What's Wrong With Pentecost
And How It could Change for the Better
Copyright 2004. Gatekey Publishing. All Rights Reserved.

To Former and Current Pentecostals, church leaders, and to whomever else may read this;

When I originally wrote this essay, its purpose was to state our purpose quickly since it was to serve as an introduction to our web-site. What resulted was a scathing generalization of the movement at large without any consideration for exceptions, and without any hope for change within this larger group. While I do believe that emotional manipulation and spiritual abuse occur within Pentecostal and Charismatic congregations at a greater percentage than within Christianity at large, I don't believe that it happens in every P/C church, nor do all occurrences of such play themselves out to the same extremes as may be mentioned in many articles on this web-site. I also do not accept the notion that the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements cannot change for the better -- many Christian denominations have had atrocious past histories, and Pentecostalism and it's spin-offs can be no different. They are a faith system in its relative infancy.

Having said that, I must restate my conviction that many congregations within the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements (and within pseudo-Pentecostal "non-denominational" churches) are emotionally manipulative, psychologically deceptive, and in some cases, spiritually (or religiously) abusive -- with rare occurrences of physical or sexual violence. These manipulations take place in the form of (but are not limited to) "expressive worship," "prophecies," "interpretation of tongues," "miraculous healing," and the "rebuking of demons (exorcisms)." These events create the perception that "God is in this place," which not only electrifies those in attendance, but it also "validates" the legitimacy of the ministry and their actions.

By reading the many criticisms, experiences, essays and other resources on our site, you will see the true nature behind many of these "supernatural occurrences," and will understand that they are highly manipulative tools used to create obedience and adherence to local pastoral authority. These "events" may be dismissed as a circus sideshow by some, but are integral to the movement at large -- they are the foundation, the very cement that holds many of these churches together -- and allow for remarkable and shocking abuses of power to take place in so-called "houses of God."

Many within these faiths cannot even comprehend the situation in which they exist, or the abuses that they have deadened themselves to tolerate. Many current Pentecostals have written us, stating they could match horror stories with our supporters, yet they still "accept the truth" of their faith. They don't even see the sad realities of such statements -- the truth being that in traditional Christian faiths, church isn't about tolerating manipulations, abusive pastors, sideshow behaviors, or restrictive legalism -- it's about expressing your love for a Savior, receiving spiritual nourishment, and . . . above all . . . feeling safe and loved. How can anyone feel "safe and loved" when they're constantly in fear of losing their salvation, or not getting the "total" blessings that God has to offer (as many Pentecostals/Charismatics do -- regardless of whether or not current one is will admit to it)? Many of these people will say that "Pentecostals are human," and that anything that happens in their churches could happen at a church down the street. The sad reality is that these things often happen in Pentecostal/Charismatic churches (or in other denominations commonly characterized as cults), and only rarely occur in churches of other mainstream, orthodox, or evangelical persuasions.

So, what's wrong with Pentecost? I think the most important fault within the entire movement is the religious power and authority most of these denominations and congregations instill within the local pastor -- something that is pandemic within both Pentecostalism and its spiritual descendent, the Charismatic movement. The local pastor has Pope-like powers over the local church, and many Pentecostal/Charismatic pastors rule over their local assemblies like virtual dictators -- many only having church "boards" filled with "yes-men" to satisfy tax authorities. In many of these congregations, the pastor answers to no one -- to no committee, not to the church at large, and not even -- in many cases -- to the denominational organization that credentials him. He is an authority unto himself and to his God, and many Pentecostal/Charismatic/non-denominational church-goers literally believe that his words uttered in sermons, prophecies, etc., are the literal words of God -- as surely as most Christians believe the Bible to be.

"Why, yes," you may counter, "but he can only utter words that are consistent within their denominational context!" To those more familiar with traditional Christianity, you may be surprised to learn that Pentecostalism is almost devoid of any doctrinal context. Many of their denominational doctrines, or official stances, can be put on one piece of paper -- though they may use reams of paper to justify those few ideas. Pentecostalism does not borrow its doctrine from traditional and historic Christianity -- in most cases, they started over with Biblical interpretation during the early revivals, and -- in the case of many Pentecostal ministers who forgo education in ministry -- they simply make it up as they go along (presenting their doctrinal stances -- often presented as 'new revelations' -- as the unadulterated intent of God). This doctrinal authority (not unlike the authority the pope uses to "bind things in Heaven") gives the pastor a blank check in controlling behaviors of church members. Within some sects of Pentecostalism, it is not unheard of for church members to ask permission to go on vacation, or to make major purchases -- not for advice, but for permission.

Many Pentecostal/Charismatic pastors protect this authority by citing scripture where those who harmed or lied to God's ministers were killed. These scriptures are used in some churches to silence even the mildest forms of dissent, and to prevent the questioning of pastoral authority. It is also used to preserve many of these pastors' sole control over church finances. In many of these churches, the pastor needs no approval from any source to make any financial purchase or obligation to the church. In some situations, the church financial accounts may not even be separate from accounts the pastor uses for personal needs -- which not only leads to corruption, but also evasion of income tax by some of these ministers.

This unchecked authority can and does corrupt many people who feel called into Pentecostal/Charismatic ministries. Church money is used for personal gain, people are abused and controlled by tactics intended to create obedience and loyalty to the pastor, bible passages are contorted to bend to the pastor's personal opinions -- and to preserve his wealth and authority, and those that question or stand up to such abuses can sometimes face public humiliation from the pulpit, or even be "excommunicated" -- which can be quite stressful to someone who still accepts the core doctrines.

So, a system that was intended to revive Christianity has devolved into a corrupt system that manipulates people for power and wealth, leaving emotional and psychological scars on individuals and families for the rest of their lives. Some can be considered "backsliders" -- still believing the core faith, but unable to bring themselves to return to a system that manipulates them on so many levels. Some can be called victims -- peoples whose personal lives, relationships, and individuality have been destroyed by the stress, strain, and abuses that occur in many congregations of these faiths.

The rest of us call ourselves "survivors!" We have left our painful past, picked ourselves up (perhaps with the help of likeminded friends, or through therapy and counseling), and we refuse to let our future be determined by people who want nothing more than our money and obedience! The "threats" of hell cannot prevail against those of us who know that our spiritual walk is between us as individuals and our Higher Power, and cannot be defined or controlled by such High Priests of Propaganda and Personal Power! We ARE free, indeed!

Having said all that, I am not a person that thinks Pentecostalism can't change for the better and in such a way that doesn't compromise on their fundamental doctrines. Here are a few ideas:

1) Create a system of pastoral accountability
(This is mostly directed at Pentecostal leadership) Make your denominational systems where they are "open" for internal complaints. Allow for people to complain to an outside authority (local/district/state/national denominational boards), and create a system where these complaints can be investigated and acted on by fellow ministers. And when abuses occur and are proven, have a "real" disciplinary process that responds appropriately according to the degree of the offense -- even up to the point of removing ordination, or expelling the minister if the offense was great enough. Most of all, stop the cover-ups, stop the ineffective "hand-slapping," and stop ignoring the problems. To any officials of Pentecostal organizations that may happen to read this: Do you really want your churches being drowned by scandal if the news media's spotlight shines on your organization the way it's shining now on America's Catholic diocese? Act NOW to control abuses that you know are happening in your churches before you're faced with defending your credibility to the world at large. All it takes is for a few disillusioned congregants to get the gumption to start suing for emotional and psychological abuses, and then a litigious tidal wave could come out of no where. If you really want to prevent this from happening in the future . . . start policing your ministers NOW!

One step that Pentecostal denominational officials could do (especially those that are interested in the future success of their organization) is to reach out and create a dialogue with those who've left. Don't be condescending, don't be judgmental -- and if you sense that bitterness and anger are still there, don't patronize them by "inviting them back to church." Create an earnest dialogue with one singular purpose -- to discover the true reasons people leave your churches.

In business, this is called "Quality Control," or "Performance Improvement." You might be surprised to find that people are marching out your doors for reasons you've never imagined! Most don't leave because they've "fallen into sin," "fallen into deception," or "become demon-possessed," but because they've been truly injured or taken advantage of by ministers or others in positions of authority. The lack of ethical leadership within many Pentecostal communities actually creates this exodus -- causing people to question the very doctrines the denominational system is supposed to protect. In essence, the churches are creating the backsliders themselves!

The LACK of a system that self-monitors and self-disciplines is creating these problems -- don't ignore these problems by putting it off on God. You are the high priests -- don't let the son's of Aaron defile the temple! You can do something about it! Put your house in order!

2) Create a system of financial accountability
Okay, church people -- this is one you can do yourself! This is one area that you actually have the power to create change in! You elected the pastor; you can starve him out if he don't straighten up!

Create a system in your local church to "Open the books!" Not only for gross revenue and expenditures, but also in matters of pastoral reimbursement. There is no excuse and no reasoning that this information can't be public to church members, and there is no reason that the amount can't be controlled by the congregation or a board it delegates its authority to! This doesn't mean your pastor can't live nicely, but it means you should probably think twice about him receiving the lion's share of church revenues (aren't churches supposed to be charitable by definition?). Giving the pastor a salary doesn't make him a "hireling," but it makes him accountable!!!

Don't give the pastor the sole signature line on the checking account! When church revenues (especially when they are based on doctrines that mandate 10% tithing) are likely to reach the hundreds of thousands of dollars (if not millions) per year, this can be a temptation that no man or woman wouldn't fall for -- especially if the money is unregulated and unchecked. I don't think ministers could get in trouble at your local hardware store buying tissue and light bulbs -- but if he's constantly buying new cars, upgrading to a bigger home, or constantly going on extended vacations -- all off the church account -- then, you have the right to ask questions, and you have the right to control how your money is being used.

Many traditional churches allow the minister to be the "manager" of the church campus, but for larger purchases, or for personal salary increases, approval from the board is required. There is nothing unscriptural about this, though it's a constraint that Pentecostal/Charismatic ministers vehemently oppose with great passion.

3) Create a system with real credentialing authority
This is an area that local churches and denominational boards alike could create action on. Require your candidates for the ministry or for pastorship to obtain a minimal theological education from a seminary or "bible school." This will not only ensure that he is well grounded in denominational doctrines, but will make him less likely to "make up his own mind" about things he's not too sure about. Why is this important? Because Pentecostal/Charismatic preachers are notorious for "getting new revelations" from scriptures that the denomination at large may have a differing view on, or from scripture that even another minister of the same denomination may have "received" his own differing "revelation" about.

A concise, consistent doctrine only improves a denomination's legitimacy and respectability within communities of faith, and reduces the amount of religious abuse that can be doled out over issues the minister may not be well educated on. And requiring such to obtain ordination (or a job as pastor) will do a lot to accomplish this goal.

4) Let the people be heard and represented
Many Pentecostal and Charismatic denominations aren't laity-based organizations -- they are ministerial clubs, or "bishop's councils" -- to use a better term. Although it may be asking too much to give "members" of local churches decision-making authority, is it asking too much to allow them to be "members" of the denomination itself? Is it asking too much for them to at least have a voice in matters that affect their spiritual walk -- if not to decide, then to at least approve, or publish their opinion?

There is an idea in Pentecost that the ordinary member can't make up their mind about spiritual matters -- that the "priests" (as it were) are the ones empowered to make decisions concerning the body of their faith. Well, this certainly defies New Testament scripture that teaches we can directly petition Christ -- no priesthood is required. And likewise, there is no reason they can't have a voice in matters of church government, local church administration, or on major doctrinal issues. Many P/C leaders protest such ideas, claiming such paranoid ideas that the "standards would go out the door," or that the church would turn into a bunch of alcoholic prostitutes -- well, the idea IS being practiced in both mainline and fundamentalist church groups, and it has absolutely no bearing on whether or not the group becomes more liberal or conservative. The Southern Baptist Convention remains a very conservative organization despite its democratic principles.

In conclusion, there is a reason we at Association of Former Pentecostals exist -- we have legitimate complaints based on our past experiences within Pentecostal and Charismatic congregations. These problems aren't local, however, but are systemic flaws -- most that can be corrected -- especially if major Pentecostal/Charismatic faiths wish to survive in an increasingly litigious society.

If you have questions about your experience in Pentecostalism, examine our resources, and visit us on our forums!

If you are a Pentecostal/Charismatic leader who is shaking their head in dismay while reading this (yet, deep down, you know many of these accusations are accurate to some degree), take some time in contemplation or prayer and ask yourself and your God if there's something you can do to stop the hurting, the emotional and psychological abuses, and the manipulation of people's lives that is giving your movement a bad name as stories come to light. This is your house, so make it one that doesn't injure, but heals; that doesn't disfellowship, but welcomes; that doesn't hate . . . but loves.

I don't think I'm asking a whole lot, but I'm asking for those that can't and won't ask right now. If you -- as a leader -- attempt to make things better, then maybe so many won't leave and won't abandon a faith they still may feel is true.

 

(click HERE to read the original version of this essay from 2003)

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2005 Association of Former Pentecostals. All rights reserved.