I freely admit to forgetting a lot of the things I've learned in Bible study over the years but one of the things that stuck with me was when someone described the Pharisees as the Pentecostals of their day. That description still makes me snicker because Pentecostals tend to really dislike the Pharisees - about as much as the Catholics and for pretty much the same reasons. Firstly there is the whole "they believe in works based salvation" thing. Secondly - and this is the part that really makes us feel superior - there is their reliance on oral law and the traditions of the elders. Que headshakes, smiles and faux exasperated sighs. Why couldn't they simply listen to The Bible without adding all this extra stuff? You know, the way we do it!
Now on the first matter, Pentecostals are entirely consistent - for better or worse they certainly never preach about the necessity of good works. However on the second matter the difference is entirely imaginary. We might like to think that all we believe comes with a solid foundation in Scripture but that is simply not the case. I can't speak for all denominations but Pentecostal Churches as I know them have plenty of teachings and doctrine based almost entirely on "oral law" and "the traditions of the elders".
For instance, if you've spend enough time in a Pentecostal Church you are bound to have heard human beings described as "being a spirit, having a soul and living in a body". You would probably also be familiar with the notion that your soul contains your "intellect, will and emotions" as well as some other teachings about the role of your "spirit man". None of that is in the Bible. Seriously. Go do a word study, the Bible uses the words "soul" and "spirit" interchangeably - everything attributed to the soul in one verse is attributed to the spirit in another. Doesn't mean that the church is wrong about humans being tripartite beings of course, just that most of the details assigned to said parts have no actual basis in Scripture.
Then of course there is the matter of Satan, demons and Spiritual warfare. Based on many Pentecostal sermons you would be forgiven for thinking these were some of the most prominent themes of the Bible. If you actually read the Bible though, it is another matter. You would be hard pressed to find 2 consecutive chapters dealing with the matter! The extrabiblical ideas in the church regarding the devil and evil spirits is a blog post all on it's own. Suffice it to say for now that for most "Deliverance Ministries" the nonscriptural source material vastly outnumbers the Scriptural.
If you are interested in an excellent discussion on the Rapture and the End Times and the contents of Revelation I strongly recommend The Rapture Exposed: The message of hope in the Book of Revelation by Barbara R. Rossing. If you read only one book on the subject, read this one. Alternatively if you've read all the Left Behind books and/or the many other works on "End Times Prophecy" then you owe it to yourself to hear the counter argument. The book traces the history of the Rapture idea from its start 200 years ago in the visions of a 15 year old Scottish girl, right through to its present day incarnation. It also provides an alternate interpretation for the Apocalypse of John, which quite frankly makes a lot more sense than the commonly accepted Pentecostal one.
Now for the most part, these oral traditions in the Church don't matter much to me. Most of them, to paraphrase Thomas Jefferson, do not pick my pocket or break my legs so I don't really feel too strongly about them. However, Jesus spoke out against some of these traditions for a reason:
Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, "Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don't wash their hands before they eat!"
Jesus replied, "And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, 'Honor your father and mother' and 'Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.' But you say that if a man says to his father or mother, 'Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is a gift devoted to God,' he is not to 'honor his father' with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition.
Today, just like in the time of Jesus, people are still using their passed down traditions to overrule the basic good and decent things Jesus commanded them to do. In this way the completely unbiblical ideas of many Christians regarding the "end times" are a very real obstacle. Jesus said "Blessed are the peacemakers" but because of their eschatology, many Pentecostals are anti-peace and for bloodshed and war in the Middle East. That to me is a clear case of nullifying the word of God for the sake of your tradition.
Guess the Pharisees and the Pentecostals aren't so different after all...
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