It is inevitable that every year near Pentecost Sunday I revisit my Pentecostal roots. I came to Christianity through Oneness Pentecostalism, which is a sectarian branch identified by their rejection of the doctrine of the Trinity, their emphasis on the name “Jesus” being pronounced during baptism, their insistence that someone must speak in tongues to receive the Holy Spirit (which for some means to be “saved”), and their emphasis on particularities of appearance which they call “holiness standards.” Obviously, I am not this type of Pentecostal.
I don’t think I am the Assemblies of God (AOG) type either, especially since they retain the “tongues as initial physical evidence” doctrine. The AOG teaches that Christians must speak in tongues to have any “physical” evidence of the Holy Spirit’s infilling. I think this is misguided exegesis of the Book of Acts where particular groups of people are described as speaking in tongues as a way of depicting integration and catholicization, but never as a way of depicting what is necessary for every individual who becomes a Christian. There are other doctrinal peculiarities emphasized by the AOG that I deny, e.g. their understanding of the “rapture” and their outright denial of annihilationism as an eschatological possibility.
Yet I cannot deny that I am shaped by Pentecostalism. I know many Pentecostals would never label me a Pentecostal (like many Calvinist would never label me a Calvinist), even if I share much common ground with their views. I understand why they would be uncomfortable with including me in their ranks. Often I am uncomfortable with aligning with one group anyways since I fear I will be like those in Corinth who were “of Paul, of Peter, of Apollos.” I use the label “evangelical” (small “e”) because it means “of the Gospel” and I am comfortable with saying I am a Christian who finds my identity in the Gospel proclaimed to me and by me to others. Yet there is much about evangelical culture that concerns me–not only politically, but at times theologically (e.g. see Peter Enn’s “Would Paul Have Made a Good Evangelical”). I do not identify with Roman Catholicism or Orthodoxy (see Peter J. Leithart’s “Too Catholic to be Catholic”). As much as I appreciate N.T. Wright, Alister McGrath, and many other Anglican thinkers I don’t find Anglicanism all that appealing. I don’t connect to Lutheranism, Methodism, or many of the dozens of -isms of Protestantism.
I agree with Jonathan Martin that Pentecostalism tends to be a middle ground between Catholicism/Orthodoxy and Reformed/Protestantism (see Rachel Held Evan’s interview post “Ask a Pentecostal…”) because it provides a “third way” by being grounded in Pneumatology. But Pentecostalism proper is identified with particular views on glossolalia that I find problematic and I don’t know if Pentecostalism without those views on glossolalia remains Pentecostalism. If so, how? I’ve asked myself many times, “What is the center of Pentecostal theology?”
I affirm the Pentecostal ideas of Spirit empowerment and Spirit-centered ecclesiology. This Spirit-centered ecclesiology is why I am not “high church” (though I acknowledge that “high church” and Spirit-centered are not contradictory), why I affirm women having equal standing in the church, why I think we should be open to signs and wonders, why I am a continuationist, why I think a truly “high view of Scripture” opens the door for the guidance of the Spirit (I think the Apostle Paul’s view of the Spirit’s interaction with Scripture was much closer to Pentecostalism’s than evangelicalism’s). But I don’t think a liturgical or more reserved church has “less” of the Spirit (something many Pentecostals have argued). I don’t think the work of the Spirit is always (or even most often) seen in dramatic form. The fruits of the Spirit are far from dramatic. I don’t think every Christian has to function in one of the gifts listed by Paul in 1 Corinthians (because I think there is a broader, often evolving diversity of gifts that goes beyond what Paul mentioned). I don’t think the only “physical” sign of the Spirit is glossolalia (what about prophecy, healing, etc?) and that has been one of the main points of contention.
So as you can see there is a sense in which I am Pentecostal and not Pentecostal. Maybe it is the same as my evangelicalism? Maybe it depends on who’s asking?! Maybe some Pentecostals would accept me as one of their own? Maybe others would prefer to see me as a charismatic evangelical (who has not been in a “charismatic” church since moving to Oregon)?
I do know I am thankful for much of what I have received from Pentecostalism. I read Gordon D. Fee, and I realize someone can be a scholar who appreciates and participates in education while retaining some sort of Pentecostal identity. Then I remember the many times Pentecostals have rebuked me for seeking “the wisdom of the world.” I read books like Harvey Cox’s Fire From Heaven: The Rise of Pentecostal Spirituality and the Reshaping of Religion in the Twenty-First Century and I feel like my heritage and tradition is being explored. Then I see Benny Hinn or Ken Hagin and I run back to my evangelical friends. I am excited to hear that most of global Christianity has been “Pentecostalized,” but like many North American Pentecostals I have been “Evangelicalized.” It is as if I have ecclesiastical dissociative identity disorder!
Maybe this will always be so? Maybe I will always be a bit Pentecostal and a bit not Pentecostal?
Congratulations! You’re a Nazarene!
Ha! Really? What makes a Nazarene a Nazarene?
Thanks for sharing your thoughts, I feel like I’m in a similar boat, I am still Pentecostal but I’m Not at the same time. So much of the pentecostal/charismatic/Toronto style “blessing” movement just plain wierds me out! When i left the oneness pent./apo. church I visited churches that exhibited a new age/tribal behavior and they consider that being Pentecostal. For a few years I admittedly abandoned that part of my faith until I became apart of SFL. I finally saw and felt God’s Spirit operate in a Real way. I’m glad we don’t need to label ourselves either way and we can find our identity at the Cross.
SFL has done a fine job of retaining those elements of Pentecostalism that I find healthy and exciting while avoiding the “weird” factor. I am glad you found a home there!
First, you will never avoid the “weird” factor.
Second, Pentecostalism was birthed from an experience, not a creed. Subsequent doctrine was developed to bolster the experience and ocassionaly hyjack it. but pentecost has always been a phenomena. Early Pentecostal leaders fanaticaly prused the spirit, and were willing to be rejected for an experience that they were still trying to explain. Once in print, once stamped and sealed, these explanations became Pentecostalism. So there are two: Pentecostalism as an encounter, Pentecostalism as a Theological system. So when I see you say Pentecostal and not… I think its ok to embrace the spirit, while still comming to terms with how you view the goble-de-goop behind the system.
Anyway I’m glad that you’ve finaly come out as both Pentecostal and Mormon.
Brian, Nazarene’s and Pentecostal’s share the same heritage except they split early on in the twentieth century over how to understand spiritual gifts and in particular, Tongues as initial evidence.
truth be told I am not that different than you in this regard, and I too have been evangelicalized. like others have said the center of Pentecostalism is each person’s own Pentecost experience, not doctrine (the AG’s 16 fundamental truths were written specifically to come against the Oneness teaching and that not for a decade or two after the initial pentecostal revival and the formation of the AG in 1914) and then in community the attempt to live out our lives in light of that experience of being baptized with the Holy Spirit.
Now THAT was an interesting read! Thank you -Bo
I’ve heard James K. A. Smith distinguish between capital-P Pentecostalism and small-p pentecostalism, where the former refers to the classical groups(COGIC,AG,Oneness,Foursquare,COG) and the latter ropes in the charismatic renewal, third wave (Vineyard, Calvary Chapel) and the infinite local varieties found in Africa and other parts of the developing world. Maybe you’re pentecostal like me but not Pentecostal anymore.
I somewhat agree with Roger and assert that pentecostalism is fundamentally rooted in revival. Then again, other traditions are rooted in revival, too, and don’t get counted as pentecostal (e.g. Wesley). If there is a boundary marker of any kind, it’s probably really the acceptance of tongues as not outrageously weird, whether or not every member of a church speaks in tongues.
True, there does seem to be Pentecostalism as opening the door to particular ways of experiencing God and Pentecostalism that attempted to systematize those experiences. Romney 2012! 😉
I’m a Nazarene and I didn’t know it.
I didn’t know the 16 were a polemic against Oneness groups. Very interesting!
Smith’s distinction makes a lot of sense.
Hey, Brian. I think you would really benefit from Jamie Smith’s definition of Pentecostalism in the first chapter of his marvelous book, “Thinking in Tongues.” There is Pentecostal proper, and little “p” pentecostalism. The latter identifies with being charismatic. He makes the distinction because he himself has issues with tongues as initial physical evidence. The big markers for Jamie as elements of a “p”entecostal worldview (from a global, not Western perspective) are, 1) a radical openness to God (an expectation of God doing the unexpected), 2) an ‘Enchanted theology of creation and culture, 3) A non dualistic affirmation of embodiment and materiality (God heals bodies, not just souls, and this is rooted in God’s “yes” to creation in the resurrection), 4) an affective, narrative epistemology, and 5) an eschatological orientation to mission and justice.
Honestly, I see myself recommending this book more and more to people – I even did to a Presbyterian!
You should really check it out.
you inspired my to write my own post on Pentecost! http://homebrewedchristianity.com/2012/05/26/a-funny-thing-happened-on-the-way-to-pentecost/
I want to read that book! I should see if I can get it on Kindle.
I read it and commented!
Nazarene’s are known for their Arminian theology, in general (at least that’s how I know them).
Good post, by the way.
Bobby, Nazarenes are an offshoot of Methodism, so they’re definitely Arminian. I think they’re distinctive is an emphasis on entire sanctification (roughly that there is a second work of grace after justification where God removes a person’s sinful nature entirely). I actually considered pursuing ordination with the Nazarenes at one point, and to get a local minister’s license, you need to assert that you’ve been entirely sanctified, and that others have been entirely sanctified through your ministry. I was not prepared to make this claim.
I don’t like that sound of that. I think Paul preserves a “inner person redeemed–outer person still dying” tension that doesn’t jive with the idea of “entire sanctification.”
Brian, entire sanctification will happen – it’s a matter of when, however. How else could we stand before God unless we are entirely sanctified?
If the Nazarene position is that this complete sanctification occurs prior to (bodily) death – than it the claim is subject to debate.
They would def. say that entire sanctification can and does happen prior to bodily death, and this is Wesley’s position, to the best of my knowledge. I don’t think they’d see this as incompatible with a dying outer person. The claim is more that we can be utterly freed from our bondage to sin, so we no longer HAVE to commit sins (though one still might, since the world is a bad influence). I can’t find my little book on the Nazarene articles of faith, so I must have sold it, but this is my best recollection of the doctrine.
Dear Brian, I loved reading your post and thought of another post I once read in a German blog. It’s about not fitting into certain christian categories. I hope this play on words still works in English.
“If needs must you pigeon-hole me, choose one of these categories: contempl-active, charis-mystical, eco-tholic, evange-liberal or even liberical. And get rid of all the old ones”.
There certainly is a lot of truth in that, though some people probably would mark it as postmodernist thinking. Anyway…
God bless you.
I am glad to hear you resonated with this post and I likewise resonate with that quote you shared!
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