Saturday, January 30, 2010

#118-The Preacher Voice

Let me begin by apologizing for a few things.

1. This is my first post since Joel asked me to join in November. Got kind of busy, but you’ll hear from me a little more consistently from now on.

2. As I had written most of the post back in November, some of the facts are outdated. So as not to bear false witness against my neighbor, please take the “recent” in the first sentence to mean “3 or 4 months ago.”

3. I apologize for the length of this post…got a little carried away. Future posts will not be so long.


The best way explain this apostolic “quirk” is to share the recent experience of mine that ultimately led to the formation of this blog.

I was in a fairly large prayer meeting recently, when suddenly, amidst the resonating cries of worship and praise being released into the heavens from the people of Zion, I heard a very strong, loud voice in my ear. Unfortunately, I had not just experienced the audible voice of God. No… this voice was more like that of a preacher. However, it was not a preacher, although by the sound of it, the young man was certainly aspiring to be one. Needless to say I was slightly distracted, and the young man did not let up until the end of that truly “apostolic” prayer meeting. Thus the meeting ended, and I was left to question the same question so oft I had questioned in time past. Why? Yes, I was very familiar with this voice… as are many of you. This is “The Preacher Voice.”

The Preacher Voice is difficult to describe in writing. For it is not defined so much by its volume or tone, but a combination of volume, tone, diction, and something else that I can’t quite put my finger on… it’s something you must experience…. it’s… really weird.

Anyway, for the remainder of this post, we shall discuss the history, present uses, and future existence of The Preacher Voice.

Present Uses

Despite its given name, the preacher voice has more uses than simply preaching; as so graciously revealed to us by the young aspiring preacher. Presently I can think of four uses for the preacher voice (forgive me if I miss any, The Preacher Voice can really pop out of nowhere):

1. Preaching
2. Prayer
3. Testimonies
4. Exhortation

There are few things that true Apostolics like more than a good ol’ fashioned, fiery, anointed, apostolic sermon! Just take a look at the roster of preachers lined up to preach at any major Apostolic meeting/service/gathering/conference/convention/congress/rally. It’s understandable though…I mean, if I’m going spend hundreds of dollars on gas, food, hotels, and most importantly new outfits, to travel halfway across the country, to hear a man preach a sermon that I’ve likely heard at least 13 times before…he better jump, flip, shout, and scream, until he has no voice left. Anything to make me feel like I’m at a club or some sporting event since I’m not allowed to go those…and no… I don’t really care what he preaches about…just get me excited!

*Preacher’s Tip: If your sermon isn’t going so well, turn on the preacher voice…works like a charm!

Certainly, we are all familiar with the aforementioned scenario… I have been guilty of this way of thinking myself. But, bringing it home, let us examine the preacher voice in a different setting:

It’s testimony service. God bless testimony service, for without it we would have no way of knowing other people’s business so we could talk about it later… except of course through using prayer requests as a way to gossip. Anyway, it’s testimony service and precious Brother Albert, stands up to testify in church. He begins his story, and all is going well… until… “The enemy tried to bring me down, but I said… GREATER IS HE-AH… THAN IS IN ME-AH…. THAN HE-AH—THAT IS IN THE WORLDAH!...” *followed by some obscure stream of consciousness complete with screaming, spitting, bulging temple veins, and red face* …. and the crowd goes wild!

Yes, the preacher voice has evolved into much more than the sound coming from the man behind the pulpit. It has become a tool and a weapon that, if mastered, can puncture the very fabric of the universe and penetrate the spiritual world; causing demons to flee, and dispatching angels. It can move the hearts and souls of humanity; igniting a revival such as the world has never seen. Therefore I submit to you, if only 1 of the 4 uses of the preacher voice is preaching…. Can we still call it a “Preacher Voice?” Should we consider another name for this instrument? Perhaps “Power Voice” would work, as it is strong and fortified. Or maybe “Holy Voice” as this voice is generally set apart, used only for the things of God…..These are things we must consider.

Future Existence

Evolution is inevitable. If the Apostolic Church is to survive in this world world, we must be the strongest and the fittest. The Preacher Voice is in our future, but what does it look like? Imagine with me a world where the preacher voice has evolved into the greatest tool the Apostolic Church has discovered, and that at just the sound of the voice people would fall to their knees and surrender their hearts. Should we keep the preacher voice to ourselves? I wonder what would happen if we began to use the preacher voice for “normal” tasks like reading, or ordering food. The telemarketer on the phone wouldn’t know what hit her!...and the words being spoken need not be relevant, as long as we incorporated the Preacher Voice. What a bright future!


Ok, lets get to the point here. I am haunted by a certain question to which I cannot seem to find the answer. Sometimes I lay awake at night pondering this incredible mystery and fall asleep with no answer still. I have asked around, and no one seems to be able to give me a decent response. I have spent much time questioning, pondering, and theorizing; all to answer one seemingly simple question. WHERE DID THE PREACHER VOICE COME FROM? Someone please tell me! Why is it that the minute we begin to address God or stand behind a pulpit, our tone of voice suddenly changes, and we become extremely, often obnoxiously, loud? Is God hard of hearing? I wish someone would have told me... maybe sometimes He doesn't answer our prayers simply because He can't hear them.... this secret could save many people a lot of strife. “The louder you pray, the better He hears folks! SO PUMP UP THE VOLUME!” But for real.... I just want to know the name of the man who decided that we couldn’t just communicate naturally or engage an audience by simply speaking and being ourselves. Or that God does not respond to our normal voice.

My Theory: I learned a little trick over some years of honest questioning. When you can’t seem to find an answer for why things are the way they are in this organization, the fallback answer is “tradition.” So applying it to this scenario I would say that before microphones and P.A. systems existed, people had to speak very loudly in order to be heard. Like many other things, it just became a part of who we are… no questions asked. I’m sticking with this until I find a real answer…just for some peace of mind.

*Please Note: I am not talking about passion. The preacher voice does not equal passion. That is a silly misconception. After a preacher has screamed his entire sermon we’ve all heard people say "He's so passionate." No. No. No. No. It is not passion... it's screaming. Of course, when a person is passionate there will be vocal inflections and at times an increase or decrease in volume. Perhaps the speaker may even scream or shout! But it is always based on the content … not just for the sake of it. And…While we’re on the topic, another thing the preacher voice does not equal is anointing! Perhaps we will discuss the idea of anointing in the future… but I’ll just leave it at that for now.

I realize that the preacher voice extends beyond the organizational walls of the UPC and other organizations of Apostolic Pentecostal faith...... but the question still stands.


Friday, January 29, 2010

#117-Comparing Offering to Money Spent at Starbucks

On my way into class today I heard a commercial advertising life insurance that stated “For the price of a drive through value meal you can insure your life, the well being of your children, and whoever your wife decides to marry after you!”…or something along those lines.

When I heard this I was reminded of the offerings taken up at so many camps and HYC’s I grew up attending. When I was younger the appeal was “After church you’re gonna go to Mickey-D’s (early attempt at relevancy), and you’re gonna spend $5 on a McRib value meal! Well young people (*cringe*), if you have $5 for a McRib then you should have $5 for McJesus! Can I get an amen?!”

And then we advanced to “Students, how many of you enjoy Starbucks?” (At which point we usually slouch down, knowing where this is going) “How many of you enjoy a Vent-ay coffee from Starrrbucks??” (another attempt at relevance) “Well young people, My wife loves Starbucks, and one day I was with her when she ordered. Now, she said some Italian thing, and I didn’t even know my wife spoke Italian, and the guy came to the register and said ‘That’ll be $5.15’, and young people, the Holy Ghost shot up one side and down the other side and I thought to myself If these young people can spend $5 on a coffee drink, they can spend $5 on Jesus! Whoo! Shouldaboughtahonda! Whoo!”

At which point the crowd meets the offering taker with applause and an offering is taken up, where we still put in a dollar despite the plea that just went forth.

Maybe we could come up with suggestions on what to compare an offering to, because Starbucks and Applebee’s just isn’t working.

iTunes downloads? Bowtie purchases? Tanning memberships?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

#116-Stretching a Hand Out to Pray for People During Altar Call After You've Gone Back to Your Seat

The Phenomenon in Context
So here's the rundown . . .

Altar call is winding down, you've gotten all the Holy Ghost you could humanly handle, wiped away your conviction-induced tears with altar kleenex, and quietly slipped back to your previously claimed spot on the pew, head bowed in quiet meditation while waiting for the preacherly all-call that it's okay for the sanctuary to transition from holy ground to chatting grounds.

But no altar service is complete without one final appeal for special needs. Since this is during altar call/post-altar call and the need is a special one, laying on of hands is a must.

BUT . . . since most people have already drifted back to their seats in anticipation of the preacherly all-call, there is no bum rush mob of a myriad of spiritually shaking hands applied, as is wont in the heat of an altar call. Oh, no. Instead, there is a simple appeal to "stretch out your hand" to the person standing in need. It's as if to say, "Since we're not close enough to literally lay a hand on you, we're just stretching a hand out towards you." It's a symbolic laying on of hands, if you will.

Possible Origins
I think the hand-stretching phenomenon comes from the idea surrounding the woman with the issue of blood who simply touched the hem of Jesus' garment in the Gospels. Jesus didn't palm her forehead. She wasn't mobbed by a well-meaning group of zealots spouting glossolalia in her ears. She just stretched out her hand and touched his garment, and bam! Healed.

So if the lady didn't even have to touch Jesus to get her victory, we reason, then we don't even have to touch the person who has a need for them to get their victory. So we stretch, knowing that surely the Spirit doesn't need physical contact to transfer from our hands to the person in need up at the altar.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

#115-Dressing Up For Church

Editor’s Note: At the Stuff Apostolics Like blogging institute that consists of a simple blanket fort made out of a giant blanket and two kitchen chairs facing back to back some 5 feet apart, we wrestle from time to time on our purpose…..

Remembering to take a minute and laugh at ourselves is our number one goal. However, I readily admit that this goal can come across cynical and overly deconstructive in it’s ambitions. So today, in this blog I want to introduce to you a new wing of a blog topic that seeks to build on our understanding and not destroy…

It’s the slightly informative/slightly humorous/slightly obnoxious blog entry…And with this blog entry a side purpose is to educate as well as laugh.

Of course these blog types will be few and far between, but let this serve as a forewarning as to not confuse when they do arrive….. without further adieu,

The age old custom of dressing up for church isn’t so aged and isn’t so old.

First, there is no record of average congregants ever changing their attire in order to attend any sort of liturgy. Sure, old testament mosaic law required priests to wear very specific garb when entering the Holy of Holies, but it also required you to build a special roof on your house so burglars wouldn’t fall off, to wash your face before and after sex, and how to sell your daughter into slavery. Not only did Christ fulfill the law, but Paul states that if we attempt to follow part of the law, but not the whole law that we are guilty of the whole law. So picking random laws of the Mosaic Law and attempting to apply them, out of context, to todays culture doesn’t really work, capish?

Until the mid 1800’s in Europe and America, where Christianity was dominant, there was no such custom of dressing up for church. Prior to the industrial revolution and the introduction of mass-produced textiles there were typically two classes of people: rich and broke. And the broke weren’t broke like you and I are broke, they were broke-broke. They typically had very few clothes. Usually they had their laboring clothes, which were dirty and tattered, that they worked in, and another set that was still cheaply made, usually homemade, that they wore for everything else. There was no “dressing up”, they couldn’t afford it. Dressing up for social functions was reserved strictly for the wealthy aristocracy.

With the introduction of mass textile manufacturing and the industrial revolution a new class of people was born, and with this there arose a desire for class distinction. The new class, which we will call the bourgeoisie, sought to identify themselves as no longer poverty stricken, and one way of doing this was by wearing more upscale clothing.

With me class? Questions? Ok, moving on.

Around about this time religious leaders began preaching and teaching against class distinction because it created division in the congregations. People were taught that we’re all equal when coming to God, so why would we want to distinguish ourselves from one another based on wealth? Some denominations during this time went so far as to turn away anyone who wore expensive clothing because it separated the classes. (Imagine if we did this today! We wouldn’t even have preachers to preach our conventions!)

All of this changed in the late 1800’s. An essay was written called “Taste and Fashion”, in which it was argued that sophistication and refinement were attributes of God and that Christians should try to emulate them. This began giving the new middle class some (albeit bad) logic behind their desire to flaunt their new wealth. Since then the delusion that we must “look our Sunday best” when coming to church has become widespread. And it is a delusion, but we’ll leave that discussion for the ensuing comments.

Fast-forward 150 years. Culture has drastically changed back to the point that the masses, for the most part, don’t own dress clothes. This is no longer a matter of wealth, just changing societal conditions. Men no longer wear a suit, topcoat and fedora when going to a ball game.

However the debate still rages: do we need to/should we dress up for church? This hot button issue is never really taught or explained, just demanded. For most churches, in order to be on the platform one must not be wearing jeans, and must be wearing a collared shirt with a tie. One individual who e-mailed the blog remarked that a suit was required at his church to be on the platform.

Sunday I was sitting in the back of my church and a visitor walked by with the person who brought her. My stomach turned when I heard the following conversation:

“I don’t have many dress clothes, and I definitely don’t own a skirt”

“Oh, I know, when I first started coming I had to do a lot of shopping. Don’t worry we’ll get you some new clothes.”

What a tragedy, when a person feels that in order to come to a place where they can experience God’s love and hear His Word that they must first do some shopping, because there’s a dress code.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

#114-The Classification System (In Church vs. Backslidden)

A common trait of members of the Apo movement is the desire to gauge where fellow churchgoers are spiritually. Some would say that our “holiness standards” do a good job of creating criteria by which to grade fellow apo’s. While this may not be the goal of such standards, it has become an implicit secondary function.
However, I do not wish to discuss the role of standards in this post (as we are not there yet as a community), but the grading scale by which church patrons are measured.
There are two ends of the grading scale:
a.) ----In Church
b.) ----Backslidden
The criteria for being considered “in church” entails that said patron regularly attends all scheduled church meeting times, astutely holds all standards of their local assembly, has an upstanding reputation and abstains from all social taboo’s.
The criteria for being backslidden entails that said patron irregularly attends church, or not at all, holds to a small percentage or none of the standards of the local assembly, whose reputation is questionable and sometimes engages in social taboo’s.
Apo’s are usually quite quick to be able to gauge where on the spectrum an individual falls. If one were to illustrate the scale it would probably look like this:

Backslidden--------Backsliding----------On the fence-----------In church

Undoubtedly most of us could walk into our church on Sunday and grade the majority of the congregants on this linear scale.
An evaluation may go something like this:
“Christy usually comes once every other week nowadays, she’s been trimming her hair and wearing make up. I saw a picture she put on Facebook and I think she was holding a drink. I don’t know what it was but it looked alcoholic. It’s safe to say she’s backsliding.”
“Jacob comes to church every Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. He’s in bible quizzing, he wears long pants, even in the summer, he has TV Guardian and accountability software on his computer. He’s definitely in church.”
The criteria seems so cut and dry, and explanations for any breaks in the criteria are not usually sought out. If one misses church for school or work it doesn’t really matter, as church should be the priority over education and supporting ones self.
The other interesting thing to note about the grading scale is that the term “backslid” is the Apo equivalent of a derogatory slur. Being backslidden is the only thing worse than being charismatic (although most Apo’s call former Apo’s who “go charismatic” to be “backslidden”).
The irony about this scale is that it has nothing to do with God. There is no in and out with God. We’re all children of God, He loves us, He’s watching us, and in the end we’ll either be saved or lost. But right now we’re just people on a journey. We’re not saved or lost yet so these terms are for nothing more than our gossipy indulgence. They are our living soap opera.
Who’s “in” and who’s “out” this week. Who broke what standard? Who had a moment of indiscretion? Who failed? Who slipped up?
These degrading terms turn the sons and daughters of God into gossiping children in a giant lunch room, whispering and giggling, all the while reducing someone’s soul to a conversation piece.
A while back in Detroit there was a funeral held for the “n word”, in which abusers of the word swore to never use it again, and it’s use became unacceptable. I think “backslider” needs to be thrown in the tomb with it, along with anyone who thinks they can determine the status of an individuals walk with God based on the length of their hair or the tint of their make-up.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

#113-Growing Backbones

If I were a betting woman, I'd be willing to bet that the most popular bone in the Apostolic Body of Christ is the backbone, hands down.

Backbone basics
What's with the backbone talk? Well, it usually revolves around preaching in which the speaker:

1. congratulates himself for having one, given the intensity of his preaching and his unconcern with the possibility of offense.

2. praises the congregation for having one, given that they're continuing to listen to him and not getting up and leaving.

3. exhorts the spineless to grow one.

4. enumerates the lamentable state of those spineless unwilling to grow one.

Who actually has one?
Now that we have an idea of the context of the backbone, it's important to delineate who actually possesses said backbone(s) within the context:

1. Whoever claims someone else is missing one.

2. "Real" Apostolics (i.e. Not the fake ones. Kinda like how there are parts of America that are "real" and the rest is fake? We're talkin about the real parts, baby).

3. Whoever "stands up." You think it's possible to have one if you're sitting down? Get outta here.

4. Whoever is unashamed to possess one (i.e. Don't care what the world may say cuz they love Jesus anyway).

Men and brethren, what shall you do?
Now, some of you reading this may realize you fall outside of the categories mentioned above and a cloak of conviction has fallen over you and your eyes have been opened to your desperate need of a backbone. What does it take to grow one? What is the sunshine and water, if you will, that will make a measly little tail bone blossom into a full-grown, steely spine protector?

1. Start making boundaries and drawing lines. It doesn't really matter if they're based on scripture or not. A little extra-Biblical oomph never hurt anyone. The more boundaries and lines you draw, the steelier the spine.

2. Start taking positions against things, even if you could just as easily be for something else. For example, saying "I'm against gay marriage" is more backbone fortifying than, "I'm for improving the sorry state of heterosexual marriage within the church given our divorce rates."

3. Learn what it means to get "righteously indignant." Your backbone won't grow if you sit around and shrug every time you open up the newspaper (since newspaper reading is more backbone building than the Internet) and read of the latest evidence that the world is getting worse.

4. Develop nostalgia for the past. Once you get set in your mind that the way things used to be is better than the way things are now, be careful, you may experience a violent backbone growth spurt.

So, cheer up, O, spineless. Follow these guidelines, and your backbone will blossom beautifully. Before you know it, you'll be demanding other people grow one too!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

#112-The Open-Ended Altar Call (AHHHHHHHHHH!)

So an anonymous source recommended this post to me, and I immediately wondered what was wrong with my head in that I did not think of it previously. It was so obvious.....

The open-ended altar call to Apostolic Churches is like the undesired pin-prick after a well-managed doctor's appointment. Or perhaps it is more comparable to that dread you get when you turn on your street and see your house after having a 2 week vacation of your dreams. It's not like the house did anything bad, it just represents a whole bunch of other things: Drama, work, monotony.  Whatever analogy you want, the point is the open-ended altar call is one of the hardest things to manage within our denomination in it's entirety, and it always comes at the conclusion of a very exciting and raucous church service.

Gettin Some God...

The preacher has preached a valiant message. One of those that inspires hope, repentance, and appreciation all at the same time. The preacher has walked us through lows, highs, and lows again....and towards the end of the altar-call, we just want the preacher to invite us to the altar....we are demanding it from him...

Of course we don't want to be the early approacher because that would draw too much attention...So inevitably someone gets the altar call rolling in full force (either via preacher or via some kid in the middle of the row pushing someone at the end of the row out into the aisle which forces the issue).

We pray and we pray....and maybe if we are really feeling it we may pray longer...but at about th 8-10 minute mark of altar call (15 minute mark if it's a really good service), we begin to peel our eyes open ever so slightly to gauge how everyone else is doing with their God experience. If a preacher is nearby we quickly shut our eye lids again and act like we are passionately in prayer. If the preacher is no where in sight and it appears that the pursuit of feeling God is on the decline, we accept our fate and just sing along half-heartily to the worship music.

But then....

The Dread

At roughly the 15 minute mark of altar call, the preacher, or perhaps the pastor walk slowly up to the pulpit. They glare out over the audience....and this glaring is where it begins. They are trying to survey the Holy Ghost meter in the room via the amount of people praying.  If the only people praying are only the "early approachers" and the "front pew high jumpers" then the service will end after a verse or two of the altar call song complete with the speaker singing off key.

But if  the number of people getting their HG (Holy Ghost) on is above 25%, we have code red. We have what this post is about...You may think 25% is a little low, but if you think about it, the noise and attention one draws who is really "feelin the move" negates the "Non-feeling the HG" silence of many. I would beg to say that for every one person really "getting it" at the altar, they negate the silences of 3 altar gatherers who are voluntarily "not getting it." So with that said, those 25% begin to represent the entire congregation as a whole.

So assuming the 25% minimum is in action...

 IT will come. The worst of the worst....

The preacher/pastor dismisses church....


It's not really a Dismissal....

It's actually your funeral....

 Because the dismissal was not one of those gleeful dismissals where everyone knows church is complete....

It's rather quite the was one of those dismissals that says church is far from over and if you leave now, you will forever be condemned to the ranks of half-hearted Pentecostalism from here to eternity. You are the "luke-warm" who God will spew out of their mouth....

And how do we know this is the case?

Because the dismissal went something like "You are free to leave the altar now. No one will judge you if you do. But if you want to continue at the altar seeking God, you are more than welcomed to." Maybe the speaker adds, "this is one of those altar calls where people get their Calling tonight."

Usually the guilt is not explicit but rather implied.....

The decision making-process

So now comes the toughest part....

You don't want to be a back slider showing how uncommitted you are to the calling of God's spirit.

So you don't leave immediately....

Perhaps you pray for one of the one's who is getting it...

Or perhaps you wait for a few more to filter out of the sanctuary...and at such a point you know that you certainly can't be condemned because there were others more rebellious, and besides, Sis. So-and-so is really spiritual and she just left....

It's an art that needs to be learned....

but then there is an opposite extreme

What if you are the one is really "getting it" or if you linger at the altar too long..,..

then you either classified in the same breadth of the "early altar approacher" or a show-boat/suck up who is trying to signal to the pastor that you are ready to preach your first sermon....

This is not an easy dilemma...

One thing is for sure though, there is no real talk of Matthew 6:7-"And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words."

It's kind of sad that we measure some of our spirituality by the length one prays...

Sunday, January 17, 2010

#111-Saying That Wine in the Bible = Grape Juice

Happy New Year everyone!

I know, it's way past New Year's, but that's when I started writing this post . . . I'm just now getting around to finishing it.

Wine denial
Well, off the heels of our annual New Year's Eve Watchnight service I'm reminded of a little controversy that always arises with regards to the drink of choice to represent the blood of Christ during communion. Oh, and also when we discuss Jesus' miracle célèbre, turning the water into, yes, wine. It's just that in our version he turned the water into Welch's.

I've always wondered what was up with that. Pentecostals, on average, suffer from what I'd like to call "wine denial."

C'mon. Wine was in the Bible. Wine, as in, a drink with alcoholic content. Seriously, Noah didn't get plastered from drinking some measly grape juice.

Disclaimer (you knew it was coming)
Does the Bible caution against excess? Indeed. Doesn't Proverbs say that "wine is a mocker"? Sure. I'm not saying let's par-TAY because Paul told Timothy to drink a little wine for his indigestion. But it's ridiculous to act like "good" people in the Bible never drank anything more than ancient Welch's at celebrations (or for an upset stomach).

I don't drink because of the atmosphere and connotations that usually go along with it. I was a Resident Assistant at a gigantic state university known for being a party school, and I was forever confiscating beer and liquor from underage freshmen. I knew 18-year-olds who went into rehab. That's also ridiculous. But I think it's hilarious that we like to redact scripture to make us feel comfortable because drinking alcohol isn't acceptable in our church culture.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

#110-Large Gatherings

In my district alone I can name almost 20, annual yearly large scale gatherings. The UPC itself puts on several national events every year. I know of no other movement or organization quite as infatuated as gathering its membership and rallying the troops as Apo/Pento culture.

Most of these events usually follow the same structure and possess similar characteristics/attendees.

When the WPF spun off of the UPC the first thing they did was establish their annual yearly meetings, including P.E.A.K (*snicker*), SUMMIT (the national conference), as well as coastal conferences, bible conferences, men’s and women’s conferences, dog’s conferences, break dancing conferences, Ultimate Fighting conferences.. oh wait.. Sorry I got carried away.

But seriously, what is the infatuation with conferences in ‘costal culture? This post isn’t meant to lampoon the gatherings, just to inquire why we’re so obsessed with getting together?

It appears the organizers of these gatherings have goals in mind for them, which seldom get carried out, but almost always turned into a more cookie cutter gathering, complete with a dreadful amount of attention focused on socializing in the halls and lobbies outside the halls where the services are held, invasion of local restaurants, turning hotels into social scenes and lastly but certainly not least-bringing fashion to the forefront of everyone’s attention.

Like I said, I don’t believe these are the goals for the convocations but they almost always turn into these type of events.

Take IBC Music Fest for example.
The premise for the conference is incredibly great in theory: to provide churches the network connections and resources needed to up the ante in their respective music programs.
But who goes? About 30% of the attendees are in a music related ministry. The other 70% are there looking to meet future spouses, show off new clothes, take in the social scene, or most commonly-simply to converse.

I admit even I, who can’t play or sing a note, went for three years in a row, and admittedly had a lot of fun, but in hindsight I can’t figure out for the life of my what I did or why I went! I know I was drawn to the social aspect more than the purpose of the conference.

I bite my tongue (or more accurately, my fingers) as I write this because much could be said about these conferences perpetuating the problem of the Apo culture being turned into more of a social network than a religious movement, but I’ll leave that to the commenter’s, because carrying out some sort of vendetta against this type of thinking isn’t the goal of Joel in creating this blog.

So maybe someone could enlighten me? How did we wind up so obsessed with these formal get togethers? How did we go from dressing up for Jesus to dressing up for wife/husband hunting? How did the lobby get more crowded than the altar?

Perhaps I’m just being cynical. I like to think I’m being pragmatic but a cynic rarely sees their own cynicism.

#109-The Apocalypse

Laying out plans for the future, or even daydreaming out loud, is an activity most humans engage in daily. Our own lives are fascinating to us and we can’t help but take a vested interest in what may or may not happen. However, if you’ve ever spent any considerable amount of time speaking with Apostolics on this topic, you may have noticed something of a unique verbal hiccup thrown in at the end of a future-tense statement.

Example: “Someday, once I get a little money put back, I’d really love to take a trip. You know, somewhere exotic like Branson, Missouri or maybe even Israel.” This sentence is followed immediately by, “That is, if the Lord tarries.”

With obvious exceptions Pentecostalism is generally understood to be a millennial movement. Apostolics believe that God is in fact returning in the very near future and they’d better be ready for it. Pentecostals certainly aren’t alone in this belief, nearly every religion or theory (see Marxism) has its own eschatology, but where Apostolics truly shine are the fantastically idiosyncratic ways they cope with God’s return on a daily basis. A God who is in any other circumstance loving and consistent becomes, when the topic of His impending return arises, petulant and unsteady. “If the Lord tarries,” is often delivered with a quick, guilty air, as if this simple phrase will single-handedly stave off God’s fury over their impertinence.

You just know that somewhere in Heaven God is pulling a Joseph McCarthy and listening intently to every conversation, waiting to hear some poor individual screw it up by not apologizing for the eventuality of His return.

God: Hah! Did you hear that, Michael? Susan C. in Ontario just mentioned getting married to her sweetheart, Bill S., within the next two years--but without taking into account whether I might come back before then! That does it! Gabriel, get down to Development and Planning and tell them to kick it into high gear, we’re working straight through Christmas and moving the Apocalypse up on the schedule. I can’t tarry any longer!

Of course, this scenario puts the Apostolic in a precarious situation. How far in advance can we plan without tempting God’s wrath? One year? Six months? The time it takes to get through this post? Your decision may be of eternal importance.

That said, there are other Pentecostals who very much want the Lord to return, yesterday if possible. The world is a wreck and they’re ready to get gone. Every negative headline they find in the news is only justification for their earnest desire for departure. Making too many earthly plans is a pointless exercise, it actually might tempt God to wait a little longer and that would be downright horrible. Sure the Bible talks about God’s Wisdom, He knows what He’s doing and His will in our lives is always best—blah, blah, blah, whatever. These Apos are willing to accept God’s control in their lives, but He hasn’t lived on earth for a long time, what does He know about when to come back? It’s best Help him out by reminding Him how much everything stinks here on earth, during intercessory group prayer when He’s really listening is the your best shot.

So how does the Pentecostal decide where they fit in the spectrum? Are they hoping God waits a little longer or begging Him to give the call now or maybe somewhere in between? Is it a matter of age—as in you’re young and have plans or you’re old and have already done what you wanted to do?

While you’re deliberating, you may glean some help from a publication on the topic. Sure Revelations, Daniel, and the rest of the prophetic texts in the Bible give plenty of information on Jesus’ return, but you also have to remember that Matthew 24:36 and 25:13 indicate that only God knows the precise time of His return. Tantalizing, right? Just like a kid who has to do something once his/her parents tell them not to, Apostolics just can’t help themselves, they HAVE to know.

Luckily, there are alternatives to the Word that can give the end times curious Apostolic all of the information they can handle. One publication in particular has had the Apocalypse completely covered for quite some time now. The writers work overtime to comb the latest AP dispatches for prophetic meaning and pass it on to you the reader at a reasonable price. Now, you might argue that after numerous volumes, no Armageddon, and countless incorrect predictions the writers and their readers might consider spending their time more productively, perhaps spreading the Salvation message to the lost world, rather than waiting to get the heck out of Dodge. You would be mistaken in doing so. In I Thessalonians 5 Paul advises the church to stay awake and live without fear and keep working till Jesus returns—the publishers are merely obeying Scripture. They’ll keep churning their prophecies out and we’ll keep reading them until God finally does return and they’re finally right.

Waiting and wishing for the Apocalypse isn’t all fun, though. It can actually put the Apostolic in something of a prayer-bind. Most agree that in order for all of the cosmic tumblers to come into place, Israel’s geopolitical and spiritual position has to take a turn for the worse—but how are Pentecostals supposed to hope for the Revelation if at the same time they’re praying for Israel’s continued protection and success in the Middle East? A quandary to be certain and once again we have no answer; you’ll have to decide how to walk this intercessional tight-rope on your own.

Admission: Pentecostalism is a diverse movement, like any other, and not all of them hold the same eschatological views. Apologies if you don’t feel represented in the above post.

Monday, January 4, 2010


(I have to apologize in advance for the scatter-shot and the generally disorganized nature of the post. It was written in the midst of final term papers, holiday activities, and the intellectual malaise brought on by winter break. Hopefully future posts will be greatly superior in quality.)

While driving through a small town recently I was taken aback by the seemingly odd assortment of flags in front of a locally owned franchise restaurant. There were three flags: The state flag, the American flag, and the Israeli flag.

One of these doesn't fit.

I understood the first two, but the third? I asked a local what the reason could possibly be. Was the owner Israeli or Jewish, perhaps? Nope. A particularly large contingent of Israeli's in the town? Nope. Traditional Jewish holiday in observance? Nope. Itzhak Perlman playing anywhere near? Nope. Frankly I was stumped, and then I made a last ditch guess. Is the owner Pentecostal?

Local: "Why, yes, I think so. How did you know?"
Me: "Hmm, how did I....."

After America (a future post), North American Apostolics reserve their greatest national pride for Israel. Churchgoers who would be politically ignorant under normal circumstances become crack analysts and historians when Israel's precarious political position is raised. Some Pentecostal pastors are able to recount the events of the Six Days War with such clarity that it would make even the most stalwart 20th Century historian blush with envy.

The Apostolic hyper-sensitivity regarding Israel is so strong that insults can be construed out of even the most off-hand, unrelated remark--"What do you mean you didn't like "Minority Report? You know Steven Spielberg directed it, right?"

You see, to speak negatively against Israel, or to let it be spoken of without defense, is to put one's very salvation in serious danger and Pentecostals will go to great lengths to stand up for their spiritual brethren across the pond.

Example: A favorite argument, generally issued with a note of finality, as if the haymaker has just landed in a fifteen round heavyweight title match is, "You know, Jesus was a Jew."

Yes, this is true; it would be the acme of ignorance to deny this fact.

However, this line of logic is potentially flawed, given that Jesus was also a radically anti-establishment proto-socialist who spent the majority of His earthly ministry preaching and teaching against the contemporary form of religious and political conservatism. Even so, it's a safe bet that the majority of today's Pentecostals won't be switching political parties, shutting off Rush Limbaugh, or eschewing their material wealth to join a small religiously-minded commune anytime soon.
There are, of course, the countless miscellany Israel-centered practices of Pentecost, a few of which should be noted briefly. The tambourine-led Jericho-inspired prayer line that is sent circling the sanctuary or building if a pastor is so inclined, to bring down various spiritual and temporal strongholds. The use of Hebrew words and concepts from the OT; examples include the “Shekhinah Glory Praise Team,” a “Talmidim Discipleship Group,” and naming the motley group of 18-50 something year old men in the church who run errands for the pastor “Armor Bearers.” To this we can also include the use in Pentecostal songs and prayer of God’s old coventantal names: Jehovah-jireh, Jehova-nissi, Jehovah-shalom, etc. Explaining to a Pentecostal that their own doctrine, what with Jesus name baptism, the concurrent New Testament covenant and all that follows from it, make these names outmoded and powerless is a often pointless exercise; it’s best to dance along, the songs do actually tend to be pretty catchy and the tambourine really adds a nice touch.

All of this pales in comparison to one of the more odd materializations of Israel-fixation: the Holy Land trip. Each year many a Pentecostal makes the pilgrimage to the holy land in an attempt to reconnect with the roots of their faith. Imagine, if you will, the sight of 20-30 Apostolics trodding through Jerusalem/Bethlehem, hitting every single spot that might contain even an inkling of religious value.

With every temple and tourist site hit, the group gets a little holier and little more enlightened; upon their return this group will brandish countless holy land themed souvenirs with each holding a unique spiritual insight for the possessor—and those they constantly show them to. Gradually each member will succumb to an agonizing burden for the souls of their lost Israeli brethren. It begins upon their arrival walking off the plane when the blast of dry desert heat takes on the double nature of spiritual confusion and oppression. It takes a sharply dramatic turn as the tour reaches Mount Megiddo and, witnesses as if in a trance, visions of the final battle for mankind. The burden finally crescendos en masse somewhere near the end of the tour guide’s schedule when one polo-tucked-in-khaki’s Pentecostal walks forward, tears streaming from their eyes, with voice trembling as they awkwardly recite Matthew 23:37/Luke 13:34. The rest of the group follows suit with a similar conviction, bearing it in their hearts and relaying it to their less-concerned brethren back at the home church during testimonials. NOTE: The scenario offered above is subject to radical change in the likely possibility that one or more of the members goes on a vision/spirit trek (out of the body or in the body, it just depends) during the trip, in which case a book deal may be in the offing.

Is the Pentecostal obsession with all things Israel a horrible thing? Certainly not. Is it a little weird? Yeah, kinda.

(As Joel has mentioned in earlier posts, remember to read this with a grain of salt and some humor.)