Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Charismatic Culture Shock

I am a persistent person and I’ve always been fascinated with God and religion. Even growing up in the FOC where answers were not forthcoming about these things, I pestered and persisted in asking how things were, why things were, what things were like back when…. Bad experiences couldn’t keep me from trying again. I wandered into yet another church. It was an Assemblies of God church. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into.

This church was large. The pastor found his way to me immediately, introduced himself, and made small talk. The church service was nice, the message was fascinating (and convicting), the songs were the same hymns I’d sang all those years in the FOC – only with emotion behind them, harmonizing, instruments, etc.

So everything was fine and good until that final prayer. Trouble. The pastor started calling people out – like he was reading their minds! I’d heard many stories of Walter White rebuking people from the pulpit and now I was experiencing something similar. He called people out and they came forward to have their sins cast out. Nobody refused to go; nobody seemed shocked that this man knew what they’d been up to.

I was, thankfully, in the back row. As this calling forward of the sinners continued, I slumped lower in my seat. What if he read my mind? What dark thoughts or deeds would be found? I moved on.

Did I mention that my dad grew up Pentecostal? Let me just stop and say that I have nothing against this form or Christianity; I have actually known some really wonderful Pentecostals. But you have to understand that my only knowledge of church was one where everyone, absolutely everyone – especially women and children – tried their very hardest to do nothing noticeable in church. And Pentecostals are not exactly known for quiet reverence in church.

I discovered a new church in another town. I don’t remember the name of it. I figured it was just a community church because it was operating out of an old school house. Nothing fancy.

I went in and sat down in the middle of the congregation. A few people came up and introduced themselves. Friendly, but not pushy. And then the service began.

Whoa. These people went wild. They danced and whooped – like everyone in the building. It felt like a trippy dream or a movie. It couldn’t really be happening, could it? These were the “holy rollers” I’d heard about growing up. Some were on the floor. Most danced around and hollered words and phrases that made no sense. Scary.

What could I do? I was surrounded by these people on all sides. I was not getting up. I was not going to dance around – it would’ve been fake if I had. I wanted to be anywhere but there, but I was too scared to stand and walk out the door – what if someone grabbed me and made me dance?
I have no idea what the sermon was about. None. I was traumatized.

A few months later, I was invited to community potluck. Cool. I like potlucks. I brought some cookies and my appetite. Sometime in the middle of that meal I realized what was going on. These people all belonged to that church. I was being recruited.

An older man cornered me and began to explain how I couldn’t be saved unless I had the gift of speaking in tongues. I politely disagreed – several times because he was adamant about convincing me – and escaped to my car.

Lesson learned: never go to a potluck unless you know what the agenda is.


  1. I cringe at your description of the so-called charismatics, having had some experiences in such places too. How wrongheaded and unbiblical their talk of ‘tongues = salvation’ is cannot be overstated. And I get how outsiders cannot relate to their emotions expressed in worship too.

    While I would never defend the imbalances and bad doctrine of most charismatic/pentecostal fellowships, it is funny how people (like yourself and many who will read this) feel alienated around passionate worship. I’m sure you aren’t emotionless in matters that excite your soul. Otherwise stoic folks still show some passion when dancing with a mate, rooting for their favorite sports team, celebrating someone’s wedding, etc. Yet when it comes to worshipping the most exciting and satisfying Person in the universe it is somehow ridiculous? That’s just bizarre when you really think about it.

    Saints in heaven do not behave in worship like the deadbeats we are now. If only we better knew the source and object of their worship!

    1. you make an excellent point ... I do feel like a deadbeat in worship sometimes, not being gifted with a melodic voice and having hangups about letting loose. Sometimes I get as far as lifting my hands - when my pastor asks the entire congregation to do so - just a little bit during a prayer or worship song.

      At home - alone - listening to gospel music is where I truly worship.

  2. That would be scary! I actually walked out of a church one time, the lady that I had to get by who had sat next to me, she said "oh your not leaving are you?" I said yes I sure am, she replied "no you aren't!" at that point I almost just said get out of my way but tried to be as polite as possible eventually she let me through, but warned me that I would be sorry, these people for the most part just scared me.

    1. You're braver than I am. I felt like I was in the spotlight by not jumping around, but would've felt even more conspicuous trying to leave.

  3. You have to respect and even admire people who are passionate about their God and are not afraid of what other people might think. We are too stifled in our expressions for the most part....always have to walk the straight and narrow and fit into the same peg hole. It is kind of a shame.

    1. I do respect the heartfelt emotions behind passionate worship, but I also fear that in a group where speaking in tongues is a litmus of salvation, the temptation to fake the gift - and the resulting guilt and fear - would be too great.

  4. I have to agree with child of God. I'm fascinated by how others choose to worship and I try to be respectful of our differences. Fitting into the same peg hole is boring--love those that can loosen up a bit.

    1. It can go both ways though. Being a quiet - or private - worshipper didn't seem to be a valid option in this experience.

  5. I personally know of a couple who belonged to the same church as I did, and often they didn't attend services because they routinely visited other churches. It's always interesting to talk to them, because they tell tales of what is done in this church or that one, or in this part of the US or that one, and often they cite the history of various worship practices - where it began, what its original purpose was, why it died out as a common practice, etc. This couple are both seminary scholars, but I've often thought that if an ordinary person such as myself had the time and the inclination (and these days, the gas money), that might be a great way to learn more about modern Christianity as a whole, and very interesting besides.

    I'm going to stick my neck out and state my opinion that there is no right or wrong way to worship so long as it's sincere. I don't think speaking in tongues is going to get anyone into heaven, but I don't think it's going to keep anyone out, either.

    As for those who handle snakes ceremonially, all I can say is that it might get them to wherever they are going a heck of a lot

    What's really important is whether you are comfortable with a church's doctrine and worship style, and whether or not you feel you can accept and be accepted by the congregation. These are the criteria that must be met in order to settle into a "home church" and a "church family". This is what fellowship with Christians is all about, after all.

    The old saying goes that "you can pick your friends, and you can pick your enemies, but you can't pick your family". Well, a church family you CAN pick, and if you find a really good fit, they'll pick you, too. Some are lucky in that way, and take to one church like a duck to water and never return to shore, so to speak. Others never find it, like Paul, who was taken up by the work of his apostleship until his death, but had occasion to learn and teach at each church he visited, and his epistles still edify all Christians. Most of us fall somewhere in between the two extremes, partially due to growth on the part of church and/or individual. As our attitudes change, so do our needs.


    1. Pandyce,

      you always have such great responses. Thank you. I have learned a lot about worship, prayer, and scriptural truth by branching out into different denominations and churches. The variety has given me both a broader perspective and more discernment. There remains so far left to go on the journey.

  6. Thanks, Suzi. Like you, I have struggled with these issues all my life, and am eager to share what little I've gleaned. It's good to know that someone actually appreciates my input. lol
    I think a big part of most Christians' faith is unfortunately a tendency to narrowed outlook. The gospels say that the 'way is broad but the gate is narrow', and that 'many are called and few are chosen'. So, not wanting the gate shut or to be left behind, we tend to guess that we are in the right and therefore saved, and that the rest of those poor losers are all out of luck. I mean, how ironic is it that God sends us the means by which all can be saved in spite of the human tendency to look upon one another in judgement, even to the point of leaving everyone but ourselves and an exclusive group that we approve of to the fires of eternal damnation?
    That Christ's new commandment to us was to "love one another as yourself" seems to me to be the real key to salvation - that once we accept him as our savior, his love through us should shine through us and lead to the salvation of others that we all might be saved as one body. I truly believe that the secret is that if one of us goes, all of us go; but if one of us leaves another behind, none of us go. Kind of like a children's game of musical chairs in reverse, where no one gets to win unless everyone has their place. After all, I don't think Christ died so as to claim his bride in pieces - he paid the ransom to spare her life.
    That he has left us in charge of other people's well-being, and by so doing has left each of us in the care of others, seems to me very important. What if we don't get to heaven until we have learned to accept each other as equal in importance to ourselves, and the whole of heaven and earth is standing by waiting for that to happen? If we could see clearly that that was the case, would we be so quick to dismiss one another as wrongful, or inferior, or lacking something we've got (and are feeling pretty smug about)? And what if our assurance that we are so right about things is what is holding up the whole process? Because that's what I think is happening...JMHO, as always. :)


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