Friday, 20 February 2009
The Gates of Hell
Man always felt the need to find explanations for what he did not understand. It is in human nature to fear the unknown. God became the explanation and the source of fear. In earlier civilizations there were multiple gods, with their own departments; promises were made and broken, offerings and sacrifices were made to appease angered gods. The early gods had counterparts in Nature, the Sun being the most important among the deities, as the giver of life.
As man evolved, so did the gods, who acquired distinct personalities. Ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome had gods that ranged from all powerful and vengeful to playful and mischievous. The most important exception comes from the Jewish faith, where only one god exists. Christianism and Islam later followed on the same lines, and the three are the most widespread of the monotheistic religions in the modern world.
Today there are still many polytheistic religions, in Africa, India and many eastern countries.
What links the majority of religions is the people's fear of their gods and the bargaining that goes on in various forms. People may fear their gods but also turn to them to ask for favours, offering prayer, self-sacrifice and in many religions actual physical offerings are made, such as food, animals and wealth.
In the western world there seems to be a tendency to further sub-divide the same basic faith. Christians are not content to fear and bargain with the same god. Protestants and Catholics have fought and killed each other for centuries even though they have the same god and follow the teachings of the same Christ.
Protestants have split into many denominations: Adventists, Anabaptists, Baptists, Congregationalists, Evangelicals, Lutherans, Methodists, Pentecostals, Presbyterians, Reformed churches, and possibly others, depending on who is organizing the scheme. Each defending their own interpretation of the bible, each claiming that heaven will be their own reward and nobody else's. Anybody who does not follow the teachings of a particular church is going to hell.
Pentecostalism is an umbrella term which includes a wide range of different theological and organizational perspectives. As a result, there is no central organization or church which directs the movement. Most Pentecostals consider themselves part of broader Christian groups. For example, Pentecostals often identify as Evangelicals. Furthermore, many embrace the term Protestant, while others the term Restorationist.
Within Pentecostalism there are three major groups, Wesleyan Holiness, Higher Life, and Oneness. Examples of Wesleyan-Holiness denominations include the Church of God in Christ (COGIC) and the International Pentecostal Holiness Church. The Assemblies of God and the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel are of the Higher Life branch, while some Oneness denominations include the United Pentecostal Church International (UPCI) and Pentecostal Assemblies of the World (PAW).
The Assemblies of God adopted a set of core beliefs for the Fellowship, which remain virtually unchanged. These are known as “The 16 Fundamental Truths.” The Assemblies' doctrines are summarized in its Statement of Fundamental Truths.
Of these sixteen, four are considered “core beliefs of the Fellowship”, or “Cardinal Doctrines.” These are:
* Salvation Through Jesus Christ
* Baptism in the Holy Spirit
* Divine Healing
* The Second Coming of Christ
Pentecostalism can be best understood as a branch within evangelical Protestantism, characterized by a focus on the Holy Spirit and a belief in spiritual gifts, such as healing and speaking in tongues.
Sarah Palin's most consistent religious home has been the Pentecostal church, although she has tried to distance herself from it: "I don't have a church, I'm not a member of any church. I get to visit a couple of churches in Alaska when I'm home, including one, Wasilla Bible Church."
Though her family left the Wasilla Assembly of God in 2002, just before she launched her campaign for lieutenant governor, Sarah Palin has continued to return. The now famous prayer to protect her from witchcraft took place during a visit in 2005, three years after Palin's official departure. She returned again as recently as June 2008, making reference to that earlier service and crediting the African pastor's prayer with leading her to gubernatorial victory. And when she works from the state capital, Sarah Palin attends the Juneau Christian Center, an Assemblies of God congregation.
As she attends the Wasilla Bible Church regularly, let us focus on some events promoted there.
David Brickner, the leader of Jews for Jesus, was invited to speak to the faithful at the Wasilla Bible Church, Sarah Palin's fundamentalist congregation. In his talk at Wasilla on August 17, 2008, with Palin in the audience, Brickner described terrorist attacks on Israelis as God's "judgment of unbelief" on Jews who have not converted to Christianity.
In September the church held a Focus on the Family’s ‘Love Won Out’ conference, the aim of which is to “to transform the lives of those impacted by homosexuality”. By that they mean turning homosexuals into more "acceptable" heterosexuals.
Asked how she felt about the second coming and the end times, she responded that she fully believed that the signs of Jesus returning soon "during MY lifetime," were obvious. "I can see that, maybe you can't - but it guides me every day."
The churches Sarah Palin associates with seem to have a wider agenda, away from the spiritual wellbeing and the salvation of their followers' souls.
D. James Kennedy, the evangelical pastor who blessed Bush before his run for president summed up the essence of the teachings behind the Assemblies of God, its missions and its associates in this quote:
"Our job is to reclaim America for Christ, whatever the cost. As the vice regents of God, we are to exercise godly dominion and influence over our neighborhoods, our schools, our government, our literature and arts, our sports arenas, our entertainment media, our news media, our scientific endeavors -- in short, over every aspect and institution of human society."
More recently, the Liberty Legal Institute became involved in the Troopergate affair. Liberty is the legal arm of the Free Market Foundation, which is associated with evangelical leader James Dobson's Focus on the Family.
Millions of Evangelicals have accepted Sarah Palin because of her membership in a Bible church. But there is no denying that mainstream Evangelicals and Pentecostals, while political allies on many social issues, have historically had significant tensions over theological differences. The Evangelicals' swoon for Sarah Palin might fade if it turns out that she continues to hold fast to Pentecostal practices and beliefs.
I personally believe in the separation of state and church. When mixed, they may become one powerful and destructive entity, specially if the church in question is inherently intolerant and divisive.
As for Sarah Palin, is the church using her to gain wider influence and control over public institutions, or is Sarah Palin using the church to further her own ambitions?
Image: "The Gates of Hell", Auguste Rodin