Christ

Crazy Christianity: Pentecostalism

What it’s all about:

Pentecostalism was born out of a nine-year movement in Los Angeles called the Azusa Street Revival in which people, led by a preacher named William J. Seymour, experienced dramatic inter-racial worship services that included speaking in tongues, and spiritual experiences involving miracles. (source) Just about every Pentecostal church traces its roots back to this Revival, however, some left the movement with different ideas about the doctrine of the Trinity, leaving the Pentecostal Church largely divided between Trinitarian and non-Trinitarians. Each church is self-governed, however, many are affiliated with the Pentecostal World Fellowship. The latest research (conducted by the a Pew Forum in 2011) “found that there were an estimated 279 million classical Pentecostals, making 4 percent of the total world population and 12.8 percent of the world’s Christian population Pentecostal” making it “the largest Protestant denominational family.” 44% of all Pentecostals are found in Sub-Saharan Africa while 37% are found in the Americas and 16% are in Asia and the Pacific. (source)

The Pentecostal faith, like most Christian faiths, centers completely around the Bible and its inerrancy. The core of their beliefs lie in the Gospels in that through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, all sins can be forgiven. It is a requirement that all Pentecostals be born again through Christ in order to be “adopted into the family of God.” (source) A part of the born again process starts with a baptism, however, the Pentecostals practice three distinct types of baptism. One is the baptism into the body of Christ which turns a believer into a part of Christ’s body through the Holy Spirit — the Holy Spirit is the agent, Christ is the medium. The second one is called a water baptism and is the most recognizable by other Christian faiths. The water baptism is representative of dying to the world and being reborn in Christ. The third method of baptism is called baptism with the Holy Spirit. This method is similar to baptism into the body of Christ except that it is the reversal of methods — Christ now becomes the agent and the Holy Spirit is the medium.

While baptism as viewed by most Christian denominations as being vital to one’s closeness to god and their ability to be “saved”, most Pentecostals do not view baptism as being essential for salvation. Pentecostals also view other things, like the sacraments, much differently than most Christian denominations as well. They refer to the sacraments as ordinances instead as they do not believe that these rituals instituted by Christ are meant to impart grace, but rather to keep a closeness with god. For example, communion is a ritual completed because it is a command given by Christ in order to remember him. An interesting fact about Pentecostal communion is that they reject the use of wine as the blood of Christ and will use grape juice instead. Sorry, kids! No under-age sipping allowed for you!

Laying-on-of-HandsTwo other distinctive beliefs are that of divine healing and divine gifts. Divine healing occurs when a person either prays for himself or another person to be healed. When praying for another person to be healed, the common practice is for the preacher and others to put their hands on that person to represent the healing Jesus imparted while healing others. Another common practice is anointing the sick with olive oil.

Divine gifts can be given to anyone at any time but are most commonly received after one’s baptism. Gifts include the ability to speak in tongues — a gibberish language meant to be a direct line to or from god.

“According to Pentecostal theology, the language spoken (1) may be an unlearned human language, such as the Bible claims happened on the Day of Pentecost, or (2) it might be of heavenly (angelic) origin. In the first case, tongues could work as a sign by which witness is given to the unsaved. In the second case, tongues are used for praise and prayer when the mind is superseded and “the speaker in tongues speaks to God, speaks mysteries, and … no one understands him”. (source)

omg

A divine gift that can sometimes go along with the gift of tongues is the gift of interpretation by either the speaker or someone else to be able to understand what was just said. This can be important because most Pentecostals believe that sometimes people who speak tongues do so because they have been given the gift of prophecy. While Pentecostals do believe that anyone is capable of receiving a legitimate prophecy, those spoken by people are not regarded as always being the truth; in other words, they realize that those prophecies are susceptible to error. These prophecies are rarely, if ever, predictions of future events but merely spontaneously spoken words meant to give guidance and comfort.

Another gift is the word of wisdom and the word of knowledge. When the gift of the word of wisdom is given, the receiver has a “revelation of the Holy Spirit that applies scriptural wisdom to a specific situation that a Christian community faces.” (source) The gift of the word of knowledge entails the ability of the receiver to know god’s intentions in the life of another person.

 

Why it’s harmful to society:

slain_in_spiritWhile practicing the gift of healing, many preachers will put their hands on someone and violently push them back causing them to fall backwards. Sometimes this is exaggerated by the person being healed so as to imitate “being slain in the spirit” and other times, the preacher literally pushes so hard that they fall. I think this is bad for two reasons: One — people get so wrapped up in this ritual that they make themselves fall backwards (risking injury), convulse on the ground and speak in tongues. All of these are not natural or supernatural occurences but merely the actions of a desperate person acting out what they have seen others do. It’s all fake which makes watching it all the more disturbing. And, imagine being a child and seeing this happen to your parent! How scary that would be! Reason two — these people actually hurt themselves doing this (or allowing it to be done to them)! Sometimes people actually faint and lose consciousness! I think watching this strange practice would be both interesting and disturbing.

A lot of the practices found in the Pentecostal church have made their way into other Christian denominations. Things like lifting your hands in praise to the heavens during prayer and song, speaking in tongues and spontaneously shouting words of praise during sermons. One of my most vivid memories as a young child was being very ill at my grandmother’s house (a self-identified, practicing non-denominational Christian) and having her put her hands on my head and pray over me in tongues. I was so scared because I had never seen my grandmother act so strangely before and I was very confused as to what was going on. It made me very uncomfortable and I have never forgotten that moment. I think experiences like that can be very harmful and scary to children and should either be abstained from around them or explained thoroughly.

Some Pentecostal churches in the southeastern region of the United States practice snake handling during their worship services as a literal interpretation of these verses in the Bible:

“And these signs shall follow them that believe: In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues. They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.” (Mark 16:17-18)

“Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you.” (Luke 10:19)

Numerous preachers have been severely injured by the poisonous bites and others have even died from them. While this practice is not very common, it is gaining ground and growing rapidly, forcing states to legislate laws concerning the un-guarded presence of venomous animals in public spaces for their own protection.

snake3           snakewarning

 

Why it’s not as bad as the others:

Pentecostals believe that baptism is not vital to achieve spiritual salvation which compliments their practice of a “Believer’s Baptism”. This type of baptism is done only to the willing after a profession of faith in Jesus has been made. I think this is good because it gives people the choice to enter into the religion. I have never agreed with infant baptisms (I was baptized as an infant) because I feel that they are presumptuous and selfish. Infant baptisms are for the benefit of the practicing parents, not the child, whereas adult baptisms are for the individual as a profession of and commitment to what they believe in.

Another great aspect of Pentecostalism is the lively church service. Spontaneity is highly regarded in worship which leads to (in my view) hilarious outbursts and interruptions in the middle of sermons and songs. Also, lots of members are “moved by the Holy Spirit” to dance because they are so enraptured with god’s presence. This leads to lots of movement in the aisles with everyone going pretty much bat-shit crazy over the Lord.

Diversity and inter-racial worship is a highly regarded attribute to the Pentecostal church. They believe that no matter race, gender, ethnicity, social class or religious background one is, they are all welcome to worship together and should be treated as one in the same. The downside to this is that they do not include sexual orientation in that list of anti-discriminatory practices and they hold a very strong position in the defense of traditional marriage between a man and a woman.

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Crazy Christianity: Jehovah’s Witnesses

What it’s all about:

Jehovah’s Witnesses are arguably the most strict practicing Christians in today’s society. They believe themselves to be the “true” Christians and reject many popular ideas in other versions of Christianity. They do not believe in hellfire, or the inherent immortality of the soul. They believe that when you die, you are in a state of nonexistence — both physical and spiritual.

armageddonThey believe an Armageddon will occur when satan attacks Jehovah’s Witnesses and god is forced to step in and destroy all governments and those people that do not follow him. Witnesses believe that Armageddon will be triggered by the United Nations (you can’t make this stuff up…) which is represented by the scarlet-colored wild beast of the book of Revelation chapter 17 in the scriptures (source). After Armageddon, god will choose 144,000 of his most loyal, trusting Witnesses to help him lead the Earth which he will transform into a paradise similar to the Garden of Eden and they will serve on his council of government. Those that have died before the Armageddon took place will gradually be resurrected and judged based on their current actions (rather than their past deeds) for a thousand years. After that thousand years has passed, Satan will be sent to Earth one last time to test those left and “the end result will be a fully tested, glorified human race. Christ will then hand all authority back to God.” (source)

Which leads me to the next big difference between Witnesses and most other forms of Christianity: Witnesses do not believe in the trinity. They believe that God (or “Jehovah” derived from the biblical name given to God in the Tetragrammaton JHVH or YHWH) is the creator of all things, the “one true God”, and is therefore the only thing worthy of worship. Jesus, or Christ, is God’s only direct creation and the holy spirit is God’s power in the world. They also believe Satan to be a fallen angel, once perfect in the kingdom of God who now comes to Earth to mislead people and create evil and human suffering.

h2E92B97DWitnesses do not celebrate birthdays, Christmas, Easter or any other “typical” holiday as they believe them to be derived from Pagan rituals and, therefore, not properly representative of their Christian faith. They also refuse to pledge allegiance to any country, take part in any nationalistic celebration or song and vehemently refuse to serve in the military. They do this because they feel that Christianity has no nationality and one’s allegiance should only ever be to God and nothing or no one else. “They consider secular society to be morally corrupt and under the influence of Satan, and most limit their social interaction with non-Witnesses.” (source) This places them in a state of segregation from everyone else (including fellow Christians who are not Witnesses) by choice, until they are called upon to evangelize. All members are required to evangelize and each must submit a monthly log of their activity. If you do not, you can be considered inactive and eventually be “disfellowshipped” and shunned by the community — an act highly dreaded by those that faithfully follow.

Worship involves frequent church meetings on the local level as well as national/international meetings that are more like conventions . They prefer their own translation of the Bible called, New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, and are taught how to read the scriptures by a governing body composed of all men (surprise, surprise) called, The Watch Tower Society. These men create publications that are to be given as much weight as the Bible itself and are not, under any circumstances, to be re-interpreted or challenged in any way (to do so would result in their being immediately disfellowshipped). If one publication comes out as being in disagreement with a previous publication, it is said that God is gradually revealing his will to the Watch Tower Society and they can, therefore, only publish what they know, when they know it.

Why it’s harmful to society:

Jehovah’s witnesses are incredibly strict and un-wavering in their approach to a faithful life and can sometimes take it too far. I was watching a television show in which young, talented musicians were given the opportunity to be the opening act for some of the biggest artists in the music industry. One young man was selected to open for Nikki Minaj, giving him the opportunity to live out his life-long dream and potentially make a name for himself. As a part of the show, they would fly out the family members so that they could be there to share in their child’s once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with pride and support. However, this poor young man had to experience the happiest moment of his life without the approval of his mother (who happened to be a Jehovah’s Witness) as she refused to take any part in the demonic, worldly concert. She chose a distorted worldview over the happiness of her own son and as a result, he felt abandoned by her and ashamed of his dream. No parent should ever make their child feel this way.

Another thing Witnesses vehemently oppose are blood transfusions. Receiving a blood transfusion is grounds for expulsion from the religion and should always be rejected — even in life and death situations (?!?!?!). They base this belief on their interpretation of Acts 15:28-29 which states,

“For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well.”

There is zero tolerance for sex outside of marriage, homosexuality, drunkenness, gambling, illegal drugs and tobacco. Witnesses must dress modestly and follow a strict patriarchal home-life in which divorce in only permitted in the case of adultery (per the Bible). Any divorce not a result of adultery (a scriptural divorce) or a legal separation due to excessive abuse or disdain for the union (“absolute endangerment of spirituality”) is considered illegal and any re-marriage considered adultery. “Marrying a non-believer, or endorsing such a union, is strongly discouraged and carries religious sanctions.” (source)

This leads me to the reason I believe the Jehovah’s Witness style of Christianity is most harmful to society: segregation. They segregate themselves and their children from the outside world and all others that are different from them. Their children are never given the opportunity to learn about the world and make decisions about it on their own which causes a great deal of intolerance and un-acceptance. I believe we become better, more fulfilled people when we are surrounded by people who are different from ourselves. I believe that is the only way we can truly learn and grow. Strip that away and we are nothing but the product of our parents and a slave to their ideals.

Believing you are living the “one and only” truth and being completely un-accepting of other beliefs is never a good thing. It’s arrogant and ignorant and when both of those traits come together it almost always spells disaster.

Why it’s not as bad as the others:

(for Violetwisp 🙂 ) Jehovah’s Witnesses are one of the only Christian religions that I know of to take the Bible and the teachings of Christ almost completely literally. They jumped in head-first and committed to the entire sha-bang. There is no scripture plucking, no hermeneutics, no personal ideologies, just one way — God’s. As much as I disagree with their worldviews and their decisions to take literally a book filled with awful, harmful things, I have to admire their commitment to a less than wonderful lifestyle all for the sake of what they believe. You will never come across a Jehovah’s Witness apologist, and I like that.

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