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How Un-Christian of you!

January 13, 2013 1 comment

“What exactly is a Pentecostal?”

A Catholic friend asked me that age-old question, and it caught me off-guard. To truly explain what a “Pentecostal” is, you have to start with the earlier offshoots of “Protestants” (from the Latin for “those who can’t get along with others”) and work outward.

I personally grew up as a Pentecostal/Charismatic, non-denominational, Bible-thumping, adjective-loving Christian. As such, I fostered a personal relationship with Jesus, was so thankful I had everything 100% right, and my heart broke for the 2,000 years of so-called “Christians” who died and are burning in Hell because they didn’t believe exactly what my church believed. It wasn’t until years later I realized that, if self-righteous judgementalism was going to change the world, we would already find ourselves in the middle of nearly 7 billion Pentecostal Charismatics. And we would all live in Branson.

I went into a bit greater detail, including wild arm gestures and flow charts. I explained that most Christian offshoots happen because of some perceived injustice relating to oppression, corruption, or large hat-wearing. Most of these denominations have agreed to disagree, and now the only thing separating them is doctrine and salvation. Kidding! (I totally had you there.) 95% of arguments between people of different denominations come down to drinking and dancing. A standard conversation between co-workers goes something like:

Fred: “What church do you go to?”
Hank: “First Church.”
Fred: “What do you believe?”
Hank: “Drinking, no. Dancing, yes.”
Fred: “I believe in drinking, but not dancing.”
Hank: “Well, then I suppose I should argue my position every day until we stop talking to each other altogether.”
Fred: “Great idea!”

Several examples of Christians that can be found in the United States, classified by their stance on drinking and dancing:

Catholic/Lutherans – Drinking, Dancing OK. At first glance, much of their style of worship is similar in structure, including their benedictions and creeds. The Lutherans finally wised up, and they never let a drunk guy with a staple gun and a notebook full of grievances out of their sight any more. So, for the most part, they get along well now.

You totally have to respect the Catholics for referring to their meetings as “obligations”. At least they tell it like it is, right? So many of the people I grew up around, through gritted teeth and off-the-chart blood pressure, referred (I assume jokingly) to service in their local congregation as “heavenly”. Right after that, they clutched their left arm and fell over. By comparison, “obligation” is a breath of fresh air.

Baptists – Drinking, Dancing Not OK. Please forgive me, I am completely over-generalizing the Baptists. By “Baptists”, I mean “the neighbors who lived behind us when I was a kid”. That is my only point of reference. The main tenants of the Baptist denomination is baptism by immersion in water, board games, and country music. They also use “substitute words”. For instance, when a Baptist hits their thumb with a hammer, it would not be uncommon to hear, “Shuckey-darn! That hurt like the dickens!”

Though generally nice people, I would not want one of them manning a shotgun at the other window during a zombie invasion. They seem a little queasy. “Shuckey-darn, one of those flesh-eating sons-of-guns got through the door!”

Texans – Drinking, Dancing Not Just OK, But Strongly Encouraged. It doesn’t matter what denomination you are in Texas; you have beer on hand. I’m pretty sure even Mormons in Texas have can holders on their bicycles. If you live in Texas, you MUST successfully perform a kegstand as proof of citizenship when you get pulled over.

To be honest, I was a little hesitant to include Texans on my list of “American Christians”, being that Texas is practically a separate country (except for Austin, where all the tree huggers and unshaven women live).

Pentecostal/Charasmatic – Drinking, Dancing Not OK, So The Members Just Do It In Private And Then Preach Against It. The belief system of Pentecostals and Charismatics centers on the still-active works of the Holy Spirit, instilling their children with a healthy fear of those different than them, and homeschooling.

A great number of these churches are “non-denominational”, which means they are a further removed bunch of people who can’t get along with those who already couldn’t get along with the people before them. You can imagine the turnover rate! Each non-denominational church has the distinction of carrying a unique message direct from God that you can’t hear anywhere else (except the non-denominational church next door).

If I left out your denomination, I am truly sorry. My sincerest apologies to those friends of mine who are Methodist, Episcopalian, Mormon, Anglican, Orthodox, Presbyterian, NASCAR fans, or one of the thousands of other denominations too numerous to name. Perhaps you can still see how your own experience may fit into this general construct.

What I did realize, after a few hours of conversation with my Catholic friend, is that we are not so far apart in our beliefs. (Except for our stances on drinking and dancing–those are deal-breakers, and I will never speak with that heretic again.)