The following is a note entitled, My Rant on Legalism in Pentecost, written by Jason Weaver, a young man who attends the church I grew up in down in Lancaster, Ohio. I found his message quite interesting and provoking. So interesting and provoking, in fact, that I chose to post it on my blog (with Jason’s permission, of course). Some might find his view points touchy and controversial…. but you know me, I’m always up for some good discussion….
I just joined a Facebook group originally entitled, “The Pentecostals of Facebook”, whose members, oddly enough, consist mainly of….. you guessed it- the Pentecostals of Facebook. I was browsing through the threads when I came upon one entitled, “Hair and our Apostolic Message”. Intrigued, I perused through the posts, and the more I read, the more irritated I became. Finally, I became so impassioned that I decided to reply myself- and in typical Weaver fashion I wrote a novel. However, I feel what i said encompasses many of my feelings for the Pentecostal church- of which I am proud to be a member. So, I decided to also share these thoughts with you. Please comment/support/correct me where you feel led, and rest assured- none of the negative comments in my note apply at all to anyone I sent this note to. Thanks.
I just want to say a couple of things. I’ve grown up my entire life in the UPC, and have been constantly exposed to Pentecostalism- whether in my home, at church, at youth gatherings, at revival services, at MidWinter, at Youth Congress, or church camp. Given that, I never gave much thought to the rule that women must never cut their hair; I just always assumed that that is what they were “supposed” to do.
However, the older I’ve grown I have begun to question not the spirit of this law, but the way it is been carried out. I attended a non-denominational Christian school that was offshoot of a non-denom church, a while their I noticed many things.
Non-denominational Christians, I found, were AS A MAJORITY much more accepting of other people, people who didn’t necessarily look like them. That’s not to say they embraced sin; rather they embraced the SINNER. I’ve seen half-naked women come in of the streets, women who look like they were prostitutes, embraced by people of that church, full well knowing that if they entered a UPC church a MAJORITY of the members would have avoided them like the plague. This is not a rap on my own church, rather I feel like my church is actually much more open and accepting than most in Pentecost.
However, I’ve witnessed how the spirit of love was permeating in the non-denom churches that I have seen, and the spirit of judgment and the law dominant in Pentecostal churches. This came to a head when a substitute Bible teacher at my school, who pastored a small non-denominational church nearby, told the class of his background. He had been raised in Pentecost, but left it when he realized that people were more concerned with the length of their hair then lost souls, more concerned with no facial hair and wearing long skirts then helping those who are hurting.
At first when I heard those words, I was livid- he was putting down my faith!! But I slowly came to realize the truth in those words. The Pentecostal church, to my great dismay, is synonymous with the religion of the Pharisaic church. Just as the ancient Pharisees preached the law, and took great pains to follow it to the utmost letter, they missed the entire point- the spirit of the law. They missed that God doesn’t care about whether one taxes his herb garden, or refrains from cutting her hair, ANY WHERE NEAR AS MUCH as He does that we show His love to one another, that we care for each other, that we follow His great commandment and GO OUT INTO THE WORLD, preaching the good news.
All to often I’ve seen Pentecostals treat their churches like they are a secret club, with only those who are saved and know the secret password, the secret handshake, and posses the secret decoder ring allowed entry to such a private membership. I witness time and time again Pentecostals put on a attitude of superiority, obviously smug that they know the TRUE plan of salvation, that they “dress” as God’s people, set apart. And set apart they are. Instead of going out into the streets and getting their hands dirty, instead of actually following God’s commandments of love, instead of actually embracing those in sin, they sit in their pews- wait I’m sorry; run the aisles- and wait for their prayers in heavenly tongues to prompt God to encourage the lost of the world to stumble through the church doors be themselves. And once they are baptized, Holy Ghost filled, cleaned up, wearing a skirt, and have grown out their hair a little, THEN the church will gladly embrace the new saint as one of their own.
Pentecostals seem to forget that their Lord and Savior, the one whom they profess to emulate the closest of all the denominations, didn’t dine with the righteous, with those whose hair was a mile long, with the outstanding “upright” citizens of the community. NO! He spent his time with KNOWN thieves, prostitutes, drunks, and no-account criminals. They forget that it was those people- the people lost in sin, hopelessly searching for a way out- were the people whom He had a passion for. And in their haste to follow all of his commandments, they forgot to emulate His ACTIONS. I love how Pentecostals are told that alcohol = evil, when Christ himself drank it; heck, His first miracle was creating it. And that Pentecostal men are told to be cleanly shaven….. when Jesus Himself had a beard. Apparently, we mustn’t emulate our God too closely.
And do not think that I am saying that we must drink alcohol, that we must wear beards, that women must cut their hair and wear pants- I’m not saying that at all, for each person has his or her personal convictions. However, what I can not stand is when those petty, insignificant things take precedence over God’s most important commandments: love your God with all your heart, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself- not to mention going out into the world preaching the Good News in His name.
We have completely forgotten what He wants us to do- we can’t see the town because of all the houses. We have become a legalistic denomination that thrives more on APPEARANCES than on substance. It is my personal belief (and I have come to believe this through much prayer) that God cares little to nothing about the appearance of our physical bodies- He cares only about our hearts.
As God told Samuel in 1st Samuel 16:7,
“Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart.”
And yet, it seems that all Pentecost can focus on is the outward appearance. I believe in Holiness, but separation from secularism is useless if it does not include Gods love. My youth pastor told me that at years ago at his previous Pentecostal church, their was a rule that to be on the stage, one must wear a jacket. “Fair enough” one might say. However, my youth pastor had just become the drummer at that church, and he assumed that since it is rather difficult to play the drums in a jacket, that a shirt and tie only would suffice. He was fine- until halfway through the praise service when the pastor noticed his lack of jacket. The pastor immediately stood and escorted him off the platform mid-worship service in front of the whole church, to my youth pastors profound humiliation. That is the kind of thing that disturbs me- following the letter of the law, without a single thought to its intent. As Jesus told the Pharisees many times in the NT, God judges not the action, but the heart of the person who did it.
And this air of superiority is not even limited towards those outside the church. Every youth event I ever went to seemed to be a competition, over who was the “most holy”. The girls with hair that hung down to their legs turned many a time turned up their noses at the others with hair only halfway down their backs, somehow convinced that they were the better Christian.
Oh, sure, they would all be down at the alter that night, crying their eyes out for Jesus, but the next day, or even later that night, when the emotion had worn off, they were back their usual selves- superiour, haughty, and utterly full of themselves. I must admit that is the main reason that I found the majority (not all mind you) of Pentecostal girls so distasteful. And it was almost as sure as death and taxes, the prettier the Pentecostal girl, the more haughty and full of herself she would be. I do not mean to offend anyone by this (and I do admit there were exceptions to the rule), but by and large I found that to be completely and utterly true.
And the guys were no better. I was always eternally amazed about the transformations that would overtake the boys during church camp. Some kids who were downright insufferable bullies during the day miraculously changed to tongue talking, aisle running saints during the evening service. However, one would be lucky if this new disposition would last until lights out at night- and, invariably, in the morning they would be back to their same old selves.
As a child, I just took this to be what was normal, but now….. I can’t ignore it any longer. I am not saying, nor will I ever say, that Apostolic Pentecostals do not have the plan of salvation. I am, however, saying that we are not, as a denomination, living how God intended us to live.
I am going to a Christian university with non-denom roots, and I am so struck with the same foreign sensation that I felt at my old non-denom high school- that of people who don’t care one bit what you look like, sound like, do for a living, wear on your body, or even if you cut your hair or grow a beard. All they care about it YOU. They love you and care about you. They work in soup kitchens and homeless shelters. They smile at everyone and treat every one as if that person was their equal. They don’t judge- they leave that to God. No, they only love.
Jesus Himself said in Matthew 25:31-46:
“When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.”
As I read the words of those like “Brother Winters” lambasting others for having the audacity to suggest that women don’t have to have long hair, saying that they are being “led to hell by some false preacher” and are “wallowing in sin”, and then compare them to the words and actions of Jesus, I feel so sad. We Pentecostals have totally missed the point- and one day we must account for the souls that were lost because of our utter blindness.
But after all, who cares about a world going to hell when Sister Johnson had the nerve to sing on stage only a week after she TRIMMED HER HAIR!!
Sigh….. dear Lord, please save your followers from themselves.