Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Miracles, faith, and fundamentalists

When I first became a fundamentalist Pentecostal believer I was 14 years of age and it was 1984. I was always told for as long as I could remember by my mother that the only true church of Christ was the Pentecostal church. I was eventually converted in my high school by a young man named Michael, he was always witnessing to whoever would listen either in the hallways or the lunch room where he eventually met me. It did not take long to convince me of the truth of his faith because I was already taught at home that God was real. 

Although my mother did not attend church she claimed a firm belief in God based on her alleged personal supernatural encounters with the divine. She raised me on tales of having heard the voice of God, having dreams and visions where she saw herself in heaven, being miraculously rescued from dangerous situations by divine intervention, and seeing her name in a vision written in the book of life! What I did not know about my mother as a child was that she was a schizophrenic and had been diagnosed with a slew of other mental disorders. To this day she holds to her beliefs but lives as she pleases and is not a big fan of institutionalized religion. She claims she is saved based on her previous alleged experiences and does not give a damn about what anyone has to say about it. Not to mention that she knows nothing about what is really written in the bible, or what it has to say about some of her own contradictory behavior.

One of the things that distinguish the Pentecostals and other fundamentalist churches from some of your more mainstream sects of Christianity is the apparent signs and wonders (miracles) that accompany their teachings. They are referred to as charismatics because they have an extraordinary ability to attract others to their faith. There is lively music, dancing, and a huge emphasis on the so called gifts of the Holy Spirit. They speak in tongues and people swear that they have been healed of their sicknesses through nothing more than the prayers of the faithful or a gifted servant of the Lord.
Pentecostals base their beliefs on the miraculous aspects associated with their faith entirely on Mark 16:17,18  
17 These are the signs that will be associated with believers: in my name they will cast out devils; they will have the gift of tongues; 18 they will pick up snakes in their hands and be unharmed should they drink deadly poison; they will lay their hands on the sick, who will recover.' 

What they fail to realize is that these verses are believed by most scholars to have been added to the text sometime later. Most scholars agree that the book of Mark ended with verse 8 which states that ‘the women came out and ran away from the tomb because they were frightened out of their wits; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.’ Here is a short article on why many scholars agree that Mark 16 ended in the eighth verse and that verses 9-20 are believed to be later additions to the text .

Pentecostals are also literalist when it comes to the scriptures so no matter how impossible or implausible a tale in the scriptures may be, their answer to the naysayers would be that nothing is impossible for God in accordance with Luke 1:37 and other similar passages throughout the bible. They also get support for their beliefs and practices in worship from 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 which specifically names 9 gifts of the Spirit:
8 To one is given from the Spirit the gift of utterance expressing wisdom; to another the gift of utterance expressing knowledge, in accordance with the same Spirit; 9 to another, faith, from the same Spirit; and to another, the gifts of healing, through this one Spirit; 10 to another, the working of miracles; to another, prophecy; to another, the power of distinguishing spirits; to one, the gift of different tongues and to another, the interpretation of tongues.

This has led to what I refer to as miracle mongering. A night of worship at a Pentecostal church is like a night at the circus. One hell of a show is given with people passing out all over the place; what they refer to as being slain in the Spirit. Others speaking in tongues or rather yelling in tongues, sometimes you get someone apparently interpreting what is being said, and others giving words of prophesy to the adherents.

When I was an evangelist I found that one of the things that turned me off the most about the church was how the miracle mongers would flock to the altar if they saw you demonstrate what they believed to be the working of the Holy Spirit in some form or another. If they saw you whisper in someone’s ear they assumed you were giving them a word from the Lord and came running to the altar. If they saw someone or several people pass out at your spoken word or when you laid hands on someone they flocked to the altar. Most Pentecostals that I encountered during those days were biblically ignorant. To this day they are expert cherry pickers who conveniently choose from the scriptures what they want to accept and what they want to ignore.

These people did not come to church to receive knowledge or learn the word of God, they came for the so called confirmation of the word through the outward display of God’s power. They came to feel God’s presence and power in their being. They wanted to be “blessed” and speak in tongues and get caught up in the miraculous and the unbelievable without a care in the world. I too at one time was on a quest; I too, was a miracle monger. But all of that faded away as my knowledge increased. Even in those days as a believer I was inquisitive and questioned every one of my experiences and analyzed those of others.

One thing I have learned from my experience as a believer and now as an atheist is that you can’t easily shake the faith of someone who has had a myriad of subjective experiences that they believe have come from the divine. Knowledge is power, but you have to be willing to allow it to mold you and follow the evidence to where ever it may lead. This takes courage and it is entirely up to the individual believer to take that journey. It is my opinion that as long as there is gullibility there will always be faith in the improbable and the impossible.

Note: All biblical quotes are taken from the New Jerusalem bible translation.


  1. I am so glad I found your blog. I could be mistaken, but I thought that Pentecostals were called Charismatics because of the Charismata (gifts of the Holy Spirit). I am an ex-Baptist preacher (SBC), so for most of my time as a believer I frowned upon the sign gifts in my cessationism, and then became not a charismatic, but a continuationist (the distinction being in the nature and use of the divine gifts from that of charismatics), and before that, an ardent Calvinist (predestination). So, I am coming from an entirely different side of the camp you were in, but welcome to the tribe anyway, Brother. :) (Actually, I have only been an atheist for a couple of years now, so I'm still in the raving newbie stage, another form of "terrible twos" I guess). Anyways, the definition I found for Charismatics was:

    1. Theology. a divinely conferred gift or power.


    1. Welcome Byron,and thanks for taking the time to comment. Charismatics is a general term used for believers who emphasize the gifts of the Spirit in their worship and during its services. I found a definition on the Bing online dictionary here it is:
      having charisma: possessing great powers of charm or influence
      seeking direct spiritual experiences: describes Christian groups or worship characterized by a quest for inspired and ecstatic experiences such as healing, prophecy, and speaking in tongues


      Also there are other articles on the subject

      Follow this link for more information: http://www.factualworld.com/article/Charismatic_%28movement%29