Beliefnet

 

Another of the biggest Pentecostal influences may be in church music. Pentecostals were not the first, but probably have been the most successful in introducing the popular music of the people into their worship. Further, the music they brought into the sanctuary was drawn from the particular styles of each church's region: salsa, bossa nova, Filipino flutes, cabaret tunes, and rock. Now other Christian churches have picked up on this, and guitars, electronic keyboards, and trap drums often cluster in front of Methodist or Catholic altars and pulpits.

 

Mainly, Pentecostals were farthest ahead of the curve in recognizing that people today are seeking a direct experience of God, the holy, or the transcendent mystery. An old Pentecostal saying sums it up: "When a man with an experience argues with a man who has an argument, the man with the experience wins." There is tendency throughout our society and many others to distrust institutions and hierarchies. Even the Roman Catholic Church, the most hierarchical of all, is now faced with widespread rebellion on the part of the laity, demanding more say in the way their church is run. The "Voice of the Faithful" movement in Boston is only one example of this groundswell.

 

Its lack of hierarchy and tendency to subdivide is, however, both the strength and weakness of Pentecostalism. With no bishops, no presbyteries, and certainly no Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, some of the newer Pentecostal offshoots can begin to exhibit questionable, sometimes even bizarre, qualities.

 

One exception to Pentecostalism's lack of hierarchy is The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, which originated in Brazil but now has congregations in more than one hundred countries. It specializes in mass exorcisms, and its pattern is more like a client-customer relationship than a congregational one. It has a kind of pay-for-services structure, but it may be the fastest-growing expression of Pentecostalism. The church, which claims 6 million members, owns the second-largest TV network in Brazil, and its temples in some cities are the largest ones, sometimes seating 8,000 people or more. The temple they have recently built in Salvador, Bahia—which I visited last summer—dominates the skyline. But many leaders of the most "classical" Pentecostal groups like Assemblies of God shake their heads and throw up their hands in despair at this development. They call the church pseudo-Pentecostal, but concede that it is bringing in people in larger numbers than they are.

 

Another problem is the so-called "health and wealth" or "name it and claim it" theology that is springing up in many Pentecostal churches both here and abroad. Its thesis is that God wants us not only to be happy, but also to be rich and successful, and if you ask for anything, you will get it. If you do not achieve wealth or health, it is your fault—your lack of faith—and not a deficiency in God's grace. I wonder what William J. Seymour and his coworkers at Azusa Street would think of worshippers who claim that God has bestowed on them a large-screen color TV, or the latest model in dishwashers. Pentecostals of a more traditional bent can argue against this blatant distortion of the message of Jesus, but can do nothing to stop it.

 

Perhaps the saddest part of the Pentecostal story is how little, after a century, they have done to bring their message of racial, ethnic, and gender diversity to the larger society. In part this is because so many Pentecostal churches themselves remain monochrome. So many congregations are all white, all black, all Asian, or all Latino. (Some of this—but not all of it—is attributable to language barriers.) Pentecostals are painfully aware of this shortcoming. They have been trying various ways to restore some of the joyous inter-ethnic unity that convinced their earliest forebears that a second Pentecost was happening in their midst.

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