Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Confessions of a Former Pentecostal

When I was a child, my family attended a church that practiced the so-called Pentecostal gifts. We did not use the term “church;” we were a “fellowship.” There was no pastor; there were elders. All of the elders held a belief in what they called “plurality” in leadership, by which they inferred that pastors were not a NT office. One of them even had a teaching that the Nicolaitans in Revelation were people who held to the idea of singular leadership in the church.

It was not unusual for the Sunday worship to be interrupted by a “word” in tongues or a “prophecy.” People who asked for prayer were often “slain.” The service format was extremely informal. The song leader had no planned music; everyone was free to just call out a song title, which would be sung.

I remember many strange things about that church, despite the fact that I was so young. In hindsight, it was obviously God’s superintendence over my life in a way that would bring me to the Doctrines of Grace.

I recall that there was a stack of papers in the lobby every Sunday. Once when I looked at what was on them, I discovered that they were printouts of “prophecies” that were given the previous week. Even then it struck me as wrong. I remember asking my Dad, “Can they do that?” He remembers it too.

When I was about 10 or 11, a lady visitor from one of the other fellowships we were loosely associated with gave a “prophecy” that if we didn’t repent by a specified date, God would remove our lampstand. The church ended up splitting over that "word of prophecy." It was just vague enough that no one knew exactly whether the church had complied with what God was supposedly commanding.

Years later a friend invited me to go with him to church. It was the smaller of the two factions from that old church. During the elder's "message" he quoted prophecies given years back by Bro. France, as if they were Scripture. He carried a mini-cassette player in his pocket and a pile of tapes that were cued up to the relevant sections of these “prophecies.” They even had hand-outs in the lobby of printed copies of the "prophetic words" given by Sis. So-and-so the previous Sunday. Actually I don't recall a single Scripture being read or even quoted unless the wording was incidentally mimicked in the KJV-esque language of some "word."

While I was in high school, I developed a strong interest in Church history. But rather than simply read historical narratives, I sought out writings by the history makers themselves so that I could read them in their own words. I quickly became aware that I did NOT find anything I had been taught in church in the writings of the Fathers, Reformers or Puritans. I slowly began to realize that my theology had changed. I still struggled with letting go of my beliefs about the Holy Spirit. For many years I reasoned that the extraordinary gifts were real and for us today, but that what we generally witness are abuses or fakes. This idea was undoubtedly fed by the numerous books I read exposing clowns like Hinn, which were written by fellow Pentecostals. It took some time for me to finally arrive at the conclusion that these manifestations of extraordinary gifts are all fake. The real, historical ones served their purpose in the early Church, but are not for the Church today. I finally realized that in my whole life, I had never actually witnessed a manifestation I could unquestionably call “real.” George Smeaton’s book, “The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit” was a tremendous help to me. When I started seminary I discovered that what I had become is called a Calvinist and even a cessationist (gasp!). I had to rebuild my theology from the ground up.

During my MDiv studies, I researched more of the heretical qualities of the charismatic movement and wrote a paper on it. The impetus for the paper (apart from its being an assignment) was Tertullian’s observation that heresies are a necessary trial of the church to show the true and false believers. (Paul says the same thing in 1 Cor. 11:19.) I was terrified at the enormities of these Pentecostal and Charismatic preachers. All the unverifiable claims and extra-biblical revelations! It would be comical if it weren’t blasphemous.

God graciously brought me out of that stuff and I have not looked back. I have friends who have come out of the same background, but unlike them, I have no fond memories of it. I feel healthier spiritually the farther away from it I get. God is good. Scripture is the only revelation I’ll ever need.


  1. Andy, thanks for sharing your reflections. I too am a former Pentecostal and thankful for God's grace in leading us out of the movement.

    I linked to your post but was wondering whether you would consider publishing the paper you referenced in your post. I'd be happy to link to it at Cessationism.com as well (if it's good of course ;-) )

  2. Excellent post. I'm so glad this was posted to Twitter. I'm the child of a Pentecostal minister and now fully embrace the Doctrines of Grace. I'm very thankful that Jesus found me and extended the grace that had been so absent in my childhood.

  3. The Pentecostal movement for the most part is rank, unbiblical and just plain absurd....

    What we 'reformed' calvinists need to be mindul of is being to reactionary.......

    eg. They [the pentecostal's] can speak so assumedly and almost command God to heal.......

    We react to that and dare even ask God to heal.....

    Matthew Johnston

  4. Great testimony! Great post! Had to read it twice. It makes me wonder why charismatic "prophesiers" don't all have loose-leaf Bibles so they can just add their prophecies to the Scriptures.

  5. Thanks guys. I left out the real juicy parts about how I was taught to speak in tongues as a young boy in 4th or 5th grade! Not nice.

    @Nathan - the paper I referred to is essentially the 4 posts here called Holy Heresy.

    @Daisy, I'm so glad for you. It's hard to make or help family understand why we left their beliefs.

    @Matthew, you're right. I get disappointed many times when I hear my fellow Reformed brethren pray for someone who is sick. There is so much referencing of God's will, that I fear that the one praying believes that he shouldn't be praying for healing, lest he be asking against God's secret will.

    @Eddie, I know a guy here in Illinois who is either publishing or has published a Bible with loads of "study material" in the back, which are, by his own description, prophecies given by God in the past decade or so.

    Then they get angry with us when we accuse them of adding to Scripture! Go figure.

  6. Kuya Andy, salamat sa pag-share mo ng story mo. I agree with you when you said all was "fake". That's what I really think about modern-day speaking in tongues. Right now, I still believe that prophecies and speaking in tongues still exist. I still am hoping there are genuine and sincere gifted men and women with the forementioned gifts somewhere.

    But now that you've mentioned the George Smeaton’s The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit I think I'll take a stab at it.

  7. I too would like to read your paper on Holy Heresies. Thanks for posting this. Very interesting.

  8. Hi Andy,

    I just found you through Nathan's blog, and was glad ti hear of your experience and subsequent conclusions - very similar to what I went through about 5 years ago. I stumbled upon the charismatic movement quite by accident, and was intrigued from day one - the idea of "getting a personal word from God" is very seductive! I thought the whole thing was a fast-track to intimacy with God - and I was quite biblically literate at the time.

    I read Hanengraaf's "Counterfeit Revival" and Macarthur's "Charismatic Chaos" and subsequently left the movement without looking back. Initially I was relieved, because I had previously felt very anxious and rejected by God for never receiving "the gift of tongues" or "getting slain". None of that stuff ever happened to me, although I yearned for it. I studied the cessationist position thoroughly, as well as the early history of the Church - from the Montanists on, these "manifestations" have always been associated with heretical groups. It suddenly made perfect sense.

    Naturally, I lost a few "friends", who were not even well-versed enough in exegesis to debate the subject (not that I wanted to). Nowadays, what drives me crazy is seeing how much charismatic "theology" and practice has seeped into mainstream evangelicalism (ever heard of Beth Moore? Her junk is LOADED with claims of private revelation, and her listeners just blindly accept it). Charismania is a toxin, yet it is the fastest growing segment of the Church.

  9. Oh, I just added you to my blogroll, BTW. Hope you don't mind. :)

  10. Thanks Marie. I have never read the acual book "Charismatic Chaos," but I have read the transcripts of all the lectures/sermons that the book grew out of. I have read Church history quite extensively and I was initially quite shocked to see that every group that advocated a continued practice of the charismata, without fail, was heretical.

    When I finally walked away from Pentecostalism I had a strange internal struggle, which I'm sure is common, between anxiousness over rejecting "spiritual" things and what I knew what true. Pentecostalism was the only form of Christianity I had ever known.

    I attend a very conservative church. Our Sunday scholl teachers are conservative professors at the nearby - again, conservative - Christian college. You would think therefore that the congregation would be free from the toxic effects of Charismatic teaching. Wrong! I have heard my Sunday school teacher refute this stuff many times - in response to class questions or comments. And amazingly, most of them have never even heard of Benny Hinn, Paul Crouch, Creflo Dollar, Kenneth Hagin, etc...

  11. Thanks for posting your experience, Andy. As you might have guessed from my blog’s tagline, I’m a former demon chaser too. Lord willing, I’m going to write a series on my journey from Pentecostalism to the Reformation. You’ve encouraged me to take up my pen! (At least once I wrap up the 119 partial posts I’ve written.)

    Keep up the good work you’re doing here. I’m adding you to my blog roll.

    --Shawn (The Catechizer)

  12. Glad to revisit this older, but still timely article.


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