Everything That Shouts Ain’t Pentecostal!

It’s the word that strikes fear in the hearts of countless Adventists…

Pentecostal! 

It inspires images of everything from holy dancing to holy flesh. From speaking in tongues to slaying in the Spirit. It’s the first complaint many conference presidents hear on their way in, and the last complaint many pastors hear on their way out!

You’ve probably heard the criticism. “That service was entirely too pentecostal,” or “too Baptist”, or my all-time favorite, “too first-day.” Then there is the classic, “This is an Adventist church!”

These days the villain of choice is, “neo-pentecostalism.” That label alone can shut down a discussion. Some presenters toss the term around like a torpedo, and you sense they searched for sources to validate an opinion they already had. Their purpose is generally to warn about worship they have judged to be inappropriate or unbiblical. 

Classic Pentecostalism is a renewal movement within the Protestant church that began well over a century ago. Today there are more than 700 Pentecostal denominations, with no central structure but a fairly consistent belief system. Growing up in Memphis, Tennessee, I lived in the shadow of the largest Pentecostal denomination in the world, the Church of God in Christ. Back then I was always struck by how similar they were to Adventists in certain areas:

Conservative Protestant Theology

Pentecostal evangelists, like Adventists preachers, were railing against the danger of liberal theology. They preached the second coming of Jesus, the authority of the Scriptures, the Trinity, the literal resurrection of Jesus, salvation by grace alone, etc.

Separated Living

Pentecostals gave a whole new meaning to the word, “holiness.” As strict as Adventists were, they were in good company with Pentecostals who preached against everything from motion pictures to baseball; from lipstick to sheer stockings, long hair on men to short hair on women. They were tough.

“Sabbath” Observance 

Now the day was different but the restrictions were absolutely the same. No cooking on Sunday. No washing on Sunday. No TV on Sunday. No bike riding on Sunday.  Nothing but church, church and when you finished with that…more church!

Of course, the distinction that causes the controversy is the Pentecostal emphasis on the works of the Holy Spirit. Particularly their emphasis on the baptism of the Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues. This emphasis on experiencing the “fullness” of the Spirit has inspired a generation of enthusiastic worship and a flood of destructive theology.

It’s important not to paint all lively worship services with a broad, “neo-Pentecostal” brush. Contexts are different. Things change. For instance, growing up, drums were the devil’s instrument.  Which is interesting because years earlier the guitar was the devil’s instrument. Years earlier it was the flute. Earlier still, it was the piano. Christian history is a must read.

My counsel is to get biblical before you get critical. And frankly, Seventh-day Adventists, with our proud history of visions and dreams and passionate worship services, should be especially humble when evaluating the worship of other faith traditions. Ellen White gives us a glimpse.

 The place was filled with Spirit of the Lord.  Some rejoiced, others wept. All felt that the Lord was drawing very near…When seated Mrs. White began to praise the Lord, till her voice changed, and the deep clear shouts of Hallelujah thrilled every heart.”[1]

“The influence of the melody, accompanied by Brother Clark’s solemn appearance and sweet shouts seemed electrifying,” White recalled. “Many were in tears, while responses of Amen and Praise the Lord were heard from almost everyone who loved the Advent hope.”[2]

“I saw that singing to the glory of God often drove the enemy, and shouting would beat him back and give us victory.”[3]

Students of Adventist history understand that enthusiasm in Adventist worship has ebbed and flowed as false movements came and went. Our priority is to always be a people of the book. That assumes that we’ll be careful students of interpretation and context.

It helps to observe worship expressions that the Bible not only includes but also encourages.

  • Standing – Psalm 119:120
  • Clapping – Psalm 47:1
  • Lifting hands – Psalm 63:4
  • Bowing  – Psalm 95:6
  • Shouting – Psalm 27:6

I could have listed dancing but I don’t want to start a fight. (That’s actually not true. Good fights can be productive.) My point is not to say that these expressions are appropriate in all places, at all times. But I am saying that they are appropriate in some places, at some times.

That’s why I love worship at PELC. There’s a lot of room between our seats and the stage! We’re fine with a hearty amen or a silent witness. We might be in our thoughts, or on our faces, or on our feet. God has been just that good.

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  1. James White, “Report of Meetings” Review and Herald, Oct. 22, 1857, pp. 196,197
  2. James White, “Life Incidents” p.107
  3. Ellen White to Arabella Hastings, Aug. 4, 1850 (letter 8,1850)

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