Q. The following question might be a little offensive to some, but I truly, truly mean no offense. I would like to know your thoughts on Pentecostalism and Catholicism. I know some people frown upon Pentecostalism, which I do not understand why. Are they considered as orthodox and genuine followers of Christ? As for Catholicism, I cannot come to terms with how they can be considered as Christians when they worship Mary, saints and erect statues of their saints. Isn’t that specifically forbidden by God in the Bible?
The simple answer to your question is yes, Pentecostals and Catholics are orthodox and genuine followers of Christ. That is to say, we shouldn’t think that people aren’t true Christians just because they are Pentecostal or Catholic. I’m not talking here about simple church attendance or church membership. I’m talking about people whose faith and trust is in Jesus. If that’s true of people who are Pentecostal or Catholic, then they are fellow believers and “joint heirs of the grace of life.”
You should know that the official teaching of the Catholic church is that followers of Jesus should not worship Mary or pray to the saints. However, Catholics do believe (as I do myself, even though I’m Protestant) that one of the most important ministries of those who have gone on ahead of us into the presence of God is to pray for us who remain here on earth. And so as followers of Jesus, we may reasonably ask any of the saints in heaven (including our departed loved ones) to pray for us, just as we would ask a brother or sister in Christ to pray for us here on earth.
Moreover, the Bible does not actually forbid making statues and other representational works of art, including those that depict human forms. When God gave Moses instructions to build the tabernacle, for example, He told him to include images of almond blossoms, pomegranates, and cherubim (angelic figures in human form). Some of these images were embroidered, but others were carved. Solomon’s temple similarly had images of cherubim, palm trees, and flowers.
What the Bible does forbid is making images of God and bowing down to those images—in other words, idolatry. But artistic depictions are acceptable if they celebrate the lives of faithful people who came before us and remind us that with them, we form a community that embraces believers both in heaven and on earth. (These images create a visual arts version of the “hall of fame of faith” whose literary version is found in the book of Hebrews.)
I’m grateful, for instance, that Mary, our sister in Christ, obeyed God by agreeing to become the mother of Jesus and by supporting him in his ministry right to the end. Though all the disciples fled, she stood by him at the cross. Her life is an inspiration and example to us, and it’s good to be reminded of it. A statue or painting can do that.
Unfortunately, in actual practice, popular piety sometimes does turn these acceptable activities into praying to the saints instead of asking the saints to pray for us. (For example: “Lost something? Pray to St. Anthony to help you find it.”) In the same way, popular piety can consist of worshiping statues instead of letting the statues lead us into worship. It’s been well said that an icon is something that you see through into the spiritual realm, whereas an idol stops your gaze and makes you see only it. Statues are supposed to be icons, but unfortunately they can become idols.
But as I said, this is not the official teaching or practice of the Catholic church. Catholic leaders and teachers would be just as dismayed as you if they discovered that any of their people were actually praying to the saints or treating statues as idols rather than icons. Their response would be to “explain the way of God more adequately,” as the Bible puts it.
As for Pentecostals, some people have a problem with their belief that certain gifts of the Holy Spirit remain available today, such as prophesy, healing, miracles, and “speaking in tongues” (that is, praying or bringing a message in a language one has not formally acquired). It’s specifically people who don’t believe these gifts are still available today who object to Pentecostals’ pursuit and use of them. (But I have no problem with this!)
Some people also disagree with the Pentecostal teachings that the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” is an experience separate from and subsequent to receiving salvation by trusting Jesus, and that the sign of this experience is speaking in tongues. These are classic Pentecostal teachings that have not been continued, by and large, in the charismatic groups that have emerged from the Pentecostal movement. (I discuss the baptism of the Holy Spirit somewhat in this post and speaking in tongues in this post. You’ll see that I respectfully disagree with the way these beliefs have classically been articulated within Pentecostalism, though I encourage both the experience of being filled with the Spirit and, for those who are given that gift, speaking in tongues.)
Let me say in conclusion that my Christian faith has been deeply enriched by my interactions with both Catholic and Pentecostal sisters and brothers, and that I’m honored and grateful to be part of one household of faith with them.