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.)