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.

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35 Years of Faith in Jesus: Why I’m Still A Christian

I have been a follower of Jesus longer than He actually lived on the earth.

That’s a humbling thought to me.

I was 16 when the journey began, birthed at the height of pimples, hormones and insecurity. A lot has happened since then, and if I could tally up my failures, mistakes, and sins—the things that would make you wonder if I really was a Christian—I could fill 10,000 ledger books.

And yet, here I am, 35 years later, still clinging to the hope of forgiveness and heaven and eternal life in Jesus Christ alone.

With all the discouragements and temptations I’ve experienced, and all the mistakes and sins I’ve committed, what made my faith stick? From a human perspective (setting God’s power and grace aside for the moment) how can I account for the fact that I am convinced more than ever that Jesus is who He said He was: the Christ, the eternal Son of God, the Savior? How can I account for the fact that I still believe in Jesus, and that my faith has deepened and grown?

In answer, I see five significant events and experiences—call call them milestones—that have led me to where I am after these 35 years. Five things have contributed, more than anything else, to who and what I am today: a middle-aged Christian who sees no reason to abandon faith in Jesus.

I’d like to tell you what they are, and recommend them to you.

✣ I SURRENDERED TO JESUS

Surrender, yes. Not a wish or whim. Not a vague belief that there is a God. I’m talking self-abandon. I admitted the bad news about myself, and put my all my hope in the good news about Jesus.

The bad news was that one day I would face God’s judgement, and the evidence to condemn me would be overwhelming. But, thank God for the good news—that Jesus, the mediator, would exchange His perfect record for mine (Read 2 Corinthians 5:21). I still sin a lot. But God forgives again and again because I have an advocate whose work on the cross paid for all my sins past, present, and future. And over the years, He makes me more and more willing and able to follow Him.

What difference does it make?

Jesus is my hope of eternal life, my hope of heaven. I hope for a coming kingdom in which Christ reigns, where sin is banished, and I am free from sin, death, and misery. He is my only hope. But, it is a certain hope, that gives meaning and purpose to the last 35 years.

I recommend you place your hope of heaven in Christ alone.

✣ I MARRIED DAWN

I married a Christian girl who was committed to following Jesus, even though it required her to forgive my sins against her, and repent of her sins against me.

What difference does it make?

Nothing is as comforting and encouraging as living with someone who will love you in spite of yourself—someone who, in mutual dependence, will pray with you, or for you anytime, anywhere, through everything.

I recommend you be such a Christian, like Dawn, always ready forgive and pray with the one you love.

✣ I STUDIED THEOLOGY

Another way to say this is, I studied the Bible with the help of great Christians who studied the Bible better than I ever could. And this helped me learn to think the Bible’s thoughts after it.

Studying theology and church history helped me learn how the Bible addresses the big questions of life. When your back is up against a wall, you want to know that the thing you’re staking your life on actually makes sense.

What difference does it make?

Studying theology and church history gives me a broader perspective on life and faith, beyond the current trends and fashions of the church. You might say, it shapes an eternal perspective. It helps me perceive errors in my faith and life, and in the world around me. Studying theology tills the soil of my heart and mind, which the Holy Spirit waters to raise a harvest.

I recommend you be such a lover of the Bible that you make a life-long study of it. Study it well with the help of the great Christian scholars and teachers throughout history so that your faith will not be too much a product of your own time.

✣ I EMBRACED CALVINISM

When I was 18, I was told not to believe it. And, in fact, I didn’t want to believe it. The theological system commonly known as Calvinism (the proper label is Reformed Theology) raises uncomfortable, inconvenient questions that I didn’t want to think about. But I did. I studied it out. And finally at age 25, I drove down the last nail in the coffin of my intellectual objections to Calvinism, and I took the Bible at its word.

What difference does it make?

Letting the Bible speak for itself, and not bow to what I wanted it to say, allows it to make sense of itself. More than that, it makes sense of me, indeed, it makes sense of the world.

If you want to make sense of life and death and suffering, if you hunger for the peace of a real assurance of salvation, if you want to experience the full freedom of belonging to Christ, then I recommend you study and embrace the theology of the Reformation, which I believe, most fully allows the Bible to speak for itself.

✣ I BECAME A “ONE ANOTHER”

So much of what we call the Christian life requires the language of one another. Love one another. Serve one another. Forgive one another. Comfort one another. Strengthen one another.

So, how can I truly live the Christian life if I isolate myself? If my highest values are my independence and privacy how can I participate in the life that comes from Christ? It can’t be done.

That’s why I attend church. It’s why I’m faithful and regular. It’s why I’m a member of a congregation. It’s also why I’m committed to meeting with a small group of men for mutual support, prayer, teaching, and accountability. I need them. And they need me.

What difference does it make?

Being a “one another” gives me the comfort of belonging. It provides a community of friends who care about me, and whom I can care for. It gives me a band of brothers to walk with, shoulder to shoulder, as we follow our Savior. He calls us by name, individually. But, He places us into one family that His love may multiply among us.

If you want to follow Christ, if you want the comfort of belonging to Him, I recommend you not try to follow Him alone. He won’t have it. He will make you a one another, and you will praise Him for it.

These are the five most important milestones in my spiritual journey. They have contributed the most, so they’re what I value most. I recommend them to you, and I hope you’ll recommend them to your friends by sharing this post. And please let us know about your significant milestones in the comments below.

God’s grace to you,

Lon

The Best Natural and Spiritual Ways to Manage Anxiety and Depression

The love of my life suffers with anxiety and depression.

If you have ever experienced them, you know suffer is the right word. And often, you don’t know why you’re suffering.

Dawn occasionally experiences physical pain or crawling skin. Sometimes she can’t focus. She cries a lot. Sometimes life overwhelms her. She may struggle to make decisions. Sometimes she can’t quiet the voices of guilt or irrational fears.

And yet, she’s the bravest person I know. She never quits. She always hopes, trusts, loves, perseveres, and serves. She is a joy to live with.

How does she do it? How does she manage her depression year after year, day-in and day-out, usually without medication?

The answer is that she’s developed her own “medicine cabinet” of natural and spiritual ways to manage her anxiety and depression.

If you’re beginning to sink into depression for the first time, whether situational or chemical, if you’re anxious and scared and can’t understand why you feel this way, if you just don’t know what to do and you want to avoid meds…

Here’s a glimpse inside the medicine cabinet of one who suffers like you. Dawn and I both hope you find light at the end of the tunnel, but until then, here’s twelve proven ways to help you survive the darkness.

[Please note that appropriate medication is sometimes the best and necessary strategy. Dawn was on medication from 2002-2003 and we often talk about the possibility of needing it again.]

1. Get Outside

Look around at all God has made, city, suburb or country. Open your senses to the physical world and let a bit of wonder flicker in your mind. Natural settings are most wonder-inspiring, so if you live in a city try to find a park.

2. Drink Water

You need it to survive in the best of times. How much more in the worst? Drink lots of water, and let it be the main thing you drink—much more than dairy, coffee, soft drinks, or alcohol. How much water should you drink? A good rule of thumb is: you could probably use a glass of water right now. Your mind and heart will thank you.

3. Exercise Daily

Seriously. Exercise is your secret weapon for boosting your mood. Do light exercise like a brisk walk (not a mosey) for 20-30 minutes every day. Three days a week substitute a more challenging work out for at least 30 minutes.

4. Keep Routine

Use whatever tools you like to create a simple routine for your days and nights. This will give you a sense of control and predictability to combat the chaos in your head. Try calendar appointments, or a to-do list, or learn to say “no” graciously.

5. Eat Protein

Protein is a natural mood stabilizer and is available naturally in quinoa, beans, legumes, tofu, eggs, dairy, nuts, and meat. Protein is most effective for your mind and body when you eat a little at every meal. If you are fighting depression it’s extra important to get protein with breakfast.

6. Avoid Stimulants

Be careful about sugars and caffeine; they really mess with your brain chemistry. Pay attention to how they affect you, when, to what extent. You may need to find a substitute for that late night pan of brownies and morning cup o’ joe.

7. Sleep Enough

Not too much. Not too little. Either extreme can leave you foggy and affect your mood. Be as consistent as possible with bedtime and rising time (aka, create a routine).

8. Get Support

You need someone who “gets you.” You need someone you can trust with how you feel: a counselor; a spouse, a friend; a support group; anyone who will be supportive and non-judgmental. Don’t let embarrassment rob you of the wonderful help it can be just to tell someone how you feel.

9. Pursue a Hobby

Do stuff. Stay active. There is such satisfaction in performing simple tasks like knitting or gardening. What about playing an instrument? Getting involved in a sports league? Joining a book club? Any brain-engaging hobby will do, and group hobbies like joining a community band or a basketball league have the added benefit of combining #8 and #9.

10. Limit TV

You want your brain engaged. TV puts your brain in a passive mode and isolates you at the same time. This isn’t helpful for your depression, no matter how good the escape feels at the moment. It’s especially important to not let late-night TV disrupt your routine (#4) and sleep (#7). Here’s how we tame our TV viewing.

11. Meditate on Scripture

Christian meditation is simply focused thinking about what God has said to us in the Bible. If the Bible is unfamiliar to you, here’s tips on how to get started reading the Bible. Three specific kinds of promises God gives to those who trust in His Son, Jesus Christ, can be very helpful when you are suffering with depression:

❯ Promises related to God’s presence and comfort in the midst of suffering. (for example: Isaiah 43:1-3)

❯ Promises related to finding meaning and purpose in the midst of suffering. (for example: Romans 8:26-30)

❯ Promises related to the hope of eternal deliverance from suffering. (for example: Romans 8:18)

12. Study Theology

Dawn says this has been huge for her, and I can say the same. Nothing anchors your mind like a deeper apprehension of the greatness of God. Even Bible authors meditated on the greatness of God during their difficult times (for example: Psalm 77:11-13).

Get good books on the nature and work of God and the person and work of Christ. Try studying the Westminster or Heidelberg confessions of faith and catechisms. For a modern and accessible resource, try the New City Catechism online or for iPad (Read my review). When you understand the chief end of man (Westminster Q1), or your only hope in life and in death (Heidelberg/New City Q1), you will see the reason for an everlasting hope.

That’s 12 of the best natural and spiritual ways we know to manage anxiety and depression. I know you want a cure, a fix. But, I’m afraid sometimes managing is the best that can be achieved in our average lives. (Dawn knows all about that.)

But remember, God is great! Oh, how that makes a difference if you belong to Him.

If you don’t yet see how that makes a difference, let me encourage you to think more about what it must mean to belong to a loving, sovereign, wise, completely involved and invested heavenly Father. It means you have a reason to live, because He has a reason for you to live, forever.

Other Resources

❯ Your Anxiety Is Not a Sin (on AnneMarieMiller.com)

Ten Natural Depression Treatments (on WebMD)

❯ Dealing with Depression: Self-Help and Coping Tips to Overcome Depression (on HelpGuide.org)

❯ Broken Minds: Hope for Healing When You Feel Like You’re Losing It (on Amazon.com)


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