As I sat in one Atlanta’s finest Pentecostal churches last night for their weekly evening service, I pondered what kept me drawn to the church relatively often. I as I saw people in various forms of ecstatic worship and praise, I was reminded of Pavlov’s dog experiment and ultimately a lesson in classical conditioning.
The way the story was explained in my Psych 111 class (thanks Dr. Stadler!) was that Pavlov happened to have a dog and that everytime he came through the door to his science lab, a bell happened to go off over the door. Subsequently, he always had food for his dog as he entered the lab. The correlation became to the dog that every time the dog heard the bell, that it was about to get fed and would begin to salivate. Once Pavlov drew the correlation of the psychic secretion of saliva, the salivation became a conditioned response regardless if the food was present or not.
And as I sat in church last night, I realized that there is a minister greater than that of the preacher–it is the musician.
I realized that if there were no musicians, that just maybe, these people would not jump dance and shout as much as they do. For instance, there were many points in the service where there was nothing being said, but just the music was playing: from heavy bass runs and intricate chord progressions relying heavily on the blues scales, and diminished and seventh chords–all of this fully techinical music theory, much of which I cannot name myself. BUT–when the musician plays it, the people in the church go crazy and I wonder what is really causing these people to shout like they do?
So fresh from my Ethics class where the following issue had been raised, I came to the conclusion that in fact many black Pentecostal churches that rely heavily on music, that they are in fact embracing their African roots. Well, in the modern African American church its almost taboo to entertain the idea that they are being spirit possessed; but is that not what Christians are asking for when they ask for the Holy Spirit to abide with them and “live” and “dwell” and all other kinds of verbs to describe the possession. The very same stuff that westernized Christiantian thought has demonized is in fact what Christian thought embraced.
I’m just rambling a bit in this one, but for those who know me, I was born Baptist, raised United Church of Christ with the heart of Pentecostal, so just indulge me on this one. This was just food for thought. Check my upcoming note discussing the issue of academics vs. spirituality
Keep it uppity, JLL
2 thoughts on “In Defense of Pentecostals….”
i agree…and have actually written about this pretty extensively…
Amen to that Rev. Joshua. Or for all my baptist saints out there “Say a word Revrend!”. I could not agree more with your analysis of the understated antecedant of pentecostal worship being African tribal spiritualism.
I often say “the most Africanized expression of Christianity is classical pentecostalism.” Notice I said classical not contemporary (which I fear has devolved from being African to being more anarchic in my opinion).
My only hope is (as one who was formally educated in a classical pentecostal institution of higher education, YES THEY DO EXIST) that more young scholars would began to engage the pentecostal movement from an academic viewpoint. I think if this happens we can dispel the myth that “your learning distracts from your Holy Ghost burning.”