Posts Tagged “assembly of god”

Apostles on Pentecost dayThe phenomenon of “speaking in tongues,” technically known as glossolalia, is of a little interest to me. My tenure as a fundamentalist Christian was with a group of charismatic Christians, of the Pentecostal family of denominations. Like most of my fellow charismatics, I was “baptized with the Holy Spirit” and then I “spoke in tongues.” I also supposedly prophesied, healed by “laying on hands,” and had “discernment of spirits” (three of the several potential “gifts of the Spirit” described in 1 Corinthians 12:4-11). I was also “slain in the Spirit,” and I caused others to be, as well.

Since “speaking in tongues” is the feature of this brand of Christianity that’s most noticeable … both by outside observers as well as those inside charismatic congregations … it tends to be the one that’s most talked about. But it also tends to be the one that most unnerves people. I know I had some apprehension, the first time I got involved in a charismatic service (although I had heard about the practice a few years before and wasn’t totally weirded out). I can see why some people can get repelled by it. And now, charismatic Christians themselves are seeing this as a problem. The Associated Press reports via the Washington Post that some congregations are rolling the practice back (WebCite cached version):

At Three Crosses Church, Pastor Ken Walters urges his parishioners to join him in song and scripture. The charismatic 58-year-old extends his arms skyward and belts out melodies praising God.

While the small Assemblies of God congregation goes through all the traditional trappings of a Pentecostal service, there is one notable absence: speaking in tongues, a defining trait of the faith.

The 40-member church is among many nationwide that are reducing or cutting out speaking in tongues as they become more popular and move to the mainstream. It’s a shift that has unsettled some more traditional Pentecostals who say the practice is at the heart of a movement that evolved out of an interracial revival and remains a spontaneous way for the poor and dispossessed to have a direct line to God.

They question the wisdom of placing less emphasis on a tenet that has defined Pentecostalism for more than a century.

“It’s different now,” Walters said. “People don’t like to stand out if they don’t have to.”

As the religion becomes more widely accepted, Walters said, there has been a tendency for large Pentecostal churches to downplay the differences between Pentecostalism and other well-known Christian denominations.

Having been a Pentecostalist myself, I find this trend remarkable. It is one of the defining features of the Pentecostal denominations. (Actually — technically — the defining feature is the aforementioned “baptism with the Holy Spirit”; “speaking in tongues” is merely the outward manifestation of that.) I can’t see there could be much difference between services held in any other kind of fundamentalist Christian church, without the “speaking in tongues.” Jettisoning that practice would tend to blur the lines among them.

As I said, ever since my time as a fundamentalist Christian, I’ve been interested in glossolalia, even though I no longer participate in it. It’s been studied scientifically … by linguists, psychologists, and others … and it turns out that it’s not language at all. It may sound like language, but the sounds uttered don’t display any of the patterns exhibited by true languages. As a polyglot myself, I can say that I never once personally heard an intelligible utterance during any session of “speaking in tongues” that I was party to (although I acknowledge that my own personal experience doesn’t constitute meaningful evidence). The studies which have been done, on the other hand, do constitute evidence that people who are “filled with the Spirit” and “speaking in tongues” are not speaking foreign languages otherwise unknown to them (aka xenoglossy); rather, they’re spewing gibberish. My own personal experience merely aligns with that.

Many charismatic Christians justify their continued belief in the validity of “speaking in tongues” in two ways: By asserting the language(s) spoken is/are not human, but angelic and/or divine; and by telling each other stories about someone — usually a foreigner attending a Pentecostal service for the first time — hearing a language s/he recognizes but which no one else present understands. The former is, basically, undemonstrable notion: Assuming angels and/or God exist, and speak in one or more non-human languages, there’s no way to be sure they could be analyzed and detected as such. The latter is just a retelling of the original Pentecost story found in Acts 2; and therefore it’s hard, if not impossible, to take them seriously.

At any rate, I find it amusing that some of these congregations find they have to “tone down” their services so as not to alienate people. It’s as though public relations is totally new to them.

One last point: While this AP story implies that “speaking in tongues” is a new innovation within Christianity in the first few years of the 20th century, it’s actually not. Historically there have been other charismatic sects. Among them were the Montanists. So long as the second chapter of Acts remains part of Christian scripture, even if the practice dies out in Pentecostal Christianity, “speaking in tongues” will no doubt rear its head again, at some point in the future. It’s inevitable.

Photo credit: Lawrence OP, via Flickr.

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John Lanza, pastor at Glad Tidings Assembly of God Church. JOE HERMITT, The Patriot-NewsFour months ago I blogged about a wingnut church in Pennsylvania which had staged fake kidnappings of kids taking part in its youth ministry. The church claimed to be doing this in order to “teach” its kids about persecution of Christians. That one of the kids was injured during this little stunt, didn’t bother them at the time. Well, it may have taken them a while to do so, but the (Harrisburg) Patriot-News reports that commonwealth officials have decided to file charges over it (WebCite cached article):

Dauphin County prosecutors today charged a church and its pastor after a mock “terrorism raid” in March.

The fake raid occurred at Glad Tidings Assembly of God Church in Lower Swatara Township [cached] when four men — one carrying an unloaded but real gun — rushed into a room full of youth-group participants, put pillowcases over their heads and forced them into a van. The children didn’t know the raid was fake. One was injured.

The district attorney’s office filed charges of false imprisonment, a felony, and simple assault against the church and youth pastor Andrew D. Jordan, 28.

The church remains defiant and unapologetic over this, even after the charges were filed:

Lanza and Jordan are still listed as lead and youth pastors, respectively, on the church’s website [cached].

My guess is, Glad Tidings will continue intoning the mantra that all they were doing was “teaching persecution of Christians” and insist no harm was done — in spite of the fact that at least one child involved was injured. Raging paranoia has crept into America’s evangelical churches, and their persecution complex has long since set in. Pastor John Lanza, who runs this church, and the rest of his staff probably are not even aware of how delusional they’ve become. There’s a slight possibility that criminal proceedings might wake them up to that fact, but more likely, they’ll view them as further evidence that they’re being “persecuted” and they’ll become even more convinced of it than they already were. Sigh.

Photo credit: Joe Hermitt / The Patriot-News.

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Glad Tidings Assembly of God, Middletown, PANote: There’s additional news about this story.

Over the years I’ve mentioned, many times, the tendency of devout Christians to obsess about “persecution.” They just can’t help but consider themselves “persecuted” — going as far as to invent persecution where it doesn’t exist (as in most of the occidental world, where Christianity is the majority religion). That there is some persecution of Christians in some parts of the world fuels their obsession, and knowing that it can’t happen here doesn’t seem to have any effect on that.

Almost unbelievably, a church in Middletown, PA has gone as far to stage fake kidnappings of kids in its own congregation — essentially “creating” persecution that’s not actually happening — and, as the Washington Post On Faith blog reports, they’re using that true persecution abroad in order to justify these outrageous exercises (WebCite cached article):

The men burst into the church classroom and ordered the 15 teens in the youth group to the floor.

They covered the teens’ heads with pillowcases and bound their hands. One man waved an unloaded gun, and another yelled, his face daubed with camouflage paint. …

It sounds terrifying, but there’s a catch: The raid was fake, staged to show the teens the perils faced by Christian missionaries in the world’s trouble spots, [the Rev. John] Lanza said.

Yet it traumatized one 14-year-old girl so badly that her mother filed a report with the police, claiming her daughter suffered a busted lip and bruised knees.

They did this without even getting parental permission:

Neither she nor the other teens in the group knew the raid was coming, Lanza said. He said church officials didn’t notify their parents, either.

As I said, the excuse given for this is the fact that Christians are being persecuted elsewhere, and in response to a particular incident of persecution:

“This is to give students a sense of the constant threat brought against missionaries everywhere,” [Lanza] said.

The mock raid came on the heels of the terrorist slaying in Yemen of a Lancaster County man, Joel Shrum, who was killed by two gunmen on a motorcycle in the city of Taiz on March 18.

Shrum was learning Arabic and teaching English, according to his family. A group linked to al-Qaida claimed responsibility for his murder, saying Shrum was proselytizing.

Lanza said Shrum’s slaying is just one example of why it’s important for students to know the dangers of mission work.

Amazingly for a representative of “the Religion of Love” who ought to be showing compassion for others, Lanza is unrepentant, doesn’t see the harm in what his church is doing, and thinks it was all just good fun:

“I’m pretty sure she [i.e. the injured teen] was laughing at some point and having fun with the other students,” Jordan told the TV station. “I can’t confirm that, but that’s what I’ve heard from friends of hers that were there.”

Oh yeah, Reverend, I’m sure her injuries were just a lot of rollicking hilarity. No doubt about that.

What’s really happening here is not giving these kids an “education” in how Christians are being persecuted. That can be done rather easily, without staging fake kidnappings. No, the real plan here is to expose them to the sensation of actually being persecuted; in other words, to sensitize them to it. They’ll relive this trauma — which to an extent was very “real” at the time they were experiencing it in spite of it being fake — whenever they hear about persecution of Christians. It’s really very clever on Lanza’s part … not to mention diabolical.

Yes, I get that there is persecution of Christians in some places. Yes, I get that Mr Shrum was killed in Yemen. Yes, that persecution is wrong, and the killing of Mr Shrum was horrible. But terrorizing kids in Pennsylvania is horrible, too … and the former horror does not justify the latter. (To believe so is “two wrongs make a right” thinking, and is fallacious.)

Isn’t it long past time for Christians to grow up to the point where they don’t have to pull shit like this any more, because they no longer feel the need to “be persecuted” for Jesus?

Update: It took a few months, but charges have been filed in this case. Those responsible still refuse to admit any wrongdoing, but they’re delusional, so that’s to be expected.

Photo credit: Glad Tidings Assembly of God Web site.

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