Thinking Out Loud

February 4, 2020

Mass Appeal

guest post by Aaron Wilkinson

I am a Protestant. I grew up in Evangelical circles, went to a Pentecostal church in high school, worked at an interdenominational summer camp, and attended a Reformed university where I sang some Anglican evensongs; then I went to an Anglican church for a while after graduating. There are bits and bursts of Baptist mixed in there and I currently go to an Anabaptist home church during the week.

In each of these churches, I found things I liked and didn’t like. I prefer to focus on the things I like because it’s more enjoyable and more useful. This was my attitude when I took my first tentative steps into the Roman Catholic church choir that I have been singing with for two years.

This past Christmas my father asked me if there were any aspects of the Roman service which I would commend to fellow Protestants. I figured I’d give my answer in the more organized form of a blog post. I do also have my criticisms, and there are Catholic things outside the Mass that I also appreciate, and furthermore there are other traditions and denominations which may capitalize on these traits – But these are what I personally experienced first or best while sitting in a Catholic pew.

1. Textual History (Or “There were Christians between Paul and Luther?”)

The churches I grew up in derived most of their prayers and lyrics either from adapted Bible passages, or else they were entirely the writer’s own words. One time in the Pentecostal church we recited the Apostles’ Creed, but most of what we said or sang was new and original.

The Catholic services have introduced me to texts and lyrics which are an unappreciated treasure trove of inspirations. I never knew growing up that All Creatures Of Our God And King had a grandparent in Francis of Assisi’s Canticle of the Sun, nor did I know that O Come O Come Emmanuel was adapted from the O Antiphons. Ave Verum, O Magnum Mysterium, and Pange Lingua (both of them) are all quite deserving of further attention and Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence has become a favourite of mine.

Some texts may be doctrinally improper for a Protestant service but it’s at least worth appreciating that Jesus-loving people in our shared spiritual history have valued the Ave Maria or Adam Lay Ybounden. Lyrics and prayers that are complete innovations often feel egocentric, intellectually stale, and full of vague sentiment. Not always, of course. I rather like Oceans. But if we are striving to love God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strengths then this should be reflected in our art and good artists study the history of their craft. Richer lyrics will be more transformative and engaging than shallow ones.

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David Wesley is a great musician who deserves nothing but praise, but to illustrate my point here’s his Evolution of Worship Music which gives less than 60 seconds to 1500 years of church music. It’s not his fault, it’s just our worship climate. On a hopeful note, Be Thou My Vision is a great example of a rich old text enduring.

2. Dialogue (Or “Can I do something?”)

We all know that when the preacher says “In closing” or “My final point” we’re about 15 minutes away from the end of the sermon. And I can’t be the only one who has thought “Is this the 4th song in the set or the 5th? Haven’t we done this verse already? Can I sit down now?”

Ecce_Agnus_Dei

A missal I was reading once described the structure of the Mass as a sort of dialogue. What happens on the platform represents the work of God and what happens in the pews is the work of His people, and the two respond to one another. We sing praises to God and He, by the priest, gives us His blessing. We speak to Him by our prayers and songs and He speaks to us by the reading of His word. We give gifts to God in the offering and He gifts us with His own body and blood in the Eucharist.

And speaking of the offering, our choir director has started calling the offertory music “The Musical Offering.” I like that. It’s like the music itself is a gift to God and not just background music while you fish out your loose change.

Add to this structure the lay-roles of eucharistic ministers, altar servers, lectors, cantors, etc., and you get a service where A) You get to do something, and B) Your actions have a more defined purpose. Some people can sit passively through a 90+ minute service. I cannot. I like having a role to play.

3. Solemnity (Or “Can we all just calm down?”)

I have occasionally heard it implied or stated that the summit of Christian spirituality is being passionate and excited about Jesus. I love seeing charismatic churches thriving, but I personally am in more need of a God who can calm me down.

The structure and routine of a liturgical service lets a person put aside their personal feelings and circumstances to participate in something bigger than themselves. Many Protestant churches have the ideal of ‘laying everything at the feet of Jesus’ but ritual and routine make that ideal practicable. It’s a lot like acting in a play and reciting the lines of your character. It lets you experience and participate in something bigger than, and outside of, yourself. That often leaves me with my personal struggles seeming smaller afterwards.

Some Protestants worry that doing the same thing every week becomes mindless and robotic, and that is a possible danger. However, the other possibility is that the consistency of the service starts to reflect and represent God’s eternality and dependability, even as we encounter him in our many various changeable moods. And similarly, I think we find that one prayer or song can have many different nuances that emerge as we encounter them in different states.

church

In all three of these areas, my intent is not to throw shade at protestant services or to elevate the Mass as the ideal service. I do find it refreshing to go to a more familiar kind of service after being at the Catholic church for a stretch. Nevertheless, I’ve gained quite a bit from my experience in the Mass so far and I would love to share what I’ve learned.

I could say more but I’ll have to end it there because, as I write this, it’s time to go to choir practice.


Aaron is an English and Theatre graduate of Redeemer University in Ancaster, Ontario and blogs occasionally at The Voice of One Whispering. He is a tea connoisseur, actor, student of Norse poetry, and Uncle to his roommate’s three chihuahuas.

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 20, 2020

Renouncing Both a Doctrine and a Lavish Lifestyle

Review: God, Greed and the Prosperity Doctrine: How Truth Overwhelms a Life Built on Lies

Many years ago the church which provided space for my Christian music retail, distributing and manufacturing business was also home to a daycare, a Christian newspaper, a radio ministry and a concert ministry. Among other things. And, oh yes, it was also rented by a faith healer of local renown who drew a modest crowd of about 250 people on Monday nights.

When the guy who had the radio and concert ministry got married, some of the other ‘tenants’ in the building got some rather last minute invitations, and I ended up going solo as did the faith healer. And that’s the 100% true story of how I found myself in a brief, one-on-one, subdued and superficial conversation with Benny Hinn as we both waited for the doors to open to the reception.

It was our only direct contact, but suffice it to say that every time his name was mentioned — and in the years that followed it would be mentioned frequently — I had something more than a passing interest. By the time Benny Hinn relocated to Florida, he was, depending on the values behind your metrics, a major success in the world of miracle crusade evangelism.

So I watched with interest in 2017 when word leaked out that his nephew Costi, the son of Vancouver pastor Sam Hinn, had renounced the prosperity doctrine. When the book God, Greed and the (Prosperity) Gospel was released late last year by Zondervan, I missed out on the opportunity for a pre-publication review copy, but after actually holding a copy in my hands and reading a single chapter just a few days ago, I knew I wanted to process the entire story.

I read most of the book in a single afternoon, completing it in the early evening.

The story exposes the excesses and the lavish lifestyle enjoyed by the Benny Hinn Crusade team. The private jet. The luxurious food. The $25,000/night hotel. These things were paid for by the sacrificial donations of people who could ill afford to part with the money, many times in the belief that a blessing was just around the corner if they would give.

The irony, to put it mildly, was not lost on young Costi. On a trip to India, his conscience was pricked and it set in motion a chain of events that ended with his separating himself from the family business. He studied at a Baptist seminary and now serves as Executive Pastor of Discipleship at Redeemer Bible Church in Gilbert, Arizona and also heads a resource ministry, For The Gospel.

The book chronicles his jet-setting adventures, his choice to pursue academic study to equip himself for ministry, and his meeting the woman (now his wife) who would be part of re-orienting his thinking on many doctrinal issues. The book is roughly two-thirds narrative and one-third teaching on what he now regards as error in prosperity teaching.

He now quotes Charles Spurgeon and John MacArthur. Yes, that John MacArthur who has castigated charismatics for decades. It’s like he’s gone from one extreme to the other, out of the fire and into the frying pan, if you like.

With one exception. He’s still continuationist in his doctrine. He still believes that Jesus heals supernaturally. I’m not sure MacArthur, who is a cessationist, is fully engaged on that topic.

There’s a Q-and-A section in the back of the book which spells out his current relationship to Hinn family members. I’m betting Thanksgiving and Christmas may have some awkward moments. But he states in the introduction that he is not interested in having his book be seen as an exposé, but rather, he’s simply telling his own story.

Since the book was published, I understand that Benny Hinn has recanted at least some or all of the prosperity teaching, but we’ve seen Benny do this before (such as the idea that each member of the Godhead is itself triune) and then retract the retraction in later writing.

My devouring of the book reflects my personal interest, but I think it’s worthy of a recommendation. But maybe not for anyone who gave money to Benny Hinn. For those, reading it would be rather painful.


Book page at Zondervan: Click here

Once again, thanks to Mark at HarperCollins Christian Publications Canada for getting a copy to me so quickly!

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.

 

 

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.

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.

 

 

January 2, 2017

The Perfume at Church Problem: There Ought to be a Law

Filed under: Christianity, Church — Tags: , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:47 am

Part One: The occurrence.

It happened again yesterday. We thought we would take in a New Year’s Day service at the church my son attended for several years. I know these people well. I love what they do.

My wife didn’t make it through the first song. The perfume was overwhelming. This is a church which has for years posted signs, placed notices in their bulletin and had a message included in their pre-service worship slides.

People who wear perfume to church don’t give a damn about those things. They ignore the messages. That’s for someone else, not them. Many of them belong to an older generation who feel they have already capitulated to too many changes in the modern church, perhaps.

But the culture has changed. Allergies and — in my wife’s case — Asthma triggers are more rampant now. That’s the reality of environmental reactions to common chemicals. Oh… and the perfume used today is probably cheaper and more synthetic than its predecessors several decades ago; pure unadulterated fragrances don’t actually bother her.

So here, for the umpteenth time, is her perspective. I might just have to boycott that church myself in solidarity from now on.


This is the Air I Breathe

This is what an asthma attack feels like.

First, you get a tickle in the back of your throat, way down in your chest. It’s annoying, and makes you cough.

But when you cough, it feels different. Like the air’s going out, but then not coming back in again. So you breath deeper, which moves the tickle deeper in your chest and makes you cough several more times.

At this point, you realize what’s happening and your chest starts to feel tight. Like you’re being squeezed in a giant fist and everytime you take a breath in, you can hear it, like a wind tunnel or a storm.

You start to feel a bit dizzy, light headed and need to lean on a wall or a friend for balance. Then, if you’re still standing, your arms start to feel weak and your legs get shaky because there’s not enough oxygen getting that far.

And every bit of focus you’ve got goes into breathing. Just trying to get enough air into your lungs.

So you dig out the puffer. The ‘rescue medication’. You shake it well, like the directions say, then empty your barely functioning lungs, put the puffer to your lips and, with your oxygen deprived mental faculties, try to squirt and inhale at the same time.

Then, to add insult to injury, you have to hold your breath so the medication stays in your lungs for a few seconds. Then, in 5 minutes, you do it again.

It takes about half an hour for the medication to do much good. At which point, you can at least stand up again.

I didn’t have asthma as a child. Like many, I developed it as an adult. Keeping it under control means taking meds everyday, as well as identifying and avoiding triggers. Which for me, includes perfume.

Your perfume.

That stuff you bathed in yesterday before you left the house for church.

I smelled it as soon as I walked in the lobby and my first response was a knot in my stomach. Oh, crap. What do I do? Do I sit in the parking lot while my family worships? Do I insist we all leave? Run down the road to a pharmacy and buy a face mask?

Being a stoic, I decided to soldier through. I thought, How bad can it be? Stupid question.

Did you notice me shaking my inhaler and taking a dose? Did you find it distracting?

I was sitting near you unable to breathe. And it’s your fault.

I spent the rest of the service just waiting for the moment when I could stagger across the parking lot to my car. And it’s your fault.

I couldn’t listen to the sermon, couldn’t sing, couldn’t enjoy the solo. And it’s your fault.

I couldn’t stay afterwards to talk to people in the lobby. And it’s your fault.

I went home and spent the next hour in bed. I’ll need 2 or 3 days to fully recover. And it’s your fault.

I will never ever again visit your church. And it’s your fault.

Don’t bother to tell me that you have the right to wear perfume, that much perfume, to church because I don’t care.

I just want to breathe.  


…This time my wife spent the entire 1 hour, 45 minutes in a coffee shop across the street, allowing us to enjoy the service. If there’s ever a next time, we’re all — all four of us — walking out. 

Part Two: The Denominational Factor.

There is a very non-coincidental thread to all this. It happens only at one particular type of church. And yes, they’ve received copies of the previous blog posts I’ve written on this, such as this one:

It happened again this morning to my wife. Mrs. W. figured that by attending a “camp meeting” style service where the side of the “tabernacle” is all windows she would be safe. Sitting at home it was a fair perception, the reality when we got there proved quite different.

She notices these things more than I. But this time, before we even got inside — which is most unusual — I was aware of the distinctive scent of artificial fragrances. When we walked in the lobby, it hit us like a wall. We headed immediately to a seat on the side under a ceiling fan where we figured everything would blow away from our direction, but it was already embedded deeply in her lungs and was slowly wafting over to the side from the center of the auditorium. We settled on a seat next to an open window. She made it through the service without standing for any of the hymns or choruses; but at home, eight hours later, is still short of breath.

Perfume1As she said — or perhaps whispered — on the way home,

  • it doesn’t happen at the grocery store
  • it doesn’t happen at the bank
  • it doesn’t happen at the kids’ school
  • it doesn’t happen at the post office
  • it doesn’t happen at other types of churches.

The last point is significant. There is a very definite spike in perfume at this one denomination; and our schedule takes us to many, many, many churches in the course of a year, so we ought to know. Three of her last major attacks have taken place in churches of one particular denomination. Sorry… but that’s the way it is.

And these people don’t care.

I say that based on something else that happened this morning. About three “items” into the service, it was time for the opening prayer; what some of you know as the invocation prayer. At that exact moment, a woman walked up to the woman in the row in front of us, grabbed her hand and started into a prolonged greeting and attempt at conversation which lasted throughout (and drowned out) the entire prayer, which wasn’t just a few seconds. Complete and total disregard for anything and anybody else. Or God.

My first impulse — and trust me, I don’t know why it was these particular words — was to say rather firmly, “He’s praying, damn it.” I guess my brain was figuring that the d-word would be appropriate to the urgency of the moment. I didn’t. This means that I would have been swearing during the invocation prayer; which someone would argue is far worse. I let the impulse pass.

“So;” you say, “Why don’t you get the message and stop going to churches of this particular stripe?”

It’s not an easy decision to make. This is a denomination wherein my wife and I have a lot of history. Our youngest son has also recently made his home among this same group of people.

However, I think that, in terms of going to worship as a couple, we made that decision absolute and final today. 


no-scentsApparently, with the passing of about six and a half years, we forgot our resolution yesterday. Time to renew our resolve on that, I guess. Will I send them a link to this? Not this time. I give up. 

Also consider posting notices like this where you worship; make your church a fragrance free zone.

 

 

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