This took place during a recent Small Group meeting, so in confidentiality, this will be edited down quite a bit.
My wife and I joined this small group because I do firmly believe it is one of the most important spiritual things one should be engaged in. After talking to the small groups pastor we were put in this group I believe for two reasons;
1) My wife was formerly in child care ministry, she can't have kids so this was hugely important to her and I basically stole it from her by leaving our former church. The leader's wife happens be a leader in that ministry and can coach her back into it.
2) The leader of the group went to seminary, got his bachelors in Missions, and with me recently graduating with my bachelors in Religion and Biblical Studies they thought it would be a good idea. And I do love the guy, he's caring, intelligent, has a real heart for God, and he looks just like Misha Collins.
History - I came to this church after I had a psychological breakdown in front of my mentor and teacher, and felt ashamed, like my own presence was "darkening the door" of the church (if you don't know me I have many psychological issues, including Bipolar Disorder). I've actually since returned and made amends with those people, but returning does not seem to be up for discussion. I had come to Life Center North because they are a Life Center plant like my former church. I should have done better homework on that however. I had no idea the Foursquare denomination was a Pentecostal church.
Now I mean no disrespect to anyone with Pentecostal belief, I myself reject cessationism. Where you would find me in that spectrum is in John Stott's "Baptism and the Fullness." And being a former Jehovah's Witness I feel like I do this constant cautionary dance around Pentecostals, I've never heard someone speak in tongues but I was raised to believe that anyone doing that now is doing it by the power of Satan and not God... I think in some cases that may still be relevant but I can't quantify it so its just a thing I try to avoid. And not really an issue in this church, as much as they affirm it, no one seems to elevate it much.
Some things I confess they practice are completely Biblical and I still have trouble with, namely the laying of hands... There is an abundance of scriptural support for this, but I feel uncomfortable because I had an abusive childhood, one instance, my mother used to smack me in front of her friends because she thought my flinching was hilarious. And my wife isn't comfortable with it either... So I'm kind of sitting on this Romans 14:13-23 situation... I acknowledge the legitimacy, I just wish there was respect there.
What it comes down to is during the prayer request session I was dumb enough to open my mouth and talk about my insecurity and in a nebulous way talk about some disturbing problems and the thoughts I've had but not acted upon over the past three years. At that point all other requests, though still mildly mentioned in the prayer, were kind of sidelined because everyone became concentrated full attention on me. And they have this ritual where they put a chair in the middle of the room and make you sit in it, and the leader has a vial of olive oil he uses to anoint that person, and everyone in the group gathers around and lays hands and prays over that person. And to an outsider like me I couldn't help but notice some people's affirmations really start to resemble some sort of chant.
Now I'm not saying this practice is wrong... Just extremely uncomfortable to the point that they pushed too hard and the only thing that kept me from leaving is that they were literally crowding the exit. But they kept trying to get me to affirm these words, they kept saying "Do you believe there are power in words?" and "That sticks and stones saying is a lie" and whatnot.
Now I do believe in the power of words... psychologically. I refuse to give words spiritual value, and here is why. Have you ever read "The Key of Solomon?" The "Lesser Key of Solomon?" If you're even familiar with these books I'm betting you'd say no you didn't. Why? They're books about magical incantations for summoning and controlling demons and angels. They're just two examples of books used by European secret societies (these two I believe from the Renaissance age, or at least the first) and there are all sorts of fantastical stories attributed to their usage. It's like Ouija board, something I'd never use, but was essentially developed from the same concept, supposed to work in relatively the same way... and I dunno who was bored enough to do this, but scientific studies have actually proven that the movement of the thingy is due to the Ideomotor Response, a psychological phenomena in which the body reacts or does something without conscious intent... for instance, when tears develop while watching a really sad movie. The Ouija board itself is a hoax... but here's where it gets real.
It's not the board itself that is dangerous, it is the perception. Perception does not equal reality, and yet what the body believes to be true, the body has a way of making reality. Demons certainly exist and I firmly believe that if Satan could use this empty Sonic cup next to me to sin, he'll do that. But I also know that I've experienced Scintillating scotoma, "eye migraines" that cause you to see flickering lights or momentary shadows where they shouldn't be. Now how unfortunate would it be for me to believe these things I'm seeing are actually demons afflicting me because of the pain of my fibromyalgia acting up, my bipolar disorder being out of wack... I imagine I would want to pray a lot, and seek intense prayer from others, and I can even see seeking out an exorcism. And I'm not criticizing any of these things, prayer should be encouraged. But in this instance, I find it unfortunate that I've jumped to demonic activity when the actual solution is to cut down on my intake of Chinese food. (Scintillating scotoma is triggered by excess amounts of MSG in many cases)
There is a time for affirming things verbally, such as declaring Jesus your Lord and Savior among a crowd of witnesses. Some symbolic things have legitimate meaning, the cracker and juice have an appropriate place in Christian practice. But I for one reject over-affirming words or concepts, even if taken from scripture, because in many ways it's disrespectful of the real power of Jesus Christ. Yes Jesus healed many by touch, but he also healed (Matthew 8:5-13) and cast out demons (Matthew 15:21-28) from completely different towns as the person. The Holy Spirit is not limited by words or touch or even distance. Repeatedly chanting that you're the righteousness of God in Christ has no meaning even if you believe that to be true, unless it's actually true.
These are in no way bad people and I'm not in any way condemning their practices. There are legitimate scriptural positions and arguments, and it's difficult to make personal connections in a small group where these looming differences exist. Particularly when one of them involves the nature of a person's salvation. The easy answer would be to find another church; the problem is, this is the third church we've become a part of, the first we left because of a leadership dispute, the second we left for probably the wrong reasons. Also my wife has said, this is it, she will not allow me to tear her away from another community, and I get that. But this is a real struggle here, and I don't see a lot of room for our faith to grow in such an environment.
I suppose that's where faith comes in, that God has put us here for a time at least to figure some things out. It's always good to be prepared.