Reply to Jonathan Martin on Pentecost and Catholic Theology

I noted here that Jonathan Martin has written a paper entitled, “Spirit, Apocalypse and Ethics: Reading Catholic Moral Theology as a Pentecostal” in The Journal of Pentecostal Theology. (The abstract is here.)

First: congratulations are in order. It’s great to be a published author. It’s not always easy either, because everyone else wants “a piece of the action.” Moreover you’re always afraid that some of the “renown scholars” in your field will find fault in what you’ve written. I know I was very nervous when presenting my first published paper (my second one is here.) But they went fine.

I’ve been surprised at the interest amongst Pentecostals in things Catholic. This was especially true in the number of ministers who expressed interest in sacramental theology in this MissionalCOG post. (Are you guys working on a Eucharistic Congress?) Sacramental theology, and considering anything to be a sacrament, has been a bête noire amongst Evangelicals for a long time.

I spent a lot of time studying Catholic theology and history during my years as a Roman Catholic and afterwards. For a long time I have felt it necessary to de-emphasise that part of my life, but perhaps the Lord has kept me around for a time like this when Pentecostals are wrestling with issues that they haven’t been up to now. There are good reasons to incorporate Catholic theology and thought into our discussions; let me share two.

The first is the following, which I said earlier:

I’ve just about come to the conclusion that the phrase “Protestant theology” is an oxymoron. Protestants don’t have theology; they have doctrine. They teach it, they make it a litmus test for acceptance and, if they’re really on their game, they live it. But the word “theology” implies that one has to think out the “why”–the mechanics, to use an engineering term–behind something, and Protestants in general and Evangelicals in particular seem to be afraid of that. Too many people have the idea that such a quest will end up with an unBiblical result. That’s why I say that Roman Catholic theology, for all of its problems (the biggest of which is the institution of the Roman Catholic Church itself,) is the premier intellectual tradition in Christianity.

The second is that many Evangelicals equate “Protestant” with “Reformed.” That’s deadly for Pentecost. Reformed theology turns a dynamic walk with Christ into a static legal fiction. Catholic theology has always posited that a right relationship with God includes the indwelling of Christ in the believer. (That’s expressed musically here.) Since Pentecosals experience the baptism (immersion) in the Holy Spirit, it’s a natural fit.

That leads me to consider modern Pentecost’s Wesleyan roots. Wesley was an Anglican, and Anglicanism, although it adopted the Augustinian language and concepts of the Reformation, was “Catholic” enough to never go with a purely Calvinistic view of perseverance. I describe the importance of that here:

Reformed theology made inheriting eternal life a simple matter: you had faith in God (an act which God caused,) your name was written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, and that was it. There was no need for penance or the church, but there was no need for spiritual growth or having to do anything, good, bad or indifferent. The logical end to this is a butt-sitting religion where people can pompously proclaim they’re going to heaven without any further action on their part. Mercifully many members of Reformed churches have not “connected the dots” in this way, and they are a blessing to themselves, the people around them and to God himself.

But, when things get across the Channel, there’s Article XVI. The whole idea that people can fall way (“backslide,” to use the traditional terminology) implies movement. If people can move back in their relationship with God, they can move forward. This turns the Christian life from a static to a dynamic business. It puts movement into one’s relationship with God. It also puts movement into one’s life to serve God and to do the work that he left us here to do. The “fuel” behind this, from Jewel to Wesley, is sanctification, personal holiness that enables the believer to “… lay aside everything that hinders us, and the sin that clings about us, and run with patient endurance the race that lies before us…” (Hebrews 12:1b) Sanctification as the work of the Holy Spirit means that God interacts in a positive with us after we are reborn in him.

And this leads us to the baptism in the Holy Spirit. It is more than a tradition; it is rooted in the early church from the day it started. But, as explained in LifeBuilders Essentials, it is not a principally emotional experience either. It is the “fuel” to empower the believer to share one’s faith with others in whatever way that God has directed an individual to do so. Once again the idea is the same: progress for the individual in one’s walk with God, and progress for the church as it seeks to fulfil it’s God-given mission. This is why, after barely a century on the earth, so many Christians consider themselves to be Pentecostal or Charismatic, and show the gifts and manifestations that go with that. But in the process many were saved through the exercise of the same power, so the movement that is seen to be demonstrative is also evangelistic.

The one thing we must avoid in all of this–and I cannot overemphsise the point–is institutionalism. If we are the people of the Spirit we claim to be, we must move in that way.

I’m excited about the possibilities, and hopefully can be constructive in my contribution.

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