Updated: Jul 26, 2019
Due to Life Church Utah’s decision to not cooperate with ‘Check My Church’, a closer look was warranted. Having been trained by a Pentecostal Bible College, and in being a member of a similar Pentecostal megachurch, I felt that perhaps looking a bit deeper under the hood may be beneficial for a fairer appraisal.
I should for the interest of the reader, state that I am a member of two churches currently, with Shawn McCraney’s Alathea Ministries being the closer doctrinally I resonate too. Firstly and foremostly I remain a truth seeker, and I am certainly not from the mainstream hardcore Pentecostal ilk, although I know and have a great many friends who are, who over the years I am convinced have a true heart and spiritual relationship with God. My second church classification would perhaps best be described as a Free Methodist. So here goes.
About the Church
Life Church Utah declined to cooperate with Check My Church and was evasive from the start, which always is a cause for concern. Superficially the organization seemed to look quite well run, maintained and established. But evidence to support Life Church’s case within the public domain seems somewhat sparse; and their wilful hindrance of our enquiries does even less for a glowing profile.
One of the first things noticed on doing a background check is that Life Church Salt Lake City, Utah comes under the Assemblies of God umbrella. Checking the Assemblies of God registered churches quickly shed light on the fact Life Church Utah is the main campus, currently under Reverend Richard A Wooten. There are also apparently two other venues associated with this church. A Spanish speaking and community campus that goes by the name of Iglesia Vida, which seems to operate from the main Salt Lake City Site under Reverend Marco A Alvarado, and Tooele, Utah, for which Reverend Dustin P Williams takes responsibility.
Looking at the websites for all three venues as you would expect the main Salt Lake City site is professionally crafted, the Spanish Iglesia Vida not quite as such and the Tooele one just baffling! Clicking on the link from the Assemblies of God (AoG) website for the Tooele church brings up a webpage showing ‘Top Guide of Recreation’ as a title, with the opening line ‘The water in Mexico is fantastic! Tennis, golf, fishing charters, luxury transportation and fancy cathedrals…all included.’ Interestingly, the email address given uses the same domain; so this might be something they will wish to fix? However, once you get past the misinformation and locate the correct Life Church Tooele website things improve.
The services I watched both in Spanish and American all seemed very well organized and were quite pleasant to view. Similar to many services today, there is a large emphasis on the worship music, with topical bible message themes and presentations. These do not go verse by verse, but do convey the message and are well and thoughtfully composed.
Looking at the website, there are also Bible classes and home groups whereby presumably more of the Word of God is taught. However, from the off, their New Believer twenty-four page introduction booklet is very well thought out, does show that they place great strength on the Word of God and Praying; and other than pushing tithing towards the end quoting things like Malachi 3:8-9 and the classical contextual tithing misappropriation of scripture, is quite reasonable. It is often amazing how religions selectively reinvent which Old Testament laws they reintroduce; especially as Christians are not supposed to be under the law of Moses anymore.
It is very clear that great emphasis is placed upon Christian giving, and there are a bewildering number of ways in which the church helps you to give. ‘water aid’, ‘missions’, charitable events’, ‘sponsoring an overseas child’, ‘private donations’ plus other time and service involvement opportunities. In helping people to do this, the church does seem very persistent and somewhat overbearing with its approach.
Life Church does have a strong community presence, and there are seemingly great opportunities to get involved. Being linked to one of the world’s largest Pentecostal bodies does mean that some people may take exception to some of the teachings like praying in tongues and deliverance from sickness being provided for from the atonement. Being a part of a much larger international movement does however carry benefits, and the Assemblies of God governance does help to standardize ministry operations globally.
Life Church Utah was dismissive about the questionnaire. However, due to their public domain entries, some of the answers could be extrapolated and have consequently been filled in where appropriate.
1. What is your church's official position on tithing?
The new Believers Booklet makes it quite clear that tithings expected, it states: “But if you don’t pay your tithe, God considers that theft against him. God made this indictment against Israel because they were stealing God’s tithe and using it for themselves… Malachi 3:8-9 (NLT) 8 “Should people cheat God? Yet you have cheated me! “But you ask, ‘What do you mean? When did we ever cheat you?’ “You have cheated me of the tithes and offerings due to me. 9 You are under a curse, for your whole nation has been cheating me. Notice that Israel was under God’s curse because they were stealing his tithe and keeping it for themselves. The same can be true today. If you want God’s favor over all of your life…this is a foundational principle…make sure you give God his tithe - which is the ﬁrst 10% of your income” [Italics and underlining added for clarity]
2. Does your church have a particular set of rules or requirements that members must follow or abide by in order to retain their membership status with the church?
No Life Church code of conduct was found within the public domain, and the church declined to answer the questionnaire. It is clear however, that certain expectations do exist within the membership. An example of this can be seen through the child dedication policy. The policy from their website states:
“Requirements: If a couple wishes to dedicate their child to the Lord they must both be committed to living godly lives as examples to their child and meet all the requirements listed.
· This means the parents or a parent must have accepted Christ as his/her personal Savior. Parents who have not placed their faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord will be unable to submit their children to God’s will and His ways, because they themselves do not know the ways of the Lord. As a result, we must decline any requests to involve an unbelieving parent in the dedication of a child.
· A mother and father should be legally married. (If not, we offer an alternative of child blessings, see the portion below for more information.) We believe that unmarried parents living together do not set a Christ-like example. Therefore, unmarried parents will be advised to wait until they are married to dedicate their child. Single parents who dedicate their children may not have boyfriends or girlfriends present with them on stage at the time of dedication. A believing parent may dedicate a child independently of an unbelieving spouse.
· Parents should be attenders of Life Church.
· Grandparents are allowed to dedicate grandchildren upon meeting the requirements above.“
The website also goes on to say:
“At Life Church we understand that people can be in different stages of life. We offer a child blessing as an alternative to those who cannot meet the requirements of a child dedication ceremony at this time. However we do encourage everyone to take the steps listed in the requirements above to be the best godly examples to their children that they can be.
Child blessings will be preformed as a separate ceremony to take place either in the home of the family or at the church (Not during a service) upon request through the church office.
Requirements: A personal meeting with a staff pastor of your choice to answer any questions should be arranged through the church office and to talk about the significance of a child blessing.”
Policies and expectations do exist within Life Church, although many of them may not be readily available unto new members straight from the public domain. It is disappointing that Life Church chooses not to disclose its disciplinary policies and membership obligations freely, as many people would like to know these sort of things before joining.
3. What is your church's official position on the doctrine of salvation? Through grace, works, both?
From the ‘What We Believe’ section of Life Churches website we get the following:
“Salvation is deliverance from spiritual death and enslavement by sin. God provides salvation for all who believe and accept His free offer of forgiveness. Mankind’s only hope of redemption from the fallen sinful state is through the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son–blood that was shed as Jesus died on the cross.” This statement acknowledges Jesus, and other than requiring belief and a willingness to accept (which are normal prerequisites) comes down on Grace, which is excellent!
4. Are you transparent with your church's financial information? How much does your church bring in through donations and tithing, and how is that money distributed? What do your profit on average?
Clearly NOT transparent, as no details were forthcoming: The church, however, has multiple sites, and therefore, expenses and seemingly employs paid staff. The business acumen, site expansions and buildings good maintenance do allude to the organization being profitable.
5. Which denomination does your church align with the most, if any?
“Assemblies of God” one of the world’s leading Pentecostal organizations with over 57 million followers worldwide.
6. Is your church's pastor available for other questions or comments regarding the church, its doctrines, etc.?
Life Church declined to answer the question, and no reliable proof was freely available over the internet?
7. How is your church's doctrinal flexibility and tolerance? If a member has a disagreement with the pastor or leadership on a certain doctrine, how is it handled? Does the church change its position on doctrines fairly often, if at all?
No information upon doctrinal flexibility or tolerance was received. Nor was any information on how Life Church handles doctrinal changes, theological disputes with the pastors or leadership, or in how often the church may change its position on certain doctrines.
8. Does your church require that its members be baptized? What is your church's official position on baptism?
Being a Pentecostal themed church more emphasis is on Baptism of the Holy Spirit. The Life Church website states, “All believers are entitled to receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit, and therefore should expect and earnestly seek the promise of the Father, according to the command of our Lord Jesus Christ. This was the normal experience of all believers in the early Christian church. With the experience comes the provision of power for victorious Christian living and productive service. It also provides believers with specific spiritual gifts for more effective ministry. The baptism of Christians in the Holy Spirit is accompanied by the initial physical sign of speaking in other tongues (unlearned languages) as the Spirit of God gives them audible expression.” [Italics and underlining added for clarity]
The required speaking of unlearnt languages as proof of baptism by the Holy Spirit is quite a controversial topic that many Christian denominations, senior theologians and even this reporter would dispute for sound doctrinal reasons. But each unto their own on this. The more interesting thing really is that Life Church also expects water baptism as its website states:
“Christians have been commanded to be baptized, and we should do so out of obedience to, and love for Jesus (John 14:15). Water baptism is the Biblical method of baptism because of its symbolic representation of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ” [Italics and underlining added for clarity]
9. Please describe what a typical service and/or meeting looks like in your church.
Again no information was made available from Life Church in answer to this question. However, from their Facebook and websites, it was possible to view several services, which I did do in both English and Spanish.
In reality, the services were just as you would expect from a competent Pentecostal Megachurch. There was a heavy emphasis on the music worship, some announcements, and the typical topical Sunday sermon – which uses some biblical teachings and generally applies them to modern-day parallels (for a more detailed account see the worship and sermon section below).
10. How many people do you have on staff at your church, both paid and volunteer?
Life Church declined to answer this.
11. What is the pastor's educational history?
The senior pastor Rich Wooten at Salt Lake Life Church on his Facebook page declares, ‘Studies Master's of Divinity at Bethel Seminary’. He was also the former pastor at Calvary Church West. Dustin Williams from the Tooele Campus states that he studied at West Coast Bible College & Seminary and not much is known about Reverend Marco A Alvarado, from the Iglesia Vida Campus.
12. How does the church discipline its members with their sin?
No information on this has been made available from Life Church at all. Their child dedication policy, however, as demonstrated within question two, clearly shows that sanctions are taken when it is deemed appropriate from the church.
13. How is the pastor compensated (income, benefits, bonuses, etc.)?
The church refused to discuss or elaborate on this information.
14. What is the size of your church and any other space the church owns for meetings and church services?
This information was not provided; however, the church does list under three names as of current: Life Church Utah, Iglesia Vida, and Life Church Tooele. Their websites also seemingly show some association to the others — at least one of these sites host two services to handle a large number of worship delegates. The Salt Lake City site also utilizes balcony seating to increase capacity further. As far as it can be discerned, the three campus churches seem to use two reasonably sized locations.
The Worship and Sermons Viewed
Life Church, Utah
The Journey/ BLESSING (Mother's Day) published May 12th, 2019.
Welcome to Life Church published May 19th, 2019
Life Church, Tooele
Service published May 19th, 2019
Iglesia Vida, Utah
Repercucuines Servicio en VIVO 05/05/19 published May 5th, 2019
Repercucuines Servicio en VIVO 05/05/19 published May 5th, 2019
.V. El Destino Final published May 26th, 2019
Worship is a very typical Pentecostal style and closely based on a concert performance, which is now quite typical of many churches. Iglesia Vida does a good job in mirroring Life Church’s style while keeping the singing and announcements in Spanish, which is their congregational language. I am not a fan of instructions from the stage against a countdown clock to greet people! But that’s a personal style difference, and most Pentecostal churches perform similar practices of expecting church attendees to go about greeting and meeting people during their services for a short while.
What I am surprised about is the American signage for this clock, instead of transposing it into Spanish wherever appropriate for the Iglesia Vida congregation. But a good balance is hit between worship and sermons, which is a credit unto this ministry, as many Pentecostal churches nowadays seem to have the sermons almost as an afterthought, and certainly, it is plain to see that the congregations here are lovingly praising God.
This could almost have come out of a textbook. The Sermons from each of the sites tend to be well-prepared and thought out, being scripted within the now common Pentecostal delivery style (using visual aids and moving around the stage).
The presenters and I will use the term presenters do a very good job of trying to make the sermons deliverable, easily understood and engaging. But it is fair to say, that today much of the sermon delivery style is more about entertainment than real scriptural or spiritual content. The exception to this seems to be more at the Spanish campus Iglesia Vida, of which out of the sermons checked, no visual stage props were used, and where the teaching seemed more doctrinally message based.
Is the Sermon Topical or a Verse by Verse Study of the Bible?
The sermons sampled for this report all tended to be topical with scriptures, and biblical stories are woven into them to help emphasize the teachings. In all fairness actually, quite a bit of work went into this research-wise, and some of the information as relating to the biblical examples was very timely and well-studied.
Not sure I am a great fan of these topical services, but here at Life Church they seemingly tend to deliver them as good as almost any other place.
Is the heart of the sermon about preaching the Gospel, studying the Word, and glorifying God? Or is it more about you, and a self-help message?
This is a bit of a hard one to judge. Clearly, the topical subject matter and dipping into the scriptures along with the visual aids and stage performances lean more to about you and self-help messages. However, careful research, preparation and intent is applied to help ensure God's word is heard, understood and that God is glorified.
I cannot fully vouch for the entire Spanish sermon, as only parts of this are understood by myself being a none speaking Spanish individual. But it seemed to follow the larger organizations set trends, being theme focused but without such an array of equipment props. What was particularly delightful was where someone was giving the sermon who did not speak Spanish to Iglesia Vida, careful and precise translation was made available, and this seemed to run extremely smoothly. Which also implies that this sort of translation service is both frequently used and well managed.
If you ever wished to see how to deal with sermon translations into other languages, then Life Church and Iglesia Vida can practically give a master class. God and individuals are; hence both beneficiaries of what often are delightful sermons. So unusually I must say Life Church performs a balancing act here, in which it cunningly can pass for ticking both boxes. Perhaps the only downside of this is that in subduing each side to hit a balance, some of the potency is watered-down.
How often is the Bible used? Is it used contextually or out of context to support the topical sermon?
On May 12th at Salt Lake Life Church Utah, a sermon occurred on Mother’s Day continuing the theme of life and faith being a journey. During this presentation, the scriptures seemed to be cited by index eleven times, with the sermon being under thirty minutes in length. Out of this time, under three and a half minutes was used up reading from the bible.
Some of this is in fairness was due to summarizing the scriptures to save time, but the fact remains that the scriptures were being used to help support the themed sermon rather than taking a biblical reading and then trying to give parallels or modern-day examples from them if needed for clarification.
Scripturally I tend to be a little more lenient on people reading into the scriptures, as sometimes these are subjective (Eisegesis) stances. With the pastors having been trained, there was not what I would call serious contextual abuse, although surely some theologians would like to argue over this? But at this level, generally, the message was well presented, reasonably entertaining and certainly did utilize scripture and teachings from the bible.
From what was seen as examples, most sermons seem to follow a similar pattern to the one just quoted. There is some danger of Life Church reading into the scriptures and applying them at times out of context, but this can at times be a general issue with the Pentecostal movement. Certainly, the pastors here seemed to take some trouble to ensure that the quotations within their talks are not really off base to their understanding.
There is some unease over the Repercucuines Servicio en VIVO from the Spanish Campus though. Here some heavy prosperity and God's will teachings were aired, including God's abundant prosperity plan for individuals - for not just money and material things, but other promises of heaven coming unto you. These teachings are highly controversial and very questionable to anyone knowing scripture, and how the disciples suffered, and how Jesus said his followers too could suffer!
This particular episode did come across as well presented and enjoyable to watch - but of questionable contextual doctrinal accuracy. If you are someone who has been burnt before from religion, you may wish to investigate some of the founding beliefs before going to deep in joining Life Church and its associated campuses.
Out of the near thirty-six minutes of footage of this sermon, scripture was specifically quoted and referenced only six times and bearing in mind the fact someone was pausing while the Spanish translation was done; less than three minutes of actual specific scripture reading time is a tad woeful. However, as the footage shows, the pastor did paraphrase scripture quite a bit and did tell the stories unto the congregation.
The Grace Scale
There are some concerns over both the reintroduction and interpretation of laws, over matters such as baptism by water, by the Holy Spirit and tongues, plus others like the child dedication/blessing regulations. Life Church Utah is clearly somewhat stricter than some other Pentecostal churches, and certainly not as open to answering outsiders concerns or questions. Some of the practices being curtailed due to marital status, or attendance, or the legalistic expectation of tithing do impede the balance of grace being applied.
The Political Scale
Nothing political whatsoever was found on their website, within the sermons, or in their doctrinal statements. So currently they would fall right in the middle of the political scale.
Scandals, History, & Controversy
There does not seem to be any earlier evidence of scandals or controversy, even despite dropping down into Facebook and Twitter. As far as can be discerned the pastors all have had some verifiable pastoral training for their roles. Little is known about the sub-ministries and the volunteers working for Life Church; especially as Life Church declined cooperation. Their dismissive stance to discourage investigative checks is contentious, and this does mean that there is now at least one current controversy.
Life Church and its associated campuses do come across as lively, God loving, community based and should have real potential with an open and responsive leadership team! While some areas like the dual language campus, the opportunities to get involved, and the community support and training are certainly worthy of praise.
Others such as their doctrinal interpretations of tithes, baptism expectations and child dedication policies are not. Spiritually this church may not be for everyone, and certainly, people burnt from religion need perhaps to tread carefully over further possible theological letdowns; especially if the current trend on selective disclosure or restrictive cooperation abounds. Particularly when considering some of the more controversial doctrinal beliefs like speaking in tongues, and deliverance from sickness being provided for from the atonement.
During our investigations, Life Church was found to be exceptionally uncooperative, and alarmingly excessive in doctrinal legalism even when compared to some other Assemblies of God churches. The fact there are also additional doctrines under the governing body that are not seemingly explained, or in places even disclosed unto potential new members is also a major concern, and so seals the ‘Not Recommended’ rating!