08 October 2009

Backdoor Pentecostalism

One of the things that comes up with Pentecostal Churches is (a la "The Fire and the Staff") the idea of a two-tiered Christianity. There is the idea that there are christians and then there are CHRISTIANS, and if you don't want to be one of the lowercase christians, you need to be able to speak in tongues, do "spiritual exercises," etc.

Here is my question. With some of our language, do we end up bringing a backdoor Pentecostalism into our own Church -- and I'm not talking of the speaking in tongues, but rather of establishing tiers.

A friend of mine has brought up the idea that a Christian who simply bears the suffering in this world that is common, the results of life in a sinful world (like people just treating you poorly because they are mean, or becoming ill) are not to be considered "crosses" which Christians are to bear -- but rather that it ought only be termed a cross if is specific and directly relates to Jesus (i.e. they hate you because of Christ).

I find I have a visceral response against this distinction (or at least saying that only the later is a "cross" which a Christian bears - you can distinguish. . . but. . .). It almost seems as though saying this is saying, "Well, you have your sufferings, but look at these real Christians who are really suffering for their Lord!" It sets up tiers of suffering, tiers of service.

I would contend that anything which we as Christians suffer in this world is a cross we are to bear. One would say that the scorn of your neighbor is merely the result of sin -- I would say why else did Christ bear THE Cross if not to conquer over the sin of the world - all the sin of the world. If He bears the cross for this sin, and if He bids me pick up my cross and follow Him, why would my suffering on account of sin, the same sin on account of which He Himself suffered upon Cross not be a cross of my own?

Again - sometimes we wish to make things extra spiritual. I think this approaches what Rev. Beane noted lower with the combo service groups. It's not really God's Work unless we "spiritualize" it. . . providing pro bono legal advice isn't "Christian" unless we have the Lutheran-Episcopalian-Pentecostal-Evangelical-Legal Services (or LEPERS).

We are Spiritual beings - and everywhere we go, everything we do, everything we suffer has a Spiritual component. Whatever we are called to do - we are called by God. Whatever we suffer, we suffer as those who know why there are ills in this world and look to God for deliverance. We do not need to dimmish some sufferings to elevate others - rather, we remember that in all things, our joys or sorrows, we are to give glory to God.

Christians do not have to try to "Spiritualize" their actions. Rather, because we are Christians, all things in our lives are Spiritual -- God grant that by faith we see and understand this!

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A specific example perhaps. As an example of that which some would consider specifically not a cross - cancer. My response was as follows:

"The Christian who has cancer, yet in the midst of that pain and suffering, demonstrates the love of Christ, especially to others, bears great witness to Christ. What could be a higher witness than the showing of love to a fellow patient who is sitting terrified next to you in the waiting room at the oncologists?"

11 comments:

William Weedon said...

I usually make the distinction between bearing Christ's cross and bearing our own. We are called to take up both. But we bear Christ's cross when we are suffering for our confession of the faith per se; we bear our cross when we patiently and peacefully endure the afflictions God is pleased to send us in this life. FWIW.

Sean said...

I have a similar visceral reaction, and it seems that Bach and most other Lutherans would too. Cross and comfort hymns are for cancer patients, etc, and always have been. They are for Kenyan bishops and Chinese missionaries too, but not exclusively.

Satan afflicts, but God sends crosses. A cross is worked together for our good, evil meant for good. Unbelievers don't face crosses, just afflictions. We don't even use the language of "sanctified suffering" that much, but prefer to simply confess that God sends us our suffering, our crosses. We cut the devil out of the equation and don't give him his due, and confess instead a loving Father who works for our good.

The old general prayer was great on this. It makes a distinction between crosses, but only as much distinction as "especially" can provide.

"All who are in trouble, want, sickness, anguish of labor, peril of death, or ANY OTHER adversity, especially those whoa re in suffering for Thy Name's and for Thy Truth's sake, comfort, O God, with Thy Holy Spirit, that they may receive and acknowledge their afflictions as the manifestation of Thy Fatherly will."

It only makes sense that sickness, cancer, is wrapped up with the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh. Christians nevertheless receive and confess it (against reason) as coming from the hand of God, a God who promised to do such things, and attached promises to crosses: the crown of life, comfort, blessing, strengthened faith, and resurrection from the dead.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Rev. Weedon,

I can see that distinction that you make -- and I do not mind it as it does address the reality that both are in fact crosses to bear. That isn't in the same ballpark as that to which I refer in the post.

However, I must also wonder if even that distinction fails upon some of the wonder of the Christian life. Yes, it may be that I bear Christ's Cross when I suffer for His sake - but that truly has become my cross, something God has deigned to permit unto me.

And indeed, even Christ's own cross is but in reality my Cross, my Cross of guilt and shame which He bore for me. I can see the distinction, but what comfort, what encouragement does it give to distinguish between the two? (That really was a question -- when I get all semi-mystical like this, I end up questioning more)

Pastor Foy said...

Although you might call both suffering overtly for the sake of confession a "cross" and also the suffering of daily life in this flesh as afflicted with our own sin, the temptations of Satan, and the alurements of the world a "cross"; are they not both the burdens that the Lord allows or even wills that they might temper faith, remove the dross and thus by His hand and mercy (even if that is not what it "feels" like) strenghten the faith He has given that it might endure to the end and receive the crown of life?

Cancer is most certainly the result of sin in the world, so are all diseases, mental disorders, sexual perversions, greed, gluttony, gossip, and death itself. Men suffer from some if not all of these things in varying degrees. Bearing up under these things, even if they are suffered by another whom we love, is only by God's doing, carrying, sustaining. (1 Cor:10:13)

The specter of death is certainly a cross to bear. For to toss of these crosses which actually humble us before Him who alone saves us, sustains and keeps us,is to cast off salvation.

The humble shall be exalted but the mighty will be brought low. To the original post, the "tiers" of Christians is just another manifestation of sin, pride, self-righteousness, Phariseism (sp). To be chastened for it and to struggle against it is certainly a cross of one's sin and guilt to bear. (Heb 12) We are chastened by Him who is Love, our Father in Heaven.

Yet, all who are weary and heavy laden may find rest in Him who is our Rest and Peace.

Sorry to ramble. Interesting conversation.

William Weedon said...

I have found the distinction useful in dealing precisely with Christians who felt that their sufferings were not truly "cross" because they'd been catechized that only suffering persecution for the faith is worthy of the name "cross." I used it to teach that God uses ALL the sufferings that come our way as crosses by which we may be conformed to the Image of the Crucified and blessed in suffering with Him.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Rev. Weedon,

Then I can see that distinction being most useful in that case.

Also - next time any of you run into Pastor Foy, give him a hug from me =o)

Pastor Foy said...

Thanks Eric, old hugable buddy. I think you finally are leaning toward the old:)

Mary J said...

I'm so glad this discussion is happening. When I was talking with Rev. Brown, it was my intention to understand better the two uses of "cross," and how they fit together. Clarifying Christ's cross and our own, as Rev. Weedon expressed them, explains a bit better what I think my pastors were trying to teach me. Not to remove comfort (or value) from any cross, but perhaps to keep us from blaming every cough and condition on the devil. It is also very helpful for me to think about this in the terms that GOD sends crosses, but the devil does not. Thank you everyone!

Deaconess Mary Moerbe

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Rev. Foy,

This whole week I've just wanted to start a reply with "Huggable Buddy is right!" Rejoice in all your vocations!

William Weedon said...

P.S. My favorite definition of the cross is just this:

Wherever God's will crosses your will.

Susan said...

"Vocation is the cross on which the sinful nature is crucified."

Are the troubles and/or persecutions themselves the cross? Or is bearing the cross more about our sinful nature's chafing against those burdens? A Christian is called to trust in Christ, to believe that what God gives is good, no matter his station in life. When we face the troubles that hurt us -- the cancer, the poverty, the broken relationships -- isn't the biggest problem our unbelief's reaction to the circumstances?

If so, then the "cross" we bear is actually our hatred of God, our idolatry of comfort, our idolatry of reason, etc. The circumstances that hurt us -- the things we perceive to be our crosses, whether a car accident or being fired specifically because we're a Christian -- would then be more the place where the cross of our sinful nature [unbelief] is revealed.