Gatewaychurch.com says of itself: “Gateway is a COME AS YOU ARE kind of church – a community of imperfect people doing life together, helping each other become all that God created us to be. Whether you’ve had a relationship with God for years or you’re not even sure God exists, come as you are. Bring your questions, doubts, fears, and hurts – but as we say, NO PERFECT PEOPLE ALLOWED — because pretending just keeps us stuck” (https://www.gatewaychurch.com/new-here/new-to-gateway/getting-started/). They have 5 Austin area locations and one in Branson, Missouri. They are indeed a gateway, but to what?
We attended their Pflugerville location, and like all non-liturgical, contemporary worship, make-it-up-as-you-go churches, they were in the midst of a message series. (To call it a sermon seems is to add a note of the sacred, the divine, the holy, that they definitely want no part of.) The 4 week series is “Trust Me If You Can”. Week #2 is “Trust Leadership if You Can.” They use your bad experience with church leadership to drive you into their welcoming, accepting, arms, and into the arms of a god the purposely leave undefined, unidentified.
You think this is too extreme? Well when they begin by defining bad, abusive leadership as being inflexible in doctrine and using dogma, I’d say they are on the broad path of spirituality. While being a heavily organized church with persons identified for every task, ministry, role, and ‘job’, they present themselves as a bulwark against “organized religion.” No, they don’t come out this that plainly, but they are at war with traditional churches, and this was their call to arms; rather, the call to their arms.
I asked my wife what she thought before I said anything. “Self-help, self-improvement with a little bit of God thrown in.” Here’s what I wrote down 20 minutes into the “service”: “This is antichristian worship in that it is worship of people. Our praise, our feeling, our faith, our love, our surrender, our reframing, redefining, our positive mental attitude is what counts.”
Rev. 13:18 says the number of the beast is really the number of mankind. Here’s a transliteration of it: “ton arithmon toῦ thērίou, arithmos gar anthrώpou estίn, kai o arithmos autoῦ exakόsioi exήkonta ex.” “Beast” (toῦ thērίou ) has the article; man does not and is often translated ‘a man’ which leads to using numerology to decipher which man has the number. Using 21st a century None reading his Bible for the first time, (I’m replacing the South Pacific islander because it’s more likely that he has read his Bible many times and is already a Christian.), how could he possibly come to any definitive understanding of that verse? But anthrώpou doesn’t have the article which means it can be translated generically as “mankind”.
Mankind what he thinks, does, says is the center of Gateway worship. The two sacraments are your surrendering of your self, your situation, your problems, and your prayers on behalf of others and your self. The ‘service” begins with the obligatory 3 song set by an easy listening, very emotive, and highly repetitious house band. The 45 or so minute monologue was a young late 20-something or early 30-something stringing together every buzzword, cliché, and ‘what’s-trending now’ to make his point: It’s not you; it’s not God; it’s the bad church leaders you’ve had in the past, and Gateway is offering you recovery in their open arms. This was the speaker’s point, but his use of current internet, social media language could have been generational and not salesmanship. I say this because he spoke of Joseph prospering in Potiphar’s house saying he, Joseph, “was on the up and up.” That’s a misuse of that idiom. He meant to say Joseph “was on his way up.” However, being guilty of literally laying hundreds of eggcorns in thousands of sermons, I give him a pass on this one.
My wife agreed this had more the character of an AA meeting than a divine service. (The Serenity Prayer came up twice, and we were told that in fact was Joseph’s prayer. Who knew?) Recovery is the appeal; they offer a gateway, but Gateway wants to leave the where or more precisely to whom up to you. To a point. It’s their leadership, their church, their view of life, religion, and god that is at the end of their rainbow.
This church is for all who have been raised in a church where all they got was Word and Sacrament, the historic creeds, and maybe even catechetical instruction, and found that abusive, boring, or not enough. Welcome to the antithesis of that. You deserve it.