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The Pentecostal worship experience is likely foreign to many of today's practicing Christians. The Pentecostal movement is the fastest growing denominational group today by far. The mere words charismatic and "speaking in tongues" have their own mystery to them. While most church-going people have a vague idea what they mean, they aren't really sure how they're applied in a "full gospel" worship context.

My experience is, of course, unique to me. We don't all share the same church background and family upbringing. I was raised in the Roman Catholic Church and attended Catholic schools until I was twelve years old. The church and the school were central in my life up to that point. I remember prayers three times a day in class at school and especially the annual May procession in honor of the Virgin Mary.

At that age my parents quietly dropped out of organized religion and I wasn't disappointed. I stayed away from church until I was married and had two sons that I thought should be baptized. I dutifully brought them to the local parish just to be safe because, deep down, I felt that this was a minimum requirement for me as a parent. While my boys were still quite young I began attending a local Christian and Missionary Alliance congregation. It was here that I was "born again" and began a trek through various denominations.

This article is entitled Pentecostal Experience and so I will zero in on that particular denomination. I've actually been involved in two different local congregations. They are both inner city churches but the first that I attended drew most of it's adherents from the suburbs. The second, and most recent, was a West Indian assembly of which my wife and I were the only Caucasian couple.

If you are accustomed to church worship in any of the mainline protestant denominations, evangelical or even Catholic churches you will notice the difference in a Pentecostal church service immediately. Music and participation are the most prevalent elements of the worship. Most church services begin with music and the music segment usually lasts up to half an hour. The music is usually upbeat and you will stand for all of it. Not only is the music upbeat but also there is an emphasis on the instrumental accompaniment as a live band and worship leaders direct the congregational singing. You'll notice that most of the congregants are moving or dancing in place with the music and many have their hands raised towards heaven.

You might feel a little intimidated by it all if you're used to quiet, personal, contemplative time in church. Once you get accustomed you may find it the most enjoyable part of the service. Forget about one-hour Sunday morning church services. The focus in the Sunday worship is the sermon and everything that goes on builds up to it. It won't be a fifteen-minute homily either but a one-hour message presented by a well-trained preacher of the gospel. An aspect of Christian living is presented which will usually finish with an "invitation".

The invitation is a call for "seekers" or those seeing a need for divine intervention in their affairs to come forward towards the altar for prayer. Many will flow from their pew to the front of the sanctuary where, standing or kneeling, they may be approached by altar workers who will assist in praying for their needs. The music will continue as the preacher entreats any stragglers to overcome their inhibitions and come forward. Many times you can feel that those who don't come forward are the ones with the problem. Some will stand until they are approached by the Pastor who will pray loudly over them and touch their forehead. It is here that you will witness someone being "slain in the Spirit" as they fall backwards as if fainting as they are caught by an altar worker.

Charismatic merely means that you openly express your feelings towards God without worrying about who's watching. This free expression manifests itself in many ways. It could simply be raising your hands high in praise and adoration. It can be through praying aloud in your own words, alone or as part of an assembly where all pray aloud in their own words at the same time. This is called praying in "concert". Some will "speak in tongues" which is a gift given to the apostles at Pentecost. Tongues is a heavenly language, according to Pentecostal apologists, understood by God and only for God. The language is a gift of the Holy Spirit and there is a lot of peer pressure to get this gift for yourself.

I found Pentecostal doctrine to be quite unforgiving. They are fundamentalists with a narrow interpretation of the Bible. There is no room for smokers, drinkers, gamblers or worldly movies. These are vices that will keep you from Heaven and membership in the Church. Questionable pagan celebrations like Halloween are ignored. While "grace" is an essential element of most Christian doctrine, I find that Pentecostals, more than most, are legalistic and exclusive. They have the answers and all other churches are suspect in many areas. Behavior is closely scrutinized in the light of their own orthodoxy. If you're not willing to quit smoking or buying lottery tickets, I recommend leaving because you will never become one with them.

So, what is my conclusion? If you look at church as a time to be quietly alone with your God, then Pentecostal is not for you. If you like to show your love for God in demonstrations of praise then being part of Pentecostal worship will help you to express that. If you receive the gift of tongues then there is probably no other organization that will encourage you.