I greatly appreciate all of the comments that were made on my earlier post, “Are You a Pentecostal?” Thank you very much for your honesty and for taking the time to share your thoughts. It’s been an interesting dialogue and I’ve enjoyed talking with many people about it over the last few weeks, online and offline, group discussions and phone calls, Pentecostals and non-Pentecostals, ministers and lay people. The feedback has come from all over.
Well, below are some of my own comments, but before I share them, I just want to reiterate that my honest objective for posting this video was not so I could mudsling or make fun of Pentecostals or point a condemning finger at a particular choir, pastor, or church. I need to say that because I know that there are many sincere and passionate Pentecostals out there that might feel like I’m attacking them in some way. I assure you, if that was your presumption, or is right now as you read this post, it’s far from the truth. My intention with posting this video, rather, was simply to generate some thought-provoking discussion about a behavior/attitude/philosophy/spirit that, from time to time, reveals itself and streams through denominational movements, including the UPCI. Is it good, is it bad? Is it right, is it wrong? Should we even take the time to discuss it? Well, yes, of course, I think it’s worth talking about.
More Critical Dialogue
First of all, I believe it’s imperative that Christians learn to engage in more critical dialogue when it comes to things like this. I’m not talking about being cynical about everything, but being cautious of what comes into our filter system. I think many Christians are so used to sitting in a pew and accepting whatever is dished to them that they don’t know how to constructively evaluate the biblical legitimacy of what they’re being fed, which ultimately brings me back to this video. What is the purpose of this song? Who exactly is the song intended for? What do lyrics, such as, “It’s just our style, the way we do our thaaaaanng,” really mean? I don’t want to get too analytical on this; I just have some honest questions. But ones, I might add, that are driven by a conviction and vigilance to shed philosophies that don’t align with the tone of Scripture and the character of Christ.
So, having said all that, what was my reaction when I first watched the video? Well, I guess there’s no way to patty-cake or sugar-coat my feelings, I was appalled. Even in all my effort to try to accommodate for the vast variety there is within the Body of Christ, I had a difficult time rationalizing where this type of mentality fits in. I tried terribly to somehow squeeze it within my mental framework of what I have conjectured Christianity, evangelism, and worship to be; yet, hopelessly, I failed to find much of what I saw and felt in this video that might be substantiated or promoted by Scripture or somehow be a reflection of the character of Christ. In other words, when I watched the video for the first time, it was like the spirit I felt coming from the song and the spirit I felt inside of me were as oil and water. It just didn’t jive.
Now, as I mentioned earlier, I discussed this video with many different people and got reactions from all ends of the spectrum. Incidentally, there were some who saw no problem with the video and, in fact, liked it. They viewed it as an expression of excitement about the Pentecostal experience. And this I can actually understand. I can understand being proud of what the Lord has done in your life or being joyful over a Pentecostal experience you had that completely revolutionized your world. That’s awesome! It really, sincerely is. But, regrettably, that’s not what I got from this video. Perhaps you did not interpret it the same as I did, but when I first opened the video in an email I received about two months ago, what I got was a hurricane blast of pompous, egotistical, self-righteous wind that nearly took my breath away. My senses were nearly overcome by what appeared to be people flaunting and gloating about their denominational identity (“I’m a Pentecostal”) like it was in and of itself something to glory in.
Who is being worshiped?
“But, Jeremy, that’s not what this song is about! And what’s so wrong with being proud of being a Pentecostal? Can’t we get excited about who we are in the Lord?” I know what some of you are thinking, so let me clarify. As I said before, I don’t have a problem with getting all excited about God’s goodness and mercy, boasting of His supremacy and authority, proclaiming His wonder working power, and even having a Holy Ghost hoedown every now and then, but what I find disheartening, and somewhat embarrassing, about this song is that instead of drawing your attention to Jesus Christ, it draws your attention to Pentecostalism. So, I couldn’t help but ask the question, who is this song glorifying? Considering the fact, that this song is apparently being sung during the “worship” point of the service, who is actually being worshiped? Is it God? Is the song exalting Him, magnifying Him, or offering reverence to Him? Is it compelling the sinner’s heart to His grace and salvation? Or is it worshipping Pentecostalism and the Pentecostal experience?
Pentecostal-centered or God-centered?
I guess herein lies the center of my qualm – the direction the song is pointed is fundamentally contrary to the heart and spirit of Scripture. One of the beginning lines in the song proclaims, “I’m a Pentecostal and I am not ashamed.” But where in Scripture did Jesus ever actually instruct His followers to follow Pentecost or to not be ashamed of being Pentecostal? He didn’t. He did, however, instruct them to not be ashamed of Him. To follow Him. To be imitators of Him.
Another line of the song declares, “We are Apostolic in every way.” Again, where in Scripture did the apostles – the ones who were obviously “apostolic” in every way – ever use such language as, “I am not ashamed of being a Pentecostal?” Was it not, rather, the apostle Paul who said, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ,” and also, “Do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord.” You see, this was the apostolic way – to give Christ the glory – not to gloat about being a denominational Christian.
It’s almost like walking into Starbucks and hearing the employees singing, “I work at Starbucks and I am not ashamed…..I wear this green apron because it’s just my thaaaaaanng.” Nothing about that would make you more likely to buy their coffee or get excited about it, because it says nothing about the quality or benefit of the coffee, just arrogance of the employees. Incidentally, when it comes to the Gospel, it’s really not about us. It’s about Him.
And this brings up an important point: To any other non-Pentecostal Christian, or bystanding Gentile, what would they be thinking if they were to walk into a service and hear this song being sung? I would submit that to an inquiring church visitor the song, the choir, the church, and the whole shindig would reek of narcissism and self-righteousness. And why would anyone be crying out for that, as the song suggests? Sure, the lyrics might be a proclamation of an awesome experience or a life-changing encounter or a lifestyle divinely inspired, but I don’t think that’s the impression the song gives. In my opinion, the air of the song comes across as haughtiness, exclusiveness, elitist, top-of-the-spiritual-food-chainist, which is a stark contradiction to the characteristics and qualities Jesus Christ embodied and promoted, namely, humility, meekness, love, unity, etc.
As Christians, the attitude we exude and the message we send should be one that calls the lost in to Christ, edifies the Body (not puffs up), and glorifies the King of Kings. Simply put, we should be more focused on Him and more interested in building bridges, not denominational fences. We should refrain from getting so wrapped up in “who we are” that we lose sight of the whole Body of Christ. And, most importantly, we should stop discrediting the Gospel (like we had anything to do with it) by giving it a back seat while we take the limelight. The Bible teaches us that we are not to boast about ourselves, but if we are to boast, then we should proclaim the glories of God. Bottom line, what we say about ourselves means nothing in God’s work. It’s pride. It’s self-worship. And when it comes to worship, the glory that is given belongs only to Him.
(How did this post get so long? I really do apologize. )
I want to pause momentarily and offer another disclaimer because I fear that I’m about to be crucified. Before you start casting stones, understand that I was born and raised Pentecostal. In fact, I’m a fourth generation. My great-grandfather was a Pentecostal preacher. My grandfather was a Pentecostal preacher. My father was a Pentecostal preacher. It’s all I’ve ever known. But……..
The Hard Truth
…….if what is shown in this video is what being “Pentecostal” is about, then, honestly, I don’t want to be it anymore. I’d much rather just be a Christian and then act like one. I mean, again, and I know I’m being a bit redundant, but if we are truly “apostolic in every way,” where do we get off flaunting who we are like it’s a badge of honor when in Scripture we find the apostle Paul counting all things he ever attained and experienced as dung – that’s right, dung – as so not to overshadow the “excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus?” (Philippians 3:8) Why not sing about that? Forgive my facetiousness, but maybe it’s because it’s just too lyrically difficult to come up with words that rhyme with dung. Hmmmm. Okay, probably not. Perhaps it’s more likely that it’s because letting our ego die goes against our entire human nature? I’ll admit, I battle pride, too. Nevertheless, when it comes to my relationship with the Lord, I am moved and convicted by the words of Jesus when he said, “For every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” (Luke 18:14)
But What About Our Thaaaanng?
The song does mention a lot about the manifestations of God’s Spirit (dancing, shouting, rolling on the ground, etc.), which, of course, means a lot to Pentecostals. In fact, the very identity of Pentecostalism is rooted in these evidential, Spirit-filling experiences in God. And I think there’s a lot of good in that. However, when our experiences and the way we do our “thaaaaanng” becomes what alone identifies us, I fear we start losing touch of who God is and what we are truly called to be. We must not forget that we are servants of Christ, saved by His grace through faith – period. Not because we’re Pentecostal and not because we’re “known to get wild and let our hair hang down.” His love for us and His Spirit alive within us and working through us should be all we ever want to be known for. Not pride. Not arragance. Not our denomination. Not our “thaaaaaanng.”
A Cry for Wine
The Bible speaks of there being a cry for wine in the streets (Is. 24:11), which, today, might symbolize the desperate need that people carry into our church doors to find something of substance and relevance for their lives. They are crying out for something real. Not a mega-charged, super-hyped, self-indulging, cheerleading escapade. They’re not crying out for Pentecost. They’re crying out for Jesus Christ and His redemptive work on the cross. They’re crying out for a new life, not a new “style.”
(Did I already apologize for the length of this post?)
Again, please don’t misunderstand my intentions with this post. I think there’s room for celebratory, high-energy songs in worship, but….please…..let’s make sure they’re about Him and not ourselves. Furthermore, my comments here today are not meant to question the character of the song writer or the sincerity of those singing the song in the video. I’m sure they really do love God. I wouldn’t dare question their integrity or passion for the Lord. That’s not my place, nor is it anyone else’s but God. But…..
…I will, however, question the spirit and tone the song exudes. I will challenge the things that, to me, start getting a little too spiritually goofy. Regardless of how good or attractive or seemingly correct an idea or philosophy might be, I don’t want to espouse it just because it’s coming across a familiar pulpit or being sung by a renowned choir. It’s got to have some biblical merit.
Oh, the discussion on this topic will go on and on. And if my hands and fingers weren’t so weary right now, I know I would too. I realize not everyone reading this will agree with my opinions and that’s okay. It’s not about attacking you and I hope you don’t feel the urge to attack me. A worthy discussion, however, I’d be glad to entertain anytime.
Thank you for enduring to the end of this post.