Visit to a Pentecostal Church (and all Contemporary Ones?)

A mentor in the ministry told me that on vacation he attended the services of other denominations just to be sure that what he said they taught they still did. Well this Pentecostal church didn’t teach classical Pentecostalism but what all contemporary churches, Lutherans included, do. And that ain’t much.

If you go to Calvary Chapel’s website, you will see they believe classic Pentecostalism: Baptism of the Holy Spirit, tongues, Pre-Tribulation postmillennialism, etc. But there are only adumbrations of that in their service. If you wanted that sort of thing – anointing, hands laid on, or prayed over – you could go to a special room for that after the service. They were in effect crypto-Pentecostals.

The “worship” space was labeled “auditorium.” Sound stage better describes it. You could hear clearly what was said and sung on stage, but what the “congregation” sang or said was dampened.  For the most part no one sang except the band. One woman was exceptional.  All five of them were professional musicians. If you’re trying to do this sort of “worship” a local garage band or some guys and gals who like to sing and play aren’t going to cut it.  The biggest structure in the place, and therefore the focal point, was the 15 x15 raised, enclosed media center more or less in the middle. From here lights, sound, video were as masterfully controlled by two men as any game show has them engineered.

The service jumped off with 4 songs.  They clapped after the first song, but not again till after a fifth song which was right before the offering which was taken before a Word of God had been read or preached and just barely sang. The songs were repetitious in the extreme, heavy on the drums, but not nearly as jarring as I heard at the 2006 Texas District Convention Sunday morning Communion “service.”  “No sorrow on earth than Heaven can’t heal” was one refrain, but the whom, who, when, where of the healing was not only vague but not mentioned.  One song was clearly about the Father and I shudder to repeat the refrain. It was, “Consume us with your Majesty.” This shows that the Reformed – or is it all contemporary worship – do their theology from above not from below – at the Virgin’s womb and lap, at an altar where consuming majesty is concealed in Bread and Wine.

I don’t think a non-Christian could have been converted in this service.  The only Gospel was in the fourth song.  There Christ’s blood atonement for the sins of all was explicitly mentioned, but interestingly or revealingly it wasn’t the refrain.  Christ’s resurrection was also celebrated, but these two were not linked as Paul does in Romans 4:25 “He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.”

After 30 minutes of band singing, there was 10 minutes of announcements with heavy emphasis on how much good the church is doing in the community, how they’re partnering with the community, and doing something practical. Go to any contemporary church’s website and you will find these buzz words.

The sermon was 45 minutes and purported to be a verse by verse exposition of Romans 13:1-7. It wasn’t that. Doable law was expressed several times: “We have a tendency to sin.”  “We our trying our best.”  No lost and condemned sinner here.  The pastor welcomed all political views, but knew his own more conservative ones would bleed through, so he wanted us to know he “loves the dickens out of us” (I felt measurably warmed.).The pastor referred to Paul preaching Jesus, but he didn’t at all. I did find this insight of his memorable and accurate: a society based on the charity of individuals to others will be loving; a society based on entitlements gotten out of others will be greedy.

At the end of the “sermon” the pastor says, “Let’s pray.” Then people started moving like roaches scattering at the flip of a switch. As the pastor is praying the band is getting into position and fiddling with their instruments.  In this prayer he says this which really says it all. “May we overlook doctrinal differences and accept each other in love.” Contemporary worship does not mean to, wish to, and actively avoids emphasizing doctrine because that divides. But if you believe your doctrine is truth, it is no more loving to overlook doctrinal differences in theology than it is to overlook poison in food.

During the meet and greet after the offering, I asked one of the few who had his hands up and waving during the songs, “Where was the tongue speaking, the Baptism of the Spirit, the interpretation of tongues?” He said he didn’t know but that there was no objection to doing that. But they don’t do it in their public services for the same reason Joel Osteen doesn’t: it’s a turn-off. True Pentecostalism is only for the initiated.

I don’t think the average attendee at any contemporary service gets to the meat of that denomination. I’m thinking that contemporary worship is pretty much interchangeable among denominations.

About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
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