My friend Robert Easter at Sanctifusion has thrown me some very deep questions in the course of a discussion:
I was talking about you to a young man who is in the process of shifting form Church of God to Anglican. Something about the ancient ties and the Nicene writers. When we look at it, I think the sacramental and the pentecostal are the two strands of the Faith maybe the closest to each other, and to the basics of the Faith. Read some stuff from the Desert Fathers, Cappadocians, and earlier scholars and they seem all to be more of either one than anything else around today, and too much of either to quite be the other!
…how do you divide the Pentecostal “essentials” of the inner-life / holiness focus from the sacramental & liturgical aspects that are just as original, and apparently seen by the Fathers as essential to holiness? My own thinking is about the passive / consciousness-driven / spectator kind of thing we see nowadays on Sundays, and particularly the differences in the messages of a common cup and loaf against the “individual servings” of nasty Welch’s and unsalted cracker bits. Which is more effective in conveying , “this is My Body” either in terms of proclaiming Jesus’ Resurrection, or our unity in Him? In my own opinion, whether as a Pentecostal or an Anglican I can’t tell, but I would think that even passing around a slice of Wonderbread and a bottle of Nehi Grape would be closer to the plan than what is “common” today…
When I consider the scope of this blog–which reaches from Roman Catholicism to Anglicanism to Evangelicalism and Pentecostalism–I sometimes think of the old saying, “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” But I’ve got myself into this and now my bluff is called, so I guess I should try to address some of these questions:
- The thing that ties Pentecostal Christianity to the Patristic (Roman Empire) Era is a common belief in a God who takes an active role in people’s affairs, and who hears and answers prayer. This can be extended to much of Christianity that came after the Empire fell. The fact that the two forms of Christianity took different church polities, forms or worship and even concepts of church should not obscure this central fact. Reformed Christianity and much of what followed it attempts to turn Christianity into a mechanistic business, where the place of the elect (and the lost) is clear cut and immutable and everything else doesn’t really matter. This, to my mind, is not God’s plan. I explore this relative to Anglicanism in my piece Charismatic Anglicans: the Missing Link.
- The occupational hazard of churches with a sacramental system is that they get to the place where they think that the sacraments themselves confer all that’s needed for the faithful in this life and the life to come, irrespective of the state of the faithful’s heart and life. Roman Catholicism has wrestled with this and we see this in its worst form today in Affirming Catholicism.
- The weakness of the Holy Communion in Pentecostal churches today isn’t as much a product of the form we receive it in as much as the weak Eucharistic theology that Pentecostal churches inherited from the Baptists. There is no scriptural justification in a purely symbolic Eucharist, and since non one else involved in Pentecost has the guts to admit this, I might as well. The other end of the pole–transubstantiation–has its problems too, as its advocates tend to overplay its benefits, even in the face of unworthy reception.
- Contrary to what many say, it’s certainly possible to have truly Pentecostal worship in a liturgical context. It has been done. It can be done.
- I think the true measure of a great church is in the way it wins non-Christians to Christ and subsequently disciples them. The change of a life is the central event in a Christian’s life. Putting liturgical form–or anything else, like “social justice”–ahead of this is a mistake. Once you keep your focus on changing lives and then maturing them in a discipleship process, your worship (liturgical or otherwise) and everything else will improve. The reason I am in a Pentecostal church today is because it emphasises that and has the converts to prove it. I always got the impression as an Episcopalian that total conversions were either in bad taste or impossible due to human factors, and Roman Catholicism’s penchant for gradualism is well known.
Frankly, one reason I produced my fiction is to explore these knotty issues. In many ways they are more easily explored in a story line than a theological discussion. And the one part that gets very deep into the clash of ecclesiastical cultures is online.