Sunday, April 1, 2007

Borat Gets Saved

I finally broke down and rented Borat. Not my first choice of movie, but it’s become such an influence in pop culture, I figured it was time to understand what everyone is talking about. Anyway, the movie was almost exactly what I expected – over the top, somewhat disturbing, but overall quite funny. I say “almost” though, because I certainly wasn’t expecting it to be thought provoking…

The turning point in the movie comes when Borat hits rock-bottom, forced to sleep on the street and burn his beloved Baywatch magazine for warmth. But lucky for Borat, he wanders into a Pentecostal church and gets a whole new taste of America.

The Pentecostals are having a Sunday worship service, and it is quite a scene! People are running up and down the aisles, jumping, screaming, jabbering incoherently (otherwise known as speaking in tongues,) and one guy is doing some jiggly dancing that is sort of a cross between the MC Hammer and a seizure. The scene culminates with Borat at the front of the church, claiming his belief in the Holy Spirit. A leader, who I assume is the pastor, declares Borat healed and whacks him in the head with the heel of his hand, causing Borat to faint and fall to the ground. Fortunately, some well trained “catchers” are there to ease his landing.

I am watching this thinking, “Crazy Pentecostals – no wonder people think Christians are deranged. What the crap are you doing?” But then I realize – I am falling into the very trap I hate the most; I am judging a group of Christians solely by what I have seen in the media. I have never been to a Pentecostal church, and I have no idea WHY they do what they do. So time for a little research.

There are plenty of passages in the Bible that encourage believers to worship in a physical way, especially in Psalms. You can do your own reading, but shouting to the Lord and dancing for joy are common directives. In I Timothy 2:8, the Apostle Paul even directs us to “lift up holy hands in prayer.” Score one for the Pentecostals.

But what doesn’t seem to be clear is the EXTENT to which you are supposed to do these things. I have sung praise songs and raised my hands to the Lord, but I can promise you, I have NEVER done them quite as exuberantly as Borat’s buddies. Am I too uptight, or are Pentecostals suffering from too much of a good thing?

On to speaking in tongues. According to, “To speak in tongues is to fluently speak a language of either men or angels, a language that does not come from your mind, but by way of God’s spirit within you.” Sound wacky and bogus? Maybe not.

Speaking in tongues is considered a Spiritual Gift, and was prevalent in the early Church. Paul devotes I Corinthians 14 to the practice, even claiming to do it more than any of the other church members at that time (v. 18). In verse 39, he goes so far as to instruct the Church NOT to forbid speaking in tongues, which implies that they must have been thinking about banning it. Was Paul the first Pentecostal?

I don’t think so. If you read on, Paul says, “But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue (v. 19).” As the chapter progresses, he advocates a common sense approach to worship services, giving specific instruction for keeping things organized and cohesive. In verse 40, Paul sums up the whole chapter, “But everything must be done in a fitting and orderly way.”

I just don’t see how running up and down aisles and doing the Seizure Hammer dance in front of the whole church can be described as orderly. The idea of fainting after being “healed” (known as being “slain in the Spirit”) only became popular in the 19th century, and has no strong basis in Scripture that I can see. And some Pentecostal groups believe that if you can’t or don’t speak in tongues, you have not really received the Holy Spirit, the presence of God which dwells within a true Christian. Paul’s teachings don’t support that, and I don’t buy it.

Personally, I am often moved by the Holy Spirit. It generally happens when I am awed by something in nature, or when I am singing praise songs. The feeling is hard to explain, but I would best describe it as an overwhelming joy, followed by a great sense of peace. The God I know doesn’t need me to SAY anything – He understands what’s in my heart.

So am I going to become Pentecostal anytime soon? No way. Do I think Pentecostal practices are wrong? Absolutely NOT. I’m just not sure it’s the BEST way to influence others.

I would say to today’s Pentecostals what Paul said to the early church a long time ago: “Suppose everyone in your worship service started speaking unknown languages, and some outsiders or some unbelievers come in. Won’t they think you are crazy? (v. 23)” Yep. And some believers will too.


Anonymous said...

Excellent my good friend Shelley! I actually helped a friend lead worship for a few months in a Pentacostal church in Clemson when I was in school there. The people were very kind, loving and appreciative of our service to them. However the services turned into 3 hour events with healings and speaking on tongues. There were only 20 or so people at the church so how many times do they need to be healed. Also one man stood up, spoke in "tongues" and interpreted himself as God speaking through him. Other younger members seemed to be just making noises mimicking their parents. My friend and I met with the pastor to discuss what the Bible had to say. He and we both pointed out many of the same scriptures you just mentioned. We did not continue to lead worship there because we felt it was all about the speaking in tongues and all and not about living a LIFe of worship to our Heavenly Father. I couldn't help but think of 1 Cor. 13:1. We church people Pentacostal, Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, Church of Christ whatever we call ourselves always want to pull something out of the Bible to make ourselves stand out (such as our own interpretations of spiritual gifts, disagreement on dancing or playing music in church). To me we all need to work on loving the world around us, and when we have become good at that then we can start with the rest. I say this to myself before anyone else. I have to follow my own advice or else I am a hypocrite. Love someone today. Don't confuse them.

Nashville, TN

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