Friday, January 28, 2011

#220-Speaking in Tongues as evidence Pt. 1 (AKA the Monster in our Mouths who speaks weird noises)

 "I will show wonders in the heavens above 
   and signs on the earth below, 
   blood and fire and billows of smoke. 
 The sun will be turned to darkness 
   and the moon to blood 
   before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord."   Acts 2:-18-20




I prayed someone painted the day of Pentecost as a nightmare when I was looking for good images for this blog....The picture above is the pretty close to what i had in mind.Outside of everyone being white in the picture (which of course isn't true), the dark gloom resting above the audience as Peter is preaching his famous service seems to capture something we miss as Pentecostals:

The Infilling of the Spirit is frightening.

What I aim to do here is outlay  a kind of theoretical theology of tongues. (through a series of post in coming weeks). I wrote a semi-hefty paper for school attempting exactly this, but I want to get at the role of tongues in our movement with less academic jargon. So i will touch on various thing we do well as a movement regarding one of our highest relics of our movement (Tongues) and where we are off Biblically.

I am a Pentecostal. I think Tongues are good, earth-shattering. I think they still exist for us today. I think we should all aim to speak them at least once in a while. I don't think we need to speak in tongues routinely to ensure our salvation. But at the end of the day my curiosity is this:

Why God chose speaking in tongues as the sign of spirit infilling in Acts 2 (as well for us today).

At the end of the day, God could have chosen any "sign" to represent the Spirit Infilling and the quote which we so proudly hail in the book of Joel about Young Men dreaming dreams, old men prophesying and everyone who calls on the name of the Lord being saved....well that quotation has nothing to do with tongues at first read. There really is nothing previous the Acts 2 passage that suggested tongues would be the sign of his infilling in the Old Testament....

I mean some people would point to the day of Pentecost being the reversal of the collapse of the Tower of Babel, which is certainly a possibility....But ask yourself this...is Tongues unifying when Interpretation isn't Present in a church service?

No! Tongues is a bunch of gibberish to the human ear (keep in mind the audience outside of the Upper Room thought tongues indicated they were drunk). If anything, the "unity" behind the language of tongues is that there is no  unity. Each is speaking their own ugly language. A language so vulgar that Paul compares it to the tongues of invading soldiers from a foreign country in I Corinthians 14.

SO then, "why tongues?" I could quote at length some of the biggest scholars in our movement trying to get at the question and in every single case, they say there is nothing explicit in the Bible of the "Why" of tongues (why God chose it as the sign).

And then the irony of all ironies....

For Apostolic Pentecostals, the noises that come out of our mouth that we call speaking in tongues...is typically thought of as the evidence of the Presence of the Holy Ghost in the body of the one uttering the tongues...

And we love ourselves some of that evidence....the evidence whose "certainty" of salvation is a complete "uncertainty" in terms of it being in a foreign language that we can't even understand....

Oh  it's so beautifully weird.....

Acts 2
For the greater part of my life, I have been absolutely embarrassed about tongues....It was so weird. So irrational. Of course it was only natural that God would choose me to have "the Gift of Tongues" as outlined in I Corinthians 14. I can tell you that if God gave me a pick of which Gift of the Spirit I would want, the Gift of Tongues would be the last one i would choose. I would have taken the Gift of Administration over the Gift of Tongues. Yet, it is the only Gift that I have seen work in my own life.....

But that didn't stop my doubts about tongues (some of which I still have).....

But last month I was reading Acts 2, and I noticed....Peter is fully aware of how weird tongues is and how it doesn't make sense to the observers. He starts off his speech to those outside acknowledging, "We aren't drunk, i swear!" But he doesn't claim it's ridiculous to come to that conclusion. 

So what does Peter do? Does he ease the worries of the audience regarding the tongues? No! The humor is when he quotes Joel, he  acknowledges the Weirdness of the event and says in a sense "In these last days, this is just the beginning of the weirdness..."

Think about it.. THose verses we so proudly preach from the book of Joel that PEter quotes.....We conveniently skip the verses about the darkened sun, the bloody moon, the reference to smoke, fire and blood...

Why do we ignore the heart of Peter's quotation? We like the stuff that PROVES our salvation (the tongues) but we don't wwant to acknowledge the context that this "evidence" exists in....

As the announcement of these last days.....TO which Peter uses Joel to paint the Last Days (to which we are living) as a kind of horror scene....

It's not that Peter eases the worries, and says "look, i know tongues is weird, but it's the evidence of the Holy Ghost and I can show you the scriptures to prove it." Except he didn't even have scripture to go to showing tongues as the evidence of the Holy Spirit. 

Rather Peter says, "Yeah it's so weird...and beyond us..you know what else is weird in the end times? Smoke! Fire! Blood! a Black Sun! And a Moon that is Bleeding!..and it's going to get worse..and you killed Jesus you idiots!"

Acts 2 for the audience hearing Peter's speech is surely not a celebration....rather i can imagine being in the audience of Peter and  thinking Peter a great scary story teller...Because he doesn't ease my anxieties about tongues, but he just makes them worse....

So bad that all the audience has left to say by the end of the speech, is wanting to know what they can do to be saved from the revealed truth (which is absolutely horrifying to them)...

And then we get Acts 2:38 as Peter's response....

For the Christian's in the Upper Room and those who witnessed the event, one thing is certain: God's ways on earth from this point forward will be fully beyond us and our liking....

Tongues isn't the ease of our salvation to which we know "we are saved" as the murdering audience wanted salvation to be (of which we as sinners are murderers of Christ ourselves in our sin)....

But rather, tongues is the Announcement of the Holy Spirit that this whole Christian thing isn't going to make sense....

It's going to be weird...

People are going to be upset.

People are going to call you Crazy....

People are going to be saved....

People are going to be healed....

And it's not up to you the believer to know every aspect about it (because if it was, wouldn't God cause tongues to be understood by the one who speaks the utterances)...

The Implications
DOn't get me wrong...I love Pentecostals. I love our movement...But i think our emphasis of Acts 2:38, causes us to miss the bigger context....

Spirit Infilling is a joyous and wonderful thing....It's lovely. I remember the feeling I had when I got it...I remember not being weirded out myself as the tongues started flowing.....

But the celebration of the Infilling was not and should never be "YAY! If i die today I will go to heaven..." (if that was the case i would have demanded to be killed on the spot of my infilling to ensure my salvation....

But rather the Infilling is an Event of Infinite Proportions to which we cannot fully grasp what is going on....It's just (along with repentance and baptism) our volunteering to be these vessels to which God can use and God letting us know through his grace that he has Chosen us through the infilling. 

And how does God's choice of us play out? Through the Spirit Infilling which announces itself as kind of a monster who takes over our tongue and lets all kind of weird sounds come out.....

Which to the human Ear, don't make sense....

But then again, God's mercy and Grace and the Love he has for us doesn't make sense (it is beyond understanding)....But yet it is so....

So is tongues a symbol of God's inexplainable love that won't make sense to the unbeliever (and will probably offend the unbeliever), but to us it is real nonetheless (even when it doesn't make sense)?

About Peter
If you are offended, ask yourself if you are offended by my interpretation of Acts 2 or rather offended at me calling weird something which is so normal to us as Pentecostals? 

Because, I know God is beyond comprehension. I know the Bible says that "Great is the mystery of Godliness." I also have never met a preacher who says he understands God's love. So I would argue that  saying tongues is beyond us and that may be the very reason God chose tongues is nothing offensive to the believer but completely in line with the offensiveness and Absurdity of the Cross (that God could become man and be murdered by men) and what Christianity is....

For Peter, the one who made that famous Acts 2 speech to the accusers outside the upper room.....

Christianity was in many ways offensive to him later on in Acts (He was stubborn in regards to Cornelius and the Gentiles being saved until he saw that were filled with the Spirit themselves) and even in Galatians where Paul talks about calling out Peter for his contradictory example of being a Christian (who won't eat with Gentiles)....

But yet the offensiveness of Christianity did not stop him from proceeding to preach the Christian message....

And did it ever make sense to him?

Well at the end of the day, the one who experienced God's love via SPirit Infilling in Acts 2 ended his life to this effect-
Dying the same way as God, except as legend has it, he asked to be crucified upside down....

If we want to regulate Christianity and our movement to making sense and working in an orderly box we will get nowhere...The Monstrosity of Christ, of tongues, of the Crucifixion, is that it requires our emptying and understanding it will be uncomfortable for our flesh...

Monday, January 24, 2011

#219-Monstrous Affairs and Festive Occasions...An Attempt at Cultural Theory


Why so soft? O my brothers, thus I ask you: are you not after all my brothers? Why so soft, so pliant and yielding? Why is there so much denial, self-denial, in your hearts? So little destiny in your eyes?
-Nietzsche




Recently, I came to a moment of clarity. But with this moment of clarity, the things that were normally "normal" suddenly appear as horrible demonic monsters.

Kind of like this kid seeing a lobster for the first time:



And this in a nutshell, is how i felt when my friend showed me photos of an Apostolic Birthday party wherein the females in attendance were to wear a costume of sorts (i will refrain from naming the specific costume desired for the party theme as to save the reputation of those therein)...

But it was something....Like this:



Except the "costume party" i am referencing was attended by those in their late teens and early 20's.

Guys were dressed for a formal banquet or something.

Girls were dressed for a game of "dress-Up."

Except with our Apostolic culture, the costumes that would normally be confined to closets only to be worn when girls want to play "dress up" has somehow become perfectly permissible in our circuit to be worn not only in front of mirrors so girls can live in a fantasy world and giggle at themselves in the process, but have afforded the public at large and churches themselves to take part in the laughter at their misplaced dreams.

To clarify, the dress up costumes have gone public, and they were the garb of choice at this party. Glitter, tiaras, plastic magic wands, and hideous broaches that look more suitable for a bouquet set-up next to a casket than in a church, were all in attendance.

And please don't get me wrong. It was a birthday party....I know this...People are more than welcome to be silly and dress up however they want...

But we are living in a movement where the young people want to get dressed up beyond church....

People in the world, from what i understand at least, don't look forward to being formal. It's uncomfortable. They (and yes I am being unfairly stereotypical here) begrudgingly dress up when they have to (e.g. funerals, weddings, church, etc...) and thank the world the moment they can derobe from such unnecessary formalities.

But somehow something has gone terribly wrong....Something awful...

Where being casually dressed is not to be preferred....and rather, being dressed semi-formally or even formally (in the case of the party) is the optimal attire for a good party...

And we are sillly....

Oh So Silly....

Telling ourselves about ourselves through the apparel we are wearing...

And Jesus is here also partying oh so formally with us,...

And somewhere inside each one of us,...

While we are partying, dressed like clowns,

Amening the preacher because we have the truth,

... we hear this strange, subtle, noise inside our soul letting us know, this isn't right, and someone better speak up...



But we don't speak up....And we end up going "hey, at least we are doing all of this in skirts and long hair." YAY!

So we are playing this game.. attending birthday parties dressed in such absurdities that the world can't relate to our manner of dress in terms of it's excess and formalism...

And we can also tweet preacher's quotes like this one from Because of the Times:

"The Emergent Church is Poopie!"

This is anointed preaching for sure.

(And no i wasn't there. I only know this was said because of twitter)

Is not the purpose of the excess formal costumes worn at birthday parties and church conventions reminiscent of the purpose of the Red Carpet walks the celebrities take part in on the way to an awards ceremony or a Movie premiere? At which point the red carpet walk has become "the real show" of socializing and laughing and fancy costumes and the show inside the theater plays second fiddle?
Why is this? Why all the care about what is both on the outside of the theater and the exterior clothing of the actors and not so much about what is on the inside?

Sure church conventions are about church. Sure, the sermons matter. And we will pray. And amen. And laugh at the preacher's terrible jokes because that is what we do.

But we will also flaunt ourselves like a peacock before and after and enjoy ourselves some us more than we enjoyed God.

My question is, why isn't anyone saying anything? Why are we mute to the fact that the most fashionable kids in our movement are the ones who have grown up in it? Is it because most of us are preacher's kids? And most importantly, why and how did dressing up for Church become so fun?

The Shining

There is a scene i studied in film class from The Shining (don't watch it)...

And it reminds me much of what the Apostolic Social scene has come close to looking like...

but in one of the scenes, out of nowhere the main character (Nicholson) is walking through the vacant hotel he is watching over during the winter season and walks into a ballroom packed with people dressed in formal attire from the 1920's. The weird thing is, the hotel is abandoned (outside of Nicholson and his family).



While the scene seems happy, in the rest of the film's context, it's utterly creepy...

By the time this scene plays in the film, it's clear something is wrong with Nicholson...He is either going mad in this scene or he is seeing ghosts....

But the question is why Nicholson, an author and father from the 1970's is experiencing ghosts (or imagined strangers) from the 1920's who are all formally dressed...

And one of my favorite cultural critics, Fredric Jameson, writes of this scene,

"The generation the director isolates is the 1920's, and it is by the twenties that the hero (Nicholson) is haunted and possessed. The twenties were the last moment in which a genuine American leisure class led an aggressive and ostentatious public existence, in which an American ruling class projected a class-conscious and unapologetic image of itself and enjoyed its privileges without guilt, openly and armed with its emblems of top-hat and champagne glass, on the social stage in full view of the other classes. This is clearly a "return of the repressed" with a vengeance: a Utopian impulse which scarcely lends itself to the usual complacent and edifying celebration, which finds its expression in the very snobbery and class consciousness we naively supposed it to threaten."

In summary, the reference to the 1920's in the Shining, is akin to the place of formal dress and wacky costumes that is playing itself in the twenty something generation in Apostolic Culture.....but as the the specific Why's..3 theories:

1. At conferences and conventions, no one can be distinguished from anyone outside of the youth president's and preacher's themselves. So style is used to differentiate the "elite" of Apostolic Culture from the masses.

2. The Truth is no longer a sacred relic in our movement. We can claim full truth. We can say we possess it. We can talk about the One God and the Acts 2:38 experience (all of which, I believe in). But in the past, it was much easier to claim this and really believe it, because our culture and world was easily segregated from the rest of society so our unique truth claims wouldn't be contested within our churches. The internet and the like makes "Our truth" a claim of intense suspicion and skepticism. Only the most detached and isolated can believe the completeness of their beliefs without having to that Mormon's are claiming the Full TRuth as well. Thus the sacred relic of truth, which is now left to the masses to discuss and criticize (and thus no longer be certified true because "the pastor said so"), more relics need to be built....One of the relics being style.... A place where our pseudo-superiority as a religious movement can be worn on our sleeves.... Of course much our style of "high fashion", like in the Shining, reflects a time past (vintage clothing) to a time where one can be innocent of their superior position and claim ignorance of not knowing the intense demands that being Christian in this pluralistic society consists of/

3. Growing up as Apostolics, we were told in Sunday school God was coming back at any moment and we are on the verge of End-Times revival. Well the revival hasn't happened. And God hasn't come back, so what is left to do? Save the world? Naw.....party....



I'm scared to death that I'm livin' a life not worth dying for....
And I know that it sounds mundane but it's a stone cold shame
How they got you tame and they got me tame.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

#218-Taking the things of the World, And Using them for the Kingdom!

So we have had this song written about at least twice before...One time very recently. And i thought we were done with it....



But then you get phone calls from anonymous tipsters (no joke) telling you to look closer at the song and to check out an eerily similar song...this one:



And the Gretchen Wilson song was written in 2004: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Redneck_Woman

Make of it what you want....

Maybe we are thinking too much into things here....

But if the connection is accurate....there is one thing better than being a pentecostal...

It's being a Pentecostal Redneck Woman.

Friday, January 14, 2011

#217-The insider's guide to navigating the Apostolic youth rally/special service


It is generally accepted that Apostolics lead exciting lives. Besides the occasional board game party nights and bowling outings, the more liberal of us like to sneak off to the movie theater, too. Life doesn’t get much better than this…except for when there’s a special service at a big church. These special services can take on many forms. There is that of the youth outing, which is basically a method of finding your future spouse while praising the Lord (double win!), that of the district conference, which consists of the most fashionable among us showing off our outfits, and then there is that of the special speaker coming to the town closest to you and everyone going to hear him or her. Occasionally, another form of a big church service can appear, too – for example, when a Bible college chorale tours in your city. That is also a major happening that promises to have lots of single girls with big hair in attendance! Never miss this one.
The Apostolic “special service” is something I have watched for many years. Although the attire of the people attending and the songs have changed since I was little, the method is still the same. The special evangelist/choir/function is announced about two months in advance. Everyone is thrown into a tizzy as all the girls try to find the perfect outfit that will find them the perfect husband, and the guys try to master the art of tying a bowtie. The after-service restaurant tour is planned. If you are a true expert at this, you figure out how late you’re going to be the night of the event so you can make the correct entrance. Finally, after all the preliminaries have occurred, the big night arrives. Everyone takes their seats, ostensibly to praise the Lord but in reality to also look around to see who is there, and the worship service begins. The overdressed praise team leaders begin to pelt out the latest worship song by the latest gospel artist and boom! there it goes. Lately, at least in Texas, there’s a call for everyone to come up to the altar during praise and worship and sing up there. I never do this because I feel awkward. Also, the lights are always extremely dim, thus making it hard to not hit someone when you raise your hands to worship.
Anyway. After this, the preacher preaches, the more bold or spiritual stand up and clap periodically, and then there’s an altar call. Now, for many (at least I hope), the altar call is a serious thing. People pray and some even repent! Many, however use this as an opportunity to go to the restroom and fix their hair and then loiter in the halls and text - very importantly! - on their phones.
After altar call is finally finished, there’s either a rush out the door so your group can arrive before the other masses get to the restaurant or there’s a massive met and greet in the sanctuary. It’s almost like speed dating, but with fancier clothes. Note to the newly converted young person: If you have never been to a Pentecostal youth service before, beware! Everyone already knows everyone else so you might stick out. If you’re a guy, there will be ten girls that will follow you and try and get your number. If you’re a girl, every other girl there will subtly give you the once over and then criticize your apparel. Don’t worry – it’s all part of the game. You will soon learn.
After everyone has gone through the rigamorole of meeting their future spouses, church will then be over. If you have not found your spouse yet, don’t worry! The best part of the whole evening is beginning! This is the part where everyone goes out to eat. Now, be careful. Where you go and who you eat with can say a lot about you. Always try and be seen with the “In People”! It will help increase your notoriety. Beware, however. The In People generally like to eat at expensive restaurants, so bring some money.
In addition to picking out the correct restaurant, careful attention must be given to where you sit at the table. Always try and sit in the middle – it will give you maximum advantage when trying to talk to one or more people. Never get stuck on the end. There’s never anyone to talk to down there, and you can’t make as much of an entrance when standing up to go to the restroom.
When explaining the restaurant scene, a careful note must be made. Because you are coming in right before closing time, presumably with a large group of people, the restaurant staff will hate you. Also, it will take forever to order your food and even longer for it to arrive. So be prepared to spend at least a couple of hours eating, maybe even longer. But this is okay! It gives you more time to walk around to different tables to meet more people (because in the end, everyone ends up going to the same restaurant) and therefore more attention will be paid to you! So it can be a win-win situation if you work it right.
Before long, however, the night will be over. And you will go back home and church on Sunday will seem very boring. But it’s okay! Because in three months, there will be another event and you can repeat the process all over again!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

#216-Being unable to correctly answer the question: "Mommy, what happens to us when we die?"




Okay, okay...so we know what will happen to us when we die: We go to Heaven. YAY!!! GO GOOD GUYS! (High five to you my Christian Brother)...

But what I meant is... We roughly know what happens to us (or at least those who are saved) when we die....

But the Logistics of the thing...that's where our theology is a little shaky...

Well I for one hate jewelry. So if the streets are really gold like Revelation says, I won't be impressed.

And then for goodness sake, some of us have this concept that we will all know each other in Heaven...

Like the first few weeks of Heaven will be something to the effect of the first night service of youth congress or convention or camp:

 Me: Oh hey Bill! like time no see
Bill: Hey Joel...good to see you made it here...I was worried about that whole blasphemous blog thing...but i knew eventually you'd get you're act together...
Joel: LOL! Well you know me (pokes Bill in the side jestfully)....But yeah, last time I knew you was you in a closed casket at your funeral...yeah, that was awful how you died with that whole being lit on fire by your son thing...."
Bill: Well hey, don't mention it....death gets the best of us...and besides, i made it didn't I (opens arms wide pointing attention to the surroundings of Heaven)

But hey, the Bible mentions none of this stuff...it may be true of course, but i do know that Jesus says we won't be married in heaven so what makes us so sure we will be living and socializing with our families and spouses in heaven?

But none of this to me is as intriguing of the contradictions of all contradictions with Heaven...

Confused 7 year old Girl: Mommy, what happened to Grandpa when he died last week from a 24 month battle with cancer in which he suffered way more than what seemed necessary when it would have been much simpler if either God took him two years ago or we stopped trying to medicate the poor man so much to elongate his suffering?


Mommy: What did you say dear? All this about suffering?


Girl: Aw, i'm just playing. Let's ignore that issue for now.What i meant to say, what happened to Grandpa when he died? Is he asleep?


Mommy: No sweetie, grandpa is in heaven now. Singing and dancing with the angels and Grandma.


Girl: If he is so happy, then why didn't we send him to heaven years ago before all those bills started piling up, and he was forced to swallow any dignity he had left by wearing old man diapers?


Mommy: Because we are selfish people who believe the best for us is keeping our parents here on earth to suffer as long as possible for our own peace and desire to not want to face the reality of death sweetie.


Girl: Geeze, this conversation got awkward....but mommy, i have one more question...When you said Grandpa is dancing in heaven....well the Bible doesn't say anything like that happens.


Mommy: I know that, but all the preachers mention at every funeral ever that the dead person is in a better place now...so it must be true


Girl: But Paul said in his first letter to the church of Thessalonica that those who die will be judged first, before the living on judgment day. So how could Grandpa be in heaven, when Paul explicitly tells us that this is an impossibility?


Mommy: Well I could point you to the thief on the cross that Jesus said would be in paradise the day of his death as well as the parable of Lazarus.


Girl: But mommy, that is stupid logic to live by. First, the story of Lazarus is a parable meaning it's not supposed to be taken literally, unless you believe heaven is Grandpa laying on the chest of Abraham, which too me is more creepy than it is happy. Second, with the logic of the thief, well he didn't have the Holy Ghost, nor was he baptized in Jesus Name. So we shouldn't use him and him being the exception to the rule as the proof that grandpa is in heaven.


I think all that dead person in a better place right now is hogwash. We just like telling ourselves lies in the midst of tragedies to make ourselves feel better. 


Mommy: You are right. then to be honest, grandpa is just asleep right now for a long, indefinite period of time. He is living a temporary death.


Girl: I kind of like that idea....a nap before heaven.

(close curtain....clap...smiles)...

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

#215 - Chaos and Confussion at the altar: What did he say?



I wonder what it would have been like to be in the upper room 2000 years ago. Watching. Waiting. Praying. Not knowing what’s going to happen, not really knowing that anything is going to happen except that a gift – this “Holy Spirit” – was going to be given.


And then it happened! Tongues of fire crashed in to the room and landed on them. All present began to speak in different tongues themselves! This act would become known as the “giving of the Holy Spirit.” Could you even imagine?


Now, not to put some spiteful/bitter/blasphemous spin on this situation (I am not poking fun at this event whatsoever), but what I cannot seem to figure out is how those people in that upper room, with no idea of what was going to happen, with no mood-music, and with no preacher/elder/usher screaming tongues in to their ears; how were they able to receive the Holy Spirit?


The modern, Apostolic-Holy-Ghost-receiving-atmosphere generally consists of; the call to receive, the mood-music (be it “I Win” for the excitable sermon or “Let it Rain” for the more somber ‘repentance’ message), and a pastorally initiated, non-verbal directing of elders, deacons, and ushers that would put delta force to shame.


It is at this point that the repentant of heart, standing at an old fashion altar, alone, transparent before his maker, bearing his soul, hears the sound of a rushing, mighty wind: “SHOULD’A BOUGHT’A HONDA!”


Now drama aside, is this really necessary? When I received the Holy Ghost, thank God there were people with me who were respectful of what was happening. They didn’t turn it in to some sideshow, fast food joint with a goal of turning out new believers like premade combo meals.


I’ve witnessed events to the tune of one man (we’ll refer to him as “sinner” from here on out), two elders, the sinner sandwiched between like a stale ¼ pounder. In his left ear, the sinner was told to “hold on brother, the Lord’s coming for you!” In his right ear, the sinner heard “let it go brother, lay it all down!” So what we have here are contradictory statements; hold on, and let go. What is the poor sinner to do?


This is what he is to do. Just wait it out. At some point, sooner probably rather than later, the men on either side are going to run out of clich├ęs and scripted adages and change their tactic. This is what the poor sinner doesn’t see coming. The men on either side have switched to screaming in tongues in the sinner’s ear.


At this point the sinner, with eyes the size of frying pans and a hammer-n-anvil inner-ear symphony that would leave a medieval blacksmith envious, begins a last ditch effort to filter out the room noise and focus on God.


It is of no avail, the buns of this fast food burger are too much for his dinky ¼ lb patty. He lowers his hands and wipes his eyes.


This, however, has not deterred the buns. In fact they probably haven’t even realized that the sinner has given up. They scream until they are horse, slowly take their hands of the sinners’ wrists and then, with the resolution of an oak, simply tighten their belts and move on to the next sinner.

Monday, January 3, 2011

#214-Club Jesus-Worship Gone Wrong



“Let’s go to the club!”

Not exactly a phrase you hear a lot on a beautifully overdressed Pentecostal Sunday morning, however, I would argue that it is a perfectly acceptable analogy for the cacophony which immediately greets us upon our arrival to church these days.

Now before I begin my iconoclastic rant, allow me first to reveal my Pentecostal credentials:

I grew up Baptist (I wonder how much of the esteemed readership of this blog will not finish this “lesser” article now?) In fact, it was only in my twenties (19 actually) that I fell under the Pentecostal label. In reality, my only Pentecostal claim to fame is that I had the grandson of William R Starr as an usher at my wedding – I also picked Tommy Brandon up from the airport once!

Now understand me, as I have only been Pentecostal for the last thirteen years and it may just be that I have not had enough time to appreciate the “dancing generation” (or maybe it’s just because I cannot dance and am terribly envious…) but I see a whole lot of “worship” without very much worship.

Listen, I’m not sure I could count the number of times I’ve danced like David when the Spirit of the Lord came on my heart. It would be difficult to say how often I’ve gone down to the enemies’ camp and taken back what he stole from me (See Digression #1) and in fact, it’s sickening how many times I’ve looked in the back of the book and found that I’ve won. All that aside, and in spite of praising His name at sunrise and sunset; I’m not totally convinced that any of the aforementioned tasks actually constitutes worship. Call me “nuts,” but there seems to be more to it than all that.

Let’s begin with a lame definition; dictionary.com defines worship as “reverent honor and homage paid to [G]od” (brackets added by me). Dan Rogers defines worship as “pure adoration, the lifting up of the redeemed [S]pirit toward [G]od in contemplation of His [H]oly perfection.”[1] In other terms, worship may be defined as exaltation to God resultant of the realization of God’s majesty, and in reality, that’s only the tip of the iceberg. What really irks me, regardless of your preferred definition of worship, is that we take our “worship services” (See Digression #2) and turn them in to what Timothy Ralston calls “idolatry of self rather than the worship of God.”[2] What often seems to be overlooked in worship… is God.
Let me qualify that statement with some song examples:

1) I’m a Pentecostal by Nathaniel Haney…

I’ll be honest, this song make me ashamed to have ever acquired the label “Pentecostal.” I’m not even sure where to begin, oh now I know; “idolatry of self rather than the worship of God.” If this song were any more obsessed with the glories of being Pentecostal (rather than being a child of the Creator) it might be downright sacrilege. Don’t get me wrong, who doesn’t want to glory in their Pentecostalness? I mean the freedom of Christ living in perfect harmony with the burden of man-made standards! makes me want to put on a paisley tie and run aisles. To continue with the point at hand, if I may quote a piece of the verse, “There’s a hunger in this world that gets bigger every day, they’re crying out for Pentecost…” I forgot that Pentecost paid the price and shed its blood for my sins… oh wait that was Jesus, easy mix up I’m sure. Before I go off on some terrible rant, I would like to acknowledge the fantastic criticism of this song done by my new friend Caroline at http://www.pentecostalfreedom.org/:


“This award [STUPID PENTECOSTAL ARROGANCE AWARD] goes to a relatively new song written by UPCI pastor Nathaniel Haney called I'm a Pentecostal and performed hyperactively on YouTube. It is interesting to note that many Pentecostal songs, written ostensibly to give glory to God, in fact give glory only to Pentecostals. The only praise in the song is praise of Pentecostals. And, since Pentecostals are singing the song (and in a Pentecostal church) it is little more than a bizarre cheerleading theme:

"I'm a Pentecostal, I am not ashamed!Just read the book of Acts, we are still the same!"


People who have nominated this song almost invariably ask, "Who are they talking to? It's a Pentecostal church, fer crying out loud. Do they think half the congregation is going to look around and say, 'Pentecostal? Really? Well, I'm glad they cleared THAT up. All this time, I thought I was attending the First Baptist Church of Snodville!'" But it seems quite clear to me that the Pentecostals are really talking to themselves. And that actually makes this song rather sad. I'm sure we all remember the deep insecurity that made us all feel the need to repeat over and over to ourselves that we were so happy to be Pentecostal and definitely not embarrassed about it!”

I think that sums it up…

2) The Spirit of the Lord by Fred Hammond…


First off, how dare I attack a Fred Hammond song, and secondly, when did Fred Hammond acquire Pope-like sanctity? (He doesn’t even have a bubble car!) As far as I’m concerned, he’s not even Israel Houghton-esq, but then I would have to confess how low that sits on my totem pole as well. Anyway where was I? Ah yes, The Spirit of the Lord by Fred Hammond. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this song right off hand, let me remind you: Basically, when the Spirit of the Lord comes on you, you do everything that David did. Well not everything David did, I mean we’re not going to sleep with someone’s wife then kill the husband… well at least not until worship is over. I find it interesting that we spend so much time telling God (I guess) what we are going to do once His Spirit moves on our hearts while the Spirit is supposedly moving on our hearts! I feel that sometimes actions are a good substitute for words; this song would certainly qualify for said instance.

3) Enemy’s Camp by Brownsville Revival

Other than proclaiming that Satan is under my feet and redundantly announcing that I’ve taken back what he’s stolen from me I’m not sure what this sing is supposed accomplish. Where is the worship in this? and yet we sing it for worship. Heck it doesn’t even mention that Jesus helps us take back what’s been stolen. Apparently at some point we became self-sufficient (remember that next time you need help moving, if you can take back what’s yours from the enemies camp then you can certainly move a king size bed by yourself). I am literally deflated by the thought of spending anymore of my air on this song.

Now that I’ve ranted on the lack of worship present in some of Pentecost’s great songs, let me talk about what they have in common and what has enchanted generations of “Holy rollers!” It’s the beat man! Pentecostals love nothing more than to get down and boogie, just look at the first verse of I’m a Pentecostal:

"We’ve been known to get wild and let our hair hang down
Drink till we get merry, rolling on the ground
We’ve cranked up the music, and we’ve danced all around"

You could put lyrics and soulful signing to any grouping of words and Pentecostals would swear they feel the Spirit! I know a Pentecostal pianist who would frequently add the McDonald’s I’m Loving It jingle in to the worship music just to see if anyone noticed and guess what, didn’t happen, but someone surely fell on the ground in a “Holy Ghost heap.” Forget Club Divine, you too Necto, I’m going to church to get my dance on! My worship however, well I plan to leave that for camp; wait no that’s my prom night… HYC then, no that’s my match making time… hmm I guess General Conference, but only if I decide to show up for one of the countless sermons… yea, that’ll do. Praise be to God!

Digression #1
Aren’t we so boisterous! Our humanity sometimes slips in to lapses of judgment classified as “feelings of immortality.” And we, supposing ourselves to by invulnerable, think it possible to sojourn in to the enemy’s camp and take back what he “stole” from us. Ha! First off, we love to lay the blame on the enemy, however, nothing has ever been taken from us that we didn’t allow to be taken. We as Christians love to play the victim, but Christ has made us “more than conquerors!” (Rom 8:31-37) Now secondly, we have no need to go to the enemy’s camp because Christ already did and has come back with the keys to death, hell, and the grave (Rev 1:18). So let’s get off our high horses, thank God for His mercy and grace, and live as conquerors instead of victims.

Digression #2
There is a Lutheran theologian by the name of Geoffrey Wainwright who wrote an exhaustive text entitled Doxology. In this text, Wainwright lays continual emphasis on ‘doing worship’ in the form of daily activities; daily life/actions are worship. I think one of the great failures of the modern church is the focus on the ritual of ‘worship services’ or, worship during Sunday church. Worship, these days, has become synonymous with music, i.e. worship music. The focus has been put on modern contemporary styled music that ‘creates the atmosphere’ for worship. Weekly church services are then the event for worship instead of being what they were originally modeled after; a time for celebrating Christ with fellow believers. This almost completely reduces worship to a weekly event as opposed to an intentional and continuous lifestyle choice and thus, steals glory from God.



[1] http://www.gci.org/spiritual/worship1
[2] http://bible.org/print/book/export/html/3438



Tim Beehler