I made a brief disclaimer in a previous post, that my positive experience in one church does not discount the pain (or abuse) that someone else may have experienced.
Today I need to switch that a bit. If you found Jesus in a real way in an independent Pentecostal church (which I’ll abbreviate IPC from this point), great. My experience however led me to eventually walk away from faith.
Here’s my story.
Although Liz and I grew up on opposite ends of New York State, we had similar religious experiences. We were raised in the Catholic Church until age 12 and taken by our moms to IPCs at age 12. I have minimal experience with her church, so I will speak mainly of my experience. However, her former church’s pastor….excuse me… Apostle Tom**…decided (without meeting me) that it was not God’s will for us to get married and told his congregation not to attend our wedding. (I wrote a bit about this experience here.)
( **I believe very much in the 5-fold ministry gifts expressed in Ephesians 4… it’s actually a key theme of my upcoming dissertation. But calling yourself “Apostle whatever” is weird. To be fair, I’m not a huge fan of sticking any of the 5-fold designations before your name…but the Apostle one is almost always a power play.)
Back to my experience in a church, I’ll refer to as BCF.
First, I can add one positive to this experience. This is the church where I learned to expect God to be active in my life. That I could pray, and God would respond. (Of course, the twisted side of that was that God’s action was dependent upon my behaviour and capacity to believe enough.)
This church was my initial foray into fundamentalism. It was where I began to see God as angry and ready to smack me if I messed up. (And as we weren’t Calvinists, my salvation constantly hung in the balance.)
It was clearly communicated that this was the church for “serious Christians”. In addition, as I mentioned yesterday, it was here where I first learned that I was not a Christian before I said the “sinner’s prayer” at one of their services. In fact, when I was in the Catholic Church, I was not only not following Jesus, I was his enemy.
Of course, since the church was fundamentalist, there was a whole lot of anger. During our first year there, I went forward to receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit. The pastor prayed for me, and nothing happened. So after a few minutes, he began to yell at me (I was 12). Why was I resisting the Holy Spirit? What sins was I committing? It got so bad a woman came over, took me away from him, settled me down and gave me some instructions for how I could seek the Holy Spirit on my own.
He wasn’t the only one who was angry. I went with the youth group to a bowling night. I had bowled in leagues for a few years, so I got set up and bowled a couple of practice frames. One of the youth leaders came, yelled and accused me of stealing. I never went back.
My saving grace was that after a while, we stopped attending this church regularly. My uncle remained very involved, but eventually, he was excommunicated (seriously). Every once in a while, a new IPC would spring up, and we would go to check it out. And it was always strange.
Why I Left:
Well, basically everything I just wrote. Eventually, my uncle started a Church of God in Christ Church (COGIC), which you may recognise as a black Pentecostal denomination…He was the only white pastor in the area. So my last year of high school, my mom and I, my uncle and his family, and one other family were part of this church. By this point in time, my commitment to church was based on fear. I didn’t want to get in trouble/go to hell/let down my uncle. So I went.
When I went to university the following year, I attended one campus fellowship meeting and one church service. Then after several weeks of avoiding and making excuses to the Christian in my hall who kept inviting me to come back, I was done. I was angry at the church and God…and I was done with both.
A closing thought:
Although this was decades ago, it is still emotional as I write it. This church had a damaging effect on many people. I also know that a lot of what I have tried in churches and campus ministries we’ve led has been in reaction to that experience. So, hopefully, it wasn’t a wasted experience.
And I promise…the rest won’t be quite as negative:)
Next: Pentecostal…but different…sort of.
One more quick story… When I was first pursuing credentials with the Assemblies of God (Pentecostal, but not independent… I’ll get to them), it came up during an interview that I was single. I mentioned I was engaged, and after a few follow up questions, I mentioned that Liz attended an independent Pentecostal church in Long Island. One of the guys on my committee, Brother Behr, jumped. (In the AG, you referred to each other as Brother, so, yeah, he was Brother Behr…but before the movie came out). He was originally from Germany but pastored on Long Island and had seen his share of craziness. A few months later, there was an orientation at the District Headquarters for new credential holders, followed by a dinner. As Liz and I walked to the dinner table to sit with friends, Brother Behr, the number two guy, and Brother B, the number one guy, blocked us and invited us to sit with them. Guess what the line of questioning was about. Thankfully Liz was quite charming, and we passed the test!