Monday, March 17, 2014

Speaking in tongues and seeking God's reward

Yesterday, I went to New Beginnings Apostolic Church, a member of the United Pentecostal Church International, which is a Oneness Pentecostal church. What was my time like among the Oneness Pentecostals? Was I washed in the Spirit?


New Beginnings Apostolic Church is located in the small city of Clearfield, Utah. Coincidentally, I used to have a job at an employer in the strip mall where it is located. An odd thing about this strip mall is that there are four churches located in it, two Spanish speaking churches, and two English speaking ones. My friend, Austin, jokingly referred to it as the Sacred Strip Mall. I thought this was a cute designation for it. Here is one of the Spanish speaking churches in the strip mall.

The church we were after was located on the south side of the complex. It was a humble space with a simple sign out front.

And of course, there was a little sandwich board sign letting people know where the church was a little more easily out in front.

I wasn't able to get any pictures of the interior, so I will do my best to describe it. When you first entered, there was a small entryway with little to no decoration. There is a large, metal watering trough off in a corner that is used for baptisms. to the right of the entryway was a small hallway leading to the chapel.

The chapel was on the smaller side with about five or six rows of fold out chairs arranged so there was an aisle down the center. There was a drum set in front on the right side with an acoustic screen around it so that it wasn't too loud for the congregation. On the left side there was a keyboard and between them, a wooden pulpit. Arranged in various places were fake plants of various kinds, and on either side of the wall behind the pulpit were two floral wreathes.

Given that this church clearly doesn't have a lot of funds, I think they've done a good job creating a warm and homey feeling chapel.

The People:

The people of this church were quite interesting. They were quite warm and welcoming to us. All the members went out of their way to introduce themselves to us and even made small talk. But they also seemed very suspicious of us. When we first walked towards the building, there were two guys standing in front of the door talking. They stopped talking and looked at us awkwardly for several seconds. I wanted to get in, but the guy wouldn't move from in front of the door. He then said, "Are you guys in the right place?"

I responded with, "Yes, we're here for the service."

After I said that, his demeanor changed and he welcomed us in. A couple young ladies came and gave us visitor's cards and told us a bit about the service. I made small talk with one and talked about how I once had to help a friend suddenly move due to an unforeseen tragedy. She responded by saying imagine the blessing coming to you for doing that.

I know she was being kind and meant well, but I have never liked this mentality. I don't believe in doing good things because you expect some kind of reward out of it. If you do, I feel you miss the entire point. You should do good things because they are good and the right thing to do.

When I walked in, I felt all eyes were on me and they were wondering who I was, why I was in their chapel, and that they didn't want me there. But to my face, they were very nice and kind and didn't say anything to indicate what I very strongly felt from their body language.

As I walked in, I saw many of the people there were kneeling facing the seats of their fold out chairs. Some were chanting things like, "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus." Others were silent.

I got quite the impression from just walking into the chapel that these people took their faith very seriously.

The Service:

The service started out with the pastor saying a few words. He had a fire and passion about everything he was saying. As he was speaking, a young woman played music on the keyboard. I don't remember much of what was said at this point in the service before they went into their first hymn for which we all stood.

The hymn was called, "Welcome Holy Spirit." The music in general was very alive and upbeat, but quite repetitive. I wonder if they use it much like a mantra, or if the music is just repetitive for the sake of being repetitive. After singing the first hymn, they sang a hymn called, "Can't Nobody Do Me Like Jesus." This again was uplifting and peppy, yet repetitive. The pastor stood in front of the children and danced a little with them. I found that quite charming and cute.

Afterward there was another little speech. The speech included him stating that they were the one true faith on earth and that they had to go out and convert every single person to the Gospel and that Satan was working hard against them.

There were a few announcements, one of which included going to a member's new house after the service and blessing it with olive oil to cast out any of the demons that may live there. I found this quite interesting. I'm noticing a trend among Pentecostals that they seem to believe they are involved in some literal battle with real demons.

They then sang another hymn filled with the same passion that I saw before with people jumping around, dancing, shouting out, arms raised to the air, crying, etc.

Towards the end of the song, and for a while afterward, one woman spoke in tongues. It was an interesting phenomenon to watch. Everyone in the congregation continued on as if nothing was happening, but the woman kept shouting out gibberish with her arms raised up and crying. I still don't really know what to make of it.

The pastor then talked about why he got saved and why everyone needs to get saved, because he fears Hell. He says that he serves God because he knows what the alternative is and fears going to Hell. Again, much like the statement above, I don't find this a good motivation for doing good. It's self serving and not filled with love or compassion.

Afterward, the assistant pastor, coincidentally, an old coworker of mine, got up and delivered the main sermon. See "The Message" portion for that.

After the sermon, the young lady came up and played piano again while another girl accompanied her on drums. The pastor said a few words. He then invited people to come up to the bench, which he referred to as an altar, and confess their sins to the Lord and come before him in a spirit of prayer.

The people came up to the altar or knelt down in front of their chairs, their faces towards their seats. The people prayed in many different ways, some were silent, some chanting the name of Jesus, some speaking in tongues, many of them crying. It was moving to watch but also oddly disturbing. I can't put my finger on why, but there was something about watching this experience that was quite unsettling to me. I felt this overwhelming urge to approach a few of them and ask them what it was in their life that they were trying to fill because a few of them, but one man in particular, I saw a lot of pain and sadness his prayer as he knelt there sobbing into his chair.

The service ended with another hymn. I really enjoyed the music, and the community seemed very close to each other, but overall, the service didn't move me, but instead made me just itch to leave as soon as possible mostly because of the message.

The Message:

The assistant pastor gave the message. It seemed as though it would be coherent as for the first ten minutes or so, he was talking about the passion of Jesus and what it meant to sinners. But it quickly disintegrated into a free form of unrelated topics. The sermon was long, lasting nearly an hour and a half.

Much of the sermon seemed dedicated to boasting about how wonderful their church was, and how horribly wrong the Mormons were. I don't think this is the best way to bring converts to your faith, by openly bashing another from the pulpit.

Another thing he said that upset me was that things in your life go wrong it's because you're seeking after your own desires and not God's desires. That the world is a bad place because of the sin of Adam and Eve, but if you seek after the Kingdom of God, everything in your life will somehow work out. And if God see's his children doing well, often he'll pour out blessings upon them. No one is promised great prosperity but God will provide for them. This is one of the oversimplified messages of modern Christianity I really take issue with and led to my lack of belief. How do you honestly look at the true suffering in this world, people tortured by disease and famine who constantly cry out and trust that God will deliver them, but still they die by the thousands through no fault of their own and say that God honestly provides for all his children if they're faithful to him? Most of the time, the only sin these people committed was being born in the wrong country. Why is it that so many Americans seem to think that God dotes on them with material comforts and is seeking to make their lives as meaningful as possible, but they think this same God neglects the heart wrenching cries of millions of people every day who he will never deliver from their suffering except with the release of death? I don't want to serve a God like that, and I don't want to indulge these ultimately narcissistic tendencies I see in a lot of American Christians in this regard.

I really tried to find something good out of this sermon, but after that, it was really hard for me to see any good in it. All I could see was that religion was about how they felt and what they could get out of doing good and believing in God. Every part of the message had some sort of "this is what's in it for you" angle to it and this really bothered me.

Overall, the message was long and unorganized. The only things that took me out of my boredom during the second half of the sermon were the people responding with, "That's right!" and "Amen!" and applause and shouting.

Overall experience:

I didn't enjoy this experience too much. It brought up a lot of my issues I have with modern Christianity, particularly it's American incarnation. It was all about converting everybody, look how righteous we are, what reward people got for doing good or having adequate faith, or overt and often obscenely grand displays of piety for the sake of being seen. I was very put off by this body and I will not be returning to this church.

Additional comments:

I have yet to decide where I'm going next week. So you're going to just have to wait for the pre-service blog to discover that.

Until next time, peace be with you.

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