Polarization: Do We Really Need it In The Church?

The title of Pastor Adam Hamilton’s book is Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White.  As we think about that title, it becomes clear that he is trying to comment on how we love to polarize our world.  It is so easy to see clear cut choices between black and white, right and wrong, and good and bad.  Polarization is about opposites or poles and it makes life easier and almost thoughtless at times.  There is nothing wrong with that, I guess.  Our minds just go to the pole that feels right.

It’s that gray area between the poles that is troublesome. That gray area makes us think.  That gray area makes us consider the view we have of opposing opinions before we make our choice.  We begin to think of why other people feel the way they do.

Heart ……… and Head

In yesterday’s post I shared my personal experience in visiting the Pentecostal Church and to be honest, I am “at home” there. The worship service is different from my usual service but as the old saying goes sometimes “different is good.”

Today we are going to try to illustrate a polarization with the Methodist worship style as a polar opposite to the Pentecostal worship style. Some may think this big difference does not exist.  I apologize for generalizations in advance.  I don’t intend to represent every Methodist Church.  I can’t.  But for purposes of discussion, let’s look at what the Methodist Church offers to a worshipper and since I have been a member of a Methodist Church for 19 years, I have become pretty familiar with the “method”.

While a Pentecostal believer emphasizes the Holy Spirit in worship, the Methodist believes that the Holy Spirit is alive and well and manifests itself in a believer’s daily life as they try to grow closer to the Lord. The Methodist worship service would be described as “reserved” compared to the Pentecostal service.  Pastor Hamilton was a Pentecostal before he became a Methodist Pastor and he says:  “The Pentecostal church had sermons preached with fervor, that aroused the soul but which at times, lacked substance, while the United Methodist Church I attended had sermons of lower decibel levels, but which I would remember and reflect on following worship.”

Why is this?

One factor is the founder of the Methodist Church was John Wesley, a well-educated Oxford University seminary student.   As the Methodist Church began to grow, Wesley felt a need to make sure that all pastors were trained in Christian doctrine and he insisted on meetings called conferences where pastors could be connected to other pastors and pastors could receive as much training as possible.

In short, his concern was about the head, the intellect.

Pastor Hamilton comments on the state of the intellect in churches today: “Many Christians seem to think that proper training is not important, and that it may even be a detriment to ministry.  No one would go to a heart surgeon who had never been to medical school, or a lawyer who hadn’t been to law school.  Many feel like pastors just need charisma to carry them through.”

Before you go too far, I am not pointing fingers at any particular church or any particular pastor. I know pastors who have very little formal education but they know the Bible inside and out and up and down.  I also have experienced the “intellect” effect and I know first-hand that it is not all good all the time.

An example of this effect can be seen in my love for history. I grew up very fascinated by the American Civil War.  When I enrolled in college, I just had to study the Civil War so I majored in history.  The more history classes I took, the more the professors made me think about the Civil War from a “big picture” view and I found myself far away from the battlefield, the soldiers, the cannons and the commanders riding their big horses.  I had intellect, but I lost passion for my subject matter.  I was educated in causes, generals, massive troop movements but not the real action on the battlefield.

Another example is a friend I have who literally was “on fire” for Jesus and to stoke the flames, he enrolled in seminary. He told me one day that he could not complete his seminary degree.  The more courses he took and the more professors he encountered, the more he felt distant from the feelings he had that caused him to enroll in seminary.  He dropped out.

What does the United Methodist Church offer that the Pentecostal Church does not? Many people feel the Methodist Church offers worshippers an appreciation for Christian traditions, a concern for social justice and a church experience that is less heart-driven.

However, maybe we need to be aware of the need for passion regarding our faith.  What can the Methodist Church do to get The Holy Spirit to come forth?  What can the Pentecostal church do to appeal more to the intellect?

The middle ground of our “polarization” will be in tomorrow’s post.


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