As a Pentecostal PK (preacher's kid) from the south, I've seen it all. I saw a cowboy at the altar shout hallelujah and stomp through someone's guitar. I saw two women in an all-out prophesy war, their fingers wielded as swords in each other's faces:
"I rebuke you in the name of Jeeesus!"
"Naw, I rebuke you in the name of Jeeee-sus!"
It makes one embarrassed to be a Charismatic.
Not that I am one. I'm more of a "contemplative Charismatic." An oxymoron? Maybe. Or maybe I'm just tired of all the hype.
So when they said a preaching tent was coming to town, I yawned. I might have even rolled my eyes a little.
Then we went to hear one of the speakers and halfway through I realized I hadn't cracked a smile and my arms were folded. From my peripheral vision I could see my teenage daughters observing and mimicking my cynicism.
It scared me. I remembered how tender I was at their age. I didn't know the meaning of the word "sin-icism." All I wanted was God in my life, and I was willing to jump over every hurdle to get to him. Even if it meant climbing over bodies at the altar, bodies doing things I still don't understand.
As I sat there, I thought about the way some other kinds of churches go (not the crazy ones; these are in fact quite sane. Arms-folded sane). The places where they excommunicate you for asking questions, cut you off from your family, and send you a letter warning of eternal doom if you defect. That is where you end up when you can't smile at this, I thought. When you can't call these people "brethren." (Every family has a crazy uncle. But he is still family.)
I wonder how many folding of churches began with arms folded across stiff bodies and pursed lips.
Some of you are now experiencing dangerously high blood pressure and rapid heart rate, so let me see if I can help you relax. I'm not into heresy. I believe we should "test all things." I like decency and order. If one more evangelist tries to push me to the floor or showers me in spit, I just might slap him. And last night I dreamed I looked a minister in the eyes (I could name him) and said, "I am sick of egotism and arrogance in the pulpit!"
But here's the thing. In the middle of this great Charismaniacal zoo, some things are happening that I cannot deny. People I personally know and trust are telling me their miracle stories. Addictions are being broken, sick bodies are healed and depression has taken leave. Through the tent meetings.
And there seems to be a common thread among those experiencing God in this way: a childlike faith. A simple expectation that God can move through any vessel who's willing, even willing to make a fool of himself. Go figure.
You know what scares me more than ministers with shady pasts and questionable character? The fact that my college degree and "critical thinking" could cause me to miss the God Who's right in front of me. The Jesus Who could do something really amazing for friends (or my children!) whom I'd rather shield from the things that make me cringe.
"But the natural man does not receive the things of the spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." (I Cor. 2:14)
Was Paul concerned about the tent preachers coming to his town?
"It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill.... The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely...supposing that they can stir up trouble for me....But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and will continue to rejoice."(Phil. 1:15-18)
Paul's arms weren't folded.
I wonder how many of us will stand before God someday and hear, "I appreciate that you were such a valiant guardian of good doctrine and all, but I was in those places in the church that you avoided and caused others to avoid. I was working miracles there. Miracles needed by those you led."
I guess I'd rather err on the side of innocent humility than prideful caution.
I'm going back to the meetings. I may regret it as I have many times before. I may be embarrassed at having written this post as a result of what I encounter. It won't be the first time I've regretted promoting a ministry. But there have been many, many more times I haven't regretted such a decision. I just want to give God a chance. I want him enough that I'm willing to weed through the stuff of human flesh and see what treasure might be waiting for me if I'm willing to look past the things that I demand not be in my way.