Since being exposed to the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement in the West coast, there has been a lot of joy seeing the greater extent of the work of God. However, these are not without some interesting blunders.
I have noticed that of all the people I have talked to who have felt that they have been significantly hurt by their church are usually people who have gone to charismatic churches. It just seems to me that Christians who leave the church disillusioned and jaded commonly have had bad experiences from being at a Pentecostal church.
What is it about Pentecostal churches that seem to distance Christians so often?
In my experiences and my observations, I would suggest a few things about Pentecostal churches that are contributing to this:
- High Emotionalism
More than most other denominations, I find Christians to have such a bipolar attitude towards charismatics: Those who are in it absolutely flat-out love church, and those who dislike it, really dislike it.Personally, one of things I enjoyed so much about growing to becoming more charismatic is that the expressions of worship and prayer fostered in charismatic circles are so gosh-darn spiritually enriching and invigorating. Their worship is so expressive– hands raised, people on their faces, dancing, joy-abounding, laughing, shouting, and others are very typical of charismatic worship services. I love it because these are expressions I see people in the Bible indulging in in response to an incredibly awesome joy-giving God. Charismatics are moving in a beautiful direction of pulling the church to love Jesus with the deepest emotions of their hearts.
However, these expressions are not without a cost. Where there are high emotions, there are great dangers. While the potential for great joy is increased exponentially, the potential for great pain and relational hurt is also increased.
It’s like in any relationship–when there is a high level of trust and emotional exchange, the hurts and boundary-crossings in that relationship hurt a lot more because of the vulnerability allowed by that emotional opening. And so in charismatic settings, where people who plug in will be emotionally invested much quicker and deeper than other denominations, while the potential for great joy is there, any relational hurt from members in the church will yield an incredibly lethal blow.
The reason why people leave charismatic churches jaded and disillusioned is because the high emotions of those churches, without careful discernment, natural emotional maturation, and an emphasis on loving relationships, can often be a recipe for disaster.
- The Facade of Spirituality Hiding Character
I remember hearing a story of a brother who told me how he didn’t want to go to a certain Christian circle because of witnessing a hypocritical life of one of their members. And then he told me which circle it was. I remember thinking: “Oh..they’re charismatic. And they’re very well known.”He was sharing how one of their “prophetic” people were joking and laughing about the people’s lives they were prophesying over. My friend didn’t know them too well but was very disgusted to say the least.
This, along with many other examples, highlights an intrinsic danger with the charismatic culture: That gifting and anointing serve as easy hiding places of character blunders and internal wounds.
I think it’s very exciting the Pentecostals are encouraging and leading the church in the West to operate in the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The fruits of which is a revitalization of witnessing healings, evangelistic ferver, miracles, power encounters, and other things that are seldom seen in less charismatic circles. However, leaders within charismatic circles who fail to realize that (and there are many) those anointed gifts can serve to hide our flaws will inevitably hurt others very significantly. That is because gifting and anointing do not build and uphold relationships; character does. And unfortunately, the reputations of many ministries cripple, not because of lack of fruitfulness and anointing, but often because violations of Christian conduct and character.
The issue is not a pick-and-choose issue. God wants us to be highly anointed and empowered as well as to have high godly character. But when there are those signs of high ministry potential, a lack of effort to shape and form Christian character will most often lead to tragic mistakes (finances, adultery, and narcism, to name a few), which will often lead church members leaving jaded and disillusioned.
- Strict Fundamentalism Amidst Freedom
My charismatic friend Justin once made an incredible observation about charismatic churches. He said that, “It’s funny how while charismatic churches are the most freeing in worship, they are also the most theologically legalistic and strict.”I think his observations are dead-on.
Pentecostals did not come from nowhere. They were birthed from some pretty strict Holiness Wesleyan Movement in the early twentieth century. And like their fathers, Pentecostals are straight-up Bible-lovers (And I love that about them because I also am a Bible-lover).
However, typical of very fundamentalist circles they are generally extremely theologically strict and un-inclusive. Basically that means that they act out of the general ignorance that their theological understanding of Jesus and the Bible are very formed by a small cultural context. Strict fundamentalists are seldom globally minded or historically minded when in comes to recognizing the diversity of thought surrounding key Christian doctrines.
That being said, Pentecostals therefore have a greater tendency to brandish others as heretics and pagans, when in fact, they may not necessarily be. They’re a fiery bunch all right, but when it’s mixed with that spirit of strict “who’s-in” “who’s-out”, it sometimes gets a little out of hand.
It’s no mystery why the “crazy” Christians you see on the news carrying “God hates fags” signs are usually…..charismatic. As are those who really dislike Muslims. These are extreme examples of course. You’ll also see those who demand everyone to speak in tongues.
Pentecostals are at tension with living passionately for God within the framework of very strict fundamentalist beliefs. The cost is that the people who are excluded are really excluded and shunned. They are outcasted like no other.
Charismatics need to embrace theological diversity. A very quick way to do so is to add this into our vocabulary: “I don’t have it all together”. Because quite frankly, we don’t. People and issues are way more complex than being categorized as “black” and “white” and much of what I hear from charismatic heckling is operated from a fear and insecure agenda, not a love-your-neighbor-and-their-differences agenda.
I hope that these observations will help us Pentecostals see why are consistently estranging people who have been part of our flock. I love being charismatic and I love the move of the Holy Spirit through our churches, but we need to remember that our top Christian goals within the context of community are love (1 Cor 13) and unity (John 17). Seeing how our expressions and culture often naturally hinder those things should compel us to rethink the way we operate charismatically.