Theological FAQ:

You describe yourself as Pentecostal. What do you mean by that? Do you speak in tongues?

Paul calls God's people a "letter from Christ … written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God" (2 Cor. 3:3). Pentecostals have distinctive ways of being that message, and shouting back to the Lord what the Spirit has written in our hearts.

I encounter several FAQs about Pentecostalism. They genefrally revolve around distinctive features of charismatic worship.

  • Why all the enthusiasm (raised hands, applause and catcalls, electric guitars, and amens)?
  • What does everything mean? (As my brother remarked after a visit: "Is one hand up different from two hands up?")
  • Why do Pentecostals speak in tongues? Do you speak in tongues, Telford?

To every question, I have one answer: Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom (2 Cor. 3:17).

The Spirit's freedom comes in two kinds:

Freedom from. Where the Spirit is, there is freedom from everything against God’s will. Acts 5:19: "During the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought [the apostles] out. 'Go, stand in the temple courts,' he said, 'and tell the people the full message of this new life.'" In Christ, we – we, the Church, not just we as individuals – have:

    1. Freedom from shame and freedom from pride, which would separate us from God and from each other. If you haven't seen how charismatic and Pentecostal worship reflects this, you should visit a church and find out.
    2. Freedom from hurting other people and hurting ourselves – "freedom from the present evil age" (Gal. 1:4). This includes freedom from sinful deeds, habits, and even addictions. This kind of freedom doesn't come easy; in fact, it's hard work. But apart from God, it's impossible.
    3. Freedom also from oppression and exploitation by others. When Pentecostalism was born at the beginning of the century, it began among African Americans. And as it spread, it blew over the boundaries that had separated nations – especially at first. The Spirit anointed women as preachers and leaders, restoring a pattern that had been lost since almost the beginning of the Church. Charismatic Christianity is liberating.
    4. We even have freedom from sickness and death (Rom. 8:2). If we don't have these now, certainly we will have them when Jesus comes back. And maybe we can even have them now, when God heals a few of us as a sign to the world of the healing to come.

So the Spirit frees us from everything against God's will. Yet where the Spirit is, there is also freedom forfor everything that is in God's will. "For freedom Christ has set us free" (Gal. 5:1). We have "the freedom of the glory of the children of God" (Rom. 8:21). This is:

    1. Freedom for worshiping in Spirit and in truth. That means freedom for worshiping as the Spirit leads us (as long as it really is the Holy Spirit doing the leading). I like to call charismatic worship "full-body worship," a worship of heart and mind and soul and strength. We go crazy when we think about all God has done for us and with us. Even crazier than we get for our basketball team! Imagine that!
    2. Freedom for sharing in Christ's work, just like the first Christians did. The Holy Spirit gives us resources that enable us to do even greater things than Jesus. The first Pentecostals were so on fire for missions that some bought one-way tickets to countries they had never visited, and became missionaries to nations whose languages they had never learned. Spiritual gifts "free us" to be characters in God's own long story of salvation. Yes, among these gifts is the gift of tongues – the gift of speaking languages we might not have learned (Spanish, Hebrew), and even languages no one has learned. The Spirit gave this gift in the first century; why not in ours?
      Now tongues are only one such gift. There are many others. Some of them are "showy," like tongues, prophecy, and leadership. Some of them are modest, like helping the needy and showing mercy. All of them are for building up the Church, not for turning us into first- and second-class citizens. And no, I don't have the gift of tongues, unless you count the times when I'm lecturing and no one can understand what I'm saying, even me.
    3. Freedom for fulfilling God's will, and for reflecting who God is making us to be. When the Spirit fell on Gentiles, God taught the Church that you didn't have to be culturally Jewish to look like Jesus. God's will is for all nations to come together in Christ. That means it's okay to worship "like" North or South Americans, or Asians, or Africans. There are harps, and guitars, and tom-toms, and even accordians in the Kingdom. There are robes, and there are sweats. There are tongues we'll know, and tongues we won't. There is silence, and there is cheering.

The word we use today for these freedoms is power. When we gather, it is in the power and freedom of the Holy Spirit. The songs, the sermons, the missions, the tongues, the raised hands, the tears of repentance, even the "slayings in the Spirit," are all supposed to remind us of the way it was in the beginning, when the Son poured out the Spirit, and his people inherited the Father’s promise, and took it to the ends of the earth.

With his own blood, Jesus won that inheritance for us – not just for Pentecostals, of course, but for his whole Church. "Because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of the Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba! Father!' So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God" (Gal. 4:6-7). This is our inheritance. That's why the celebration. Is it your inheritance?

Grace and peace, Telford