Tree of Life Church, Watford

This past Saturday (the 16th) a group of believers gathered in the Centrepoint Community Centre, down the road from the train station, to sing, pray and share a message of healing. I was invited to attend, and since it was a new church launching on my home turf I thought it might be a good idea to check it out.

That, and friends on Facebook and Twitter told me to.

It was billed as a “healing and miracles service”

I’ll be honest with you: I was not encouraged by this. Not a bit.

Now, if there had been a “Healing Eucharist” I would have been more enthusiastic. Even if I didn’t see a miraculous healing, I would see the miracle of the people of God sharing a meal with the Saviour.

Alas, no. It was a “healing and miracles service”. No fortified wine for me.

After we all stood together for a declaration, we sang a few songs.

You, dear reader, may have experience of the sort of tradition where you stand and declare things. I however, do not. Baptists for one thing aren’t over keen on creeds (we see them as too limiting and inauthentic to the narrative nature of our faith and personal content of our Lord).

Yet here I stood with these other more enthusiastic believers and recited Biblical promises that I would not be ill, nor be conquered by devils, and that on this earth I had power to do good works and to fight demons.

Mumbling along to praise choruses and victorious hymns with half the congregation shouting out in tongues between songs is an experience which I am certain is not unique to me (is it?), so I shall move on as you imagine a pretty standard 20 minute charismatic worship set.

As the united voices gave way to united chair-on-floor scraping, Pastor Ben made a more formal introduction and shared a little about what the service was going to be about (if you guessed “healing and miracles” then you get a gold star!).

He spoke without a microphone and with great charisma. I knew he was sincere when he told us

“If you’re sick today my aim is to get you healed”

I knew I was sincere in waiting to see if that would be the case.

Yet the thought could not dwell for long, because Pastor Ben had moved into vision-casting mode and let out the depressingly common statement that “most churches say the same thing the serpent said to eve”.

Pastor Ben was differetiating his teaching from that of other churches, describing the 6 week series beginning next saturday which promises to unfold the reality of paradise-living which is available to all Christians, apparently.

Never mind that we are given so little information in Scripture about life in the Garden that it would be thin ice to skate over if you were trying to reclaim some kind of existence from it. In fact it would have to be mostly guess work.

Yet I suppose it’s easy to decide that things we don’t like, things which make us sad or weak, are things of the fall, of the Devil which Christians ought not have to face. This seems to be the message of the teaching that “most Churches say the same thing the Serpent said to Eve”. It is certainly captivating. I hope it does not prove to be a snare.

Ben preached a message using the Bible. I am unsure if it was Biblical, but he certainly used the Bible. It was wonderful that he included three Old Testament stories, yet predictably he made them out to be some kind of prefigure of Jesus. That wasn’t too bad, I suppose, and there ARE types of Jesus in the Old Testament. No harm comes from this sort of teaching, though it does violence to the text to impose an external idea (Jesus, or the preacher’s interpretation of him) onto a text written a thousand years prior.

Yet a teacher who insists that he has a message no other church grasps, and provides ample Bible verses to support his claims can often get a free pass when he makes contentious statements. He got his free pass when he insisted that Psalm 105:37 said that there was no sick person among all the exiles from Egypt, on account of them having eaten the Passover.

Allow me to state clearly, for my own benefit as much as anyone else’s, that this verse says nothing of the sort.

Kashal is the verb used in this verse and it clearly has nothing to do with sickness. It is a walking image employed here, telling the reader that because of God’s saving work in the Exodus, his people escaped without being overrun. This is clear in all the contemporary translations I have and appears to be yet another reason to put the KJV back on the shelf.

Pastor Ben told the congregation that 2 million Israelites were cured of their ills as they ate passover and fled Egypt!

If you believe on (Jesus) you can have no feeble person among you!

He closed his sermon with a story from Numbers 21:4-9–The story of the golden snake.

And when he told this story, I was pierced in heart and my conscience was plagued. For I have griped against God and against those who lead churches! Pastor Ben was clear that “if you find yourself whining about God and whining about the people in authority over you, you have a problem”.

I have not quite gotten round to a tearful repentance and mass deletion of all my past posts, so you can judge for yourself how far into my heart Ben’s words reached. Jesus came as a man to live amongst humans and was crucified by them for his trouble. If his life and death can be called the life and death of God, then I am inclined to believe that God is capable of bearing with my sinful impatience and pride.

Yet I cannot bear with a man who would open a church by:

1. Denouncing “the majority of other churches” as riddled with satanic teaching.

2. Making misleading claims about the Bible and about what Christians can expect to normally experience.

3. Dismissing criticism and complaint as a sinful problem of the person complaining.

These were the things I observed at Tree of Life Church, Watford in their opening service. Now if the Devil is an Angel of Light, it need not be said that the mere presence of miracles signifies the blessing of God over a church. But for those of you who still remember that this service was called a “healing and miracles” service I shall describe what I saw of that:

An assortment of people lined up at the front. They each in turn described their ache or pain to Pastor Ben, who then laid a hand and prayed in tongues. A few moments later he would stop, and ask if the pain had gone. If it had not, he would explicitly command the pain to go. The line thinned as each person reported some kind of pain relief.

I do not know if those were miracles. If they were, I am grateful to God for them.

Yet I shall not be supporting Tree of Life Watford and will not advise anyone to attend there. It is the tried and true rhetoric of a cult which promises all the candy, and the chocolate cake which has been out of reach for everyone else.

3 thoughts on “Tree of Life Church, Watford

  1. I have spent some time in prayer and meditation as to how to respond to this blog. Needless to say there were those of us present who did not see the service in the same light as Ian – you may say we were biaised in the opposite direction to Ian – or that we were more open minded. My thoughts as follows:

    a) Some comments from various sources on facebook this week unrelated to this blog but with comments that seem pertinent to it:
    It’s easier to demonise what’s working than admit what you’ve got is not working.

    Why so many take advice from miserable people is beyond me. Find people happy with their life to take your advice from

    b) Here is the link to last Saturday’s sermon for those who would wish to make up their own mind about what Pastor Ben said rather than relying on Ian’s interpretation: http://www.treeoflifewatford.com/healing-service.html

    c) two of the people who went up for prayer for healing have been known to me for over 20 years – i trust their integrity and their judgement.

    d) here are two healing testimonies following on from Pastor Ben’s healing services which have medical records to collaborate the miracle – I believe in a God who’s will it is ALWAYS to heal. I believe if we don’t see healing the fault doesn’t lie with a capricious God – but with our doubt and unbelief..,.

    ……….had scoliosis of the spine – the bottom of his spine was in an S shape and there was a muscle growth. Every step he took was agonizing pain.After prayer, he could walk without pain and he is on a massively reduced amount of painkillers. The osteopath said it has to be a miracle because the bones are now straight and the muscle mass – well, more than half of it has just disappeared.

    Just found out a lady we prayed for last week who had breast cancer had the lump disappear completely. Isn’t God wonderful!

    My answer – He CERTAINLY IS

    e) This is what Pastor Ben will be preaching on for the next few weeks at Watford – may be a challenge to those of you who are against the Grace/Word of faith/Miracles and Healings camp but maybe worth a listen anyway don’t you think. Link will be available shortly after each Saturday service: The church has by and large suffered from identity theft – Christians don’t know how much they are loved by God, that Jesus yoke is gentle and His burden light and that the Holy Spirit is not there to convict us of sin, but to comfort us in our afflictions. This message will show you how the devil acts to convince you that you are only human, and will show you what God thinks and says about you.

    f) Ian seems to believe that only a few points of reference in the Old Testament are types of Christ – strange how Jesus – beginning at Moses and ALL the prophets expounded unto them IN ALL the scriptures the things concenring himself (Luke 24) – maybe Jesus knew a little more about how All of scripture points to him than Ian currently understands.

    f) Ian failed to comment on the fact he was amazed to find the worship leader serving coffee. Also he failed to mention Pastor Ben made sure he spoke personally to every one of the 41 people rather than standing blandly by the door to catch people as they left. His wife and his four children were actively involved and willingly interacted with people including teenage son (which says something about his ability to bring up a godly family) , Others had travelled from Dagenham and Guildford on a Saturday night to support him because they had been impressed with his belief and integrity. He has since personally written to every person who completed a slip (for which they got a box of chocolates). What Ian wouldn’t know is that Ben has already offered to meet up for coffee to someone who he didn’t know, who came along and who has issues.

    I am sad that at one point in the address Ian found his heard pierced and his conscience plagued – I feel sad ian has yet to comprehend Romans 8 v 1.

    Needless to say unlike Ian I shall be rushing back to Tree of Life Watford this Saturday because – and I speak from a good few years more experience than Ian – this is the ONLY church in Watford I have found to be speaking the message of the Gospel – the Almost too good to be true news of the Grace of Christ – and I would strongly recommed any one who is scared of God and fed up of being told that you are a sinner in the hands of an angry God, comes along or at the very least listens online to the excellent sermons uploaded. Would Especially recommend The R Word as a starting point.

    g) Kashal certainly does have an image of walking but to try and “spiritualise” it as Ian has tried to do is I believe to mislead the reader. If you take the word in context, look at what Hebrew scholars would believe about this word and how it was translated in the septuatant into greek one cannot miss the point that this is talking about the physical ability to walk unaided and escape the enemy. I can accept one could choose not to view it as an entire physical healing of every ailment but to be faithful and honest to the text and context one must surely concede that it would have been a miracle that upwards of 2 millions people left egypt and escaped their enemy without even one of them being unable to walk and needing physical assistance – especially given they were a rag tag bundle of badly treated and beaten slaves and would have certainly included old age pensioners etc. How ever much you choose to down play this miracle to suit your own religious bent – a miracle certainly took place – and there is no doubt that this was a miracle of physical healing – which was the point of the talk.

    The word used in the septuatant is the same word used 3 times in Matthew 25, in Luke 10, Acts 5, 1 Cor 11 and very obviously can mean physically sick – to deny that the hebrew interpretation would lead one away from understanding an absence of a physcial ailment is to abuse the text in order to support a personal theory.

  2. I WAS AT THIS MEETING, I THINK iAN MUST HAVE HAD AN ISSUE BEFORE HE WALKED IN THE HALL!!! I MUST HAVE BEEN LISTENING TO A DIFFEENT SERMON, SORRY MATE, YOU GET THIS ONE ALL WRONG.PAUL

  3. Thank you for your considered article about this service.

    I was very struck by your line “Ben preached a message using the Bible. I am unsure if it was Biblical, but he certainly used the Bible”….this has been my feeling about some of his sermons I have listened to at the Dagenham branch.

    I am a believer in the finished work of Christ and Grace and Faith teaching generally, so there ought to be no surprises for me here. But I find that Mr Conway does seem to develop his own theology when it suits him. For example his invention of the concept of ‘followship’ by cutting and pasting several OT stories together by way of illustration. As a Christian I am a Disciple of Christ, not a follower of any man.

    I also think that defending the sermon based on the pastor’s personal integrity and social skills as another commenter has done is a blind alley…a sermon should be able to stand up on its own integrity according to the Word of God without other recourse, in my opinion.

    Incidentally,Mr Conway has been indefinitely barred from teaching by a Prohibition order from the Secretary of State following misconduct trial which found him to have sent inappropriate sexual messages to a vulnerable pupil, so I would suggest that those ‘who had had been impressed with his belief and integrity’ may have been misled in this regard.

    I believe Titus 2 v.7+8 sets the standard very high in terms of God’s requirements for leaders personal conduct and I think that criticising the way other church’s conducts themselves in a sermon when one’s own church has such blatant problems of its own is foolhardy at best and I believe Matt 7v5 suggests it to be hypocrisy..

Leave a Reply