Someday I'll write a more comprehensive account of what it's like to grow up in a Pentecostal church. It's not a subject I'm going to stop thinking about any time soon. But for now, a brief overview.
I spent a large portion of my childhood going to Solid Rock Church in Elk River, Minnesota, pastored first by James Hoogenboom and then later Bill Matthews (did you get all that, Google?). I was there in my pew just about every Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night. It was the low point(s) of my week. I looked forward to Monday. A typical Sunday night service looked something like this...
Every week I would sit in the pew wishing everybody would hurry up and fall over so I could get home and watch football. I went forward only one time that I can remember -- at about age 9 or 10 -- to attempt to get "slain in the Spirit" by a female evangelist. I remember vividly how she began to go into this very loud prayer with her hand on my forehead and then shout, "In the name of JEE-zus!" and then press down on my forehead. When I didn't fall she pushed harder. I was left wondering what was wrong with me. Why didn't I pass out or go into convulsions like everyone around me? Was God not interested in me? I never went forward again after that.
This was all I knew of Christianity for the first quarter-century of my life. God's main work was to keep you healthy and rich, Satan's main work was to keep you sick and poor, and the Holy Spirit's job was to give you a buzz on Sunday night. I truly thought that this was about the same thing that every Christian denomination believed. When I read the Bible for the first time at age 25 I was surprised not to find a chapter on being slain in the Spirit.
So of course when I found out that Solid Rock now has live video feeds of their services on their website I jumped at the chance to go back in time and relive my youth and see what it looks like from this side. I've watched three of their Sunday night services now and I'm sorry to report that it's even worse than I remember. Total chaos erupts right from the beginning of the service. They sing a couple of songs that are void of any meaning at all and then just repeat the choruses over and over again for about ten minutes while the crowd works up a frenzy. People actually begin running laps around the congregation for some reason while shouting and waving their hands in the air. It's a complete circus, but it gets even weirder once the preaching starts.
Pastor Matthews will start his "sermon" by reading some verse of Scripture, usually from Acts or 1 Corinthians, and then just start talking about whatever "God tells him to talk about." There is no outline, there is no plan, there is no main point; he just listens as "God tells him what to say," which always centers around money and healing. Meanwhile, people are still running laps around the congregation occasionally and walking up to him in the middle of his "sermon" and dropping dollar bills in his pocket, to which he responds with one of his favorite catch-phrases, "Thank you, I receive that." The saddest thing is when some four year-old girl will come up to him and drop a penny in his coat pocket and he will stop what he's doing, put his hand down on her head, and yell right in her face, "BE BLESSED!" These kids are going to spend a lifetime dealing with the effects of this crap.
As the service goes on, things get weirder and weirder. Matthews will pace back and forth and start blowing on people and making fart noises (go watch if you don't believe me). He'll stop in mid-sentence and start bursting out in "holy ghost laughter." Then eventually everyone will start lining up at the front while he goes down the line and starts knocking people over with all the swagger of Steven Seagal taking out a gang of thugs with a pool cue.
In the three services that I have watched, sin has never been mentioned and the name of Jesus is only mentioned as an abracadabra on the end of a prayer. But of course there's a quick ten second alter call at the end of the service where you can invite Jesus to come into your heart and "never be the same again," similar to Joel Osteen's. There is nothing in this church that even remotely resembles Christianity anymore, nor is there anything that resembles typical human behavior. All signs indicate that the Holy Spirit has completely abandoned Solid Rock Church.
I'm still not sure what the proper response is to all this. Part of me feels mad, part of me feels pity, part of me wants to grab some popcorn and just sit back and watch, and part of me just wants to throw my hands up in the air like Sheriff Ed Tom Bell and say, "I just don't know what to make of it. I surely don't." But I still know people who have to live with the effects of having grown up in such a place. Heck, I still have to live with the effects of growing up in such a place. So I need to understand this thing further. I'm in the middle of Iain Murray's Revival and Revivalism right now which couldn't have come along at a better time. I've got a lot more to say on this topic. Many future posts are brewing.
To be continued...