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Spirit on the Job
Valleys of Idaho
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By Tony Evans
As ordained by scripture, the planet Earth was created in one week and celebrated its 6009th birthday one month ago in fundamentalist Christian churches across America and around the world. By contrast, the gradually accumulated archeological record contends that there were stratified societies emerging between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in modern day Iraq about this time (CIRCA 4000 BC); cultures which had already been utilizing irrigation for some 2000 years and which presumably reached back even further into a history created- not by the hand of God- but by the studies of man. Many of the artifacts from these early civilizations were looted from Iraqi museums and disappeared during the recent U.S. led invasion of Baghdad, perhaps scattered like heresies before the light of biblical truth. According to Tom Walding of the Assemblies of God Church in Hailey, one need look no further than the bible for ALL historical, scientific, and spiritual truths.
“We see the Bible as a fundamental resource for truth,” says Walding who was raised in Oklahoma and came to Hailey fifteen months ago after receiving ordination from the General Assemblies of God in Springfield, Missouri. “There are sixty-six different books in the bible and not one contradiction or error. By comparison, Nostradamus was only 40% correct”, he says. “400 years before the crucifixion of Christ, scripture prophesized accurately such things as that Jesus’ robe would be gambled for. And of course, it was.”
Walding offers a religious service which reaches away from controversy and doubt, toward an immediate and passionate connection with Jesus Christ, the son of God, whose spirit is brought forth each Sunday through prayer and song for a personal communion which seems to go beyond the intellectual dilemmas of the evening news, to what Walding describes as “the mode of personal experience.” Members of the ASSEMBLY OF GOD church, including Walding himself, speak rapidly in unintelligible languages (also known as “Speaking in Tongues”) during moments of religious fervor as congregation members approach the altar to pray and heal together.
Spirituality for Walding’s congregation is not a solemn liturgical affair, but an energetic and passionate release of energy which draws on the one and only true path to God, to truth, and to life everlasting. “There is no conflict between true science and scripture,” says Walding. “The real conflict lies deeper than theories.”
What ends in passionate communion for the ASSEMBLY OF GOD faithful often begins with a deliberate study of scripture, based upon a theme, and drawn literally from the Old and New Testament in the form of the New American Standard Bible, retranslated in 1982 by the Lockman Foundation from original Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic texts.
Lee, age 63, is from Washington State and visits Walding’s church when he is in the Sun Valley area. “I found the kingdom of the Lord when I was 30,” he says. “I’d read the scripture before that, but it never made any sense. The meaning became clear to me all at once when I accepted the lord. The only way you know if one church has the same beliefs and practices as another is to go and listen to the heart of the preacher.”
SCRIPTURE AS HISTORY
During last Sunday’s sermon on “Intimacy with God”, Walding presented a literal survey of women in the bible who had experienced “barrenness.” Their childlessness was interpreted as metaphorical of the barren womb of an empty church and of the emptiness of contemporary culture, which can only be filled by an intimacy with God. Walding’s bombastic and at times ironically humorous sermon included references to no less than ten different scriptural sources, including Isiah, Jeremiah, Genesis, Galatians, Matthew, Samuel, Judges, Luke, and the Psalms.
A special Kid’s Edition of The Pentecostal Evangel Magazine, which is distributed at Walding’s church, provides a biblical tour of the Middle East for children curious about far away lands which are sometimes mentioned in the news and on television. “Petey”, a purple parrot clad in khakis, like a cross between Big Bird and Indiana Jones, explains that the ancient city-state of Athens Greece is significant primarily because the apostle Paul went there to preach. Lebanon is mentioned as the place where tall cedar trees were cut for the Temple of Solomon in Israel. Israel is said to be the land of God’s promise to Abraham, whose people, the Jews, finally returned to the promised land only during our grandparents’ generation.
“God always keeps his promises,” says Petey, who also reminds children that Iraq is perhaps where Adam and Eve were created in the Garden of Eden, where Noah’s Ark was built by Noah, and where the Tower of Babel was constructed which led to the present confusion of languages in the World.
“The scripture is absolute truth”, insists Walding. “Common ground with other religions, if it deviates from the word of god, is meaningless. The principles of Buddhism, say, and Christianity, are not congruent with one another. If you are looking for common ground, this is it.” he says, flourishing a bible above his desk.
“Apocalypse literally means ‘unveiling’”, says Walding. “Mankind was face to face with god in the Garden of Eden and will only be so again after the Apocalypse. The only person who can equally represent man and God is Jesus Christ.”
“Although no one can pinpoint the date for the Apocalypse, I feel that we are approaching the ‘End Times’ written about in scripture, when there will be one world leader, one religion, and one economic system.” Walding also suggests that the increase in natural disasters, such as Tsunamis, earthquakes, and storms could also be signs of what is mentioned in the Book of Revelations as the beginning of the end- when 3 years into the time of great tribulations, of plagues and war and disaster, the Antichrist will arrive and inhabit the throne of King David once more.
The word “Pentecostal” derives from the Greek word Pentecost: “the 50th”, which refers to the 50th day after the resurrection of Christ when the apostle Peter and many others were descended upon by the Holy Ghost. This date also coincides with the Jewish feast of Pentecost, ( in Hebrew Shavuot) , the Feast of Weeks, one of the three pilgrimage festivals, which arose as the celebration of the closing of the spring grain harvest. There are numerous references to it in the Bible. From Rabbinic times, the festival commemorates the giving of the law to Moses at Mt. Sinai. According to Pastor Walding, who quotes Corinthians, “3000 souls were saved on the day of the Pentecost. At that time, uneducated fishermen and workers began speaking in unknown tongues. Languages they could not have known.”
The Pentecostal movement is a world wide twentieth-century phenomenon which counts as many as 10 million members. Assembly of God Churches are regarded as “classical” Pentecostal and grew out of the late 19th-century Holiness Movement in the United States. The Holiness preacher Charles Fox Parham began preaching (1901) to his Topeka congregation that speaking in tongues was objective evidence of baptism in the Spirit. After Parham’s Los Angeles–based Apostolic Faith mission became the center of a great revival (1906), the movement quickly spread around the world. Over the next two decades the movement split along doctrinal and racial lines, often affording authority to women in third world countries. Pentecostals exist within the Catholic Church and are said to practice exorcisms.
In doctrine the Assemblies of God Church affirms the basic teachings of Pentecostalism (i.e., baptism with the Holy Spirit as evidenced through glossolalia, or speaking in tongues, divine healing, and the daily presence of the charismatic gifts basic to the early church) and of fundamentalism, emphasizing the pre-millenarian belief in a return of Jesus and his saints to reign over a period of peace and righteousness.
“Because of how you lived, and whether or not you accepted the Lord, your eternal destination is sealed” says Walding. “Either eternal reward in paradise or heaven. Or eternal punishment in a lake of fire, separated from God.”
Of course challenges to the fundamentalist view persist; dinosaur bones, deep time, geological sciences, etc., not to mention other religions and cultures which claim greater antiquity than the fundamentalist moment of creation. Yet Pastor Walding seems confident that everything will be sorted out according to scripture in due time. Not that it really matters with regard to God’s message, which for the moment is beyond our understanding. “Infinite things,” says Walding in discussing the rapture and Apocalypse, “cannot be explained adequately to finite beings like ourselves.”
Tony Evans is a freelance writer and English tutor living in Hailey, Idaho. He can be reached at email@example.com. He also leads a series of writing workshops throughout the year.
What People Believe
With our first article in this occasional series, we here at Spirit would like to present these ideas in the spirit of inclusivity, open sharing, and with an honest desire to learn, understand, and honor everyone’s beliefs. In these times of pointing the finger, essentialist arguments of you have to believe this or that, we feel it is a part of our vision and mission to give everyone the chance to understand in a non-judgmental forum of respect. In doing so, we hope to create a space to more deeply inform our own beliefs, and to put forth an energy of open-mindedness to balance current media standards around these issues. To get the most out of these articles, I find it helpful to pause when I have an immediate reaction, to explore what comes up and where it originates from, and to always, always, mirror the same questions I pose to others beliefs to my own. We all hold assumptions, we all hold ingrained beliefs that we assume are just the way things are, and we all can benefit from looking on what we think we know without fear, judgment, or contempt prior to investigation.