It has been an intriguing month or so, to say the least. Sometimes the fact that intellectual things of all sorts interests me more than anything else just plain scares me. But then I look at the alternative – sitting on the couch, watching mindless television – and I don’t mind so much.
So what happened this month? I don’t entirely know. Somehow Melissa and I got into a discussion about “church stuff.” She was raised in a Reformed church, and I was raised in a Pentecostal church. In case you don’t know, those are pretty much the polar opposites as far as Protestant churches go. Somehow we got onto the topic of infant baptism or something, and the difference between what my church believes about baptism versus what her church believes. Melissa decided to ask her mom to mail her catechism books to her, and when she received them, the discussion only intensified. As we found out the differences between our churches, one topic seemed to be the cause for all – or at least most – of the differences: predestination vs. free will.
You see, the Reformed church is a strong proponent of Calvinism, or predestination – the idea that God has chosen all those who will be saved beforehand, and “the elect,” as they are called, can do nothing to resist God’s grace. Then again, those who are not part of this elect can do nothing to receive God’s grace. In other words, God has already picked who gets eternal life and who gets thrown into hell.
On the complete opposite side of the spectrum is Arminianism, or free will. It’s what seems to be held by the majority of denominations nowadays, including the Pentecostal church. Basically, it means that we as humans have a choice – we can choose to accept or reject God. This seems a lot nicer than the Calvinist point of view, but they say that the free will position downplays the disastrous consequences of sin. In other words, the Calvinists believe that because we are all sinners, we are totally depraved, and can do nothing to accept God’s grace. We cannot choose God, because we are bent toward evil.
As you can likely tell, I’ve been doing my homework on the issue since. I’ve been trying to read up the different points of view on the issue, and while I continue to lean toward the idea of free will, my search for the truth has brought me to several other topics of interest. For example, a while back I started to research the biblical basis for the Pentecostal view of speaking in tongues and the gifts of the Spirit. I figured that if I was going to call myself Pentecostal, I might as well know what that meant. While there were some complications in that matter, the issue for me became at least partially resolved. However, I talked to another of my friends, Grace, who asked me about the history of Pentecostalism. I had to tell her that I didn’t really know much about it, just that it was fairly recent as far as denominations go.
So I decided to look it up a bit more. (And yes, this was during the point in time when exams and assignments were coming up. I always seem to do that to myself.) During my time spent researching the Pentecostal history, I came across other topics. Stuff like being slain in the Spirit, being drunk in the Spirit, clucking like a chicken in the Spirit (no joke!) – you know, the stuff that makes my Pentecostal church look normal in comparison. I generally thought that sort of strange behaviour was mostly limited to the Pentecostals down in the southern United States, but alas, Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship is practically right next door in comparison. I watched a few bad-quality videos of a guy named John Scotland, who seemed to have no respect for the Word of God, and who couldn’t seem to read about three words out of the Bible without starting to make animal noises or shouting out some random word.
And then I realized why most other denominations consider Pentecostals to be completely insane.
Despite the emphasis that Pentecostals place on personal experience, I have always grown up being taught (at the Baptist school I went to, I suppose) that the Word of God is the ultimate source of authority on all matters. I was taught that we should always examine everything through the lens of the Bible. And while that creates a huge debate in the creation vs. evolution argument, it also reveals some large issues about Pentecostalism as well. Sure, there might be some evidence for speaking in tongues in Scripture – it’s debatable, and it’s controversial, but it’s at least easy enough to see how someone could believe in it based on the Bible. But what about uncontrollable laughter, supposedly brought on by the Holy Spirit? Or falling onto the ground and twitching uncontrollably? Or maybe the lady who apparently has a “left leg anointing” and can cause people to be slain in the Spirit when she kicks up her left leg in their direction. Stuff like that has absolutely no basis in the Bible. I have never read anything about Paul making barnyard animal noises when he was trying to preach. So it got me thinking: Is this something that I can justify? Is this something I want to be associated with?
That whole process has led me to this point. It’s a point where I must ask myself, “What does the Bible say about these issues?” Not, “What does a church, or an early church theologian, or some random guy say about these issues?” Because ultimately, if I tell people that I believe in the Bible and what it says, then I should surely be figuring out what it says about God, man, the Church, and other things. I need to go right back to the basics and work up from there, justifying everything by the Bible as I go.
It’s times like these when I almost wish I was Catholic. All they have to do is wait around for what a guy in a funny little hat tells them to do, and then the issue is resolved for them. Or even better yet, I wish I could justify life as an atheist. All they have to believe is that there is no God, and that when you die, that’s the end. That’s it. They don’t have to sit around trying to interpret what a book tells them to believe. Unfortunately, the atheist life is out for me. I’ve tried researching that position as well, and ultimately, all grandiose arguments aside, all you really have to do is look outside – or into the sky – to know whether there is a God. Science can explain all they want, and they do some good, but they still have no answer for how all this stuff got here from absolutely nothing. Even the Big Bang just says, “Well, there was this stuff, and then it exploded outward and made everything.” In other words, it still starts with stuff.
No, my belief in the Christian God forces me to examine the Scriptures to see what I can justify. It’s going to take a while, and it’s going to take a lot of research, but I am convinced that it can be done. I am going to build from the ground up, with no preconceptions other than “There is a God” and “The Bible is truth” and work from there. I know it seems a little like a choose-your-own-adventure book, but ultimately, I’m not choosing what I believe. I’m choosing to believe what the Bible says. What forms the most coherent picture of reality that can be justified by the Bible? If something doesn’t fit right, and cannot be backed up by the Word of God, it must be discarded. To do anything else with it is dangerous.
Or, of course, I guess I could wait around for the man in the funny little hat to tell me what the Bible says…