Thursday, May 24, 2007

the sins of pentecost & the sins of evangelicalism: an overview

ironically, there is no written definition for sin in the bible.

there are lexical studies on the greek [hamartia] and hebrew [chata', chet, etc...] words
and there are descriptions about what the effects of sin are
but there's no space in scripture that says "sin means ______"

so i've been looking for such a definition that is true to scripture, and makes sense for real life

and i've grown fond of defining sin as 'the breaking of relationship.'

it works spiritually because our sin separates us from god - and that, really, is why sin is "bad"...because we're no longer connected to our creator

it works practically because our sins against one another separate us from one another. when we lie or cheat or say hurtful things, they alienate us and dehumanize both the victim and the oppressor

but one of the reasons i've tried to better understand sin
is because of the things we do to one another
that the bible never truly addresses
but that feel so wrong

so, so wrong

and i'm not sure what else to call these things except 'sin'

after a little hamartiological digging
i'm fairly convinced that that is exactly what they are

let me give you an example

i grew up pentecostal
and, i've come to understand, pentecostals as a larger cross-section of christendom
have their own sin-set

[to be fair, i am addressing the worst of pentecost here, not the norm]

their sin-set includes things like

- spiritual manipulation, wherein someone uses language that makes it sound like the holy spirit wants someone else to obey the person speaking. for example, this may be use in awful instances, like "the lord told me that you are quenching the holy spirit" or, "god wants you to know that he is unhappy with your waywardness and your ear-piercings." to be fair, some of the "spiritual perspective" may - at times - even be valid [certainly, if we claim to believe the new testament, we must also claim to believe that god still speaks to people today], so my sin-label doesn't apply to the practice so much as it applies to the manipulative intent behind the exercise of that practice.

- misuse of scripture, by which i refer to the often hilarious instances of proof-texting for which pentecostals are lampooned. for example, citing 1 cor.6.19-20 [re: your body is the temple of the holy spirit] as "proof" against anything and everything they don't want you to do because it's not proper. so, that text then is somehow supposed to mean that we shouldn't drink anything, wear certain kinds of clothing, get any kind of tattoo or body piercing, and refrain from all extreme sports because our bodies are "temples." now, again, to be fair - there may be real wisdom in cautioning people against some of these practices - but that text is not about any of those things and we should be very wary of mis-applying it. that text is about sexual immorality. in fact, in most versions of the bible vv.12-20 are even labelled "sexual immorality", so i get puzzled as to why we think they're about something else.

- sense of superiority, this refers to the idea that pentecostals commonly hold wherein they see themselves as special, above and beyond other christians, because they experience the power of the holy spirit in a richness and a depth that no one else seems to either [a] want, or [b] care about.

to be totally transparent, they may even be right - but the sin is the fact that they allow that special quality to separate them from the rest of christendom, and - at worst - they begin to associate anyone without such an "experience of god" to the camp[s] of either backslider, heretic, or catholic.

* * * * * * *

since moving to michigan
i've become aware of a funny difference between pentecostals and the rest of evangelicalism

a difference i was certainly not prepared for

the sins of evangelicalism
are different than the sins of pentecost

pentecostals break relationship
because of their deep convictions about experiencing the holy spirit

evangelicals break relationship
because of their deep convictions about the truth of scripture

and i,
thought their sins would be the same

i thought i'd still be fighting the mis-application of proof texts

i thought i'd still be slowly, patiently, trying to reason someone out of calling fire and judgement upon the worship leader for not flowing with the spirit

i was not prepared at all for the following sins of evangelicalism

- apologetical pugilism, wherein i mean that evangelicals love to fight about every single point of doctrine [either major or minor, central or peripheral] and are willing to hate one another over varying interpretations of scripture. to be honest, i'm still reeling from this with disbelief - in pentecostal circles, this is the very reason why we never associated with outsider/broader evangelicalism. every week, i teach the bible to a degree of depth that i rarely hear advocated. i study hard, check all my sources, re-check the underlying theological premises of my statements and assertions; and, if i'm ever wrong, i try and publicly make it right. but the amount of smarmy, overconfident, critical [not to mention WRONG] feedback that i get about this-or-that minor doctrinal issue still baffles me. i'm just never sure how to react - i mean, how do you respond to the 18 year old bible college know-it-all who has only ever read one theologian and that guy happened to be his dad/professor? i always find myself torn between polite dismissal of their ignorance, and the carnal desire to unleash the full bore of my mental acumen and theological study on someone who could never withstand the heat of my self-righteousness.

it's the reason i disabled posts on my blog

i just couldn't continue to hear from people whose theology was incomplete at best
but who felt the freedom to question mine with an air of disdain and superiority

it was making me too angry

and i'm in ministry to connect people with jesus christ
not to defend myself against know-it-alls and dissenters

- practical gnosticism is the other big evangelical sin i've come up against since moving to michigan. we're really quick to make divisions between the life of the mind and the life of the spirit, between right thinking and right relationship - and we always seem to prioritize the brain at the expense of the heart. where apologetical pugilism deals with the aggression of "rightness", my concern with practical gnosticism lies with the dismissal of the interior life. we just don't pay near enough attention to what god is speaking to us [sometimes it seems like no one even believes he is], or to becoming more malleable to his will in each moment. of all the evils i've looked at, this one makes me the most sad.

* * * * * *

this post - i realize - is pretty overbearing. in fact, i probably should have put some kind of disclaimer on the top warning everyone of my grouchiness.

but let me close with a couple of short things

1. i wrestle with my own sin, so when i point out the broad-stroke sins of two movements i'm not trying to get even or be vindictive. i'm trying to help others who've struggled with the effects of these sins get some perspective on what to watch out for.

2. westwinds, where i presently serve, has been a wonderful mix of the BEST of both pentecost and evangelicalism. i have always been pleasantly surprised by the low amount of garbage i've personally had to deal with here, even with the messy circumstances that existed upon my arrival.

3. i'm really trying to train myself to be aware of my own propensity for judgement...and i'll probably spend a lot of time repenting/reflecting for being so abrupt on this post. maybe, though, it will also serve as a trigger for me to ask myself whether or not i display the perils of either movement in greater relief than their merits.

too much?

too early?

well, long-windedness certainly counts as a member of the teaching pastor sin-set, so i guess that's to be expected :)

1 comment:

  1. Mark Ferris12:42 AM

    The info containned within is just the kind of word that paul was intructing timothy to adhere to,


    why? so man would love and understand what it is really about.

    ((I love you fellow saint))

    keep writting please we need it...