gospel” and “Word of Faith” (Many Latter Rain churches accepts these teachings for Church Growth). Some google search with these words would help you to understand about sources of Lifehouse’s teachings and its behaviour.

  14. The exact same thing happened to me. I joined a Life Group because I wanted to get involved in more activities and volunteer work, but the moment my views on gays and sex before clashed with the group leader, I was asked to leave so that my views did not taint the other youths they were working to convert… I believe spirituality and your relationship with God is extremely personal. And there is no 100% cookie-cutter way to be. I was so angry at their response that I stopped going altogether. I still hope I can find a good church and somewhere to volunteer at. I would advice others to be aware of JLH’s tactics.

  15. This lifehouse is dangerous i will never call this church they lie about what they say at lifegroup i mean they say at lifegroup your secret is safe but the upper leaders knows everyones weakness and what they are going through why because this so called lifegroup leader tell his/her leader all about you i used to serve at lifehouse all i can say is they will manipulate you using the bible throwing bible verses to make lifehouse look good this lifehouse is only for new people, people who have strong relationship with Jesus will never stay at this lifehouse (maybe some people are staying because of friends) this lifehouse is not healthy the pastors cant even say sorry to the people they hurt this lifehouse is all about protecting their image i am sad because i really liked this lifehouse and the some people but i know Jesus has somethig better for everyone.

  16. These are practical ways that churches like Lifehouse manipulate people.

    I’ve been one of these people who used these manipulation techniques and have repented so I know what it feels like.
    (I have also been the one to recieve the abuse and was hurt.)

    After I realized the terrible things I was doing to people, even after I myself have abused people, God was still gracious.
    He didn’t punish me.
    Instead, he helped me to become a better person.

    I have gone to appologize to God and all the people I have hurt.
    Now I want to help people who are hurt from these cultish churches.

    ——–

    So here’s some knowledge I want to give to people.
    When we are aware of these tactics, we can better decide the action to take in order get out of the manipulations.

    Slow and subtle processes of manipulations:

    1. They build trust-
    They shower you with love that you felt like you needed.
    You feel safe.
    You feel like you can trust the people.
    There are many people trying to become friends with you at once.
    Or the sudden making of friendship wih one person might seem very fake.
    They ask many personal questions to pry your heart open for them to be able to enter your life rather quickly.

    2. They Give illusion-
    They give the illusion that God is doing miracles in your life.
    They intentionally tell you.
    (God will do miracles in your life whether or not people tell you.)

    They ask you to pray about every single need you have.
    They don’t leave you to make your own decision to pray.
    When even the slightest good thing happens to you, they announce it over and over again it was due to God answering your prayer.

    It’s a wonderful thing to pray and have it all heard by God.
    But not when you’re constantly bombarded by an ad about how your prayers are answered.

    Usually people will naturally tell our testimony on their own if they are genuinely excited about it.

    3. They Reward-
    They reward people excessively privately and publicly when you obey them.

    (Rewards that are given are as follows:
    Chance to be on stage, praises from the executive leaders, higher positions, more decision making power, church friends start flocking to you, etc.
    They give what young people crave: popularity, high position and power.)

    4. Instill fear-
    If a person has a genuine concern with the church, the leaders spread rumours and kick the person out.

    The others don’t question the leaders because they are told they will be safe when they are cooperative.
    (This is done so sneakily that people don’t realize this is happening at the time. But some people will feel the effects afterwards.)

    5. They keep you occupied-
    With fun ministry roles, fun church event, fun service to attend, so you are less likely to think that anything strange is going on.

    Fun activities are not bad, but again, when you’re excessively asked to join many of them, then there lies a danger sign.

    (If you’re willfully wanting to get engaged to the church activities, then that is a good thing because that should be your choice. Nothing wrong with serving the good God and enjoying it.)

    They also fill your mind with messages that tell you to-
    6. “be positive in every circumstance.”-
    Because positive people attract more people, the leaders will motivate you to be positive so new people will be illusioned that the group is extra ordinary.
    The leaders promise you will have followers and will be in high position.

    It’s a good thing to be positive but it is not good to be using it for ill gain.

    (ex. They call being positive “joy”.
    If you don’t look like you’re in “joy”, you are told by the leaders that you are a bad influence on the church.

    In extreme cases, they will tell you to not grieve or be sad even when your loved one passed away. That is a big sign of a cultish church.)

    ——

    Some notes I got from being in the corrupted system (you may or may not disagree with them.) as follows:

    *They use all these manipulation tactics so they can gain big numbers of people in church.
    The numbers will help them get more donations and more popularity.

    If they can get the brand known within the whole city(or even a country!), they feel they will have control over most christian converts in the area.

    So they become aggressive even to the point that they will try and secretly compete with other churches with in the region.

    (That’s why corrupted churches do not let their members visit other churches. It’s not just for numbers, but they are also competing for monoply.)

    *On the surface, they say this is all to spread the Gospel.
    “All this aggressive passion is because Jesus loves this city/country!”

    But what they’re really saying is,
    “many converts=more donations=big power!”

    *They target lots of young people.
    Young people can be more “yes men” than the older people.
    The young people are easier to convert, train and retain.
    And those young people can bring in donations from their parent’s hard earned money.

    Once people are older and are not producing young people of their own, or they don’t have high paying jobs,- then the leaders make it uncomfortable for the older people to stay.

    They don’t want to deal with “weak” unresourceful people.
    It drags the leaders down emotionally to deal with people who don’t make results the way leadership wants.

    (Though of course, higher paid older people may make a big group within the church if there are enough of them.)

    *If your social network is being monitored by the leadership and they use it against you, then that one sign is already enough to say they are a cult.

    In some of the above cases, your social network may be being used to “monetise” your information to the leadership in order to gain social control over you.

    If they are taking your personal information and sharing it privately/publicly within the church for their own ill gain, it’s time to change your privacy settings and leave the church.

    In extreme cases, take the case to the police.

    *Most leaders do not know they were brainwashed into doing any of this. (like me in the past)
    They’ve gained so much from all their experiences that they are convinced that this is the only right way.
    They don’t wake up until they themselves are hurt by their own system.

    Some leaders are afraid to speak up to the top in the fear that they will get shamed.
    They’re afraid that they will feel like they’ve wasted years of their life doing terrible things.

    So the vicious cycle goes on.

    It is very sad.
    They will feel extremely guilty because they were doing this all for God.
    Most of these people were not bad people to begin with.

    But good news is Jesus can help these people out safely.

    The doctrine they use to manipulate:

    “You are loved by God unconditionally, BUT you must do…”

    “if you disobey the leaders, you are disobeying God.(or ‘being a negative influence’)”

    “if you leave church, you are leaving God and all your friends”

    “if you obey God, he will make you successful”

    “if you obey God, you will have many friends”

    “only if you obey God, only then are you a great leader”

    “if you are not doing ______, others will have a bad image of our church. you must keep a good image for God and his church.”

    watch for a variation of any of these.
    there are so many other ones that I did not list.

    ——–

    Final thing:
    I’ve in Lifehouse church. Young people are being manipulated and sadly, they don’t realize it.
    They go great heights to convince people they are not a cult even when there are strange things going on around them.

    These are the facts.
    I have seen that the testimonies of people being abused by the church are true.

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