Thinking Out Loud

April 20, 2020

Author’s ‘All Inclusive’ Church Actually Favors One Approach Above the Others

For the past twelve years, most of the books I’ve reviewed here have either been popular titles or books which went on to become bestsellers. I generally don’t consider anything that isn’t going to end up on my personal bookshelf, which is currently quite crowded.

About a year ago I realized that I needed to go a little deeper in my personal reading and kept eyeing titles which all had one thing in common: InterVarsity Press (IVP). Book reviewers get their copies for free and no amount of pestering people at IVP would produce results, so just before the lockdown, I decided to bite the bullet and for the first time pay for copies of books to read and review and chose four titles.

This in turn freed me up from the restriction of having to focus on recently-published titles, so I reached back to 2017 for Evangelical, Sacramental & Pentecostal: Why the Church Should Be All Three by Gordon T. Smith (IVP Academic). I tend to select books I know ahead of time I am going to review positively and this one had three things going for it:

  1. The writer is Canadian. Gotta support the home team, right?
  2. It was published by IVP, where I was once a warehouse manager for their Canadian operation.
  3. The writer is from my denomination: The Christian and Missionary Alliance.

In other words, this can’t miss. Or so I thought.

However, as I progressed through the book’s scant 133 pages of actual text (at a $18.00 US list, or a whopping $23.99 Canadian) I found the premise of the book wearing increasingly thin.

On a personal level I’ve admired churches which can not only blend worship with ancient and modern, but can blend the somewhat relaxed form of contemporary Evangelicalism with some more deliberate acknowledgements of liturgical forms such as more than one scripture reading, or call and response readings, etc. That my wife does this each week in an otherwise Evangelical church just confirms my bias.

Right there I had a problem. I was reading the title of the book as though it said, ‘Evangelical, Liturgical, Pentecostal…’ whereas the author is contending for a hardcore sacramental inclusion even though Evangelicals and Charismatics no more teach a sacramental approach than they confer sainthood on pillars of the church. (Tangentially: I think there’s a case to be made for Evangelicals having a sacrament of preaching, but that’s outside the scope of this article.) As I got deeper and deeper, it appeared that Gordon Smith not only sees a local church being influenced by all three ecclesiastic streams, but importing bulk-sized elements of each into their worship routine. (To fully do this justice, I believe you’re looking at a 2-hour worship service.)

I am confident there are churches out there who have successfully followed this model though the book offered absolutely nothing in the way of case studies or positive anecdotal accounts. However, the Apostle Paul’s words notwithstanding, I think that in trying to be “all things to all people” a church might miss out on their unique calling, especially in an urban situation which already offers a broad selection of churches.

The book is arranged in six, easy-to-follow chapters. In the first three shorter chapters, Smith looks at the themes of abiding in Christ, the grace of God, and the significance of the ascension; as they are found in John’s Gospel, the Luke-Acts narratives, and the writings of two key figures, Calvin and Wesley.

Chapters four through six are the meat of the book, looking at the principles of Evangelicalism, Sacramental liturgy, and Pentecostal/Charismatic movement.

In examining what it means to be Evangelical, there is already an emphasis on the importance of Baptism and the Eucharist (Communion). In the Sacramental section, I saw this bias more clearly and when he declared that The Lord’s Supper is something that can only be practiced under the “authority” and “administration” of the church — and remember I’m reading this during the Covid-19 lockdown where we’ve all had to exercise all manner of grace on this matter — I wrote in the margin, “He just lost me.” (p 80)

Not at all fearing that Communion could run the risk of being a postscript to a worship service, Smith insists that it must occur after the sermon and feeling he needs to state this despite widespread agreement, that the words of institution must be read each time. (Personal Rant: Pastors, please do the more seasoned believers in your church a favor and at least vary the Bible translations used in the I Cor. 11 reading.) He also appears somewhat opposed to including any type of teaching on the meaning of the sacrament with the terse dismissal, “We certainly do not need a second sermon and we do not need an extended explanation of the meaning of these symbols.” (p 91) As in, never? He also seems to confuse the liturgical approach of more liberal churches with those who are truly Christ-focused, suggesting, but not overtly stating, that the passages in the Lectionary are simply pretext for the pastor to express a personal opinion. It’s a rather sweeping generalization.

The final chapter on the Pentecostal principle is where Smith shows himself to be least comfortable. At least nine times he begins a paragraph or a sentence with “And yet…” his personal equivalent to ‘On the other hand…’ not unlike a politician writhing on the stage in an attempt to satisfy all his constituents.

He suggests there might be Pentecostal churches where no preaching or communion are present. (p 105) and while I concede such events occasionally occur, they are clearly the exception, not the rule. He believes in an experience of the Spirit that is felt and acknowledges the possibility of God’s Spirit moving in our services spontaneously, and in the prayer for healing of the sick — this is consistent with Christian and Missionary Alliance history and doctrine — but is clearly unwilling to give this section of the book the wholehearted endorsement he gives to Evangelical and Sacramental emphasis, even going so far as to state, “We are not truly pentecostal, in other words, unless we are sacramental.” (p 116)

In a short concluding chapter the book loses all academic pretense and moves to the ranting of a grumpy old uncle.

Even the lectern has been replaced by the bistro table and bar stool, while the equivalent of the sermon has become a more casual chat, downplaying the authority of the Scriptures in an attempt to make the Word more accessible. As often as not, the communion table which for my upbringing was always viewed an important item of furniture even when not being used, has been removed. And now what is front and center — with the pulpit and the communion table gone — is, I say this without any exaggeration, the drum set. (p 127-128)

In the margin of my copy, I have written, “Yikes!” …

…So perhaps I misspoke earlier. There is an example in the book of a church doing all three — being Evangelical, Liturgical and Charismatic — and it exists in the author’s mind. He pictures it vividly complete with a “baptismal pool” at the back of the church and not the front, and banners hanging from the walls. This is the author’s personal Walden and it might have been better served if the title reflected this — or more truthfully using must instead of should in the existing subtitle — instead of suggesting something being more widely and gently advocated.

 

 

 

 

January 27, 2020

Prosperity Church Offering Envelope

The front side of the envelope was fairly typical…

…it was the back side that got our attention…

There is a sense in the opening statement that all that we have comes from God and that he has promised to provide for our basic needs. By being able to give, it states that we’ve already received.

Or am I exegeting their offering envelope wrong? The second sentence doesn’t match the first. The language of Exodus — taking back the promised land — implies that something is yet to come. That we have not received all that God is about to or able to provide. 

Furthermore, Mrs. W., when she reads this, feels it’s saying that we have already received something very significant, but perhaps we have yet to claim it.

Next paragraph.

Although the word tithe is not used, the first sentence of the second paragraph begins with a statement of offering being giving the Lord our first fruits. The notion that Jesus receives this gift and then presents it as worship to the Father is new to me.

Seriously, before we skip past this too quickly, have others of you heard this teaching? The idea that we give to Jesus who then gives our gifts to God the Father?

The next sentence introduces the all-too-familiar prosperity teaching notion of giving as planting a seed. It says, I receive a great harvest, not I will receive, which implies that the process is already operative.

But in that same sentence that idea is paired with the idea of the devourer, which I believe we can read as the enemy, being rebuked. Is that was rebuked at some point in the past, is rebuked in the giving of the offering, or is constantly being rebuked at times past, present and future? I suppose a spiritual warfare element (which I do believe in) was inevitable.

Many times those of outside of prophetic churches have great difficulty following the language used. In this case, I know the words, but the verb tenses confuse.

The third sentence is fine. We are indeed blessed, both individually and as the corporate body of Christ, to bless others.

So if this is the motivation, the fourth sentence would make sense; that God has given us the means to accumulate wealth to build the Kingdom, which the language I would have used, not establish your covenant. Isn’t God’s covenant already established?

The fifth sentence is great. God is our source and supplier of all our needs.

The last sentence seems a strange place to end. A declaration that all my bills are paid, would seem to imply that I am only giving this offering if I have no other debt; or, because the envelope uses a credit card option, that I am not going into debt with my giving, which would be wise advice for parishioners, and good counsel by the church in not wanting people to worsen their financial position by giving to the church.

But it could also mean, that all my bills are paid as they arise, which, with the general exception of a mortgage or car loan, would also be a responsible framework from which to give to the church — a church that presumably would honor the other half of the financial picture and be helping out families which are in financial difficulty along with the Biblical widows and orphans equivalents — but again, the verb tense is ambiguous.

If I felt my bills weren’t getting paid and all my needs were not being met, I would see this declaration as a caution not to give to the church at this time.

But in a prosperity church context, it might mean that by faith all my bills are paid, that it is stating a position which may not have been practically realized to date. But not everyone entering this church for the first time would speak their faith dialect and detect this nuance…

…On the other hand, they could have just left the back of the envelope blank.


As I was preparing this, I discovered this item in our files, which I had used in July, 2017 as a random Wednesday Link List image. Reading this one, I at least understand the words used.

January 8, 2019

Melding the Church Categories

Last year the academic books division of InterVarsity Press (IVP) released a title which intrigued me.  Gordon T. Smith is the President of Ambrose University in Calgary. Evangelical, Sacramental, Pentecostal: Why the Church Should Be All Three struck me as an ecclesiastic and doctrinal equivalent to what the late Robert Webber was trying to move us toward; the idea of blended worship. The idea is to move from a polarized, either/or approach to incorporating the best from different traditions.

At least I think that’s what it’s about. I don’t, after many attempts, get review books from IVP, be they academic or otherwise. (I’ll admit a lack of full qualification to review scholarly titles, but at 160 pages, I’d be willing to look up the big words!) For that reason, I’ll default to the publisher’s summary:

Evangelical. Sacramental. Pentecostal. Christian communities tend to identify with one of these labels over the other two. Evangelical churches emphasize the importance of Scripture and preaching. Sacramental churches emphasize the importance of the eucharistic table. And pentecostal churches emphasize the immediate presence and power of the Holy Spirit. But must we choose between them? Could the church be all three?

Drawing on his reading of the New Testament, the witness of Christian history, and years of experience in Christian ministry and leadership, Gordon T. Smith argues that the church not only can be all three, but in fact must be all three in order to truly be the church. As the church navigates the unique global challenges of pluralism, secularism, and fundamentalism, the need for an integrated vision of the community as evangelical, sacramental, and pentecostal becomes ever more pressing. If Jesus and the apostles saw no tension between these characteristics, why should we?

I mention the book now only because today is the release day for another book that I think offers a similar challenge and has a similar title.

Andrew Wilson is teaching pastor of King’s Church in London, part of the Newfrontiers network of churches. His book is titled: Spirit and Sacrament: An Invitation to Eucharismatic Worship (Zondervan). Full marks for the adjective — eucharismatic — which I’d never heard before. (Google produced 5,700 results, but the first page results were all for this book.)

Even though it’s only 140 pages, because the book just arrived late yesterday afternoon, I’ll again refer to the publisher summary:

Spirit and Sacrament by pastor and author Andrew Wilson is an impassioned call to join together two traditions that are frequently and unnecessarily kept separate. It is an invitation to pursue the best of both worlds in worship, the Eucharistic and the charismatic, with the grace of God at the center.

Wilson envisions church services in which healing testimonies and prayers of confession coexist, the congregation sings When I Survey the Wondrous Cross followed by Happy Day, and creeds move the soul while singing moves the body. He imagines a worship service that could come out of the book of Acts: Young men see visions, old men dream dreams, sons and daughters prophesy, and they all come together to the same Table and go on their way rejoicing.

Two sentences from the précis of both books:

  • “..the church not only can be all three, but in fact must be all three in order to truly be the church.” 
  • “…an impassioned call to join together two traditions that are frequently and unnecessarily kept separate. It is an invitation to pursue the best of both worlds in worship.”

Hopefully people are listening.


Read an excerpt from Andrew Wilson’s book at this link.

 

 

May 19, 2018

Sometimes a Chart or Diagram is Worth 1,000 Words

Posting a bestselling book chart Friday reminded me of some material from the early days here, where I confessed I was attracted to material presented in chart form. Just as pictures/images/diagrams convey material efficiently, I think so also do charts. I was reminded of that this week reading a new book, Sam Chan’s Evangelism in an Age of Skepticism as he uses them extensively. Bruxy Cavey and Skye Jethani are other authors I follow who recognize the power of an image. But today we’re talking charts.

Because this post is late — a combination of sleeping in, a long weekend in Canada, and the Royal Wedding — I’m running it as it appeared here in 2011. Some of the links have changed and were removed.

  • C. Michael Patton may call his post Why I Am Not Charismatic, but he’s more Charismatic-friendly than most. Besides, I have a thing for charts:

  • This post on theological systems isn’t very long, but makes a good point, and besides, I’ve got a thing for charts. Go to Matt Stone’s blog and double click the image there for a clearer vision.

  • Will Mancini says that when you break down Jesus’ spoken word content, his influence boils down to the use of metaphors. As a matter of fact, this blog post even has a chart:

  • This was in my image file and I truly have no idea where I got this — but like I said, I have thing for charts:

And while we’re going chart crazy, here’s one from the archives of Christianity 201. A guy I knew locally, Paul Kern, was pastoring the Highland Park Wesleyan Church in Ottawa, Ontario the capital city of Canada. I decided to see what he was up to by checking the church’s website and got more than I bargained for.

This chart shows their purpose as a church. The third horizontal section is about their particular ministries and won’t make a lot of sense to you and I, but I left it intact, since it shows how a theoretical purpose is played out in practical ways through their weekly programs and special events. It begins: Our purpose at Highland Park Wesleyan Church is simple: We want to be disciples who go out and make disciples.

April 24, 2018

Evangelicals: A Guided World Tour

As Global Ambassador for the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), Brian Stiller has a big-picture perspective unlike anyone else on the planet. His two most recent books have confirmed this: Evangelicals Around the World: A Global Handbook for the 21st Century (Zondervan, 2015) and An Insider’s Guide to Praying for the World (Baker, 2016). Simply put, Brian Stiller is a walking encyclopedia on all things Evangelical and he gains his information not from typical research but through firsthand, on-the-ground observation and involvement. We’re talking both frequent flyer miles, and the recognition of Christian leaders on every continent.

This time around he’s with InterVarsity Press (IVP) for From Jerusalem to Timbuktu: A World Tour of the Spread of Christianity (248 pages, paperback).

So…about that title. Brian Stiller argues that if we see Jerusalem as the birthplace, and thereby global center of Christianity, that center point moved up into Europe and then back down and then, around 1970 that center started shifting to the global south. The impact of this is huge; it means that North American and Western Europe are no longer setting the agenda for Christianity. It also means that one particular nation, rocked by the link between Evangelicalism and the election of a particular leader and now trying to consider if it’s time to rename the group entirely, simply cannot be allowed to dictate that change when one considers all that Evangelicals, quite happy with the term, are doing in the rest of the world.

Disclaimer: I am blessed to know Brian personally. His wealth of knowledge impacted me when I sat in the offices of Faith Today magazine, and Brian rhymed off the names of organizations founded in the years immediately following World War II, and then how, as these maverick, dynamic leaders passed the baton to the next generation, these organizations entered a type of maintenance mode, with lessened radical initiative. As Director of Youth for Christ Canada, President of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (this country’s counterpart to the NAE), President of Tyndale University College and Seminary and now Global World Ambassador for the WEA, he has truly lived four distinct lifetimes.

But that’s not the topic for this book. Rather he looks at five drivers which have characterized the growth of Evangelicalism globally. These are:

  1. An undeniable increase in emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit.
  2. The fruit of years of work by Bible translators.
  3. A shift towards using national (indigenous) workers to lead.
  4. A greater engagement with legislators and governments.
  5. A return to the teachings of Jesus regarding compassion and justice.

Beginning with the first of these, Brian doesn’t hide his own Pentecostal/Charismatic roots, something I haven’t seen as much in his earlier books. A final chapter looks at the influence of prayer movements, the role of women in ministry, the trend in praise and worship music, the challenge of welcoming refugees, and the constant spectre of persecution.

The book compresses decades of modern church history into a concise collection of data and analysis.  It is an answer to the question, “What in the world is God doing?”

I know of no better title on the subject simply because I know of no one more qualified to write it. This is an excellent overview for the person wanting to see the arc of Evangelicalism since its inception or the person who is new to this aspect of faith and wants to catch up on what they’ve missed.

For both types of people, this is a great book to own.

► See the book’s page at the IVP website.

January 8, 2018

What is a Charismatic? Two Sets of Characteristics

A few years ago, I ran a post at Christianity 201 where the author Michael Patton gave seven reasons why he believes that the gifts of the Holy Spirit have not ceased to operate. This is known as the continualist position or continuism. The opposite is the cessationist position or cessationism.

Patton had blogged just the day before at Parchment and Pen about six characteristics he believes identifies Charismatic Christians. (He used a lower case ‘c’ but I have chosen to capitalize this where it refers to an admittedly diverse denomination, in the same way some are now arguing that Evangelical needs to be capitalized.) Update (12:30 PM EST): That article is now available at this link.

1. Unusual attention given to the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer

2. The tendency to seek and expect miraculous healings

3. The tendency to seek and expect God’s direct communication (dreams, visions, experiences, personal encounters, etc.)

4. Unusual attention given to the presence of demonic activity in the world

5. Very expressive worship

6. Belief in the continuation of all the gifts of the Holy Spirit

He spells out each of these, and then describes the entire spectrum of belief as to the gifts of the Spirit, ending up with this chart. (I do appreciate his calling both extremes as unorthodox; you can tell me that the tongues and interpretation aren’t for today, but don’t try to tell me they never happened!)

Belief Spectrum - Gifts of the Holy Spirit

At this point I would link, but unfortunately the website is no longer in service.

I think his analysis is good, though his terminology is a bit intense. Perhaps the charismatics I know are more conservative, or possibly he is envisioning charismatic believers in Africa or South America. I would rephrase his six points this way:

1. A distinct emphasis on the limitless power and work of the Holy Spirit in the world today

2. Expectant, faith-consumed prayer even in the face of great odds and obstacles

3. A belief that God speaks into the hearts and minds of his people through dreams, visions, circumstances and a ‘still small voice’

4. An acknowledgement that the Christian is always embroiled in spiritual warfare

5. Passionate worship

6. Belief in the continuation of all the gifts of the Holy Spirit

The problem with any doctrinal emphasis is that it always takes place at the expense of something else. So if you speak of an “unusual emphasis” on the Holy Spirit, or on demonic activity, are you doing so at the cost of not emphasizing the work of redemption on the cross, or the call to love our neighbors, or the priority of world missions? (Points 1 and 4) The Charismatics — albeit with a few exceptions — that I know haven’t thrown the baby out with the bath water.

And if you believe that God is still in the business of impressing things on his people (Point 3) that doesn’t mean it is at the expense of not prioritizing the role of scripture. Most of the Charismatics I know have a good working knowledge of scripture.

I did leave one (Point 6) intact. Update: The original article with about 90 insightful comments is available at this link.

November 25, 2017

When Christians Presume Upon Your Good Nature

The article which appeared here on the weekend is currently being suspended as the story has taken an unexpected turn which is hopefully leading to resolution.  I don’t usually pull back stories — if it happened, it happened — but in the spirit I sensed coming through several emails this morning from two different people,  I don’t wish to leave negative publicity online. The party concerned did not request this; I’m doing this of my own accord.

October 13, 2017

Pigs in the Parlor

Filed under: books, Christianity, ministry — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:59 am

It’s no secret to people who work in Christian publishing that over the past 40+ years, the number one bestselling Charismatic book title has been Pigs in the Parlor by Frank & Ida Mae Hammond. Published in 1973 by Impact Books, the book may be a few million short of making this list but is well-known among Pentecostals and Charismatics, but little known outside that circle.

With the full title, Pigs in the Parlor: A Practical Guide to Deliverance, there are in fact only two small piglets on the cover, though the title always catches peoples’ attention. Through a series of circumstances, I attended a ‘deliverance’ church for two years in my early 20s and though I then moved on, I don’t in any way minimize that there are times when this type of ministry — along with seasoned practitioners of it — is what is called for.

The Hammonds credit Derek Prince for his influence on this subject. The first chapter opens with two sentences that some would challenge theologically: “Demon spirits and invade and indwell human bodies. It is their objective to do so.” The title premise is explained,

Twenty-five times in the New Testament demons are called “unclean spirits.” The word “unclean is the same word used to designate certain creatures which the Israelites were not to eat. (Acts 10: 11-14) The pig was one of these…

In the 22 successive chapters, various aspects of deliverance are explained. The publisher website highlights some of these:

Frank Hammond presents information on such topics as:
• How demons enter
• When deliverance is needed
• Seven steps in receiving & ministering deliverance
• Seven steps in maintaining deliverance
• Self deliverance
• Demon manifestations
• Binding and loosing
• Practical advice for the deliverance minister
• Answers to commonly asked questions, and more.

The Hammonds also present a categorized list of 53 Demonic Groupings, including various behavior patterns and addictions.

Testimonies of deliverance are presented throughout the book including Pride, Witchcraft, Nervousness, Stubborness, Defiance, Mental Illness and more.

Although I’d seen the book, I’d never taken the time to look closely at a copy until this summer. I didn’t read it all but did check out a few chapters in depth:

6. Seven Ways to Determine the Need for Deliverance
11. Deliverance: Individual and Group; Public and Private
12. Self Deliverance
14. Ministry to Children
15. Binding and Loosing
16. Pros and Cons of Various Techniques and Methods

Most readers here would quickly affirm that this simply isn’t their type of book, but I would challenge dismissing this genre too soon. I think it’s something most non-Charismatic and non-Pentecostal Christians need to at least be aware of; something more of us should have some basic familiarity with.

On a more personal level, it was interesting a few years ago while working at a summer camp how the leadership, when faced with a situation of demonic possession, wasted no time in contacting a Pentecostal pastor who was known for this type of ministry. While it’s entirely possible that in the days leading up to the event some might have stated they don’t believe in the danger of the demonic realm, it was a whole different story when they were confronted with it directly. 

It’s also interesting to note here that manifestations of demonic activity are somewhat foreign to the experience of Christians in North America, but such is not the case in other parts of the world.

Here’s how The Voice Bible colorfully renders Ephesians 6:12

We’re not waging war against enemies of flesh and blood alone. No, this fight is against tyrants, against authorities, against supernatural powers and demon princes that slither in the darkness of this world, and against wicked spiritual armies that lurk about in heavenly places.

Pigs in the Parlor is a book with a funny title, but spiritual warfare is no laughing matter.

June 24, 2017

Speaking in Tongues (Part Two)

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:15 am

It’s a quiet day around here. I probably lost a few subscribers with what I posted yesterday. But it happened. It’s part of my past. I spoke in tongues. Or, if you’re not sure about all this, ‘He thinks he did.’

By calling myself a post-Charismatic — I still use Evangelical as a primary descriptive despite its liabilities — I’m saying that my Evangelicalism is product of a particular movement but one with which I no longer identified.

Why not?

I guess my issue is the excesses of that movement. When John and Elizabeth Sherril wrote They Speak With Other Tongues, they were describing something new and wonderful that was taking place in unexpected places. God used the Roman Catholics and the Anglicans to teach us about the limitless work of His Spirit. Miracles and prophecy and words of knowledge weren’t new to the Assemblies of God folks. Their movement started in the first decade of the 1900s. What took place in the 1970s was new to us.

So where did my journey take me next? The logical place would have been to hang out with the like-minded. A Pentecostal Church. A Charismatic Church. But after staying in my church about a year later, my longing-for-something-more took me to a… wait for it…

…Baptist Church.

This one was known for the excellence of its pastor’s preaching ministry. Well researched. Well delivered. Very applicable. And for a year I holed up there, not going to any social functions or midweek events or youth meetings or potluck dinners. Just Sunday mornings with my Bible and notebook open, drinking it all in.

Forgive this over-simplification, but at that point I had spirit and now I needed word. Despite spending my spiritually formative years in what was at the time Canada’s only megachurch, and being exposed to North America’s top speakers, I think for the first time I understood what would be come a passion for great preaching. And you don’t have to have a nationally renown pastor to get that. It can take place — and definitely does take place — in any church in any size city, town or village.

I did continue to connect with the growing Charismatic movement, but usually at other times and places. I am grateful for both. Someone put it this way:

Too much of the word and not enough of the spirit, you dry up.
Too much of the Spirit and not enough of the word you blow up.
A balance of both and you grow up.

My one need met simply exposed another need not met.

Of course the story continues, but we’ll catch up with that another time under a different headline.

June 23, 2017

Speaking in Tongues (Part One)

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:05 am

Myself and a friend had traveled all through the night in his bright red AMC Pacer after visiting with some newfound friends in Pittsburgh following a large outdoor Christian festival north of the city. Our destination was CBN, home of The 700 Club, back at a time when Pat Robertson’s name was held in higher regard than at present.

There was something there that was not present in our church, and we were determined to find out what it was, bottle it up, and take it home with us.

CBN of that day was not the present facility, but a less imposing Channel 27 studio on Spratley Street in Portsmouth. We were met at 5:30 PM at the door by an off-duty policewoman in uniform, who showed us around every inch of the offices and studio and introduced us to “Pops” who functioned as a security guard. “Pops” proceeded to play some hymns for us by inducing variable pitch feedback on his hearing aid. This would be deafening for most of us, but if your hearing’s shot, it’s shot; so he had nothing to lose.

Our tour guard, who also volunteered as a counselor asked us if we came from a “Full Gospel” church. My friend quickly informed her that our church preached the gospel.

I tried to gently amend our answer, saying “I don’t think that’s what she means.”

She tried again, “Does your church teach the Baptism of the Holy Spirit?”

I informed her that it did not and that we’d seen some things on the program that were somewhat foreign to our typical church experience.

Then she asked, “Would you like to receive the Baptism of the Holy Spirit?”

To which I replied, “I think that’s why we’re here.”

In fairness, there may have been a qualifying question as to basic salvation, but it’s the above conversation that I remember.

Let me say at this point that while my answer may have sounded confident, I did approach all this with a certain amount of fear and trepidation. I wasn’t sure what we were getting into, even though I’d done some reading.

My biggest fear was the whole slain-in-the-Spirit thing. This was around the time Benny Hinn had started his original meetings back home in Toronto, so this type of thing was not unheard of. I had always pictured my head splitting open on hitting the floor and figured it best not to do that voluntarily. But she had another plan.

She told us to begin to focus on God and who He is and to worship him audibly. I did as I was told. She said to then begin to let syllables form on the tongue and just let them come out. ‘Surely I’m just making this up’ I thought. But my pre-Pentecostal mind had already begun to formulate the idea of tongues as a bypassing of the intellect so I figured I was on safe ground. I can still remember some of the phonetic nature of what I was saying and I could attempt to reproduce that here in writing, but we’ll simply skip that part. To you it might sound like gibberish.

“Now,” she said, “I’m going to lay you out.”

I’ll never forget that wording. I’m not sure if I had been standing or kneeling to that point but very gently and without injury I found myself lying on the floor. I felt like I was being obedient to something that God wanted. But it didn’t seem especially supernatural.

This was back in a time before BankAmericard (now known as VISA) or MasterCharge (now known as MasterCard) so we were traveling paying for things with American Express Traveler’s Checks. I remember at one point placing my hand over my front pocket to verify that they were still there, the way men often reach over a pocket to verify they have their wallet. In other words, I wasn’t off in some distant astral plane. I was calm, awake, aware, rational, and trying to tell God I loved Him while seemingly nonsense syllables were pouring out of my mouth. In other words, maybe this wasn’t such a big deal. Perhaps I was making the whole thing up.

We thanked our uniformed counselor and proceeded to find a motel for the night, returning the next day to watch a broadcast of the show. Because of my interest in television production, I got to watch from the control room, while my friend arranged for an audience seat next to ‘Moose Smith and The 700 Club Band.”

We drove back talking about all types of things, making notes, looking up scriptures, and determined to bring the things we had bottled up back to our friends at our home church in Canada.

Three days later, we would share our story at a large Tuesday night interdenominational Bible study that met in a home. As I was getting ready to leave, the phone rang. It was my friend. He wasn’t going to be there. He had to pack and make travel arrangements as he was leaving in 48 hours for South Africa to do a six-month tour with an international music group that had its roots in Oral Roberts University. He had a call waiting when he got home, and despite being very young, on learning another musician friend was going to do the trip, he had said yes.

So much for bringing change to our home church. Didn’t Jesus send the disciples two-by-two? I thought we were a two but now he was leaving for Africa with another friend, creating a different two. I started to tear up, but remembering all we had learned at the music festival, decided it was better in the long run to rejoice with those who were rejoicing, so I thanked God for this new circumstances and opened my mouth, and some strange syllables came out.

The same syllables.

Up to that point, I would have challenged the validity of my experience in Virginia. This time, the circumstances were different and for me, that three-days-later experience was a confirmation that what I had experienced was not entirely of my own manufacture. I know there are people who read my blog who will want to analyze this and tell me that it was all borne of emotion — there’s a reason it’s taken me nine years to share this story on the blog — but I know the viability of what took place.

…It’s been a long time since I last spoke in tongues, but while I consider myself a post-Charismatic today, I do so recognizing the things I gained from being part of that movement. I am not a cessationist. I believe God is working in the lives of people in unusual and supernatural ways. Aren’t they all just making it up? Some are. But you can’t have a counterfeit $20 bill unless there’s a real $20 bill in existence. There is a genuine experience of worship, obedience and the Holy Spirit that is tied up in this thing called speaking in tongues. I don’t believe it’s the only possible evidence that God is at work in someone’s life, but it’s definitely one of a number of possibilities.

 

 

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