The Holy Ghost Bartender Comes to Chicago

by Dave Moore & Tammy Spears

(This originally appeared in the May/June 1998 edition of the MCOI Journal pg. 6)

Holy Ghost BartenderIt was a Friday evening this past October when the “Holy Ghost Bartender” came to town for a revival crusade. The “Bartender” was none other than Rodney Howard-Browne, the transplanted South African Pentecostal evangelist. Browne’s meetings are known for outbreaks of so-called “holy laughter,” unusual “manifestations” of the Holy Spirit, such as people being “slain in the spirit,” making animal and other unusual sounds, being invisibly “pinned to the floor.” etc. These outbreaks are alleged to be the “anointing of God.” We wanted a firsthand look at these meetings to evaluate them ourselves. This meeting was held at Midwest Christian Center, a large Pentecostal church in Tinley Park, Illinois near Interstate 80 (not to be confused with Midwest Christian Outreach, Inc. or MCOI). The pastor of the church, Rob Thompson, is known locally for his weekly television program aired on WCFC, TV-38 in Chicago and also on TBN. The service began at 7:00 P.M. and was led entirely by Browne’s crusade team, beginning with announcements about the various products available at the book table in the foyer.

After being seated in the auditorium, which held about 800-1,000 people, we noticed that church security men kept people out of the first two rows, which were reserved only for certain people. As we took out our notebooks, several ladies sitting nearby gave us some unusual stares. Browne appeared at about 7: 10 as the choir and congregation sang “Let The Holy Ghost Rain On Me. “Browne was a round, barrel-chested man of medium height and spoke with an English/South African accent. When the music subsided, Browne began, saying: “People think we ‘re crazy, but we’re having so much fun. ” Browne then told the audience to read the book of Acts in order to find confirmation of what would be happening that night. Apparently, the possibility existed that people may not experience what they came for that night, because Browne then made this statement: “If you don ‘t get what you want, come to South Bend” (Indiana, just down the Interstate from where we were, the location of Browne’s next crusade the following week).

Browne began giving away cassettes, videos, and books by throwing them into the crowd. While referring to the contents of one video he was throwing around, a crusade held at Oral Roberts University. Browne remarked, “We trashed the place.”

Next, Browne wanted to know how many people were there that night for the first time (the meetings had been going on all week). A show of hands indicated about 50 people were first-timers, while everyone else had been to at least one previous meeting. Browne asked how many pastors were present in the audience. There were only two who were visible to us, with one them having several from his congregation in the back who were cheering for him. This was noticed by Browne and he joked about the rare breed of pastors visiting from the Chicago area during the crusade. He told the pastors they could revive their congregations “if you know how to tap into the anointing ..”

Browne began preaching on the anointing, he said, “I‘ve never had God tell me no. “In reference to John 15:7, “Ifyou ahide in me, ask what you will. God isn‘t going to say: ‘No, no, I’m not going to give you strength today. No, I won ‘t heal you God answers by fire.” By this time, people in the audience were sporadically laughing at times.

In reference to I Kings 17, where God tells Elijah that He commanded the ravens and the widow 10 provide for him, Browne likened God’s command of the ravens to feed the prophet to God commanding us to feed (i.e. give to) one another in need. “God will tell you what [sic] birds feed you,” Browne told the audience, “Then God commanded the widow to care for him. Give me what little you and I’ll multiply it. We have the ‘match’ to start our blessing. We often wait for a miracle we already have. The widow would have died if she had disobeyed” 

The point of Browne’s message seemed clear: if we give from what little we have, God will provide for us in the midst of our poverty. According to Browne, if people understand that God commands them to give, then He will provide for them if they do so. This teaching is a typical word-faith belief that God will provide as a matter of spiritual law, only if we give first. If we don’t give, we will suffer or possibly even die (as Browne’s reference to the widow made clear). This teaching can be simply illustrated this way:

GIVE = RECEIVE
NOT GIVING == NOT RECEIVING
EXPECT NOTHING = GET NOTHING
DISOBEY GOD = DIE

At this point (about 8:00), Browne began telling jokes for more than 10 minutes (especially “roach” jokes about a particularly large roach in his kitchen in Florida), occasionally mocking those in the audience who were not laughing. We noticed that he would pause after telling each joke, as if he was waiting for a response. It appeared to us that he was “feeling out” his audience to see how long the laughter would last.

Browne related a story about how he tried to get a car after he came to America with his family. He said that God told him the sixth person would help him. Browne gave a strange woman $100 and found out later she had needed a miracle. God then supposedly asked Browne: “If I commanded you, would you listen?” Later, a man at an auto dealer (the sixth person) helped Browne get the credit to buy a van, Browne commented that we should not forget the people who help us, and related how he later gave the man a gift.

At this point (8:25), Pastor Rob Thompson came into the service and sat down in the first row in front of the podium, next to his wife. Browne continued to address the audience: “The breakthrough {the anointing} starts with you.”

Browne mentioned that, at one meeting, he gave away his entire book table as an illustration of the giving formula he was preaching and then recounted how he was blessed as a result. Making another joke about the “roach,” Browne had to explain who the roach was to Pastor Thompson, whose facial expression indicated that he wondered what Browne was talking about. (It should be noted that Browne made several references to “roaches” all night, which the audience, including us, found rather funny). At one point, Browne associated roaches with the Pharisees, then with the people who picket some of his meetings, then he connected all of this to “intellectuals” and “apologists” (people like yours truly, who take notes during his meetings). Several times, as he made points about Pharisees and intellectuals, the people sitting around us would continue to give us funny stares. They seemed more accepting of us, however, when we worshipped with them during the worship time.

Browne continued: “All you need to hear the voice of God is a bird brain ” (in reference to the ravens, the audience found this remark particularly funny). Referring to the offering, Browne asked the audience if they would do what God commanded them, directly associating the audience with the widow in 1 Kings 17. Browne prayed for the offering, as increasing sporadic laughter continued in the background. The offering was taken (8:33), the entire amount apparently going to Browne’s ministry. Browne pointed out to the audience an option on the offering envelope to designate an amount directly to the “pastor” (Browne himself?).

Browne continued to speak during the offering: “Did you get something out of that teaching tonight? I command you to be a partner, in Jesus name!” (Apparently, this was Browne’s “positive confession” to make the audience respond.) Browne mentioned that his goal was to return to Chicago and fill a stadium like the United Center in Chicago, where the Bulls play basketball.

Browne began singing a little ditty: “Praise the Lord, Hallelujah, HA HAl.!” (He repeated it, with laughter continuing in the background.) “Help to light afire “

At 8:40, the choir began singing, as the audience again was led in worship. We noticed one woman in the choir having bouts of screaming, while another kept bending over, bobbing up and down repeatedly. After a few minutes, she removed herself for awhile. Also during the worship time, certain people were seated in the front two rows which had been kept unoccupied. The worship time continued until about 9:19 P.M.

When worship ended, Browne read from Luke 4: 14-30, never once expounding on or explaining the passages. Browne interrupted his reading and began to “speak in tongues.” He walked over and laid hands on one person in the front row, then apparently interpreted his own tongues by speaking English to the person. He spoke as though God was speaking in the first person. At that point, the laughing in the audience increased noticeably.

“Some pastors don’t want to go to the next level, “Browne retorted. The laughter continued, apparently without purpose, as Browne stood there watching the audience. Looking toward Pastor Thompson, Browne said, “He’s gonna start shouting like you.” Then, going back to his reading, Browne said, “Let’s look in Luke.”

For no apparent reason, Browne, himself, started laughing while attempting to read Scripture, and again did not expound on what he read’ because it would occur whenever he would mispronounce words (which he seemed to do purposely on some occasions). It seemed to us that he was helping to create the laughter. We have to admit, when Browne fluttered and rolled his eyes, stuck his tongue in and out, we laughed too! That kind of stuff always makes us laugh. We would call that “wholly,” not “holy,” laughter.”

Browne then described how, as an 18-year-old, he joined an evangelical ministry team. Browne made a point of negatively indicating that the team leaders, which he described as Methodists, Baptists, and Presbyterians (or non-Pentecostals) had forbidden him to speak in tongues during their services. (At this point, several people around us began shaking visibly.) Browne said he did it anyway because it was God doing it and not him, saying, “When you talk about Jesus, you get the Spirit. ” He also described one incident where he was casting out” devils. ” Browne admitted that these manifestations of the “gifts” wrecked the team, saying that he’s been fighting against “religion” (apparently non-Pentecostals) since he was 18. What interested us about Browne’s account of this experience was that he clearly and enthusiastically indicated a total disregard, disobedience, and seeming contempt for the authorities who were over him and what they instructed him to do as a part of the team. Instead, Browne justified his actions by claiming it was “God” who did it, not him.

Browne joked some more, this time about the “fragrance” coming in from outside through an open door, a farm odor. Browne commented how “intellectuals” are not spiritually open to the supernatural. Browne said, apparently to the “intellectuals” (us): “I have a word from God for you to take care of that rash.” People around us looked toward us again. We did not, however, break out in a rash, then or since. (A man behind us was shaking severely now and began bleating like a sheep for several minutes.) Browne stated, ‘There are two kinds of anointings: one ministers to you, and one ministers through you.”

While this was going on, we noticed that some of the children in the audience seemed apprehensive about all that was going on around them. One father was rubbing his daughter’s shoulder, apparently an attempt to comfort her as the laughter and noises increased around them. Browne continued, “If J want the anointing, I have to place a demand upon it … You can ‘t make this up. How did you know it was from God? It sure wasn’t me …

Browne again related a story from when he was on the evangelistic team, when he prayed for a woman who fell on the floor and was healed. He said the power was “flowing” out of his hand (specifically, his index finger which, he said, proves he doesn’t “push” people over), and he described people laying all over. (More laughter broke out.) When the team questioned him about what he was doing, he indicated he was giving the people a blessing. Their idea of a blessing and his idea obviously were very different.

Browne then walked around the front of the audience. Touching their foreheads and shouting “OK!” Three women fell back after being touched. Walking around the crowd some more, Browne pointed ills finger and “pulled” a man out of the pew by the “power” (without touching him, of course). It sort of reminded us of the old TV show Bewitched, when Samantha moved things around the room with her finger.

Referring back to previous meetings, Browne described people who had been stuck to the floor. When critics asked him, “Why would God do that?”Browne responded, “Why wouldn’t He?” (not a very convincing apologetic). “This is what was prophesied by Joel, ” explained Browne, as he touched another lady who dropped to sitting on the floor. “How many places shake when people pray?”

Browne looked at the pastor previously mentioned who had some of his congregation in the back. He was a white-haired man sitting near the front whom we observed to be shaking through most of the service. Browne said to him, “Come here.”

“No, ” the man replied.

“Don ‘t say NO!” shouted Browne, touching the man on the forehead as he came forward. The man was “slain” backwards onto the floor, his legs going into the air as if he was in a Three Stooges comedy.

Walking over to another lady, Browne shouted “FILL!” flailing his arms as she fell over. The noise in the audience now increased as many people made noises, mostly groanings. “Have a dose of the joy and you’ll find it a little easier, ” said Browne to one person. He then criticized his own fellow Pentecostals who didn’t accept his teaching, saying, “You see, the Pentecostals who are not following the ‘new move’ of God are like people not wanting to move from the ax to the power saw, ” Unquestionably, Browne was clearly indicating that his level of anointing was more spiritual than others.

Suddenly, the teens next to us started speaking in “tongues,” shaking, grunting, and groaning, etc. A lady in front of us began to laugh uncontrollably. The entire congregation got louder and louder (it was now about 10:15). Browne stood at the podium watching as, for about 10 minutes, many in the audience made strange noises, laughed, and/or shook uncontrollably, etc.

As a lull occurred, Browne spoke again, “His power will change you. That’s what this is all about. This is not man’s power or manipulation. Try it yourself and nothing will happen. I’ve tested this out. People act the same. It’s the power of the Holy Ghost” (Browne’s apologetic).

Browne then addressed, in an interesting way, accusations that he uses the “power of suggestion.” Billy Graham, reasoned Browne, uses “the power of suggestion” on his (Billy’s) crusade audiences telling them that they need to be saved. Browne equated that type of suggestion with his own, attempting to legitimize what he does. Browne joked that he has been accused of being a hypnotist or that the healings during his meetings are just psychosomatic events. Browne said that intellectuals take away belief in any supernatural experiences. (Another swipe, as those ladies were staring at us again!) “You can get so stuck up in your cranium …” as Browne proceeded to set up a straw-man (an easily knocked-down argument) by talking about those who try to use intellect or reason to evaluate what was happening.

It was now 10:30 P.M.

“What if we ask God to move and the Devil shows up? You mean you wouldn’t recognize evil if you saw it?”

“This joy is evil,” Browne said sarcastically … ‘The great deception leading to the falling away of the church.”

“The same Holy Ghost that was with Wigglesworth (Smith Wigglesworth, a Pentecostal evangelist at the turn of the century) is here today Just like back in the 20 ‘s. They (the Pharisees) accused Jesus of being Satanic. If I’m laughing by the Devil, who are you laughing by?”

Browne asked people to bow their heads. He gave a prayer and an invitation, asking those interested in salvation, rededication, and those seeking God, to raise their hands. Then, he asked those who raised their hands to come forward to the platform. Browne gave the gospel of salvation to the audience (however, there was no mention of grace). As they came to the platform, Browne commented that over 200 had come forward in the past three days, while most churches don’t get that many in years. The ushers also came forward and stood behind the people at the platform. Browne said, “I believe one day God’s gonna shake this city. ”

After the people left the platform (having been up there for many minutes), some were “slain in the spirit” and remained on the floor. A lady went around and placed a covering over women on the floor, for modesty purposes.” Then Browne spoke in “tongues” and pointed to a couple in the audience. As they came forward, Browne touched them on the forehead, and they fell down.

Referring to others already on the floor, Browne said, “When you see them turn over, God’s just doing them on the other side” (audience laughing loudly at this remark).

Browne then walked over to another woman and said, “What’s happening to you?”

“I don ‘I know, ” was the reply. Browne: “It’s the Holy Ghost.” Woman: “I think I’m drunk. ”

Browne: “She says Jesus is with her and His presence is real, for those of you who don’t believe it.” By that statement, we could clearly see that Browne reported what she supposedly said when she didn’t even appear to speak.

Browne closed the service by giving a “prophecy” to Pastor Thompson, saying that something would happen in the next year that would impact the ministry of his church.

As we walked out at the end of the service, we noticed people continuing to laugh uncontrollably, making strange noises, crawling around on the floor, etc. In the middle of the main foyer, two women walked out of the service in a nonchalant manner heading toward the exit. Without warning, they both fell to the floor and began speaking “in tongues.” One was shaking while rolling around on her back, while the other woman lay on her back with her arms pushing down at her side, lifting her pelvis up and down rapidly in a rather lewd display. At no time did we see anyone question this or any of the other “manifestations” we witnessed that evening. This particular display in the foyer occurred while parents were nearby picking up their children from the nursery, and no one seemed to give it a second glance.

We talked to one individual named Eric who had gone up to the platform during the invitation. Eric stated that he wanted to receive Christ but was confused about the manifestations he had witnessed. He seemed unsure about what had happened that evening. As we talked with him and recalled what we had seen, we couldn’t help but remember, with sorrow, the Scriptures that say:

“But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd” (Matthew 9:36, NKJV) and “tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness by which they lie in wait to deceive” (Ephesians 4: 14, NKJV) and “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; And they will turn their ears away from the truth,and be turned aside to fables. “(2 Timothy 4:3-4, NKJV)

Dave Moore is a researcher for Midwest Christian Outreach, Inc. and manager with the United States Postal Service. Tammy Spears is a volunteer with Midwest Christian Outreach, Inc. and a member of the “Defenders” ministry at Willow Creek Community Church, in South Barrington, IL.


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