Various views on education and life. Thrilling, huh? Enjoy. Or don't.
Saturday, September 28, 2013
I don't know how familiar you are with Protestant denominations, but Presbyterians are often referred to as "the frozen chosen," and their church services feature few, if any, audibles outside of group readings or songs. On the other hand, Charismatics (often, but not only Pentecostals), are known for demonstrative speech and action during services.
In keeping with those descriptions, I often feel as though I am a Presbyterian with a Charismatic trapped inside; I struggle to find the words to express with intensity and clarity what I am thinking. I let slip the actual and proverbial "Amen!" from time to time when I manage to break free from my frozenness, both literally and literarily. However, all too often I just feel trapped.
one thing to feel like I’m a Charismatic trapped in a Presbyterian’s body. It’s
quite another thing to know that I’m
a Presbyterian and I’m trapped in a Charismatic church.
Going to church is something that I
do on a regular basis. I was raised in the church, as they say, with my
attendance expected at the weekly prayer meeting, Sunday school, and morning
and evening services on the Lord’s Day. Our religious exercise was to participate
faithfully in the “life of the church.” I was taught the Bible from my earliest
days, and my parents practiced what they preached. Sundays were reserved “for
the Lord,” and no unnecessary work or leisure was undertaken on that day.
As I grew and matured, I took
greater pleasure in going to church, but I increasingly felt stifled. My heart
soared on the wings of eagles, but visible and physical expression of religious
fervor was frowned upon in the Presbyterian church; that kind of behavior was only done by Pentecostals and some
Baptists. No raising of hands in worship or saying a hearty “A-men!” for me.
No, sir. Just the steady four-four beat of hymns, with silent, stoic faces
during the preaching.
During my college years in the
South, I found some freedom. I discovered that some Presbyterians acted more like Pentecostals in worship. They
clapped as they sang to the beat of drums, electronic piano and electric
guitars. They offered “A-men!” or “Hallelujah!” or “Preach it!” when so moved
by the Spirit. The preacher even encouraged such exclamations and on one
occasion he acknowledged that some of us might come from church traditions that
made this a foreign experience: “I am sure that some of you sit there all quiet
on the outside, but on the inside you’re ‘A-menning’ all over the place!”
With time, I overcame my hesitations
and learned to speak up. Timid at first, I was soon hollerin’ with the best of
‘em. Well, it felt like I was hollering. I was probably speaking just above a
whisper, but I could tell my inner Charismatic was being unleashed from its
A number of years later, I was back
in my home church, working for a local Christian school as the headmaster. One
of my responsibilities was to visit area churches to talk about the school and
try to get people to enroll their children there. I had matured a bit from my
rambunctiously religious youth, but still considered myself something of a
closet Charismatic, the more gracious name given to exuberant congregations in
Christendom. In reality, though, I had really become something of a square in
public circles, not wanting to offend prospective families by exhibiting
pretentious religious airs.
Several years into my position at
the school, I gained entrance to a Charismatic church not far from the school.
I knew that an older couple from my home church had been attending evening
services there owing to the close proximity to their home and to their
increasingly limited mobility. When the wife had passed away, the pastor of the
Charismatic church had attended her memorial service, and I had met him there.
A couple of families from his church attended the school where I worked, so I
was glad to make an official visit on behalf of the school. What I got was an
I sat near the front so that when I
was called upon I could make my way to the podium quickly, deliver my
presentation, and be a visible reminder of who I was and why I was there. I
shouldn’t have. I should have found a place in the back, near the door, where I
could monitor my display or pack up and run as soon as necessary.
Much of the music was unfamiliar to
me, though they did manage to sing one or two choruses of something I knew. The
Bible passage that was read for the sermon was familiar, too, and I was eager
to hear what the preacher would say about it. As he spoke, he quickly became
animated and excited. He began to thump the pulpit with his hand, emphasizing
the glory of the Lord with each bang. His voice rose in pitch and volume and I
began to sense he was reaching his point.
Suddenly, he called out, “lsmfpaoijopbarllduboarar!
Hallelujah!” and shuddered. “Glory be to God on high! Glory be to God on high!
Hallelujah!” Right then and there, I knew I had heard a man who believed he was
speaking in tongues, which is about as Charismatic as a fellow can get. I felt very Presbyterian from that moment to
the end of the service.
I don’t remember much else from that
point on, besides the men and women all around me calling out, “Hallelujah!
Thank you, Je-sus! GlorybetoGodonhigh!” and so on. The preacher went on and completed
his message, but for the life of me, I don’t know what he said.
After the service, a friend from the
congregation approached me. “So, what did you think of our services? Have you
ever heard someone speak in tongues before? I bet that’s a new experience for
“It, uh, was a nice service. And
you’re right, I’ve never heard anyone speak in tongues before.” I’m totally freaked out and ready to get out
of here, if you really want to know, but I have a job to do.
“So, what did you think? You must’ve
thought the preacher was going crazy or something.”
“Uh, no, I kind of figured out what
was going on. Um… .” Keep your voice
level and don’t betray your concerns for what happened here today.
“What did you think of it?”
“Well, to be honest with you, it was
a bit unsettling.” That was the
understatement of the year. “Unsettling” was right on; “a bit” really should
have been “tremendously.” How to say that to this friend, though?
“I bet it was! I wish I could’ve
seen the look on your face at that moment. Ha! I bet they don’t do that at your
Presbyterian church, do they?”
“Yeah, it would’ve been quite a
sight, I think. And you’re right, speaking in tongues is not done at
Presbyterian churches.” If you do it
there, you’d better have an interpreter handy, or you’ll get tossed out on your
“Why not? Don’t you believe in
speaking in tongues?”
“Well, uh, speaking in tongues is
not really part of our worship services because we believe that when a person
speaks in tongues publicly someone else needs to interpret it right away. I,
uh, was expecting someone to stand up and, uh, interpret what the pastor said
this morning. Did you know what he was saying?” I’m ready to pack up my stuff and be on my way.
“I see. No, I just know he does that
sort of thing all the time. You never know when the Spirit’s gonna move, you
know. Hey, Pastor! Come on over here! He’s never heard anyone speak in tongues
“Hello, Pastor. Thank you for
inviting me here today.” Is my fake smile
“You’re welcome. Glad to have you
with us. I remember meeting you at that funeral last year. So you go to the
Presbyterian church, huh? Is it a lot different from ours?”
Yeah, like a different planet, Pastor. “Eh, you could say that. I mean, we
believe the same basics about how to be a Christian and all that, but some
practices are different. “ Let’s not have
a big theological discussion right now, okay?
“No speaking in tongues, right?
Well, you believe in that ‘once saved, always saved’ stuff, right? Go forward to
the altar once and never have to think about obedience to God again?”
“Nope, no tongues. And we’d really
call it the ‘preservation of the saints’, not really ‘once saved, always
saved.’ If there’s no evidence that some has repented from sin and turned to
Christ then that’s not really ‘saved,’ right? Please, can we stop this theological discussion? It’s a really long
road we’re headed down, and I’m becoming less of a
Charismatic-trapped-in-a-Presbyterian-body all the time! Oh, good, someone else
wants your attention.
“Well, thanks for coming. You’re
doing good work at the school. Keep it up!”