FROM THE PEW SHEET
My brief experience of Pentecostal/Charismatic Christianity as an undergraduate taught me much. The great and unforgivable sin of Mk 3 and Mt 12 was often defined as ‘quenching the Spirit’: that to speak ill of anything defined as a spiritual gift in the church would be to be pushed beyond the parameters of salvation for ever. This was errant nonsense, but it was powerful errant nonsense, particularly useful as a tool by which to maintain order in a church tightly controlled by one or two megalomaniacal control freaks. I left those church circles, but I hope I have retained some of what I learned there.
I hope I have retained my sense of the immediacy and ‘livingness’ of God. For years I moved into a far more cerebral and rite-based faith. I have no regrets, funnily enough about that, either. When Jesus spoke of ways we should love God he included ‘mind’ with ‘heart’: the anti-intellectualism of my charismatic beginnings was neither better nor worse than the paranoid suspicion of emotions that I experienced over my next half decade or more. I found some control freaks in those circles, too: the types that would scowl into non-existence some poor soul who genuflected at the wrong time, or who would glare to a cinder a child in church. In Adelaide I was once told that the strength of one church at which I was a Sunday locum was that there were no children there. I laughed aloud — until I realised that the speaker, a warden, was deadly serious.
Ideally I would love to find a balance. I never again want to hear the silliness that I encountered in another church, where a group of women were crawling around, led by the Holy Spirit to bark for Jesus, probably a useful gestalt but little to do with the Jesus of the Cross. Perhaps my stopping that practice as ‘spiritual nonsense’ was ‘quenching the Spirit’ in the eyes of some. But for all that spiritually silliness, when that group learned to discern the difference between psychobabblingl nonsense and genuine openness to an immediate and active God they became a real engine-room in the life of the faith community. Somewhere in that balance is a message for us all.