This is a guest post from a friend of mine, Dr. Brad Noel. Bradley Truman Noel serves as Director of Pentecostal Studies for Tyndale University College and Seminary. He is ordained with the Pentecostal Assemblies of Newfoundland and Labrador. When not at Tyndale, he and his wife Melinda make their home in Springdale, Newfoundland. He is the author of Pentecostal and Postmodern Hermeneutics: Comparison and Contemporary Impact.
I was born and raised in a Pentecostal home and followed the call of God into theological education. I have pastored youth in a Pentecostal assembly, and now find myself on the faculty of a Christian university, directing a training program for Pentecostal pastors. Through all of this, I have spent much time considering the Pentecostal subculture. All denominational groups have their own subculture, and Pentecostalism is no different. I have been struck lately with how often our greatest strengths can also become our greatest weaknesses. The emphasis within Pentecostalism upon exuberant, and sometimes emotional worship, combined with a desire to see God’s Spirit move within our Sunday gatherings – preferably during an altar call – is just one example. With this in mind, allow me to share a few thoughts on Pentecostalism, emotions, and the anointing.
Pentecostals – we must not confuse our emotions with God’s anointing. They are not the same thing. Often, we confuse how we emotionally react when we’re excited to be in God’s presence with how his anointing actually is manifested among us. The presence of the Spirit among us may look very different than our weeping, jumping, shouting, shaking, or other emotional reactions. If the Spirit fell on a believer, however, causing deep contemplation, and giving quiet wisdom for the Body, would we recognize that as His presence among us? In other words, would a Spirit-inspired desire to deeply contemplate the things of God via the intellect, even register on our scales of what the anointing looks like?
Granted, one of the things Pentecostal churches have done very well is in allowing worshipers the full range of emotional expression during our services. We have recognized that God’s Spirit will impact the whole person, and that singing, shouting, dancing, weeping aloud, and such are therefore not improper. We have given people freedom to respond to God as they feel to (within the bounds of propriety), and that’s something to be celebrated. I am not calling for a reduction in this freedom. On the contrary, I am rather arguing for increased discernment in terms of recognizing the Spirit’s movement among us through means other than emotional response. We were so good, in our early days, of freeing souls to worship through the emotions, (contra so many other groups of the day), that in many ways we have baptized the emotional reaction as a spiritual one.
A final thought on Pentecostalism, emotion, and the anointing. In my experience of our history, much of what we do – from the types of songs we sing, sermons preached, and altar calls we hear – to our perception of what the anointing looks like, is geared towards the emotion. Emotionally wired people thus fit in, and are typically ministered to very well. For my friends who are wired primarily as “thinkers”, and not as “feelers”, however, you may have often felt as though you don’t fit in among Pentecostals. You may have even wondered (as I regularly did when I was younger), “What’s wrong with me? Why doesn’t God speak to me? Why am I not ‘moved’ in our worship services? Why don’t I ‘get’ this sermon?” The fact is there is nothing wrong with you at all. You’ve simply been conditioned to expect God to speak to you on one ‘channel’ – the emotions – instead of through your natural inclination towards reason, within the life of the mind.
One of the most freeing days of my life was when I finally realized that God can speak to me in precisely the way I need to hear – the way he wired me to hear. This has not been through ways typically experienced in Pentecostalism. Worship connects with me, for example, when the theology in the song is particularly rich; I get “buzzed” when studying the theories of the Atonement. To those “misfits” within Pentecostalism, those who experience the world through the life of the mind first, I say this: The God who created the universe so that no two fingerprints are alike, and no two snowflakes are alike, is well able to speak to you in your language – in ways tailor made for your understanding.
My hope is not that Pentecostalism will cease to encourage the full range of emotional responses to the Spirit’s presence, but that we will sharpen our tools of discernment and recognize that there are a great many signs of the Spirit’s anointing in our midst that we have heretofore failed to properly appreciate. Further, we should explore ways of mediating the rich presence of the Holy Spirit in our services to those who will connect with him on a cognitive level first. In so doing, we will help our brothers and sisters, who are more intellectually or rationally wired, to honestly declare that they feel at home within Pentecostalism.