Gateway to Bait and Switch

               This visit to Gateway was to the mother ‘church’ of the Austin area, Gateway North. My wife’s initial impression as we’re walking to the car: “I don’t know why this week I came away depressed while last week I didn’t.” Then as we’re driving away she worked her way to why: It was all works. Bingo. And works that you could do.

               Let me back up. 40 years ago my wife worked at the University of Texas. I would meet her for lunch some times. She worked in the tower, and in the Main Mall would be street preachers. Being on vicarage, I noticed them and listened. Some of them confronted you with sin and pointed you to God’s grace for Jesus’ sake. You could be converted, saved, from their preaching. You could not in the Gateway service I attended. As the wife said, “We don’t want to say the word ‘sin’; that would offend too many people.” So they didn’t.

               This was your standard non-denominational service. Reoccurring theme here as elsewhere is – and here they explicitly said this – “We’re not perfect but we’re chasing a God who is.” They path they’re on will never take them to the true God.

               The problem they identify is broken relationships, horizonal ones. Now it’s true Scripture says that you can’t claim to have a healthy vertical relationship (i.e. one with the true God) if you have a broken horizontal one (i.e. you hate your brother). But Gateway teaches you that by healing the horizontal one you fix the vertical one. It’s a doable Law. You can, to some extent, do something about broken horizontal relationships. You can do nothing to mend the vertical one. Your horizonal relationships are a symptom checker, a diagnostic tool to show you your real problem is vertical. That is only ‘fixed’ by God coming to you in the Person and Work of Christ and restoring the relationship. As the wife pointed out, “He had dozens of opportunities to say that, but he never did.”

               The pastor, the main one for this campus, was the hero of his story. He was doing what Paul warned the Galatians of: “They eagerly seek you, not in a commendable way, but they want to shut you out so that you will seek them” (Gal. 4:17). He told us, “I have been on 15 flights in 18 days trying to mend relationships among aunts, uncles, cousins, and helping with a sister. And man, I’m tired. But you know what. It’s my turn to show the love and bear the burden.” Who Gateway in particular is trying to get to chase after them is traditional, catechized Christians who are tired of being told what to believe. He purposely and pointedly juxtaposed Gateway which “might not look like church but is; it is!” with them.

There is no altar call – at least at the Non-demon’s I’ve been to. What’s substitutes is raising your hand during the 3-song warm up act. Raising one’s hand says, “I agree.” Raising one’s hand and bowing your head says, “I’m in.” Raising both hands is saying, “I’m all in.” And well, bowing your head and raising both hands is rarely seen.

There is no altar call but the “message” wraps up – and you know it at Gateway because the piano mood music starts. The pastor tried to do the equivalent of the Randy Travis “Three Wooden Crosses”. But where Randy gives us the highly valued “Aww” moment, the only currency accepted everywhere, this pastor gave us a “What did he say?” moment of shock and awe. Here’s his story.

He said the shirt he had on was a Jíbaro. There are different styles of this shirt for different areas of Latin America. His was a Puerto Rican one and it was 20 years old. He wore it in honor of his grandfather. His grandfather was a short, blue-eyed, white guy who loved black women. He had 36 kids by 19 women. The pastor’s father was born out of wedlock and had no relationship with his Billy Goat of a father (My characterization not his.). His father did the work to mend that relationship and the pastor did mention he shared Christ with the grandfather who was converted. He thanked his father and grandfather for doing the work of mending that relationship. Something we’ve been told he’s been doing for 18 days now. He goes from this into what he calls prayer but is more preaching. And just like in other Non-denom’s as he is supposed to be praying the band is moving into position.

But what’s with my title “Gateway to Bait and Switch”? This is the best I can say for Gateway. You go to their website and you will see they do know the Gospel. The believe the Bible is the Word of God. They have Baptism, believers only, but they still have that Sacrament. But they lure you in with the non-church, non-sacred, non-religious. My wife and I in the ‘narthex’ were offered coffee, lemonade, and to have our picture taken with a vintage Harley, and this was after the 3-song warm up act had already started. They lure you in with the brokenness of horizontal human relationships that everyone knows, has, and hurts from to give you the real healing which comes from God in Christ’s mending of the vertical one.

This is the best construction I can put on what Gateway is doing. The sainted Pastor Bryan Sullivan told me he preferred the 1941 translation of Luther’s Explanation of the 8th Commandment because it said, “explain everything in the kindest way possible.” The 1986 translation says, “explain everything in the kindest way.” St. Bryan said, “It wasn’t possible to explain somethings kindly.” This is where I am with Gateway’s bait and switch. It ‘felt’ like worshipping Baal under the guise of the true God.

About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
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