Strange Encounters of the Pentecostal Kind

Tony SigSo long as one is drudging themselves through the process of acquiring basic linguistic skills, fantasizing about future research projects can provide the necessary motivation to continue to drudge.  I already have a running list of books and articles that I’m “going” to write and the other day I posted one of my ideas on Twitter and Facebook,

“Of Pilgrimage and Handkerchiefs: The Implicit Sacramental Ontology of Classical Pentecostalism”

Reactions hovered around amazement at my astute imagination.  But our long time reader George P Wood asked the perennial question:  “How does this move the missional ball down the Kingdom field?”

The funny thing is that I feel this has huge implications for missions and ecumenism.  I realized that it maybe was time for me to clarify a bit more why I wish to continue to engage Pentecostalism and perhaps even hint at some of my own hopes future academic work.  So here are a few of my persistent thoughts on Pentecostalism and what I hope to do about them..  I am more than aware that I might ‘accomplish’ little of this but I figure it’s more fun at least to plan big and trim as the situations require than stew in perpetual uncertainty like a fourth year sophmore who has changed majors six times.

For the sake of clarity I always attempt to differentiate between “Pentecostals” and “Charismatics” even if the difference is blurred.  Consider it heuristic.  Charismatics are those in Mainline, Catholic and other historic churches who experience(d) and promote(d) the “charismatic gifts and experiences” (thought of more narrowly as the type normally associated with “Pentecostals”) and Pentecostals are those Protestants who look to various ‘revivals’ which happened roughly a century ago for their roots.  They are also generally differentiated by idiosynchratic eschtologies.

  • It seems clear based on the unique rise and spread of Pentecostals that it is a work of the Spirit.  If it is, then it is incumbent on the whole Church to ‘get on board’ with it, though with discernment.  This is really just another way of saying that the charismatic gifts of the Spirit are for the whole Church.
  • So I hope to work ecumenically with Pentecostals and encourage the use of the charismatic gifts in the wider Church.
  • This engagement is hindered by several things:
  • Pentecostals have historically been skeptical of ecumenism.  They have been especially hostile to Catholics and Mainline Christians and have tended to feed this with an etiological narrative that sees in intellectualism and liberalism (among other things) a “fall” from the Spirit.  So the “start” of Pentecostalism is seen as Gods judgment that the rest of the Church has failed and so is better ignored and left behind than looked to as partners and teachers.  This has also borne fruit as anti-intellectualism, anti-institutionalism and anti-tradition.
  • So part of what I want to do is demonstrate how under the surface of Pentecostal experience and practice there is a substantive overlap with Catholic Christian theology, experience and practice.  By doing this I can help prepare the ground for fruitful dialogue between pentecostal and other churches as well as for cooperation in mission.
  • On the other hand, despite initial flowering in various charismatic renewals, other churches still often remain skeptical of pentecostalism on the grounds that it is anti-intellectual, anti-institutional and anti-traditional and just plain ‘weird.’  So by speaking the historic theological language of the Church, I hope to show how the whole Church needs to be renewed by the Charismatic work of the Spirit.
  • Additionally I’d like to explore the future of anglo-catholicism and argue that only a charismatic anglo-catholicism can de-clericalize the movement and renew a focus on missions and the sacraments.
  • I’d also be interested in exploring the historic three-fold ministerial order, and ‘laws of ecclesiastical polity’ in general, with reference to the charismatic gifts.
  • Similarly I’d like to look into the charismatic theology of the Eastern Orthodox because I’ve often found that their theology of the Spirit connects brilliantly with Pentecostal experience.
  • I’ve got a million more of these.
  • Another minor premise of mine that is rather disconnected to the points I’ve already made is that Pentecostals have done us all a disservice by selling their soul to buy street cred with Evangelicals.  So even now Pentecostals need a Charismatic renewal!  Especially with respect to how they read Scripture.

A basic underlying premise of all this is that Pentecostals are right in certain things and can enhance and be part of a larger renewing work of the Spirit who is reconciling all things to Christ, but in many things she is young and wrong and needs the whole Church to teach her.

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11 Comments

  1. Now the topic looks interesting, though for the life of me I can’t see what it has to do with handkerchiefs. 🙂

    BTW, Ed Rybarczyk wrote a fine book comparing Pentecostal and Orthodox soteriologies that I think would be useful to your research.

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  2. All that is hidden will be made clear.

    btw – I’ve seen that book but haven’t had a chance to read it yet. But I will don’t you worry!

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  3. I like this post, all sections of the Church can learn from each other.

    I am, however, somewhat surprised to discover Pentecostals of any stripe talked to our Roman brothers and sisters! 😉

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  4. You may already know this from our conversations, Tony, but your last bullet point above is exactly what I perceive to be the bogey-man in classical Pentecostalism’s closet. Once classical Pentecostal groups such as the Assemblies began to move away from their initial identities out of a quest for societal acceptance (as Don Dayton has argued), particularly by other groups involved with the National Association of Evangelicals, they bought into various ‘evangelical’ doctrines that weren’t necessarily majority/super-majority views in the beginning: scriptural inerrancy, classical dispensationalism, anti-ecumenism.

    This is why the current Pentecostal-hand wringing over its identity vis a vis other evangelical groups is both unsurprising and disappointing: when you let go of your entire identity as Pentecostals with the exception of a couple of “doctrinal distinctives”, you find yourself looking around at your churches and wondering “Why do we not look any different than any other evangelical churches?” In my view, groups like the AG sold the farm to the evangelicals when they tried to become like them in the 40s and 50s. Now, what we’ve got left in the AG (as Mel Robeck has very persuasively and colorfully argued) is a quasi-magisterium who enforces its will on “distinctive doctrines.” Meaning, of course, that for the current AG, initial physical evidence means that every single person who is baptized in the Spirit will speak in tongues, and if they don’t, they therefore aren’t baptized in the Spirit. Where the doctrine actually “says” this, I am unaware. It is not clear at all that this reading of the doctrine is the one necessarily implied by the Fundamental Truths.

    But this functionally does not matter: AG pastors whose churches look evangelical have, by and large in this district, given up on being distinctively Pentecostal, buying into various kinds of seeker-senstitive, Willow Creek-style evangelicalism, even though they sign the statement of Fundamental Truths every year.

    (PS I should note: there are at least 3 AG churches in the Twin Cities Metro that I think escape this criticism – but they aren’t the hip, chic, large churches).

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  5. Roger Stronstad in his book, The Prophethood of All Believers: A Study in Luke’s Charismatic Theology, makes the following critical observation concerning today’s Pentecostal/charismatic and non-Pentecostal/non-charismatic churches:

    “The Church is to be a community of prophets. But from the post-apostolic period to the present it has not functioned as a prophetic community which is powerful in works and word. In fact, in too many places the Church views itself as a didactic community rather than as a prophetic community, where sound doctrine is treasured above charismatic action. Indeed, the preaching and teaching of the word displaces Spirit-filled, Spirit-led, and Spirit-empowered ministry. The Spirit of prophecy has been quenched and the gifts of the Spirit has been sanitized and institutionalized. The non-Pentecostal/non-charismatic church needs to recapture its prophetic heritage, to which it is either hostile or indifferent.

    As a prophetic community God’s people are to be active in service. However, all too often the Pentecostal, charismatic movements focus on the experience, the emotion, and the blessing more than they do on Spirit-filled, Spirit-led, and Spirit-empowered service. This shift in focus from vocation to personal experience, from being world-centered to self-centered, renders the service of the Pentecostal, charismatic movement just about as impotent as the service of the contemporary non-Pentecostal, non-charismatic church. This focus on experience rather than on service is like selling one’s birthright of Spirit-empowered service for the pottage of self-seeking experience and blessing.”

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  6. All great points from a classic work. One qualm I would have is to contrast the apparent ‘didactic’ quality of treasuring sound doctrine ‘over against’ the Spirit-filled/led/empowered ministry. Please Lord…let it be that they can exist together!

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  7. Ha! By ‘classic’ I was referring to his “Charismatic Theology of St. Luke.” I just wasn’t paying close enough attention.

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  8. Stronstad’s Prophethood of All Believers is like his The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke in that it is heavily uses a redactive analysis. I suspect that redactive criticism makes the book unattractive to many in the US Assemblies. But to me, it is thoroughly convincing. I read a library copy about six years ago and just bought a copy to reread now. I am thoroughly enjoying it.

    Flaky Pentecostalism is not didactic. But good Pentecostal hermeneutics might be a little different from a strict historical grammatical approach.

    The triad in First Corinthians 12:4 to 6 not only addresses the trinity but also addresses charismatic gifts, service and works. When studying the word meanings, combining gifts and service results in lasting works. The kind of works that are not burned up in the fire described in First Corinthians 3:13-15.

    When I was a new Pentecostal I regularly got together with two friends for Bible study. One night a friend’s wife was out so he hired a baby sitter. This high school girl had some questions about the baptism of the Holy Spirit. She left Holy Spirit baptized, praying in tongues and empowered. We told her to continue praying in tongues and told her God would give her gifts of wisdom on who to pray for and witness to. In about six weeks, she multiplied into about sixty high school students in our Bible study. Gifts combined with service resulted in kingdom work.

    With Hybels’ admission of the ineffectiveness of the Willow Creek methods in discipleship, it is disappointing to me that some AG pastors persist in using it. Willow Creek does say their methods are good for filling and paying for buildings but not building the body of Christ we are charged to build. We are charged with kingdom discipleship. Some pastors must be too comfortable in their church’s financial success rather than kingdom success.

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