Of the many articles I have read about Pentecostalism on this site and in the mainstream media none have captured the inner machinations of the church.
I can assure you that the church has just as many scandals and intrigues as any other organisation, or political party for that matter.
In this piece (and subsequent instalments) I will attempt to paint a picture of the inner workings of the church in everyday language. If I used church language you would think me unintelligible.
Please note that I am writing this not with any angst against the church, but simply to give another person’s perspective.
My personal experience (part 1)
Of late, many articles on these pages and in mainstream media have appeared purporting some knowledge of Pentecostalism. All have lacked a lived experience. I have spent 20 or more years in fundamentalist churches so I think I can claim some knowledge of their workings.
There has been a surge of interest in Pentecostalism and its members in recent months. The association with it of Prime Minister Scott Morrison has mostly sparked an interest in this Christian community.
Why is it that religion assumes it has some bizarre ownership on people’s morality? To assume that an atheist is any less moral than someone religious is an absurdity.
But it is not just Pentecostalism. The Prime Minister has taken religion into the precinct of politics and there is an answer to why he has done so.
The answer to it is that religion or at least the Christian religion is likely, in Australia; no longer exist in the next 20 to 30 years. Someone must try to save it.
The 2016 Census doesn’t paint a very rosy picture for faith in Australia. If the figures are repeated in subsequent censuses then over time religion – as we have known it – will gradually fade away.
A Uniting Church minister friend of mine recently said to me that Christianity had been successfully sidelined.
I’m more inclined to the view that knowledge has done so.
Nearly 7 million Australians (roughly a third of all Australians) are now ‘no religion’. They make up the biggest category, overtaking Catholics who fell to 22%, and more than double the number of Anglicans.
39% of people 18-34 are of ‘no religion’ and there is no reason to expect people will become religious as they get older.
A third of Australians as ‘No religion’ represents a huge shift from 50 years ago, when the vast majority of Australians were Christian.
It’s the first time:
“… in Australia’s history the number of people who claim ‘no religion’ has overtaken Catholics.
The latest Census drop showed those ticking “no religion” rose from 22.6 per cent to 29.6 per cent, while those identifying as Catholic dropped from 25.3 per cent to 22.6 per cent.”
The Sydney Morning Herald sent journalist Jacqueline Maley along to the church that the Prime Minister worships at to observe just what all the fuss was about.
She highlighted the smiling faces she saw and the positive vibes of the service.
The Guardian‘s Elle Hardy in her experience, emphasised the popular appeal of Pentecostals who have (she purports) developed historically “with less content, more show.”
Hardy caricatures Pentecostals as religious entrepreneurs with an inspirational message and a product to sell.
Hardy’s piece asks; “Is there any substance behind the ‘trendy image’ projected by Pentecostals?”
Well, all their observations are correct to a point. Yes indeed they try to portray a positive image. But there is much more to it than just an image.
With 20 or so years in charismatic churches I feel qualified to fill in the gaps left by pastors who like politicians fall for the lying by omission trend in society.
So allow me to put you straight on a few things.
Charismatic – fundamentalist – Pentecostal or churches of that ilk all believe in a literalist belief in that the Bible is the absolute truth and word of God. Literally so. Something I could never comprehend.
They not only believe it but also practice it. Preachers will bend the truth and cherry pick scripture to uphold a literal version.
If there is a conflict between scripture and science then scripture and the literal version of it wins.
The truth is though that in any Pentecostal congregation you will find any number of variations in how individuals interpret scripture. This applies in any church.
The preacher may preach the official theology of the church but there are many different voices that will interpret the spoken words in their own way.
The only areas that I can think of where science is questioned are in the religious fever of climate change doubters, conservative politics and unconventional religious belief.
Unlike mainstream churches who have a better more worldly understanding of life, Charismatic churches seem to attract folk of a more simple disposition who are even more susceptible to the word of the Lord in charismatic form.
I was always conflicted by my belief in the politics of social justice and conscience as opposed to the literal word of God.
Issues of sexual equality, gay marriage, the rights of women and civil rights in general. Free speech, Aboriginal rights, sexual harassment, the rights of the child, the environment and climate change, domestic and family violence, equality of opportunity in education, asylum seekers and multiculturalism, always seemed to be fighting with a very right wing conservative thinking and voting church.
I recall speaking at a men’s breakfast on the subject of women’s rights many years ago. Scripture was thrown at me in literal form left right and centre.
A friend who happened to be a paramedic told me on the way out that my thinking was far ahead of these guys and it was true. Having a view that contradicted scripture was like stepping on broken glass.
Another time I recall telling a pastor that I was a democratic socialist and that I believed that Jesus was the world’s first socialist. I put up a pretty good argument but the look on his face was one I will never forget. You mean you are a communist.
Yes, Pentecostals are on the far right of politics although the leadership will tell you they are “A” political.
Pentecostalism thrives in the lower socio-economic areas of the US and third world countries.
Jacqueline Maley’s observation of the smiling faces she saw and the positive vibes of the service are true but the attending flock is no different to any other group in the community.
Families have the same family issues, child problems, disputes, employment issues, people with businesses have issues and teens have their problems with schooling and the list goes on and on.
They come from a diverse range of backgrounds
The difference being that they all believe that in God or the pastor or prayer they will find the answer to whatever ails them.
The church tells them this is so but many fall by the wayside when their needs aren’t met. Or they shop around for another church with a Pastor sympathetic to their needs.
More often than not sermons are nothing more that inspirational words designed to make one feel better about oneself and the problems that confront you.
The truth is that prayer isn’t what its made out to be, the pastor isn’t qualified in all these matters or God doesn’t hear them.
When an answer isn’t forthcoming then the default button of “it isn’t God’s will” is pushed and that seems to resolve everything.
Pastors are more often than not are just ordinary people who complete a Biblical course and qualify to preach God’s word.
Having achieved that status they believe they have a spiritual gifting that has been bequeathed on them by God, but few have any extraordinary qualities.
They are often just ordinary men and women unqualified to deal with the many social issues of the congregation and the times.
I believe that a commitment to the use of critical reason, factual evidence, and scientific methods of inquiry, rather than faith and mysticism, is the best way of providing solutions to human problems. That does not however mean that faith doesn’t have a place.
Unlike mainstream churches where ministers are required to complete a much more rigorous theological education pastors are, after being ordained, encouraged to start their own church.
After all, their entire mission is to save souls. The conflict here is that the souls to be saved are in the community and the church encourages its members to be totally involved in the church. In Bible study, music, drama, different courses and other ministries. All of which lock you into the church.
Dr Jacqueline Grey, in Crucis reports that:
In her visit to Horizon Church in suburban Sydney, Jacqueline Maley met various members of the congregation and staff. This included the media manager, Kristy. Kristy is described as “a pretty blonde woman with a soft floral scarf floating around her neck and a brilliant, bone-white smile.” From this definition, you would expect a person whose highest qualification is an Instagram account. Yet a basic internet search reveals that Kristy is an ordained pastor, serves as Executive Pastor at Horizon Church and preaches regularly. She is also on the board of an international aid agency and has degrees in Arts and Education, as well as a Masters (International Studies) from Sydney University. The theology of her preaching on a church podcast emphasises hope amid suffering. While this female Pentecostal pastor is dismissed in the Maley article as a “pretty blonde”, there is more substance behind the image than the reporting allows.
Similarly, the Hardy article harshly critiques Pentecostalism as essentially “peddling spiritualised self-help.”
If you read the Bible with literalist intent it becomes the only text book on living never updated but if you read it with logical reasoning and an exploratory mind all manner of things of historic and literary value are revealed.
This is entirely correct. Worshippers are spoon-fed first class pop music by first-class musicians, sermons by first-class speakers preaching a gospel of total self-righteousness self-help therapy.
All backed up by the hundreds of authors who write books effectively proclaiming they have an insight into God’s will that others don’t.
Is it superficial? Yes, it is. After all, it is a carrot and stick religion. Do good and you go to Heaven, do wrong and you go to Hell.
“If it were only that simple?” I hear you say.
My thought for the day
Science has made in my lifetime, the most staggering achievements and they are embraced, recognised and enjoyed by all sections of society.
Like what we do at The AIMN?
You’ll like it even more knowing that your donation will help us to keep up the good fight.
Chuck in a few bucks and see just how far it goes!