Saturday, January 22, 2011

Pentecostals and Ecumenism, Part 2: It’s Complicated

At times it felt like I was in an illicit relationship. Was I being disloyal to my Pentecostal family? Was I losing my identity in the thrill of it all? Some people thought I was crossing a dangerous line. Some people just didn’t understand why I felt the need to bother with ecumenism at all. And I wanted to understand why I felt so attracted – was there something lacking in my own my family that pushed me into creeds and books of common prayer?

As I analyzed my own new relationship, I was interested to find out about the general dynamics between Pentecostalism and the rest of Christianity. As our short history reveals, it’s been an on-again, off-again relationship, or as facebook so aptly puts it, our relationship status reads: It’s complicated.

For a brief historical overview, check out part 3 of Amos Yong’s article, “Pentecostalism and Ecumenism: Past, Present, and Future.” (See article intro here.)

In the early days of Pentecostal revivals, the ecumenical vision was strong as people experienced an outpouring of the Spirit that swept away denominational, racial and socio-economic boundaries. The early Pentecostals were people from a wide variety of church backgrounds, and it was their hope that the Spirit would bring renewal to their own churches. But this hope soon became overshadowed by the reality that many of those churches simply didn’t want renewal, at least not of this crazy Pentecostal kind. Pentecostals were shown the door, or, frustrated at what they saw as dead and dying institutions, left of their own accord. There was initially a strong push against organization on a denominational level, because the early Pentecostals didn’t want to start a new brand of church. They wanted the Spirit to bring life to the churches they were already part of. But for a variety of reasons, Pentecostals eventually separated and formed their own denominations just like all the others.

The original vision faded to grey. Now Pentecostals did have some legitimate criticisms of the mainline churches, but broken relationships on both sides made those almost impossible to communicate in a constructive way. A sense of mistrust grew out of rejection. In addition, the holiness background of the movement emphasized separation based on a certain lifestyle, which Pentecostals took to mean separation from the world and any churches which did not follow the same moral codes. The evangelical association placed great importance on doctrinal purity, and so to associate with others of different theological stripes was to water down the full gospel message. The adoption of dispensationalist eschatology saw the efforts at ecumenical cooperation as just another step toward the one-world government of the anti-Christ. And the free-church ecclesiology that was eventually settled on placed little value on visible unity between churches. The real church, after all, was an invisible group of saved souls already united in spirit by common faith. So why bother with manmade attempts at cooperation with people we didn’t think were really born again in the first place?

All these factors led to either an attitude of apprehension or indifference when it came to ecumenical activity, attitudes that still linger in Pentecostal circles today. And that’s not to say the ecumenical movement has been or was a perfect model. But there is something deeply wrong with a church as divided as we are. Outsiders know it. It’s one of their biggest criticisms of the church. How can we claim to love Christ when we so obviously refuse to love other Christians? It’s a huge disconnect in our witness. We desperately need to heal old wounds and build new bridges with the churches down the street. Too often, fear, ignorance, insecurity and insularity have held Pentecostals back from this much needed engagement.

The body of Christ is broken. And simply going to an ecumenical council meeting or holding hands and singing “We Are One in the Spirit” will not heal it. This is something we cannot do on our own. Only the Spirit can bring life. Unity is a supernatural reality, but it won’t happen without our willing participation.

There are many different aspects to ecumenical participation, as Amos Yong outlines here. But whatever our participation, we need to engage precisely as Pentecostals. I’m not that interested in “lowest common denominator” ecumenism. Sure, there are times when seeking common ground is essential to increased understanding and cooperation, and in many cases may be the best way to go about getting people together at a practical level. But watering down our conversation to something we can all agree on can be counterproductive in the long run. We need to hear each other’s distinct voices. Self-definition is key to fruitful dialogue. We need to know who we are and what we stand for. This healthy self-identity is necessary as we encounter and critically evaluate other theologies and practices.

We will be good conversation partners to the extent that we come to the table as Pentecostals. That’s something I learned in an ecclesiology class attended by students from at least 6 different Christian backgrounds. They wanted hear what I thought as a Pentecostal. And I wanted to hear what they thought as Catholics, Anglicans, Presbyterians, United Church and Mennonites. It was challenging. I had to be comfortable enough in my own denominational skin to engage. But once I did, the discussion was amazing. There’s no doubt I heard the Spirit speaking through my classmates.

We need to learn from and challenge each other. I don’t think we as Pentecostals have it all together theologically, or even have the best expression of what following Christ is all about. (Which is why this blog exists in the first place!) But the move of the Spirit in Pentecostalism in the last century or so is a definite challenge to the rest of the church. There is something the Spirit wants to say to the church through us. And the Spirit can’t say it if we aren’t willing to get together and talk with the rest of the family. It is only as we build relationships of mutual respect and demonstrate willingness to work through our family differences that we have the right to critique. Too often we have separated ourselves out of concern for doctrinal purity, when instead we are called to speak the truth in love to each other. Our voice will not be heard when we refuse to join the conversation.

We need to challenge other Christians. And they need to challenge us. Pentecostal theology needs to be forged in the fires of wider Christian thought and practice, hammered out by ancient creeds and newer voices, conflicts and revivals, the mistakes and victories of history, the wisdom and worship of other churches. If it can’t stand up to the heat, maybe it needs some serious reworking.

I am encouraged by many of the things I see happening. More pastors are involved with local church councils, both with evangelical churches and mainstream ministers. Long-entrenched denominational barriers are being broken down, brick by brick, as Christians realize we’re all in this together. Education and cooperation go a long way in pushing back fear of the other, even the Christian other.

But any relationship takes work. When the crush is over, are we willing to commit? Are we willing to stick it out through the council meetings, the ecumenical services, the interruption of our own church schedules, and engaging our brains with tricky points of theology while keeping our hearts soft toward our sometimes strange brothers and sisters?

Before we can make the commitment, we have to believe it’s worth the risk and the effort, that being in this relationship is better than going it alone. We have to believe there is something wrong when we can’t dwell together in unity. We have to feel a pang of sorrow at all the walls we’ve built up to protect us from each other. We have to feel the love stirring in our hearts, love that comes from Christ and is, in a way, directed back to him, because the church is Christ’s, not ours. It is His body.

Ecumenism is just a fancy word for what the church has always been called to do – love each other and work out our differences together. For better or worse, that’s the relationship I want.

p.s. Did you know this coming week is the international Week of Prayer for Christian Unity? Is it something your church is involved in? More info here.

Discussion questions:

What has been your experience with ecumenism?
What is the current attitude in your church toward the other churches in your community?
How can Pentecostals better “fellowship, share and cooperate” with other churches?

Friday, January 7, 2011

An Ecumenical Crush

Pentecostals and Ecumenism, Part 1: An Ecumenical Crush

The New Pentecostals are those who respect other Christian denominations and traditions and are willing to fellowship, share and cooperate with them.

When I was a child, I remember passing by the other churches in our town with a certain sense of curiosity and pity. There was the giant Cathedral in the middle of town, built when Fort Smith was actually being considered for the capital of the Northwest Territories. It was big and beautiful and purple inside. The community choir held their Christmas concerts there, and I loved singing out into that chilly space. I eyed the stations of the cross, the flickering candles and the statues of Mary with a certain suspicion and sadness however. The Catholics weren’t really saved, after all. Sometimes the grown-ups talked of a “born again” Catholic as if the occurrence was a great anomaly. As a young teenager I remember a particularly heated conversation at youth group with a Catholic friend about not eating red meat on Fridays. I brought out my Bible and a good thumping ensued. I’m not sure she ever came back to our youth group . . .

The Anglican church was farther up the main road, and much smaller than the Catholic church. We went there sometimes for ecumenical services during the week of Christian unity. More often I attended events in their church hall – pancake breakfasts, weekly Girl Guide meetings, and All Saints Eve parties where we dressed up as characters from the Bible. My piano teacher was an Anglican. The Anglicans were a little better than the Catholics. They didn’t worship Mary, after all. Mostly they were just dry and boring. Those ecumenical services were definitely tedious. Up and down, back and forth between papers and books, reading prayers. When we said the creed I purposely left out the word “catholic.” I only believed in one holy apostolic church. And to top it off, they smoked outside the church on Sundays!! Or so I had heard. Dry, boring and definitely carnal.

I think there was a Baptist church that met in some guy’s basement. They had a sign out on the front lawn. I think they were a little odd. I never knew anything more about them.

The Pentecostal church was within walking distance from our house, either by sidewalk or through the baseball diamonds as a shortcut. It was, in my humble opinion, the best church in town, despite its ugly orange carpet (which is still there, by the way). We had tambourines and lively music, and later drums. We had good half hour sermons at least, not those strange and shortened things called homilies. We made up our prayers every Sunday. No candles or rituals or idol worshiping for us. We didn’t just go to church. We had personal relationships with Jesus. Plus, we had the Holy Spirit.

* * *

I am a fourth generation Pentecostal, the daughter of a Pentecostal minister and Bible College teacher. I grew up in the PAOC. I went to a Pentecostal Bible College. I served in Pentecostal churches. So I’m not really sure when my pity turned to something else – genuine interest, respect, and at times a strange longing for stained glass. At some point in the two years between Bible College and enrolling at Wycliffe College for grad studies, I had developed something like a crush on other churches.

Perhaps it was my disillusionment with certain aspects of Pentecostalism. Perhaps it was the sense of sacred space and connection to saints past that I had experienced in chapels and cathedrals alike. Perhaps it was the fact that I had married a Baptist. Whatever the cause, I found myself intrigued. When I went to other services, I actually enjoyed the liturgy. When I spoke with people from other backgrounds, it was like missing pieces of my theology were falling into place, shifting things around and making me look at God and the church in entirely different ways. And I liked it.

I wasn’t sure where the relationship was going. Sure, I had held hands a few times with ecumenism, and we’d gone on several Sunday dates. But could there, should there, ever be anything more? I had been warned about ecumenism. He was something of a bad boy. I had heard whispers about his associations – popery and one world governments and maybe even the antichrist. But there in the glowing candlelight of a stained glass window, I wanted more.

Stay tuned for Part 2.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Let's talk pneumatology

Continuing on with discussion point #1:
The New Kind of Pentecostals are those who do not claim exclusivity of the Holy Spirit to a particular denomination or church.

Let’s talk pneumatology here. There’s no doubt that the Pentecostal movement revived a sense of charismatic pneumatology in the church. Throughout history there has always been a stream of charismatic experience running through the church. It was sometimes ignored or marginalized, but it was there. The global explosion of what we have come to label the Pentecostal movement was certainly unique. It has found expression in “classical Pentecostalism,” charismatic pentecostalism, and other waves and streams around the world that defy definition at the moment.

With the initial Pentecostal movement there was a great sense of excitement. The Spirit was doing something new! There was a new outpouring, and it looked a lot like the book of Acts. People wondered if this was a special outpouring for the “last days.” And it just wasn’t happening the same way in other denominations or traditions of Christianity.

So I think the exclusivity started with trying to make sense of this new movement of the Spirit. Because there was a way in which the Spirit was working that was different. And that made us feel special.

But somewhere along the way, we may have reduced the Spirit’s role to that of charismatic manifestations, and even more specifically, tongues. The pneumatology of Luke-Acts had been sorely neglected, and one of Pentecostalism’s gifts to the larger church has been to explicate Luke’s unique pneumatology. We should be grateful for the biblical scholarship done in this area by many brilliant Pentecostals. But Pentecostal pneumatology, as it has been expressed thus far, is by no means the be all and end all of Christian pneumatology. Believe it or not, the Spirit has been at work in the church between Constantine and Azuza Street!!

It’s time to take the pneumatology we have developed and put it in conversation with other aspects of pneumatology. We didn’t invent it. We have much to learn from many theologians of the church over time. It’s as we interact with the collective mind of the church that we can see some of the weak points in our own pneumatology and develop our own insights further. The Spirit is bigger than us, bigger than tongues, than Pentecostalism. I believe the Spirit speaks through Pentecostalism to the rest of the church, and that the Spirit also speaks TO Pentecostalism through the rest of the church.

What do you think?

In what ways has our pneumatology contributed to the larger picture of what the Spirit is up to in the world?
In what ways has it fallen short?
How can we better interact with the 1900 years of pneumatological thought that came before us?
Has anyone been reading any pneumatology lately (Pentecostal or other) that has inspired them to colour outside the traditional Pentecostal lines?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Everything is Pentecostal.

The New Kind of Pentecostals are: 1.Those who do not claim exclusivity of the Holy Spirit to a particular denomination or church.

I have an incredible dad, he is this short east Indian man who is proud to be Indian...overwhelmingly proud! When I was a teenager he went through a stage where everything was Indian. I would be watching "Much On Demand" after school and he would walk in and say " Did you know music videos were invented in India?" He would smile, shake his head side to side as most Indian people do and then would take a sip of his steaming, hot, homemade Chai before vanishing off to his basement office.
Other times, my father would hear my sister talk about fashion, and without missing a beat, my mom would always bring up her desire to have a nose ring. Mohny Singh's right eyebrow of course would go up and he would then interject into the conversation. "Did you know Indians are the ones that made nose rings fashionable or as they say" After his declaration he would go on eating his meal or reading the paper like nothing had even been mentioned. It drove us crazy... still does!!! To my dad though, everything is Indian (or at least was invented there).
I have another family that I am a part of that for years was even more extreme than my dad about where they came from and who they were. This family is called Pentecostalism. When I was 8 my parents started going to a Pentecostal church just outside of Montreal. This was the first experience I had ever had with Christianity (other than going to mass once in a while). At first the whole thing really scared me. People singing songs about blood washing them and something about snow. Folks raising their hands and swaying like they were in a trance of some sort, a preacher spitting and sweating like he was mad at all of us and going to the front to get prayed for and having people shouting "Ba Ram U's" at you. For an 8 year old, the whole thing was pretty intense.

As the years went by though, I started getting used to it. By the time I hit my preteens I was convinced that you weren't a Christian unless you were a Pentecostal. I heard various sermons that would emphasize the importance of being filled and baptized with the Spirit, and unless you spoke in tongues, you were unable to live out a true Christian life. I honestly remember thinking that the majority of Christian rock bands were all Pentecostal and that Catholics weren't going to heaven.

For anyone who grew up in the movement during the 70's 80's and 90's, being Pentecostal was the hippest thing you could do with your life. We were growing, Pentecostal youth ministries across the country were exploding and our Bible Colleges were pumping out huge amounts of young Pentecostal leaders. Things were good. I think they were so good, we let ourselves get a little arrogant. We had this attitude that we were the only real show in town and that if you weren't a part of us you were like second class Christians. For a long time, that ethos rang true in many of the events I attended as I grew up.

When it came to the Holy Spirit, I think many Pentecostals were convinced that we had the market pinned on that one. The attitude was very much "if you don't experience the Spirit like we do, then you didn't really experience the Spirit at all." And for years, me and many of my young friends actually believed that. It was almost like the movement was saying "everything is Pentecostal."

I remember judging the Christianity of many people in my high school as non existent because they were not Pentecostal. I would invite friends that were a part of other denominations to Pentecostal events in our district and at my church hoping that they would truly get "saved" and experience the Pentecostal Spirit! I had no concept that their expression of Christianity was valid and good. Sad really.

My "everything is Pentecostal" attitude really started changing in my second year of Bible college. As students we had to be a part of an outside ministry so as to meet the requirements of our college. Myself and a few good friends decided to be a part of a ministry called "Potter's Place Mission" on the East side of Vancouver. This area is one of the poorest and most drug ridden parts of North America and I was convinced when we signed up that we were going to save the world from themselves.

As we began to get to know many of the ministry staff at the mission, I realized something pretty incredible...none of them were Pentecostal. All of them were a part of interdenominational or main line denominational churches. To be honest it floored me. How could people who weren't Pentecostal and who hadn't experienced the "Pentecostal Spirit" pray with such authority, love so recklessly and be so connected to the Spirit of God?

One time, a person on our team was playing guitar for one of the services we were holding at the mission. He felt in his spirit that there was some kind of demonic force there in the room. He prayed " God, in the name of Jesus if there is anything here that would try to come against what your Spirit is doing in these people, I ask that you would reveal it in Jesus name." All of a sudden a guy jumps up out of his seat, looks my friend right in the eye and gives him the 2 finger salute. He starts screaming these profane sentences at the top of his lungs and disrupts the whole service. All of us Pentecostal guys just stand there in shock. There was no class in our Pentecostal college that got us ready for those situations, we were like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming car.

Almost immediately, one of the pastors of the mission recognized the demon possessed guy. He got up and with all the authority in the world starts walking towards him. The possessed man looks at this small Korean pastor, his mouth drops in fear and he books it out of there. The funny part was that the pastor was so intent on casting out this demon he starts running after the man and follows him into the streets of east Vancouver. Brilliant!
That night for me everything changed. This small Korean pastor was not a Pentecostal. He was a part of a mainline denomination who expresses dependency on the Spirit in a very different way than we Pentecostals do and yet...He understood the Pentecostal message better than we did. I realized that night that the body of Christ may be diverse and unique but we are all connected by two main things: Christ's death and resurrection and by the Spirit of Christ. I realized that before I am Pentecostal, I am a Christian who is but one small part of the greater body of Christ. I realized that Pentecostalism is only one outlet of how a person can express their Christianity and that all outlets (denomination allegiances, expressions and distinctives) are all valid and actually showcase the unifying essentials of Christendom.

I always thought that Pentecostalism had chosen me, but over the last few years I've come to the conclusion that Pentecostalism is the outlet I have chosen to express my Christianity. For me, I now know that Pentecostals don't have the market cornered when it comes to the Holy Spirit and to think our pneumatology is crystallized and completed is going to be our very downfall as a fellowship. As a young movement of only 104 years here in North America, we have a lot to discover and learn about the Spirit, and I think we can learn a lot from our brothers and sisters that have chosen different outlets of Christian expression.

When I read this first statement from Dr. Lee, that new Pentecostals are "Those who do not claim exclusivity of the Holy Spirit to a particular denomination or church," I am overcome because for years now, this is exactly how I've been feeling about the whole thing. I know many older leaders will say that we as a movement have never claimed exclusivity to the Holy Spirit. And sure, maybe not officially or maybe not in our doctrinal stances or in denomination statements...but we have and are doing it through the attitude of arrogance we had and exude in some instances. I really believe that to go forward as a movement, we need to make this statement part of our overall ethos. I believe that this is happening and that many Pentecostals feel like this first statement truly reflects their heart, as it should.

Everything in Christendom may not be Pentecostal...but it is still beautiful.

As a Pentecostal what have been your experiences in this specific regard? How do you feel Dr.Lee's first statement reflects where Pentecostalism is going ?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Samuel Lee's "Possible Statement of Faith"

"The New Kind of Pentecostals are:

1.Those who do not claim exclusivity of the Holy Spirit to a particular denomination or church.

2. Those who respect other Christian denominations and traditions and are willing to fellowship, share and cooperate with them.

3.Those who believe that the unconditional love that is inspired & directed by the Holy Spirit in believers is the greatest sign of being filled with the Holy Spirit.

4. Those who share the Good News with all mankind, but in a manner full of grace and love and not through arrogance and “the-we-know-better-than-you-mentality...”

5. Those who believe that miracles, signs and wonders are still possible today, but one should not elevate these above the humility and the message of Jesus Christ. They are those who are against commercializing and merchandizing the gifts and signs of the Holy Spirit.

6. Those who do not tolerate any form of fear-theology and manipulation techniques in the name of the Holy Spirit in order to gain wealth, even for the ministry.

7. Those who believe in the grace that is in giving tithes and offerings but are against abusive and manipulative forms of preaching/using Malachi 3:8... Tithes and offerings should not be controlled and must come from the heart of the giver and not from the fear preached from the pulpit.

8. Those who may disapprove of the non-heterosexual lifestyle, but are not witch-hunting homosexuals. Instead of using hateful vocabulary toward homosexuals, they listen to and pray for them.

9. Those who are balanced in their theology on Israel/Zionism. New Kind of Pentecostals are those who aim to play the role of bridge builders between the Jews and Palestinians. For God loves both…

10. Those who are not only concerned with miracles, signs and wonders, but are also concerned with social justice, and with the poor, the oppressed, the orphans, the widows and the immigrants.

11. Those who respect other cultures’ and people’s convictions and even religions, and are willing to enter into a mutual dialogue with them, without any hidden agendas.

12. Those who respect and have a dialogue with other cultures, yet when it comes to any form of inhumane practices within these cultures, the New Pentecostals are willing to address them.

13. Those who are concerned with the environment and are willing to bring in Pentecostal input in caring for the creation.

14. Those who believe in the Bible as the inspired collection of Holy Scriptures, yet they use the scriptures to bring forth grace and mercy and offer blessings instead of doom and gloom theology.

15. Those who believe that leadership should be servant hood; that leaders should serve instead of being served. Leaders should sacrifice instead of demanding sacrifice. Leadership should be based on love and fellowship and not on spiritual rank.

16. Those who respect traditional churches, or organized churches, but believe that the real church is built of people and their relationship with God and with each other. They are those who believe that the church is not a “building”, but it is a part of God continually fulfilling kingdom."

How this works

Here’s how this is going to work.

You can read Lee’s original post here, and we’ll also post a separate entry here on the blog.

There are 16 statements in total. To give us enough time to get our heads around each concept and give each of you time to provide thoughtful input, we’re going to look at one statement each month. We’ll get some guest posters to get the discussion going, and then it’s a free for all. We want your comments, and comments on comments!

If there is a particular statement you would like to explore by writing a more detailed post, or if you’ve done some research in a particular area and would like to share, let us know!
If there are people you know who would be interested in what we’re discussing, invite them along too.

We’re not out to bash Pentecostalism. We are part of this movement and we believe God has and is doing some amazing things among us. Sure, we’ve got our disagreements and our frustrations. No denomination is perfect. But we have chosen to stay part of this movement because there is much good, and we believe reformation is best done from within. The message of Pentecost hasn’t changed. But maybe we need to.

This is going to be fun . . .


What are we doing here?

Hey Pentecostals, welcome to the conversation!

The idea for this blog started with a blog post from Josh Singh. He introduced me (Lindsey) to Samuel Lee, a Pentecostal pastor, thinker and writer currently living in Amsterdam, who is interested, among other things, in reforming Pentecostalism as we know it. (You can read Josh’s original post here.)

Samuel Lee has his own blog, in which he explores some of the issues on the current Pentecostal horizon. On July 1st, 2010, he posted a “possible statement of faith” for a “New Kind of Pentecostalism.” When Josh reposted this list of 16 statements, it really caught my eye.

Here was someone who wasn’t afraid to take a good look at the Pentecostal world we inhabit – the values we hold, the practices we engage in, our patterns of thinking, our cherished statements of fundamental and essential truths, our strengths and our weaknesses – and open it up for critique and dialogue. Granted, many of these statements arise from some of the abuses and extremes of Pentecostal thought, but overall the list provides a positive, balanced approach to reforming the worldwide movement that began just over a century ago.

And I don’t know about you, but I think Pentecostalism could use some reformation. So when I read the list, I immediately wanted to invite a few dozen of my best Pentecostal friends to the closest coffee shop for some discussion. What did they think about the list? Are these concerns valid? Is this the direction we need to go? Is this the equivalent of Luther’s 95 theses and is there a door somewhere we can nail to them to?

With said Pentecostal friends spread out all over the country, the next best thing I could think of was that great virtual Starbucks of the new millennium – the blogging world. Wouldn’t it be great to start a blog series discussing the premise of Lee’s manifesto and each of Lee’s statements? Wouldn’t it be great to invite a few “experts” to weigh in on different areas of Pentecostal thought? Wouldn’t it be great just to have a conversation about where we are now and where we think we might be heading? Wouldn’t it?!?

Josh thought it was a good idea, anyway. We figured we have enough Pentecostal friends and people interested in Pentecostal thought to make for a good discussion. If you agree, grab a cup of coffee and your laptop and meet us here at