Monday, May 25, 2015

The Old-Time Pentecostal Power

For all my Baptist and/or Evangelical friends, let me fill you in. Yesterday was Pentecost Sunday. And last Sunday was Ascension Sunday. Yeah, that never meant much to me either.

And for my non-Christian friends, you may not realize the differences between the Christian denominations and how we practice our faith on Sundays. I grew up Southern Baptist. That means that a lot of the traditions that you may hear about from your Christian friends -- Advent, Ash Wednesday, Lent, Mardi Gras, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Christening, Confirmation -- never did those. Didn't even know what some of them were about for a long time.

But I'm now attending a Baptist church where the pastors wear robes and they follow the liturgical calendar. That means they have been wearing white . . . what do you call those things? stoles? . . . since Easter because it's been Eastertide (another new term for me) and yesterday they flipped those over to the red side in honor of the Holy Spirit coming at Pentecost and birth of the Church (birth of the Church? I never thought of it that way, but yeah, I suppose it was).

The Lutheran Church we met in for our homeschool drama program in Sioux City did the color thing -- they had banners that they changed for the different "seasons" of the liturgical year (our church here does that, too). I merely found that interesting at the time. I'm now finding it more meaningful.

I decided I like the idea of having a Sunday set aside every year to remember the coming of the Holy Spirit. It's an important event. I mean, not as important as Jesus's birth (Christmas) and resurrection (Easter). But still worth pausing to celebrate.

I found myself wanting to sing an old song from my Baptist Hymnal I grew up with:

Lord, send the old time power -- 
The Pentecostal power!
That sinners be converted
And thy name glorified!

And then I found myself rankling at the term "converted." Some older Christian writers I've been reading use that term often, too, and I always rankle at it then, too. I'm not quite sure why. To talk about converting someone almost sounds offensive -- although it shouldn't, I'm sure. "Conversion" is what you do with measurements; you convert from miles to kilometers, from pounds to kilograms. It's changing from one thing to another. So, in our modern minds, conversion implies talking someone into changing from their religious beliefs to my religious beliefs. Proselytizing.

I don't know why we find that offensive these days. We have no problem trying to convert people's beliefs about a political party, or economic policy, or exercise habits, or purchasing choices . . . but religion is off-limits. We're not allowed to tell anyone that we think what they think about God is off-base. Forget that what they think about God is of much greater consequence than any other of their "thinks." Don't touch my religion.

But I think I don't like the term because it doesn't seem quite accurate. I mean, yes, the change I seek in people involves a change in beliefs. But more primarily, it involves a new relationship. It's about becoming acquainted with God. Once you're acquainted with Him, your beliefs about Him will necessarily change (just like we'd all -- Republican and Democrat alike -- think differently about Obama if we suddenly became personally and intimately acquainted with him). But the important thing is not thinking differently . . . or even behaving differently . . . it's relating differently.

And it's the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost that allows us the opportunity to know God personally and intimately. So, yes, the event is worth celebrating once a year. The idea of being indwelled by the Spirit of God is another one that I didn't learn much about growing up. Praise God, I know about it now!

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