Sunday, June 03, 2007

a grudge

I have had, for a long time, a grudge of sorts against Pentecostals. I'm not saying this is fair, or unilateral, or anything - in fact, it would be hard to live with a bitter aversion to Pentecostalism as some of my best friends are Pentecostal, or go to a Pentecostal church (ha! this is sounding worse and worse and I'm just digging myself a deeper hole).

Please let me try to explain myself (properly): I went to a Christian high school, where a lot of people went to Pentecostal churches on Sunday, would talk about amazing miracles and how they spoke in tongues, and then the rest of the week be bratty, insincere, drunk teenagers. That, for a start, put me off, because I don't see how the Holy Spirit can give you such wonderful 'gifts' and then for the rest of the week you can forget about them. Obviously, this is not the behaviour of all or most Pentecostals, and I have long since got over that.

But for the purpose of this blog post, the more important thing that has annoyed me about Pentecostalism is the implication that if you 'have' the Holy Spirit, you're going to be showing it in some fairly wacky ways. Last year one of my very best friends would go on about this all the time, and I could tell she thought I wasn't that great or fulfilled a Christian because I don't speak in tongues or fall down screaming all over the place on the slightest encouragement, and I don't dance around when I sing at church, and my church is a quiet, fairly restrained place. I also have some pretty strong opinions about faith 'healers' such as Benny Hinn. While this perception of my 'spirituality' annoyed me, it also made me feel quite insecure about my acceptance by God. What if the Holy Spirit did only come to believers in that way? What if I was a cold, repellent being who hadn't yet come to true faith or true acceptance? Who is the Holy Spirit, anyway? (Although, then, I tended to think of him more as an 'it'.) Because I'm not the sort of Christian who is going to go to the other extreme and say that there's no such thing as speaking in tongues etc etc, I found it very hard to find a firm place to stand on the spectrum, and I've tended to be sometimes a little flippant, even rude, about the Pentecostal church.

Lately, however, I've begun (thank God) to feel very strongly that the Holy Spirit is always present in my life. Because some Pentecostals presented him in a very specific light, it took me a long time to come to a realisation that he'd never actually been gone from me - but now, I've realised that whenever I hear God talking to me, through the Bible or through my conscience or through people or through anything else, it's him. That seems such a simplistic, obvious thing to say, but it's taken a long time for me to realise it. As I write this, I'm not quite sure how to put into words exactly what this means to me. It's like I've had a friend hanging round me all my life whom I've only just discovered, a personality that has only just made itself known to me, although I've felt him there all along - it's just I always assumed I had to label him God the Father or Jesus Christ, because I wasn't experiencing him in a way that made me inclined to writhe around on the floor. I suppose it's a bit like that footprints in the sand poem that people always quote.

So this is my grudge against the Pentecostal church (although it's not really a grudge, perhaps more of a concern): I'm only just getting to know someone who has actually been there for a long time, because the way they portrayed him didn't add up with my experience. Who says the Holy Spirit needs to work in the same way, every time? Not the Bible, that's for sure. I think the fact, also, that Christians feel forced to categorise God into three neat little boxes (that's the Spirit, that's the Father, and that's the Son) goes entirely against our own doctrine and the Word of God - God is not an entirely understandable God. He is mysterious. This doesn't mean he's unknowable, but there are things about him that we don't need to understand quite yet. That is what I was trying to do, unsuccessfully.

So I would encourage any Pentecostals who may read this (not that I'm saying every Pentecostal fits into the same box, either) to be very careful about the way you present God. (I would also encourage the other extreme not to scoff at acts of the Holy Spirit; it's just that the former view has presented more problems for me personally.)


Trish Ryan said...

As usual, this is a great post! Yay God for showing you how the Holy Spirit is in you, around you, working in your life - and you don't necessarily need to roll or dance or flop about to prove it. I've rolled and flopped a bit, but much of that seemed less about God and more about something else (I'm not sure what?) But there have been moments like what you describe, where words leap off the pages of the Bible, or I suddenly know exactly what to say in a difficult situation, that it seems so clear that the Holy Spirit is there.

It all comes down to this one truth...God is nice and he likes us :)

LEstes65 said...

I'm with Trish. And I understand your post. I grew up in one church extreme and then bounced around many other extremes - including Pentecostal churches. Seeing as how I grew up in the stick-up-the-butt type of worship, the Pentecostal thing was a bit much for me. But I was lucky to have close close friends who were Pentecostal - and therefore, I knew they were sincere and not fake. (Benny Hinn, I have a whole other book I could write on him - not a big fan.)

As a former (and probably current in some ways, too) hypocrit, I will tell you that I wish I could apologize to every single person who saw me witness to any part of my faith and then saw me stoned or drunk at other times. I wish I could go back and apoligize for the people who heard the amazing stories I told of the Holy Spirit literally touching me (and I do mean that) and then heard amazing venom spew forth from my ignorant adolescent mouth (and I mean not just as a teen).

I have run into many people like you describe. And not just Pentecostals. I know you weren't saying they're the only ones that pigeon-hole any aspect of God. But like I said, I have been part of many different Christian demoninations. And even those that won't preach it officially have some kind of subliminal dogma that is inherent in all humans. I'm sure I'm guilty still.

But I'm with you - God/Jesus/Holy Spirit - He manifests in different ways for everyone. Thank GOODness for that. Because if we were all running around with the same gift, what good would that do? God talks to me in my gut - some call it discernment. Sometimes, like you and Trish, he throws words off the page of a passage that just hit me like they've never hit before. Other times, it's through the words of friends or even strangers.

I have tried to stop boxing God in a long time ago. I'll have to check and make sure I really did remove that box!!

God rocks. And he thinks YOU rock.

Carolyn Burns Bass said...

Pentacostals, charasmatics, reformers, baptists, catholics, anglicans, et al. Each of these segments of Christianity have a piece of the puzzle, but no one on this side of the veil can see the whole picture, let alone where the puzzle piece fits. Denominations make a big mistake in thinking they are the whole puzzle, rather than just a part.

Bobby said...

I don’t mean to butt in but im not so sure about something maybe im reading the comment wrong but

"Denominations make a big mistake in thinking they are the whole puzzle, rather than just a part"

I have to say i strongly disagree I honestly don’t believe that a piece of anything has anything to do with the denomination of the church but rather the relationship with God that the Head of the church has, ie the pastor, priest whatever. Truth does not come from church agenda or routine but whether the minister is close enough to God to interpret correctly what God is saying.

i do not believe that a postmodernist approach to a persons faith is ever a wise thing to do.

Im right your right were all right when, ever is there a situation when two conflicting opinions are discovered to be both right without compromise?? it just doesn’t happen and if God is un compromisable logically someone’s gotta be right and someone’s gotta be wrong.

despite what you feel is best for you, you do not make the rules God does, you cant walk into a job and tell your boss how you work, what your hours are and what you feel would be more comfortable to just doesn’t work that way ,you take the Job or you dont. God gives us the decision of being saved or not being saved, not how we are saved and how we may go about being saved. its, in or out and foolishness to believe otherwise.

also I understand completely, having also attended a Christian school kids run riot at chapel and of Sundays talking of how they felt the holy spirit, Tongues, healing, crying the whole bit but come the next day completely different but what i came to understand is my memories of this are of children, and children do as they see whether they experience it or not. not lying as such rather putting the face on at church to project what they think everybody thinks they are, nothing wrong with trying to be better but if everybody is pretending to be what they think everybody else is, then the reality is that no body is actually what they think everybody is, and the result is a church full of people pretending in which a devout Anglican would pick up on straight away and in one single moment would categorise the whole Pentecostal doctrine over a minority of people afraid to admit that they are not perfect... Christians nay people are like this because we are proud.

but make no mistake the holy spirit is real its not speaking in tongues or tears or healing or anything like that though they are signs, it is simply the power of God manifest as a spirit

ironically its one of those gifts that is only given if you ask for it. doesn’t make you any more or less of a Christian but understand its not only the power for God to heal and perform miraculous signs in you and through but the help to live a convicted and uncompromised life and that is biblical

I try to think of it as the change that occurred in the disciples after Pentecost. Before hand they were no less holy and no less forgiven as sinners but after, they were given the power through the Holy Spirit to do what God was calling them to do

that’s what i make of it anyway i enjoyed reading your post and blog

Beck said...

Excellent post. I don't have such extremes of Pentecostalism around here, but my very liberal church often makes slams against "fundamentalist" Christians, which I find distasteful and... un-Christian.

ellesappelle said...

Trish, Lynette: thanks!

Bobby: You're perfectly welcome to butt in :)
I think I know where you're coming from and I totally agree that there are some things that are just plain right or wrong, and God can only see them one way. All the same, I think what Carolyn was saying is that even if we think that our denomination has got it right in general (and there's nothing wrong with that), we have to be humble enough to admit that there's a possibility we may have a few inaccuracies somewhere. Maybe not so much inaccuracies but a wrong order of priorities. Or something like that. For example, one of the churches Jesus speaks to in Revelation (I forget which one and am too lazy to go and check right now) is accused not of any actual deviation from the truth, but of losing its first love. So I think what Carolyn was saying was that there a lot of things hidden from us right now. Some of us have certain bits right while we don't have others so perfect, and one day that is all going to become clear to us.
Anyway, thanks for visiting and commenting!

Beck: Yeah... that gets up my nose too. Thanks for visiting!