My Brief Review of the Pentecostal Experience

* This paper was written as part of my Magic, Religion, and Ritual course.  I was required to experience a religious event outside of my own experiences.  I tried my best to remain objective and put my personal biases aside.

Pentecostal

Introduction

Marching to the beat of their own drum.  This is a saying that Pentecostal worshipers take to a whole new meaning.  They are filled with the spirit.  They are not dancing, they are communicating.  Pentecostalism, the belief of the divine, Holy Spirit just as Christians, but the Trinity are their doctrines.  The Trinity is known to have three parts: Holy Spirit, Father, and Son.  A significant difference to Christianity involves the way the Holy Spirit fills them.  By this, Pentecostals speak in a language referred to by many as tongues.  A translation given through the New Testament Greek is “charism” which is mentioned as one of nine gifts by the Spirit mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 in the New Testament.  These tongues can be known and unknown to the speaker, and include others languages.  Speaking in tongues is not something I am familiar with.  I was raised Catholic, but do not declare a religion of my own.  In order to draw as little attention to myself, I have adhered to some standards I noticed while watching a few online masses.  I was conservative, I hid my tattoos and took out any jewelry that my hair did not already hide.  I was both intrigued and nervous about this new spiritual experience.  This paper is written to inform others of the barriers of experiencing a new culture and remaining objective and unbiased.

“Sitting” Out Like a Sore Thumb

I sat down only to notice that I was the only one sitting.  Perhaps it is my Catholic muscle memory.  Everyone was moving around, socializing and believers walk to the front of the altar and praise God by means of the Holy Spirit.  By this, believers raise their hands, kneel, sway, and speak in tongues to speak to God in way that they do not understand themselves because the Holy Spirit fills them.  It is art, in some form, like a dance.  When we dance we communicate with our bodies in ways that our words cannot describe.  It is a feeling, a knowing, muscle memory…I have done this dance before, though it was not the same style.  I have communicated through body language, but not in languages unknown to the vessel.  I get chills from certain notes a singer hits, but I cannot explain it any more than these followers explain their worship.  It is something that just happens and there is not a step-by-step way to become a professional at this dance called religion.

Unbiased Approach/Preparation

Speaking in tongues? Being filled with a spirit?  These were all new concepts to me, but in order to prepare for my field research, I watched videos taken during Pentecostal ceremonies.  This gave me the advantage of not reacting in a way that might be offensive to those that are a part of the religion.  Speaking in tongues took an adjustment, but I remained rational.  After all, what is language?  It is merely noising strung together to represent things as a symbol.  By preparing myself I was able to remain objective and unbiased in my approach.  I adhered to the Code of Ethics presented by the American Anthropological Association by avoiding harm to the religion I chose to experience and I am withholding information that can be hurt the image of the group/religion.  I will also remain honest and unbiased in my research.  I will ask for all necessary consent while attending the service(s).  I assumed responsibility for any decisions regarding my obligations to the religion being studied.  I welcomed the participants to read my research and have made it available to others using Academia.com.  I remained professional and focused and welcomed professional relationships to develop through my research.

Corwin Pentecostal Church

I chose to observe service(s) at Corwin Pentecostal Church located in Corwin, Ohio.  This church is close to my home and I am familiar with the local demographics that could influence the followers of the religion.  This church is located at 33 New Burlington Rd, Waynesville, OH, 45068.  This congregation offers morning and evening services that last around two hours each.  I called ahead to make sure that I can be a part of their service.  I set aside time to speak with the pastor before and after the mass.  It is a small church and people are kind to newcomers.  This is the perfect location to “get my feet wet.”

First Experience

Some words that come to mind while recording my experience are: fullness, spirt-filled, tongues, Holy Spirit, and gifts.  In terms of fullness, there are comparisons given between Catholicism and Pentecostalism.  I was raised Catholic, but I no longer practice.  It was enlightening to draw similarities between the symbolism and nostalgia.  The Pentecostal followers or believers, are very physically expressive, but not like Catholics.

It is best to describe a religious act by comparing it to something that I know from an emic perspective.  Catholics are very mobile, but most of this consists of kneeling, standing, and walking.  The service I experienced in Corwin, Ohio was very active.  There was a charism[a] (pun-intended) in the church.  High spirits, hugging and handshaking are a few things I noticed the moment I entered.  Although I was a stranger to their church, I was not a stranger to their welcome.  I had families offer for me to sit with them.  I often heard the phrase, “If you have any questions just ask” or “We would be happy to help you understand.”  This is truly a lifestyle, as most religions are, but not like those of the Catholic religion.  Pentecostal followers want to find new members as if they are in need of representatives in your area.  It reminds me of pyramid marketing and recruiting, but with a positive intent.  There is nothing to be profited from aside from the gift of the Spirit.

Demographics

            I looked around the church and noticed that most of the people are working-class, large families.  Most of the mothers were active in the community and church.  This is not just a place of worship, but it is a second home to many.  There is a great deal of what I would call positive energy, a sense of welcome, motivation, and excitement.  The women were dressed conservatively, the lifelong worshipping women had uncut hair and did not wear makeup.  The natural beauty was amazing.  There was little external social media impacts on body image.  Women were of all sizes, all types and personalities.  It was exhilarating to see such a diverse group engaging with each other in a respectful way.

What Exactly Is This?

            They [Pentecostals] speak of movements, second-comings, revelations, all of these trigger words to my Catholic background.  I was young when I heard these words, but I could relate to the connotations that accompany those words.  Christ would return and he would bring those who are worthy.  This is not so different from most religions I have encountered.  They are all working towards the common goal of peace when all else ends.  Pentecostals, are sometimes referred to as premillenialists and they were waiting for Christ’s return in something called a one-thousand-year reign of Jesus.  Premillenialists are viewed as futurists and were missioned to spread the word of God before the rapture.

            We are in the last hour of human history, according to Pentecostals.  The followers are awaiting a brief and intense change in activity that is to indicate Christ’s return.  The fulfillment of the prophecy includes those followers being filled with the Spirit.  It is a rebirth.

            The words of the prophet Joel are often spoken of in present tense.  According to Christian Pentecostals believe that Joel’s words are being fulfilled right now.  In the words of the prophet Joel: “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people…The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord” (Poloma, 2006).  These words greatly represent the perspective of the Spirit.  It is truly a gift to experience the Spirit.  The Spirit is powerful.  It is just.

From Baptism to Tongues

            It is important to understand what it means to speak in tongues.  First, the pastor alluded to me that baptism is often times accompanied by unique experiences.  There is not a specific ceremony for Baptism as there is in the Catholic faith.  Baptism is being welcomed into the faith by experiencing these paranormal activities.  He elaborated [pastor] by describing dreaming, healing, and miracles are examples.  More specifically he was exuberant when discussing glossolalia, speaking in tongues.  The use of a unique language to communicate through prayer.  This is a treasure, a gift from the Spirit.

Filled With The Holy Spirit

I can understand why the Pentecostal faith is the fastest growing segment of Christianity in the world (Parker, 2014).  It is very upbeat, empowering, and inclusive.  In this belief, the Holy Spirit is active, a part of them.  The act of speaking in tongues makes God visible, active, and relatable.  The Pentecostal can tap into a part of Christianity that Catholics do not, receiving the gifts of God.  While Catholicism believes in these gifts, Catholics do not take part in the speaking in tongues.  Is this because they are not open to receiving the gifts?  Based upon a woman that was seated next to me that was very excited about my research, yes, Catholics “miss out on this great experience.”  She describes some differences between her first belief, Catholicism, and her new belief system, Pentecostal.  First, Catholics do not have a direct access to speaking with God.  This act is done through a priest.  Second, she said she never felt like a part of the message that was being sent.  Harvey Cox (2015) mentioned in What challenges do Pentecostals pose to Catholics? “That speaking in tongues ‘represents the core of all Pentecostal conviction…”  The followers are very welcoming, high energy, and empowered.

Think of the Holy Spirit as the vehicle, or method for delivering a message.  This is the source of revelation.  Whereas Catholicism is built around fullness as a group or whole which includes body and mind, Pentecostals believe in fullness within the self, relating more to the Spirit.  In the words of Hocken (2014) that “Pentecostals are Spirit-filled Christians.”  I can understand the correlation.  Christians show their praise through actions, but not through the “Spirit.”

Some Statistics for the Road

Barrett (1982) found that the Pentecostal movement represents roughly one in every four Christians.  This was in 1982, and Pentecostalism is a fast growing religion.  “It is estimated that some 12% of all Americans are Spirit-baptized [in some form]” (Green, 1997).  The pastor told me that Pentecostalism is more focused on an overall Christian view as opposed to specified denomination.  This was surprising to hear.  Normally religions try to recruit new followers to their faith as opposed to a full branch of faiths.  Poloma (2006) listed two major forms of prophecy found in contemporary Pentecostalism.

The first a labeled as a “democratized charism” that is made available to all of those who are Spirit-baptized.  The second is an ecclesiastical office to be restored to Christianity that involved a five-fold ministry.  This is used to restore the office of the Church.  Prophecy however, is used to speak a divine word.  Many times these come in the forms of the aforementioned visions, dreams, and impressions.  These are meant to comfort, confirm, and warn.  The pastor told me that “prophecy is a religious experience.”  I thought that was an interesting way to put it.  The ability to plan ahead, is a gift as opposed to a burden.  There is a common trend of things being viewed as gifts and blessings.

The Paranormal Have Their Stages

            We have all performed in some way.  The paranormal put on performances as well.  They have a literal stage, but in this context I will mention the four possible configurations for encounters that was discussed by Stark (1965).  These four categories for spiritual encounters are:

“1. The human actor simply notes (feels, senses, etc.) the existence or presence of the divine actor.

  1. Mutual presence is acknowledged; the divine actor is perceived as noting the presence of the human actor.
  2. The awareness of mutual presence is replaced by an affective relationship akin to love or friendship.
  3. The human actor perceives himself or herself as confidant of and/or a fellow participant in action with the divine actor” (Paloma, 2006).

The following is taken from a study cited by Poloma and Gallup (2006) involving a random sample of 1,000 Americans.  In regards to the previous four categorized encounters, prophetic charism while praying has been knowledgeable by “Nearly a third (32%) of those who pray…”it was also mention that “…with only 12 percent saying they never have this experience.”  Think of the four categories as pit-stops on a long journey.  Some people stop at all of them, but some people do not.  They all arrive at the same destination, but the journey traveled can vary greatly.

Unlock Your Prophetic Charism

            After my experiences with the Pentecostal church I began researching the ways people can be trained to unlock their potential for prophetic charisms.  I came across someone name Graham Cooke.  He teaches classes in learning how to receive the gifts of the Spirit.  He spoke about the importance of prayer and how vital it is to the beliefs.  Prophecy interconnects with prayer and this helps exacerbate the communication process.  As I continued to read I only realized he was describing what to do with these skills in order to, hopefully, communicate with the Spirit.  So really, how can someone learn this?  From what I saw, it just happens.  That is not very descriptive, but the woman next to me said it is an energy that overwhelms you.

We all experience things we cannot put into words.  With divine inspiration, there is room for confirmation biases that are attached to events that may be in fact…just random.  Religion can make simple things complex and complex things simple.  I have become more aware of drawing connections with things that actually do not relate.  I have learned that an act is not always an act from a higher Spirit, but perhaps just gravity pulling my drink to the floor.  In contrast, there are people that will say the Spirit was awakened and used the drink as a vehicle for communication.

While remaining objective I did question how the social sciences measure communication with spirits.  By measure I mean using methodological tools to represent what could equally exist and not exist.  I remained neutral, by my own standards, but wondered if an atheistic view is what is more welcomed in the field.  Personally, I stick to agnosticism.  I can believe and disbelieve, I can flex to the needs of my observed group and have found this to be the most satisfying.  I was unsure as to cataloging the “dialogue” and “interaction” with God.  There is not a right or wrong in religion.  There is only occurrence.  I will leave you with the scripture I was left with…

“The earth shall quake before them; the heavens shall tremble: the sun and the moon shall be dark, and the stars shall withdraw their shining: 11 And the LORD shall utter his voice before his army: for his camp is very great: for he is strong that executeth his word: for the day of the LORD is great and very terrible; and who can abide it?”

References

AAA Admin. (2012, November 1). Principles of professional responsibility. Retrieved May 26, 2015, from http://ethics.aaanet.org/category/statement/

Garneau, C., & Schwadel, P. (2013). Pentecostal Affiliation. Review Of Religious Research, 55(2), 339-353. doi:10.1007/s13644-012-0102-1

Hocken, P. (2015). What challenges do Pentecostals pose to Catholics?. JEPTA: Journal of the European Pentecostal Theological Association, 35(1), 48-57. doi:10.1179/1812446114Z.0000000007

Parker, S. (2014). Tradition-based integration: A Pentecostal perspective. Journal of Psychology & Christianity, 33(4), 311-321

Poloma, M. (1998). The Spirit Movement in North America at the Millennium: From Azusa Street to Toronto, Pensacola and Beyond. Journal of Pentecostal Theology, 83-107.

Scientists must remain unbiased in research. (2012, June 15). Retrieved May 26, 2015, from http://www.statejournal.com/story/18439901/scientists-must-remain-unbiased-in-research

Stark, R. (1965). A Taxonomy of Religious Experience. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 97-97.

Williamson, W. (1994). Varieties of Prayer: A Survey Report (Book). International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 203-204.

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3 thoughts on “My Brief Review of the Pentecostal Experience

  1. I am a Pentecostal myself!! not an old school one im only 25 lol but I love this article it is so well written and agreeably respectful! i couldnt agree with you more on some of these!

    Like

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