It’s Sunday morning, 9:45. The doors are opened wide and the crowd is streaming into this colonial style brick church. Its white steeple rises above the horizon, easily visible for over half a mile. The ornate sanctuary can easily accommodate the fifteen hundred worshipers. The choir in their scarlet satin robes is already assembled under the able direction of the music minister, a full time position in this church.
As I enter the building, a familiar face greets me. Roscoe, always smiling, has welcomed the new and the old to every service I can remember. Keith, his wife Ann, and their two lovely children are there. So are Ron and his family. I see elderly Clarence and Joanne already seated across the way. Another Sunday begins in the church where I was baptized.
The weekly bulletin proclaims that today’s sermon is taken from the book of Kings. It will deal with Eli and his two sons. The Pastor’s theme is, “Fathers – Train Your Sons!”
I know that message will be delivered with clarity and force. Our preacher is not only a gifted speaker; he is ardent in his convictions and not slow to share them.
Every man in the enormous and stately sanctuary is dressed in suit and tie. That’s the only attire acceptable in this house of God. And every adult present brought his or her Bible, usually a well-thumbed copy bordering on its last days. The Word is king in this church.
It’s 10:00 o’clock. The service begins punctually as always. First is the Morning Prayer. Then we sing two hymns; always two, never one or three. Next the choir performs its rendition. You can tell they have rehearsed extensively under professional direction. Nothing is left to chance.
The next order of business is prayer requests and testimonies. The testimonies, few as they are, consist of shared feelings on the part of the parishioners. The prayer requests are more plentiful – a lot more plentiful. We all, remaining seated, reverently bow our heads and are led in prayer by the Assistant Pastor. Then comes the message!
As promised, our Pastor delivers it with vigor. He relates the experiences of those folks in ancient Israel to our situations today. There is no shrinking or shirking. No one, man or woman, who leaves this church today, can ever claim they were unaware of the responsibilities of parenthood.
Most of the congregation busily take notes as the preacher brings it home. This is a Bible believing church filled with Bible believing Baptists. And make no mistake, they know God’s word and can share it.
Last is the altar call. This is a given. If any unsaved individual is in the audience, they now have the opportunity to come forward. The Pastor always gives the invitation, “With every head down and every eye closed.” This is to lessen potential embarrassment to anyone who needs to do business with the Lord.
We then stand for the first time in an hour and a half to receive the blessing and be dismissed. On the way out, the Pastor greets the departing churchgoers with a handshake and receives some well-deserved compliments for a powerful sermon. Another Sunday morning service, concluded in good order and, in all aspects, completely predictable.
After an early dinner and a relaxing Sunday afternoon, it’s time for evening services. Instead of returning to the familiar surroundings of the morning, I travel a bit farther north to a place I had heard about. It is called “The Lighthouse.”
Architecturally unlike the traditional colonial brick church of the morning with its Greek columns and magnificent steeple, this building is round in shape and ultra modern in appearance. Plenty of glass and steel here. That’s not the only difference.
I was one of the last to arrive and the evening service was already underway – really underway! No one was sitting. The congregation was moving about, arms outstretched with hands lifted high, singing in praise to the Lord. The entire room, a sanctuary holding about five hundred, was filled to capacity. Amidst the dancing and singing were occasional shouts and, from one part of the room, somebody loudly proclaiming something in a language I had never heard. From another corner, a different parishioner was translating. It looked like Bedlam! I wondered if I had entered an asylum just after the inmates took over.
Then the Pastor, Dave was his name, stepped to the microphone and led the entire audience in more of the same. There were plenty of seats but no one was using them. These people worship on their feet.
Suddenly the room became quiet. Dave began to pray. The others and I joined him in prayer, but we weren’t all saying the same thing. Then Dave began to pray in an unknown language, a tongue known only to him and God. Others were doing likewise. A mighty Stillness breathed its power through the sanctuary. I felt it as clearly as I feel my right arm.
After a few moments, we all took our seats for the first time. Pastor Dave called for testimonies and prayer requests. A few people asked for the Lord’s help on specific issues. Then came the testimonies. People saved from drug addiction, folks cured of cancer after the doctors had given up, one young man delivered from a lifetime of alcoholism, a baby rescued from death’s door by the healing hand of the Lord. Yes there were testimonies here all right, plenty of them! Each one was followed by “Hallelujah’s” and praise from the congregation, often in unknown tongues.
As I glanced around the building, I realized that I was one of the few men wearing a suit. Pastor Dave and I were in a distinct minority to the countless sport shirts and even a few tee shirts. Unlike the morning in Baptist land, these folks gave practice to that hymn,“Just as I Am”.
I also sensed that there was a form of order here. It wasn’t repetitive or predictable in any sense, but it was present.
After the testimonies and praises of thanks to God concluded, Dave delivered his evening sermon. It was short and very much to the point. I didn’t notice anyone taking notes.
Then we were back on our feet, this time for the duration of the hour-long service. The evening concluded with the one thing these Independent Pentecostals had in common with the Baptists down the street. . . . . An altar call!
Only this one was not with every head down and every eye closed. Anyone wishing to partake of Jesus’ offer of salvation could do it publicly in front of God and the assembled company, all of whom were standing on their feet praising the Lord with outstretched arms as the invitation was given.
Upon leaving the building, I stopped a few of the members of this group, which at the time I considered very unorthodox. I asked them some questions about their beliefs. While almost all were a bit hazy on the finer points of scripture, there was no hesitation whatsoever in relating the miracles God had performed in their lives. They knew Jesus and, more importantly, knew that He knew them. This was a Christian church ruled by the Spirit.
Although the differences in style of worship are apparent at a glance, these are both churches with a vision. Both send missionaries around the world and both proclaim the ownership of Jesus as their king and savior. They both, at least ostensibly, share the same creed of beliefs. That’s where the similarities end.
It’s a matter of priorities. The members of the beautiful Baptist church in which I was baptized study God’s word as if their very lives depend on it. They pay lip service to the Holy Spirit and pray regularly.
But I wonder if those prayers aren’t usually just words spoken to the wind. Yes, they are fervent in their needs, but lacking in expectation. My Baptist friends pray for the sick and the dying, but the sick remain ill and the dying departs. There are no drug addicts or alcoholics here. They aren’t tolerated. The unanswered prayers are explained away as “God’s will” or simply forgotten as the norm.
As to the gifts of the Spirit? Well . . .. They are a bit hazy on this, but with their knowledge of the word, they can allegorize these gifts quickly enough.
Those at The Lighthouse expect results when they pray and with good reason. They can tell you all about their personal experiences with the Lord. So can I.
Let me digress for a moment to a couple of those personal experiences. The Pentecostals assert that speaking in tongues is the initial evidence of salvation and the entrance of the Holy Spirit. Since I don’t speak in other tongues as a matter of course, this concerned me. I asked some visiting preachers to lay hands on me and connect me to whatever was lacking in my walk with Jesus. (Yes, I know. The laying on of hands is another concept that seems foreign to my fellow Baptists.)
It is difficult to describe what happened next. The best I can offer is that I was simultaneously in and outside of my body as I observed myself through the Lord’s eyes. My spirit was speaking in another tongue for the sole purpose of demonstrating, TO ME, that I had that capability. At the same time, my Lord and I were laughing at me because of my serious concern over this topic. It really was funny and, to this day, I break out in laughter when I recall it.
I lost my voice entirely several years ago. The doctor who examined me diagnosed gastric reflux disease but he also had a lingering concern about cancer. He prescribed a treatment regimen and told me to come back in two weeks, on a Friday. His prognosis was rather frightening. If my voice did not markedly improve, his plan was immediate surgery that day with a biopsy and the possible removal of my larynx.
With two days left, I still could only whisper. I journeyed up to The Lighthouse and Dave laid hands on me. Remember what He said? “When two or more of mine are gathered in my name. . . .” We prayed in unified belief for the Lord’s healing touch.
Those aren’t just words, my friends. Dave wasn’t the only one in the room with belief. I have complete confidence in the Lord and did at that time as well. This took place on Thursday afternoon with twenty-four hours to go. I got a good night’s sleep knowing that the problem was in the right hands. The next morning, D-Day Friday, I awakened with my voice completely restored to normal.
I could relate a number of other instances in which the Lord has physically and visibly intervened in my life. It’s what lawyers call, “An indicia of evidence.”
The folks at the Lighthouse and I have a plethora of that evidence. Jesus, when he walked among us, gave legs to the lame, sight to the blind, cleansed the lepers with his touch and raised the dead with his voice. Even the Roman Centurion realized that Jesus’ physical presence in the limitations of a three dimensional body was not required to heal his servant and friend.
But what about that Baptist church? Is it useless and unnecessary?
No! Not at all.
Anyone who is at least mildly curious regarding God’s plan for each of us individually, our nation, the human race as a whole and this planet on which we live needs a thorough grounding in God’s word. As important as it is to know Him, to know His word is vital to the fulfillment of the Great Commission. Time is running short. How long is left before He returns? I don’t know. I know there is one day less than yesterday. God told us in Paul’s letter to Timothy to “Study to show yourselves approved.” I want His approval. Don’t you?
While reading that great message, remember there is a very real Spirit with very real power, unfettered and ready to act in your behalf. James 5:13-15 reads, “Is any one of you in trouble? Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is anyone of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in ‘FAITH’ will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up.” (NIV – emphasis added)
James also mentioned that the man who asks but lacks belief is a double-minded man who will receive nothing.
Yes, I believe. If I am in trouble, I know where to go. So do those folks at The Lighthouse. We know who has the blueprint. Jesus is the Great Physician and he still makes house calls!
If I am to share this knowledge with others, I can expect those folks to ask questions. To answer them, you and I need to study God’s word. When seeking a tremendous message, I need look no further than that old Baptist church.
Denominational differences have fragmented the brotherhood of Christ and diminished our power. I often think that if we could somehow join these two churches into one, it would be the same church that Peter and John pastored almost two thousand years ago.
To the cab driver, who is also one of my cherished friends and brothers in Christ: May God bless you for sharing this insight into two different styles of church worship. You and I may not always see eye to eye, but we serve the same risen Lord and Savior. The Holy Bible tells us where two or three are gathered together in the name of God, He also is present. Thanks for sharing this profound article. Thomas. P.S. When I get to Heaven, of which I have no doubt, I will rejoice in touring Heaven with you and all of God's saints, regardless of the church we are comfortable with here on earth. All that matters as far as whether or not we will live in Heaven is whether or not we have accepted Jesus into our hearts. No pretenders will enter there. Thanks for sharing. Thomas
11 Sep 2006
It was Thomas K. who introduced me to you. I read what you said on his article about the Church. Your title is eye-catching. And if it had not been such a well-written article, I would have lost consentration before finishing such a long account, as late in the evening my mind tends to shut down. But you held my interest to the end. Your story about the two churches was great. In my lifetime, I have been acquainted with both types of church. My sister, a missionary to India, is associated with the Independant Pentecostals. She tells about her church in India, whose attendance every Sunday is over 2500 eager people. She tells of miracles, such as you describe. And I have seen miracles too. We need more live churches, such as the two churches you attend. I think what you describe, shows the diversity of personalities represented in the Church of Christ.
Thanks for the kind comments. An old joke: When touring heaven with the Lord, a newcomer heard the sounds of laughter and voices behind a closed privacy fence. He asked God, "Why the fence and who is behind it?"
God's reply: "We built the fence for the Baptists. They think they're the only ones up here."
I can tell it because I'm a Baptist, but I don't think we'll be at all alone.