From Pentecost to Liturgy and Back

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

2 thoughts on “From Pentecost to Liturgy and Back”

  1. Hi, Don.

    Except for a couple of things, there’s too much agreement here to warrant a conversation. I would go farther in linking the Fathers to “Pentecost:” Gary Cockerill, author of an astounding commentary on Hebrews, says the basic three points to Bible study are to “listen, understand, and obey.” The Fathers, and any honest, Spirit-filled reader of the Word, fit that category. The work of Athanasius and the Cappadocians show the results of the attitude expressed by Isaiah, “Speak, Lord, Thy servant heareth!” Pentecostalism, and its grandparent, historic Anglicanism, live today because of that. I was converted in the “Jesus Revolution,” which was probably the most non-traditional movement in the history of the Church, but one which stressed intimate communion with our Father. Thirty years later I discovered the key Fathers, and the Wesleyans, confirming that the Lord had been teaching them a lot of the same things, only in much greater depth and detail!

    Back to the subject: I don’t see the question as one of comparing this or that “denomination,” but rather looking at the parts and pieces of what we have received as the Church. True enough- the influence of the 19th Century has developed into some problems for us in the 21st. Darby-ism is a subject to itself, as is the “inclusive” attitude we tend to have toward other sects that grew up during that time: Adventism, Watchtower, Christian Science, LDS, etc. Within the churches generally, though, we do have two things we need to work out. First is Holy Communion. From the outward it looks like a silly exercise of a tiny sip and a munch, and somebody says a prayer. Inwardly, every Christian needs that contact with God: Jesus said, “this is My Body.” I’m no textual scholar, but there is nothing I can find in those passages to suggest He was using any figure of speech in saying that, so there must be a lot more to it than meets the eye. While the strict definition of transubstantiation might be a medieval concept (and even the orthodox Benedict XVI doesn’t back that one up), it is important to see how the Lord’s Supper was understood by the earliest Church, at least the ones who learned from those who learned from the Apostles, before nailing our own feet to the floor with our most-modern conclusions.

    With the sacraments generally (folks more influenced by Darby might call them the “Ordinances, or Emblems” or some such) the question is about seeing it in terms of whether it is a means of grace or a sign of grace. A lot of this depends on our faith and expectations. Some people are “saved through baptism” because they make their baptism the “point of faith” at which they yield their lives to the Lord for Him to save them. Others might have been saved at another point, and “follow the Lord in baptism.” To either one, all I can say is, “welcome to the family!” The same applies to Confirmation and the infilling of the Spirit. Confirmation symbolises Pentecost: Whether the infilling occurs before, at, or after is not important, but that it does happen. The one exception to this is the Eucharist. We receive (of) the Lord at His table, with not a lot of room (that I can tell) there for discussion. The earliest records show that weekly Communion was standard from the very first. John Wesley stressed it as still being important for the Methodists to take it weekly, and he took it several times during the week.

    Some of the earliest liturgies, maybe from the 2nd Century, mentioned the Christians as so many grains of wheat from as many different fields and hillsides, being ground into one loaf, and so they partake of one loaf, which is Christ; and when the Lord first instituted the Communion all the disciples shared together of one cup, seeing the red wine in the chalice, a visual message much different from the little clnical dosage cups popular today, considering one another as they passed it along. No, it’s not that the Lord won’t honor our obedience if we partake of His Supper in individualised portions, but rather that His plan is not for us to be individualised, but formed together as one Body- not independent but God-dependent and inter-dependent. Everything in church needs to be something, not only through which we talk to God, but much more, through which He can best talk to us.

    Well, Don, that’s my two cents’ worth on the subject. If I gave ya too much well, keep the change or pass it on. God bless ya, Brother!

Leave a Reply