Friday, January 12, 2007

Some of my experiences with Pentecostalism (Part 3)

The fact of Pentecostalism’s influence on more mainstream churches wasn’t new, but I was in high school by the time I became aware of it. For instance, to my surprise, I found out that the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) congregation that my family was a member of had experienced Pentecostal “outpouring” as early as 1923. A Pentecostal minister was invited by the pastor to conduct a “revival”. Several members of the church, including the pastor and his wife, received the Pentecostal “baptism of the Holy Spirit”. This happening brought about a church split, as many of those who received “the Holy Ghost” left the AME church to form what became the first Church of God in Christ (COGIC) in our area. The pastor, his wife, and the rest of those who “received the Holy Ghost”, however, remained with the denomination. This well-regarded pastor—who, by all accounts that I ever heard, was a godly pastor and Bible teacher—led my “home” church for about 21 years, from its founding in 1905, until a few years after he received the Pentecostal “blessing”, at which time he was transferred by the bishop.

My great-grandmother, her sister, and their parents united with what became our “home” church in 1923, shortly after the Pentecostal split occurred, having migrated from Alabama a couple of years earlier. My great-grandmother told me that she remembered the pastor’s wife speaking in tongues. She said the pastor’s wife, on occasion, would leave the sanctuary during worship, go into a back room of the church, and speak in tongues out of sight of the congregation (you could still hear her). Apparently that wasn’t an unusual Sunday morning occurrence. Of course, by the time I came along, all evidences of Pentecostalism had long ago disappeared, and only a very few even remembered that such a thing had ever happened.

Well, my “home” church’s founding pastor, in about 1926, was sent by the bishop to lead a small group of AME Christians, in another city about 30 miles south, who had also received the Pentecostal “baptism of the Holy Spirit” and left their traditional AME church. So, this “Pentecostal” AME pastor was paired with these “Pentecostal” AME Christians, and he organized them into a new AME church. He would remain as pastor of this small flock for over 20 years (The pastor is pictured here, front row, far right, standing next to his wife, on the occasion of their 50th wedding anniversary).

Moving ahead some 50 years, to my high school years: There is a Black Baptist church in town which comes under the influence of Pentecostal teaching. The pastor at this church had “received the Holy Ghost” and basically, within the period of a few short years, had succeeded in turning this previously traditional Black Baptist congregation into a “Bapticostal” church. This church was very popular with Black teenagers in the area. Several of my high school classmates attended this church and came under the influence of this Pentecostal teaching. However, I was impressed by what I saw: Kids that used to cuss and fight stopped cussing and fighting, girls started dressing more modestly, some kids that used to be bullies became nice and kind. In my mind, there had to be something to this “Holy Ghost” teaching, because I saw it changing lives.

A bit later, also during my high school years, a relatively new AME congregation (this congregation had a few years earlier separated from my “home” church), for which I was the organist, began to fellowship with that “Pentecostal” AME (“Methodicostal”) church I was talking about earlier. Some 25 years after their founder’s death, the Pentecostal influence at this church was still strong. What brought about this fellowship was an invitation to a long-time preacher at that church to come and conduct a week of nightly “revival” meetings at the AME church where I was the organist. During these meetings I got to hear and observe firsthand some of the theology and practices of Pentecostalism. The “highlight” of the week was the final night (I believe it was a Friday night), when the preacher would pray for people that they might be “filled with the Holy Ghost”.

That night, the preacher preached about being filled with the Holy Spirit. I don’t remember the text or anything specific that he said; I just remember the sermon was about being filled with the Holy Spirit. As the organist, I had a “front-row seat”, so I saw everything that went on. No one spoke in tongues—in fact, the preacher did indicate that tongues were not a necessary evidence of the filling of the Holy Spirit—but it was both fascinating and eerie to see what did happen. One individual just trembled from head to toe. It was obvious she was not trying to do this; it was just happening. Another individual collapsed on the floor (from a kneeling position at the altar rail). Someone else screamed at the top of their lungs (I tell you, that scream would have awakened the dead!). Others did not respond in any overt, visible way. Some just quietly wiped away tears. Remember, I’m only reporting some of what I saw; I still can’t explain it (and if you think you can explain it, perhaps you’re not as smart as you think you are). Needless to say, the memory of those meetings stayed with me a long time. In fact, I think what I saw and heard stimulated within me an interest in the present-day ministry of the Holy Spirit, for interestingly enough, I saw some people change: seemingly greater joy in the Lord and a greater seriousness about the things of God.

It’s important to know that about this time, somewhere between my junior and senior years of high school, by God’s grace and power, I was born again and became a Christian. I think in some way God used the changes that I saw in some of my high school classmates to get my attention. No, I wasn’t involved in any gross sins; after all, I was a “goody-two-shoes” church boy—I knew how to act the part. However, deep-down I wasn’t sure that anything savingly real had ever occurred in my soul. Praise God, after I was born again, I no longer had to wonder had I ever experienced the salvation that others testified about. I knew my sins were forgiven for Christ’s sake. I knew I was in His hands.

Yet, I also knew I wasn’t perfect—far from it. To hear others testify to the blessing that had come to their life through the infilling of the Holy Spirit stimulated in me an increasing interest to know the power of the Holy Spirit in my own life. The stage of my life which saw some of the greatest changes occurred between my salvation in 1980 and my graduation from graduate school in 1986, and it's my contention that a growing personal interest in the continuing ministry of the Holy Spirit played a decisive role in the changes that would take place.
(To be continued…)


Andrew Chapman said...

I am greatly enjoying and being blessed by these posts on the Church of God in Christ and their way of worship. I am pretty sure I have been to a service or two of theirs in London, England in Brixton which is the neighbourhood where the immigrants from the Caribbean settled in the 1950s. It was a long time ago but I remember a big emphasis on the 'altar' as a place to meet and receive from God. I liked it.

I was better acquainted with another Caribbean (and other peoples) church also in Brixton called New Life Assembly. Some of the preachers were amazing. They used to have handkerchiefs to mop the sweat off their brows, but it wasn't just an act it was a genuine anointing from God in my estimation.

Looking forward to the continuation.


wwdunc said...

Thank you, Andrew, for writing.

And, thank you for reading! I appreciate it.