How to Have Your Faith Cake and Eat It Too

By Reed, David A. | Anglican Journal, April 1997 | Go to article overview

How to Have Your Faith Cake and Eat It Too


Reed, David A., Anglican Journal


I AM A 'TWEENER. I have known it in my gut for over 25 years. But I have been able to name it for only 10. It is that blessed curse of inhabiting two worlds without being totally at home in either one. It is the ability to speak two languages, without experiencing one as a native tongue.

My own species of 'tweenness is a religious one. It was forcefully brought home to me during visits to the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship, where the Toronto Blessing has been received and exported around the world for three years.

In its new spacious home which can accommodate 4,000, I encountered a religious happening reminiscent of mystics and revivalists. Here the traditional aura of silence and listening for the "still, small voice" of God is shattered by a noisy, even rowdy, display of divine power. People shake uncontrollably, laugh infectiously (whole rows of them!), and fall to the floor compliantly. Stories of healings and conversions are showcased at each service.

No God of the traditional pew here - distant, dispassionate and a little hard of hearing. I had a picture of a very physical parent-God who is at one moment raucously playing with God's children, and at another shaking them by the collar demanding to be heeded - a hands-on God!

The Airport Church phenomenon, however, did not crash a solemn high liturgy, at least in its current guise. Until recently it belonged to a wider network of congregations which began two decades ago in California. This vineyard Fellowship of churches represents only the most recent manifestation (some call it the third wave) of the older charismatic movement, which is itself a species of the pentecostal revival begun at the turn of this century.

All three share a strong supernaturalist belief in a God who breaks into the world of natural and human affairs. Spiritual healings, speaking in tongues, divinely inspired visions and a catalogue of physical demonstrations are commonplace in theory if not always in practice. Which is where my confession begins.

My journey into this middle world of the 'tweener began in rural New Brunswick. My religious birth was almost synonymous with my physical birth. Earliest memories contain images of the early pentecostal "revival," from the distinctive though sometimes uncomfortable vantage point of the front pew.

Scenes were both awesome and scary. I saw the local drunk get religion, and the religious establishment sneer. Worshippers were sometimes "slain" in the Spirit (a strong-arm version of the catch-me-when-I-fall strategy at the Airport Church), and the upright in the community derided us in disgust. Our people sang lustily, prayed passionately, shared deeply and gave sacrificially. That was awesome.

But they sometimes amplified the temperature of hell to the melting point - I didn't want to go there. They occasionally predicted dire warnings about the end of the world - I didn't want to go now, even to heaven. They pressed hard for commitment, and sometimes encroached upon my young, delicate, private space. That was scary.

Life in any other church was unknown to me. Brief glimpses inside their traditional gothic structures felt and smelled strange. The silence was not reverence. It was spooky. The smell was not that of a well-frequented gathering place. It was musty. The varnished pews and expensive carpets looked rich and well cared for. But they didn't look used, and certainly weren't child-proofed. My church had the feeling of home, and I knew I belonged.

But as my circle of social activity widened, I became more anxious that my friends would discover I was a "holy roller." Playground conversations were dangerous places for such unplanned revelations. I recall both the pain and anger the day my Grade 8 teacher publicly ridiculed my church, presumably ignorant that I was "one of them." Yet without ever wishing to abandon the church of my birth, I was secretly proud when my first home church erected a new building - it had windows with gothic arches!

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