The Spiritual Health of Pentecostalism — Part 1

Is Pentecostalism spiritually healthy?

Is it a faithful manifestation of the ancient faith revealed by Scripture?

Is pentecostal emotionalism a spiritual blessing, or psychological baggage?

As in most things, the answers aren’t a simple yes or no. Nothing is perfect under the sun, and that includes the way Christians—all Christians (including me)—believe and practice our belief. But, I feel compelled to try to provide a more practical answer for the anonymous reader who posted this comment on my blog about Why I left Pentecostalism:

Hi Lon, I found your blog through a Google search. I am part of a pentecostal church and I have become uncomfortable with their teachings (I am a new Christian of only 6 months – grew up atheist. 31 years old)

My concerns are around how emotional the whole experience is. I realised today that it doesn’t actually feel good to be so up and down.

I still love God and the bible. I have started doing research as you mentioned in your blog about Christianity origins..

I am going to try some new churches. What was your experience in finding a church? I randomly bumped into a Catholic the library yesterday and he was able to tell me about the orthodox bible study guide..

What did you find a helpful place to begin?

Are all the satan/enemy battles normal in all Christianity? It doesn’t feel good to be in battle all the time…

First Anonymous, let me offer God praise for bringing you to repentance and faith in Jesus. The faith you and I share is a gift which comes from hearing the gospel. I don’t know your story, but I’ll assume that God used your pentecostal friends or your pentecostal church to share the gospel with you, and I’ll give God praise for this as well.

Second Anonymous, I want to answer your questions fairly (both those in your comment and those which I think I hear behind your keyboard). But, since you know I left Pentecostalism, to be fair and honest to Pentecostalism I should admit that:

  1. For the last century, God has used the pentecostal movement tremendously to advance His kingdom in many countries around the world.
  2. Many mature, healthy Christians live and grow and serve Christ in pentecostal churches.
  3. Pentecostalism is as varied as can be; it’s not a unified movement. The best pentecostal churches are places where Jesus is exalted, the gospel is preached, the Bible is the sole authority, and orthodox doctrine is taught. On the other hand, there are pentecostal churches that teach unorthodox  (that is, heretical) doctrine and promote unhealthy spiritual practices. In between, bell curve-like, most pentecostal churches are a mix of good and bad evolving from year-to-year, and pastor-to-pastor.
  4. I’m a former Pentecostal who is now happy to be Presbyterian.

For these three reasons, I’ll try to address pentecostal teachings and practices specifically, rather than risk painting an unfair picture of Pentecostalism generally.

You asked about emotionalism, spiritual battles, and my experience finding a church. On emotionalism, you may find this post relevant: Help—Weird Things are Happening in Our Church. On finding a church, I have written several posts that don’t quite meet the spirit of your question, but may still be helpful:

I’d like to address your questions more directly, but I’ll have to do this in a series of posts, rather than one snoringly long post. And, before I can write about “how emotional the whole experience is…” or “the satan/enemy battles…” I need to answer the most important question you asked:

Anonymous, you asked about resources for learning more about the Christian faith.

Of course there are tons, but here are a few that a) I trust, and b) will help you understand the core teachings of Christianity. These provide reliable, faithful summaries of biblical teaching and deep-dives into the most important biblical topics. As you learn the foundations of Christian faith, you’ll become more able to discern errors (great or small) in your church, in books, on the radio, TV, magazines, etc.

Resources for Learning the Christian Faith

1 – The Bible, in a translation that is easy for you to read and understand.

I usually read the English Standard Version (ESV) and I recommend you get the ESV Study Bible which provides wonderful introductory material to the Bible as a whole, as well as each of its 66 books. If you don’t yet feel like you have a handle on the Bible, I’d suggest focusing on these books (not necessarily in this order): Genesis through Deuteronomy, Psalms, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Matthew through John, Acts, and Romans through Colossians. Some of the resources below will help you get a handle on the Bible. I also wrote Bible Reading Tips for Newbies with some very basic getting started tips.

2 – Any resource or book from Ligonier Ministries, the teaching ministry of R. C. Sproul.

Sproul is a world-class theologian and conservative biblical scholar known for his ability to make complex topics accessible for the newcomer. Click this link for Ligonier’s free teaching resources. You may want to subscribe to their excellent monthly Table Talk devotional magazine. They even have a lecture on Pentecostalism’s place in church history.

3 – The Core Christianity website.

This website was launched in 2016 by the folks who support Michael Horton’s White Horse Inn teaching ministry. Horton is another exemplary biblical scholar and author. The mission behind this website is to help clarify what the foundational teachings of the Bible really are, and what Christianity really is. This is incredibly necessary in our individualistic, meaning-defined-by-me, truth-as-I-see-it, modern world where the Christian message is morphed by a million individuals.

4 – The White Horse Inn podcast.

It’s always a panel discussion of a topic or an interview of an author. They cover everything from same-sex attraction to cellular design to Martin Luther’s doctrine of the atonement. It’s so valuable to me that it’s the only podcast I regularly make time for. I’ve been listening for years and have found it every bit as relevant/helpful/useful as my seminary education. Their mission says it all: Know what you believe, and why you believe it.

If you love reading, Horton also publishes in depth articles in Modern Reformation Magazine.

5 – The New City Catechism website or iPad app.

This is a brilliant, modern remake of two classic Protestant catechisms (Did you know Protestants invented the catechism?): The Westminster Shorter Catechism of 1646 (English, Presbyterian); and The Heidelberg Catechism of 1563 (German, Dutch Reformed). It combines the classic Q&A catechism format with short readings and 2-3 minute video clips by a variety of Bible teachers. Here’s my own review.

6 – Basic Christianity book by John Stott.

7 – Knowing God book by J. I. Packer.

8 – Surprised by Joy book by C. S. Lewis, the autobiographical story of Lewis’ own conversion from Atheism.

9 – Life Issues by Randy Pope.

These four, short booklets answer the most fundamental questions people have to answer before they could believe the Christian faith. For example: “How can you trust that the Bible is God’s word?” and “Is Jesus the only way to God?”

What Now?

I know I’ve provided a lot here, at the risk of overwhelming you. But, if you treat this post as a reference you’ll find that blog posts linked here are quick enough to read through. The books will take a few weeks. The catechism should take a year in small weekly questions. And the Bible, well, that’s a lifetime. The best news is that the types of resources I recommend here are so varied in their nature that you can easily integrate several of them into your daily life simultaneously.

For example, today you might read a John 1 and skim the introduction in the ESV Study Bible, read a 5-minute blog post during lunch, listen to a podcast from Ligonier or the White Horse Inn on your commute from work, and spend 15 minutes reading Lewis before bed.

Just keep this post handy as a reference. Spend a few days getting a feel for what resources seem most useful to you. And then, and find a way to integrate them into your life.

Anonymous, thank you for reading Average Us. Thank you for your questions. I will write again more directly about pentecostalism. May God’s grace and face always shine on you.

8 Life Changing Resolutions for Frustrated Christians

If you’re a frustrated Christian, I’ll venture to tell you why, and what to do about it.

Frustrated with your spiritual life? With other Christians? With church? With Christianity?

With God?

I’ll make this short and direct. It may sting a bit.

❯ WHY YOU’RE FRUSTRATED

In my role as a christian disciple-maker, I’ve found that frustrated Christians tend to share these two traits:

First, they have little or no true sense of purpose in life. Or, perhaps worse, they contrive a purpose that is at odds with God’s plan for them.

And second, they won’t bother to form good habits (or try to break the bad ones) that help them live in harmony with God’s purpose.

As a result these frustrated Christians live without a point, and, knowing it shouldn’t be so, they feel it intensely. Like the writer of Ecclesiastes, they feel the sheer, ineffective waste of their life: “Vanity, vanity. All is vanity!”

Take aimless Jimmy (not his real name). He was a cynical, shiftless guy who couldn’t bear anything to be serious. “You take life too seriously,” he used to say to me. Truth was, he couldn’t take anything seriously at all because that would require him to take a hard look and his own ineffectual, unsatisfying life. He was good for nothing, and good for nobody. And deep inside, he knew it. He was not known for being a happy man.

Does this sound like you? Read on…

❯ WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT

If you and I could sit down together once a week for a year, there would be so many habits of life we could work on together. (Hey, I’m an average, struggling Christian, too.) But I’ve only got your attention for another three minutes, so I’ll stick to the basics. Here’s what you need to do if you’re sick of waking up frustrated. Maybe you should only focus on 1 or 2 of these now, but take note of them all. Write them down. These are the essentials you need to focus on if you want to conquer frustration.

1. Start thinking like you’re on a mission from God because, like the Blues Brothers, you are. The mission isn’t unique to you, but if you’re a Christian you’re part of it. You are Christ’s ambassador, his messenger, to the place and time you’re living in right now. Your values, decisions, habits, lifestyle, and goals, should reflect that.

2. Start reading the Bible consistently. Seriously. It’s time to end your biblical illiteracy. You know why you should and how it would benefit you, theoretically. But, you don’t know from experience (and no one can tell you) because you’ve never made it a habit of your own. Try starting with the New Testament. Here’s a few Bible reading tips to help you get started.

3. Add praying consistently to #2. Don’t know how? Try using the Lord’s prayer as a simple model for what to talk to God about. All it takes to make this a habit is to pick a time, a place, and a plan. Here’s mine: 7:30am. An empty room at the office. Currently reading the Gospel of Matthew, and the Proverbs, and praying about what I read there.

4. Find a spiritual mentor. Wow, I can’t tell you how much trouble you’ll save yourself if you’ll start #2 and #3 now and do it with someone who is further along the spiritual path than you are. So much of our frustration is born of messed up thinking about who God is and what He wants. You need to replace it with better, biblical thinking about God, life, and faith. Much of the rest of our frustration is born of our struggles with sin like addictions, anger issues, and watching porn, or simple envy. A good spiritual mentor is a person of your gender whom you can trust with your most troubling secrets. Such a mentor will build mutual accountability with you to help you develop good life habits which slowly replace the bad.

5. Join a church that will point you (end everyone else) to the gospel every Sunday. You need to hear how great the grace of God in Christ is toward you every week (and why you need it more than you think). And please note that I didn’t say attend, I said join. Because you also need the responsibility and sense of purpose that can only come from sharing the mission from God with other people. Church membership just might surprise you.

6. Receive the Lord’s Supper (Communion, Eucharist) as often as your church will serve it. Didn’t see that coming, did you? I know most people today think of the Lord’s Supper as a nice, optional add-on to Christian worship. And, if you think the point of Communion is about you renewing your spiritual commitment, I suppose it is best left that way. But, what if the bread and wine are primarily about Christ’s commitment to you, not the other way around? Such love and promise, it seems to me, is essential, not optional.

Take, eat. This is my body which is broken for you. Take and drink all of you. This cup is the new covenant in my blood…

7. Start praying with your spouse, or potential spouse. Yes, out loud. For one another. For the people in your life. For the mission. Yes, it really does matter that much. But again, you can’t know what strength, what encouragement, there is to be found in a spouse whom you can ask to pray for you, or whom you can offer to pray for, until you experience it yourself.

8. Serve someone. Remember that mission from God? Let’s get to it. Visit someone in the hospital. Bake some bread for your neighbor. Volunteer at a shelter. Send a card to a soldier. Everyone is in need. Everyone has something to share. (God did that.) Share yours. And do it in Christ’s name.

❯ BUT HOW?

My goal in this post was two-fold: to tell you why you’re frustrated, and to explain what to do about it.

If you see in your life the causes of frustration I described above, if you agree that these seven resolutions are essential ingredients for dealing with your frustration, then now comes the tough part:

How?

You’ve never done this. You don’t have the time. You don’t have a plan. You don’t know where to start. You’re afraid to fail.

The simple answer is this: You need an example. You need a coach. You need #4.

Start with #4. Find someone you respect and trust. They don’t have to be a spiritual giant, they just need to be farther along the path than you, preferably someone who is pretty familiar with the Bible and prays regularly. Tell him or her what you want to focus on. Share this post with him or her if it will help you explain what you need. Ask this person if they would meet with you weekly, one-on-one, or as part of a small group.

I hope you will. I pray your life will become more effective for God’s mission. I know you’ll discover more joy in Christ. Every average Christian will.

Grace to you,

Lon

P. S. Here’s some practical advice on how to make resolutions that stick from noted blogger, Tim Challies. I think you’ll find some useful help in his post.