Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Some of my experiences with Pentecostalism

Recently, I’ve come across some discussions on the blogosphere (most notably at Pulpit Magazine: here, here, and here) about the gifts of the Spirit, cessationism versus continuationism, the present ministry of the Holy Spirit, and so forth, subjects which are in some way identified with Pentecostalism. I’d like to eventually give you some of my thoughts about cessationism versus continuationism, but I thought, perhaps, it would be helpful if you first knew a little bit about where I’m coming from on this subject.

First of all, I’m not a Pentecostal. But, I have had some exposure to Pentecostalism—starting from childhood, actually. Pentecostals lived in my neighborhood. In fact, we lived across the alley from an older Pentecostal pastor, who happened to be a friend of the family. He died when I was about nine years old. Maybe some of you out there have had nothing but negative experiences with Pentecostalism or negative images of Pentecostals but, in general, my experiences have not been bad.

There were three types of churches in the Black community in the area where I grew up: Black Baptist, Black Methodist (AME), and Black Pentecostal. When I was a boy, Black people called the Pentecostals and their churches “sanctified” (I know all true believers in Christ are sanctified, not just Pentecostal believers, but let me just tell the story). Most, though not all, of these “sanctified” churches were members of the Church of God in Christ (COGIC).

But, before I go on, a little bit of church history (I'm writing this off the top of my head, but, I believe I've got the basic facts correct):

The Church of God in Christ is a predominantly Black denomination, founded in about 1897 (if I remember correctly) by C.H. Mason and C.P. Jones—two Black holiness Baptist preachers. In about 1905 or 1907, Mason visited the Azusa Street “revival” in Los Angeles and experienced the “baptism of the Holy Ghost” and spoke in tongues. As I understand it, Mason came back from Azusa teaching the Pentecostal “baptism of the Holy Ghost”. Jones didn’t accept this addition of tongues to the holiness doctrine of a “second work of grace”, so he left Mason and started the Church of God, Holiness. Mason, who claimed the name Church of God in Christ was revealed to him in a vision, kept the group he and Jones founded and moved it in a Pentecostal direction. I don’t think it’s well known that the COGIC is older and larger than the more well-known Assemblies of God, and one of the fastest-growing denominations in this country. Also, I found it particularly interesting to learn that the COGIC, under Black leadership, was an interracial group. Sadly (and so typical of racial relations in the U.S.), in about 1914, whites pull out of the COGIC to form the Assemblies of God.

End of history lesson.

Anyway, when I was growing up, you could usually recognize a “sanctified” woman or girl by the fact that they wore absolutely no makeup and never wore slacks or pants. Sanctified folks believed in holiness, which usually seemed to mean no drinking, no smoking, no dancing or partying, no makeup, and no pants on women.

As far as worship in the sanctified church, you could count on lively, upbeat music, complete with Hammond organ, drums and tambourines. You seldom, if ever, saw drums in the Baptist or Methodist churches, and you never saw tambourines. In the sanctified church you were guaranteed to have those instruments. The reason I know this is because there was a little sanctified church on the block where I grew up. Since they had no air conditioning, their windows would be open in the summer, and you could hear the pastor preaching and the people singing all over the neighborhood. They also had service nearly all day on Sundays. “Morning” worship lasted until about 2pm. Then, I think there was an afternoon service. Finally, this church had a Sunday evening live radio broadcast, which I used to listen to, occasionally.

It was on their radio broadcast that I would hear what, to me, were some of the most unusual features of “sanctified” worship.
(To be continued…)

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