On Remaining Pentecostal

By: Dale M. Coulter
Tuesday, April 1st, 2014

Occasionally I have been asked why I remain Pentecostal. The question is not without merit. It usually comes from friends in other traditions (although sometimes my own) who look at me and then look at Pentecostalism and wonder: “Surely there is something better out there.”

In truth, I cannot answer the question of whether Pentecostalism is genuinely “better.” It’s better in some ways; worse in others. There is always the good, the bad, and the just plain ugly. It has some good qualities, but falls short in a lot of areas.

When I think about why I remain a Pentecostal, the analogy that comes to mind is marriage. There are a lot of forms of the Christian faith that I love. I admire the beauty, the liturgy, the deep theological streams, and many other aspects of various Christian traditions.

This is my way of saying that I have deep, abiding friendships of mutual respect and love.

But I am still in love with Pentecostalism. She is my lover and, as far as I can tell, always will be. She took me in and nourished me in the faith and I am prepared to go the distance with this lover despite the fact that she can be abusive, callous, and even cruel at times. I have been stung by her words and witnessed the way she has wounded her children.

I’ve also seen how wonderfully surprising she can be–like Hobbits whose courage pops up in the oddest of places. I’ve been told that the Pentecostalism I know does not exist except in my own mind, but I’ve seen her.

I have witnessed her in the small prayer meetings where groans and cries are uttered through the night for God to intervene into the midst of life’s tragedies. I glimpsed her beauty in the deep embraces around an altar by persons who, according to social mores, should not even associate with one another let alone hug, kiss, and weep together.

I caught her hue in the harmonies of Appalachia and the deep sighs of the Delta. I beheld the beauty of her many shades–from the soft whites to the deep chocolates and all the marvelous browns and yellows and mahoganies in between.

No, for these reasons and many others, I remain committed. There are many others out there who are married to different parts of Christian tradition and I would not attempt to sever them from their lover. But God has called me to her.

My commitment, however, means a refusal to allow her to wallow in nakedness and shame when she sins before God. If I am called to this lover, then I am called to awaken all of her potential as best as I can. I am called to help her find her true self once again–an identity that I don’t yet clearly see myself “BUT GOD.”

This is no starry-eyed naivetĂ©. Not only have I’ve lived with her long enough to see the dark side, as a historian I know her secrets and what she’d like to keep hidden from others. No, this is more akin to a vow to be with her.

And so I stay with this lover whose faltering steps and youthful determination still attract me.

I will name her sins.

I will see her through trials and temptations.

I will walk with her through meandering theologies and even “biblical” absurdities because, at the end of the day, I am in love with her.


Dale M. Coulter
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4 Responses to “On Remaining Pentecostal”

  1. dennis says:

    Several therapists at times have recommended divorce to me for my sake, and let the Church of God grow, in its own direction. Somehow I have withered the storms of my own life and continue in this strange form of Chaplain to psychiatric patients. The patients however know the songs, the moanings, the joys and prayers. We were and in many still are them!

  2. sharon rabideau says:

    I would like to say that I agree with you. I was born and raised in roman Catholicism. I experienced childhood abuse by my agnostic dad. became a hippe and a humanist do gooder. I found Christ or he found me, in a Presbyterian Church at the funeral of a wonderful woman. It took a year for me to commit. Since that time I have been in Baptist, non-denominational, nazarene, pentecostal, and other churches. I have found that all churches are VERY capable of spiritual abuse including the churches that are bellowing so vociferously against the pentacostal “prosperity” preaching churches. Interestingly and sadly many of those other churches have instances of adultery, greed, manipulation etc as the more flashy churches which call attention to themselves. I love Christianity period and seeing the abuse I feel wounded, but I consider anyone who is truly a Christ lover to be my brother/sister and I will defend to the death a person’s right to worship where he feels called. We need to walk humbly with one another and love our brothers just as Jesus loved us.

  3. Mike Vande says:

    I remain Pentecostal because I don’t see any expression of the Body of Christ that has anything better to offer. I will grant that Pentecostalism has it’s problems. But so do all the other forms of Christianity.

    It would be untrue to say I haven’t been disappointed in my years as a Pentecostal. But I find that those disappointments have come from counting on explanations and theologies concocted by people who think they know what they are talking about, but are merely guessing about the working of the Holy Spirit. The prosperity preachers that enrich themselves, the healing ministries that don’t really heal anybody, the prophets whose words fall to the ground, the preachers & evangelists who preach salvation and fall into sin of all sorts, these are people who think they understand how God works when they don’t have a clue.

    But even these distressing and destructive people can never take away, or even diminish the reality of what happened to me all those years ago, and the manifestations of God’s Spirit in my life since. I know Pentecostalism is real, even if the people who claim to understand it don’t. I’m quite willing to let God be God, infinite, sovereign, and well beyond the comprehension of a finite human mind. And on that basis, I’ll remain a Pentecostal, and a Christian.

  4. Daniel Davis says:

    It occurs to me that when we speak of Pentecostalism we are speaking of a “renewal” movement/tradition, not a “renewed” movement/tradition. The latter creates an expectation of a completed work of renewal that would elevate Pentecostalism to a status of perfection. The former, however, acknowledges that we are “pilgrim people” (to borrow a V2 term). We have not “apprehended” (to borrow a Pauline term), but press forward. The hope is that as individuals and communities we can say, “You’re right; we have a lot wrong with us. But things are much better for us than before this work of renewal, and we pray he continues to convert us. This is the Spirit’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes!”