Pentecost Sunday is an important day for me. I came into Christianity through the Pentecostal paradigm. I know that many branches of Christianity celebrate this day, but there was something special about celebrating it as a Pentecostal. It was a day to remember when in 1906 a building located at 312 Azusa Street, Los Angeles, CA, became one with an upper room of a building in Jerusalem, Judea sometime in the early part of the fourth decade of the first century. It was a day when we all celebrated the arrival of the New Covenant Spirit upon humanity as foretold by the prophets that still comes into the heart of people today.
My own relationship with the Pentecostal movement has been love/hate. In part, I think this is because it began in the Oneness Pentecostal context and there is a lot of baggage from those days. Yet there is something about global Pentecostalism that I appreciate (maybe even need). In its purest form it is the Christianity for those whom Christianity has chosen to ignore. It welcomes those who work tough 9-5 jobs to be on equal footing with something who holds the professorship at a local university. Scripture is not the book of the elite, but rather it is the book of the oppressed (for a thousand doctoral degrees do not surpass the work of the Spirit). Worship is unrestricted allowing us to reach to the Spirit as it comes down to us. You don’t need to know the jargon, you just need to say what is on your heart. While people fight over whether or not Jesus has resurrected there is no doubt for those who feel his presence, by the Spirit, when they call out his name.
It is the type of Christianity that answers the powerful wisdom of the scholars with the confounding testimony of the cross. When Judaizers came at the church in Galatia with their reading of Torah all the Apostle Paul had to do was remind them of when they received the Spirit. There is something to this. While I do not adhere to the classic “initial evidence” doctrine I do agree with Pentecostals that the Spirit should be evident. One should know (at some points, maybe not all) that they are the temple of God because there was that moment, or that day, or that week, or that year when the presence of God was as thick and real as the Shekinah glory falling on Solomon’s newly christened temple.
Like Bono I can say “I have spoke with the tongue of angels” yet “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for”, though without those times I am not sure I’d still be searching.
We humans are more than brains in vats. Yes, Pentecostalism often makes the equal and opposite mistake of treating us as emotional zombies, but it is a fitting critique of those who say, “Well, I researched this all day every day and I decided Christianity can’t be true because…”. Many with their intellectual arrogance are deeply frustrated by the Pentecostal style of faith that says, “You have your arguments, I have my experience.”
One of the great things that has happened to Christianity since 1906 is the Pentecostalization of our religion. I am not saying everyone looks and acts “Pentecostal” (I don’t even go to a Pentecostal church), but rather that this movement has forced us to remember that this is a Spirit-religion. The gospel goes forth and signs and wonders are real (in spite of the enlightenments misguided, one sided, attack). Even if you are not “charismatic” you who are Christ’s have the Spirit working through you and gifting you to do a work you could never do alone.
Pentecost Sunday is not about Pentecostalism, per se. It is about Pentecost. And Pentecost is about the Spirit of God birthing a new people with a new covenant. It is about the beginning of a tidal wave that took Israel’s God and made sure that everyone hears that he is God of the world. Whether you are Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, or some other brand of Christianity, let us never forget the importance of Pentecost. For the Spirit is shared by all of us who call Jesus “Lord”, who confess him to be God’s chosen one, who await his return. Let us remember that we still have a great mission before us. We must proclaim the gospel of our returning King in the face of all those who deny him and scoff at our hope.
First let me say that I also grew up Pentecostal so I do understand what it is like to be an ‘insider’ in the movement. I also think the ideal of equality within the church body should be practiced is one to strive for all churches or denominations (though I think sometimes in my experience the pastor and those with more flamboyant ‘gifts’ were sometimes elevated).
I would say however that this statement is unfair, “Many with their intellectual arrogance are deeply frustrated by the Pentecostal style of faith…” the opposite of the rhetorical trick you are trying to play is the ‘arrogance of ignorance’ as if somehow being willfully stupid means that you can supersede the point of any knowledge.
I’m a critical realist so I would say that our intellectual categories can be wrong, but so can our interpretations of emotional experience because they have to be done with intellectual categories. If those categories are uninformed, incorrect, or ignorant then those emotional experiences can be ‘wrong’ regardless of how ‘real’ they feel.
My wife’s family has in the last few years become very entangles in a weird religion called Science of Mind or New Thought. Basically it is a pantheistic worship of the universe and they make magic things happen by putting it out to the universe and declaring, “And so it is.” My Father-in-Law actually tried to convince me that he could light a candle with the power of his mind! They also love the ‘arrogance of intellectuals’ argument and like to base their arguments in the, “We can’t know everything therefore I can do magic” vein.
We actually can have good and adequate knowledge. Someone can pray all day long for an angel to pick them up and fly them to Baltimore. We’ll see what happens. On the other hand the ‘arrogant intellectuals’ understanding things about gravity, lift, combustion, etc. build planes and fly them. Real knowledge, even real knowledge that might not cohere with pentecostal belief, experience, or practice is available. This does not make it ‘arrogant’.
If it does, I’d rather be intellectually arrogant than arrogant in my ignorance.To be honest I think I say “I don’t know” or “I was wrong” more than anything else in my conversations. I don’t wear this as a badge of correctness. Because I don’t know about combustion engines it doesn’t logically follow that the mechanic is ‘arrogant’ because he does.
Thank you so much for this post, Brian! It reminded me of the weekly experience I have when I preach or teach; I always feel so like a child, in terms of neediness, despite any schooling or studying or gifting. But as a child, I have a wonderful Father, who, on a weekly, unfailing basis–sends His own Spirit to “save” me! Your blog-post made me very grateful for that, brother! What a wonderful Spirit our tenderhearted Father and risen King has sent us! How impoverished I was, spiritually, before I learned to trust Him for His Spirit at all times of need! Thanks for the encouragement, and Blessed Pentecost Sunday to you and Miranda!
@agathos: I don’t deny that there is a culture within Pentecostalism that celebrates “the arrogance of ignorance”. That is why I said that I know at times it can lead people to be “emotional zombies”, by which I mean their brains are not engaged. Likewise, I am not against logic, intelligence, or education. I have enjoyed my years in seminary, I hope to do doctoral work, and I appreciate going to events like SBL meetings.
What I am saying is that while I don’t want to be someone who is all emotion, no mind, seeking a religion that makes me feel good as if that is all there is to Christianity, nor do I want to ignore the fact that it was often the intellectual elite–the scribes, the Pharisees, the wealthy, the priests–who found themselves on the wrong side of Jesus and the early Christian community. Also, there are many who cannot respond to intellectual attacks on their faith whether it be because of a lack of capacity, a lack of time, or other life circumstances. Too often the intellectual elite turn their nose up at those they find too “simple minded” as if they would forsake their silly religion if only they knew as much as we do.
It is these types to which I write. I don’t think you’re one of those. I don’t know you. But I do think in all our learning and reading and writing we sure as hell better remain humble about it lest we find ourselves on the wrong side of things–the rich and the wealthy and the bright who were too busy or disinterested to show up to the great feast only to find they had been replaced by people with no pedigree or reputation.
@Ken: Indeed, each week when I teach I remember the same thing. Handling Scripture is a special privilege that causes me to feel very needy for the Spirit’s guidance. Happy Pentecost Sunday to you as well!
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