Born to be Alive: Everything in Common

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They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.  Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles.  All the believers were together and had everything in common.  Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.  Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.  They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all people.  And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.[1]

A United Church

People who spend any time in church these days will most likely read the above passage with envy for one reason — the Jerusalem Church, in the wake of Pentecost, was united and at peace with itself and the outside world.  It is very sad that the nearly two millennia that separate us from them have seen as few situations like this as they have.  But the Jerusalem Church wasn’t the product of dumb luck, but of the Holy Spirit moving in the membership both individually and collectively.  When this happens, the happy condition of the Jerusalem Church can be replicated today, just as is the case with the rest of the early church.  Too much conventional wisdom tells us that this is not practical, but if we never try to achieve this, how can we ever hope to get close?

The world is not impressed with our divisions and our internal strife.  If we are truly representatives of the Prince of Peace, then we must strive to first secure peace amongst ourselves.  The first step in this process is submission to God — this is where the Lordship of Jesus Christ comes into play, as we have already seen.  The second is submission to each other.  Many Pentecostal and Charismatic churches and groups practice foot washing to a greater or lesser degree.  Done long enough, it can become another ecclesiastical routine.  But Jesus’ original purpose in instituting foot washing was to teach his disciples to submit one to another as part of their walk with him, both when he was here and after he left.  The disciples spent a lot of time trying to figure out who was going to be first if we consider that this was done around God’s own Son, we realize that the disciples were pushing divine presumption (as the Devil had done earlier) very hard.  When he taught the disciples foot washing, Jesus’ reply to this was, “`Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.  I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.  Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.'”[2]  Like those before us who walked with Jesus in the flesh and who also loved to be first, we also should take heed.

It is no accident that the pattern of submission is identical to the pattern of love.  The greatest commandment consists in first loving God, and then our neighbor.  We must come to both in loving submission.  Not enough time is spent on the subject of love in all the preaching and teaching that comes out of churches.  We spend too much time trying to construct our churches with correct doctrine, government, and methodology that we overlook the power of love — love of God and each other — to build our churches.  Does not love cover a multitude of sins?  Are people who are not Christians supposed to identify us who are by our love for one another?  We might have to surrender some of our personal autonomy and all of our pride.  But such losses are like every other loss for God the payback far exceeds the expense.  It is, as we would say financially, an investment with an unlimited return.

Selling All

While we are on the subject of surrendering and finances, we need to take a look at one aspect of the Jerusalem Church that has detonated a good deal of discussion over the centuries.  This concerns the holding in common of goods that was the norm for this church, which implies that the people individually had nothing.

Some people and groups have held that this is the norm for Christian living and have, with varying degrees of success, put this into practice.  In addition to this passage, they point out Jesus’ own poverty on this earth, and especially to his instructions to the rich young ruler to sell all, give to the poor, and follow him.  Others point out that the Jerusalem church was the only church featured in the New Testament to handle the people’s goods in this fashion in the churches that Paul writes to, for instance, we don’t see this practice repeated, at least not that we know of.

This author does not hope to definitively solve this debate in this book.  Today, however, we see that the vast majority of Christians have abandoned, for better or worse, the practice of selling all, and churches for the most part do not require their members to contribute everything they have to the church and live communally in one form or another.  It is probably unrealistic to expect, for instance, that Christians as a whole will sell all and live as the Jerusalem Church did it is hard enough to get them to tithe and love one another.  Also, given the history of Christian attempts to return to the model of the Jerusalem Church, when such an effort is complete the spiritual condition of the believers that are left may or may not be better.  But the connection between people being Christian and lacking wealth either by default or by giving it up is one that deserves more investigation than it has received, especially if we look at it in the history of Christianity in general and recent Full Gospel Christianity in particular.

Not a Wealthy Church

Before we explore the topic of wealth in the church, we need to first take a brief look at the economic system of the ancient world, the system that the early church moved in.  In much teaching today on the subject of economics and the Bible, it is tempting to project our current mechanisms of wealth creation into the life of the early church.  This temptation should be resisted because the ancient world, while remarkable in many respects, did not possess the ability of modern economies to create wealth.  There are a number of reasons for this, but the two principal ones were the lack of sufficiently advanced technology and the lack of the proper social organization to foster the creation of wealth.  Technology is necessary to multiply the ability of people to do work from sheer, unassisted sweat of the brow it is difficult to create wealth when this is all you have to work with.  Social organization would include such institutions as the corporation, with its limited liability, and a legal and financial system that would foster economic enterprise.  These, along with a number of other important factors, were not sufficiently abundant in the Roman Empire to enable a broad spectrum of people to accumulate wealth.

The result of this situation was the lack of a middle class, that venerable creation of modern economies.  People were mostly either wealthy or poor, and the vast majority of them were the latter.  In the cities the poor lived very simply.  Their small houses or apartments had a few sticks of furniture.  They took most of their recreation outside of their homes, in the baths, games, or forum.  They subsisted from day to day on whatever livelihood they had, whether it be work or welfare.

Now it is true that there were a few wealthy people in the church Paul devoted an entire letter of the New Testament (albeit the shortest one, Philemon) to a man who was at least well off enough to own slaves.  James makes an unmitigated attack in his letter on giving special treatment to wealthy people if there were none around, this would be unnecessary.  There were other people in the early church with enough resources to provide a house for the church to meet in.  But a church with a sprinkling of wealthy people is not automatically a church for the successful this is equally true then and now.  A church for the well to do is a church where the well to do make up the majority of the membership.  When a well to do person elects to join a church where most members do not have what he or she has, it represents the culmination of a serious process, as we will see.

Furthermore, the Apostles would have been foolish if they aimed their ministry primarily at the wealthy of their day.  They preached to anyone who would listen, but it is noteworthy that most of their recorded appearances to the high and mighty of their day were in chains and under armed guard.  Most people in their time were poor.  They preached and ministered amongst the people who were there.  Thus, when the Jerusalem church was formed, as a group the membership was in all probability not well off, and led by those Galilean fishermen their transition to a system of communal property was not as dramatic as it would be with a middle class congregation of our day.

It was under these conditions that the early church grew and prospered.  The Church was sent into the world to gather a harvest of people, and that is what the church of the Apostolic Age did.  They may have not brought much with them when they came, but then again this was not a condition that Jesus had put on his Church.  It was a long time before the Church was able to claim members at the pinnacle of power.  If we assume the day of Pentecost to have taken place in the year A.D. 30, it was a long way to 312 A.D., when the Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity by the Edict of Milan.  The propagation of the Gospel had trickled upward in those three centuries, even reaching members of whatever Imperial family was in power at the moment.  After that time, Christianity became the state religion, at which point conversions became wholesale amongst the powerful.  By then Christianity had become an asset to the advancement of the important, but the addition of these to the Church was done at the expense of the moral integrity of the Body of Christ.

The reach of Christianity into the upper socio-economic groups of society was impeded by a number of factors.  For one thing, Christianity was illegal until the Edict of Milan.  This is a serious impediment for people who are seeking to be acceptable in society.  But ultimately the difficulty that the well to do have always had with Christianity both in the Roman Empire and in later history is not rooted in local situations or in the nature of the preachers. It is rooted in the very nature of wealth itself.

Self-Sufficiency

What do people get out of wealth?  This question is important but seldom asked, because too much of our approach to life is geared by that question being a premise.  For much of society today, to ask that question is an insult.  What would life be, many would ask, if we answered that question in a way other than with good things?  But our first purpose here is not insult but investigation.

Let’s start with the basics.  An income is essential for necessities, so that life might be sustained.  With more income or wealth, one can afford and enjoy more creature comforts and leisure.  Depending upon how much and in what way he or she deals with the media, one can also gain fame and esteem amongst other people.  Power over others is also possible, and this can be used either offensively or defensively.

But perhaps the most basic benefit of wealth is a degree of self-sufficiency.  When one is poor and has little, one lives from day to day dependent upon others.  Will I or my spouse get laid off from the plant?  Will the crops come in this year?  Will I get sick and be unable to work and make a living?  Will my paycheck last until the next one comes in?  If I am in a life of crime, will I get caught by the police or my fellow criminals?  Although many attempt to bluff their way through this with pride, in such circumstances one is at the mercy of forces beyond one’s control, dependent upon the generosity or the circumstances of others.

When a person acquires wealth, however, such dependence upon caprice can be reduced.  In addition to the cushion of savings for hard times, if there are multiple income sources, the end of one does not mean the end of all.  If a person’s influence stretches far enough, he or she can “call in the chips” so to speak and get favors to get through a tight spot.  This is especially true if these favors come from the government.  Any individual or group who plans to stay in the money for the long haul better plan to be well entrenched politically.

This type of self-sufficiency for adverse conditions, if sustained long enough in a person’s life, will have a psychological and spiritual impact.  In fact, many who seek for personal self advancement adopt this type of thinking in their quest for monetary gain.  They work hard and beg nothing from others, and in this way they get ahead.  Those who have wealth attempt to impart this ethic of self sufficiency to their offspring.  Some of these get packed away to boarding schools in an attempt to foster self-reliance and independence.  Most all of these are exhorted and motivated to achieve much on their own efforts.  This was as true in the days of the Apostles as in our own.  In fact, in those days the religion of Stoicism was very popular with the wealthy, and self-sufficiency was a central tenet of that faith.  Today those in the upper classes who still hang on to some form of Christianity — and these are fewer in number all the time — frequently attempt to bend Christianity to the self-sufficient ethic that put them where they are.

But is this legitimate?  The starting point of an individual’s Christian experience is the recognition of two facts.  The first is the reality of a person’s own sinfulness.  The second is the discovery of a person’s own inability to get out of it by their own efforts.  According to the gospel of self-sufficiency, a person should be able to get out of this mess on their own without the help of others.  But this is not God’s way the Scriptures tell us that we must be totally dependent upon God to be extricated from our morass of sin and death, to be reborn into the Kingdom of God, to live for God in this life, and finally to make to heaven in the next.  We cannot do this on our own.  Only with the power of God can we make something worthwhile of ourselves or the life we live.  This biblical concept is a major slap in the face to the idea of self-sufficiency.

Self-sufficiency and its wealthy followers don’t take this lying down.  It is very difficult to show a person who has spent a lifetime making it in the world by an ethic of self-sufficiency to recognize that he or she will not be really happy in this life or in the next by letting go and letting God take over and bring them home to him.  “A certain ruler asked him, `Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’  `Why do you call me good?’ Jesus answered.  `No one is good — except God alone.  You know the commandments: Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’  `All these I have kept since I was a boy,’ he replied.  When Jesus heard this, he said to him, `You still lack one thing.  Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come, follow me.’  When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth.  Jesus looked at him and said, `How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God.  Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.'”[3]  This reply didn’t sit well with the rich young ruler it doesn’t sit well with many rich rulers today either.

In addition to making up the vast majority of the population of the Roman Empire, the poor represented the most receptive people to the Gospel because they knew that they needed divine power of some kind to get them from one day to the next.  They knew that they were dependent for their life.  When the Apostles and other Christians told them that they would need to be dependent upon God for eternal life, they had been prepared by their living that this message was right.  They knew that they could not make it on their own.  They still know this.

Self-Sufficiency and Pentecost

We have seen that the early church was made up of the same type of people that made up the general population of their time, namely the poor.  This was probably true from the very start, from the day of Pentecost itself.  We also know that this situation continued for a long time afterwards pagan and Christian writers alike made reference to this fact.  We also know that the acquisition of wealth and wealthy church people took place for the most part after Christianity was legalized.  What relevance does this have for Pentecostals and Charismatics today, with so many conditions different?

Most Pentecostal churches started out among people with few of this world’s goods.  In this respect, it emulated (voluntarily or not) the early Church.  However, by the time the modern Pentecostal movement got started, Christianity had permeated and indeed dominated large portions of Western society.  Many nations then had state churches and considered themselves Christian nations.  While the United States did not have a state church, thanks to the zealous efforts of many Christians the Christian influence was everywhere.  Why was it necessary for Pentecostal churches to minister where they did?

One way to explain this is to observe that most Pentecostal preachers, being poor, were more suited to minister to poor people like themselves.  Paul tells us to be all things to all men, but Christianity has had a hard time with this.  The next best thing is to send out someone who is like the people he or she is ministering to.  This is good missionary strategy but really this explanation of the outreach of Pentecostal preachers begs the question.  If we say that Pentecostal preachers ministered to poor people because like attracts like, then we must explain how and why Pentecost appealed to these poor preachers to start with.

Others say that the “emotionalism” of Pentecostal worship appealed mostly to poor people, while their wealthier counterparts had somehow learned to hold it in better.  And there is no doubt, when the Spirit moves, it touches every part of your being, emotions included.  But “heartfelt” religion is something that Pentecostal churches, while they practice it par excellence, did not originate.  There was and is sufficient emotionalism in enough of Christianity not to require the introduction of Pentecostal practice.

Another explanation is that the Pentecostal, and later the Charismatic movement, were reactions by unsophisticated people to the advance of modern science, especially to Evolution and higher Biblical criticism.  The hidden implication — well hidden, because many liberals try to achieve social justice in the midst of personal snobbery — is the equating of unsophistication with poverty.  There were and are many people unhappy with the watering down of the Gospel through such devices as higher criticism, ethical relativism, and the abandonment of the claim of Jesus being the only way to Heaven.  However, many people who opposed the Modernists opposed Pentecostals with equal vigor, while at the same time producing a religion that had greater acceptance amongst middle class people than the Pentecostals had.

To understand the real reason why Pentecostals had their greatest appeal amongst the poor, we need to strip away the externals and get down to the heart of the matter by examining the very nature of Pentecost itself.  We have observed the inherent dependence of those in poverty.  These people know they cannot make it through life on their own resources many aren’t sure they can make it through another day.  Pentecostal Christianity offers first the continuous and intimate presence of the Holy Spirit, doing his work of comforting and counseling, which everyone needs but which is most painfully evident to the destitute.  Moreover, with this continuous presence of the Holy Spirit comes the continuous power of God.  This makes matters even more attractive to those with little.  Rich people don’t need to believe for miracles because they lack nothing.  Poor people need them because they lack everything, and need all from God that they can get.  Having no large supply of their own, poor people must turn to God for what they have the wealthy can get by on their own resources.  We are back again to that business of self-sufficiency, but this time in Pentecostal Christianity we are looking at God’s total sufficiency, not only for the next life, but for this one too.  This has made Pentecostal churches attractive for the poor, and they have responded in numbers from the dawn of the modern Pentecostal movement to the present.

The division of Christianity along socio-economic lines is a tragedy of the first magnitude.  It was certainly not the purpose of Pentecostal pioneers to create a church just to get away from the wealthier elements of the congregation.  In fact, many of the wealthier elements have responded by making the poverty of the Pentecostals a weapon to use against those who might consider joining up.  Most of the attention given to the divisions between churches who embrace the Pentecostal experience and those who don’t center around issues of doctrine and practice.  This is most applicable when we are talking about differences at the clerical level.  At the lay level, things are a little different.  The use of socio-economic superiority against Pentecostals and their churches is one from which many Christian lay people have not shrunk.  It has been a powerful weapon over the years in impeding the growth of Pentecostal churches.

Charismatic Renewal

This state of stratification continued on for most of the first half of this century.  Complicating matters was the insistence of most churches that those who were baptized in the Holy Spirit be unceremoniously ejected from the church.  The Pentecostals were thus forced into their own denominations in their own part of town, where they carried out their work of ministry in the Spirit.  They carried the message of Pentecost into all parts of the world, and it went into places many had never heard of to start with.  But while they could go around the world and be received gladly, they could not get across the tracks.  Pentecostals peered out from their churches across these steel dividing lines, sometimes with longing, sometimes with contempt, but always across.  It was a mission field that was so near, yet so far.

There are three ways to open a new mission field.  The first is to wait until you can get some of your own membership into it and work in it from there.  In this case, this involves having some of the church members work hard enough to gain some wealth and thus some credibility in higher places.  This is a typical way to solve this problem, and many churches before the Pentecostal ones had done this.  In the intervening years, some Pentecostals have succeeded in doing just this.  But there are dangers with this method, as we will see.

The second method is to train people to work effectively with other types of people.  For instance, if you want to minister in a nursing home, you could train people especially to relate to people who live there.  The same method could be applied to prisons and jail ministry, to ministry amongst people in the military, to people with specific problems (drug and alcohol abuse, rape victims, etc.).  On paper at least, Pentecostal churches could have trained people to work in the wealthier parts of town on a mission basis, with preachers and pastors specially trained for the task.

While this approach has its merits in some cases, unless you can give the right people the right kind of training for the task, you will be better off picking some poor layman with a mind unclouded by ministerial education, sending him or her into this new field and seeing what happens.  This last approach can be very effective, because in many cases lay people can gain credibility with people that preachers cannot, especially in a society as hostile to church as ours is today.  But in the early days neither the preachers nor the lay people were prepared for such an enterprise and so it was for the most part never carried out.

The last approach is simply to let God open the door to the new field and then just go in and reap the harvest.  This is obviously the simplest and most effective way to carry the job out.  With all the emphasis Pentecostals put on depending upon God, this is the really proper way to do what is needed.  Although Pentecostals were not necessarily fully prepared for the Charismatic Renewal (no one else was either), in the end all of Full Gospel Christianity was the beneficiary of this movement of the Spirit.

The subject of the Charismatic Renewal is a controversial one among a great number of people, both those who faced it in the churches first affected (especially the liberals who had their own agenda for these institutions) and the Pentecostals, who for some time watched from a distance.  The liberals’ anxiety is understandable had the Charismatics succeeded in taking partial or total control of many of the churches they were in, the liberal, humanistic program for these churches would have been in ruins.  As for those who opposed the Charismatics as fundamentalists and evangelicals, their opposition was simply a repeat of what they gave the Pentecostals earlier in the century, so there was no change there.

But why so much of the early anxiety amongst Pentecostals about this?  To understand why this happened, we need to see again that, in the beginning, many of the Pentecostal pioneers came out of fundamental churches of one kind of another, with all of the implications of church doctrine and polity that implied.  They were also not the wealthiest people in the world, as we have also seen.  They had been run out of their original churches and forced to form their own denominations as well.  Overall it had been a long, hard road for these people.

The Charismatics, on the other hand, were in many cases middle class people.  They came out of churches that had heretofore not contributed anything to the Pentecostal movement, not even in rejection many were not even evangelical!  They were used to different patterns of worship and doctrinal emphases, although Charismatics brought more fundamentalism into their churches than they realized and ultimately more than most of their churches would tolerate.  Most Charismatics believed that it was unnecessary to leave the churches they were in, but to stay and to minister to the people that were there.

These differences between the two groups contributed to some mutual hard feelings.  We need to remind ourselves, however, that only one Holy Spirit fell on the day of Pentecost, to be poured out on all flesh.  This outpouring crossed all human boundaries, whether they be racial, ethnic, socio-economic, or even of religious tradition.  In the days of the Apostles, the great chasm was between the Jews and the Gentiles.  If the Holy Spirit can cross this line, what barrier of religious tradition is too high for him?  “Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear.”[4]  If the one Holy Spirit is the cause for both of these movements, then they are one, and we are one, “For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body — whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free — and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.”[5]

This is not to say that each side has not made mistakes, because both have, both individually and with respect to each other.  The Holy Spirit went where the Pentecostals and the Charismatics each could not go, which is only one more proof that those of us who are baptized in the Spirit have something that is greater than we are or can conceive to be.  And so on this subject, we say with Paul: “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more that all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”[6]

Need at All Levels

This discourse leaves at least one large loose end, and that concerns the large scale entry of middle class people into the Charismatic Renewal and thus into the Pentecostal experience.  This was something that was out of reach for many early Pentecostals.  As we have seen, this was due to the very nature of Pentecostal Christianity itself.  What changed in the two events was not God’s message but the hearts of the people.

The poor are quickest to acknowledge their dependence upon outside forces because it is constant and obvious.  For those with more, it is easier to conceal this need with wealth.  This can be dealt with in two ways either by taking away the wealth, or by making its transitory and feeble nature evident to the holders.  Over the years the Lord has done both.

Everyone will part with whatever they have at death.  The rich man who passed by Lazarus at his gate every day found this out the hard way.[7]  Anyone, rich or poor, who thinks they can beat death is fooling themselves.  It is here at death’s door that everyone’s dependence upon God becomes most evident.  If we were to put the kick back into our teaching and preaching about death and the afterlife, we could pack our churches with all classes, especially with the recent increase of interest in the subject.  Death is the great leveler of all of the human race.  To restore our awareness of it is to restore our need to make our way into eternity.

As far as changing our perceptions of the value of our wealth, liberal thinkers love to characterize the Charismatic Renewal by saying that it was a reaction to the social upheavals of the 1960’s and 1970’s.  This thought is both true and hypocritical.  It is hypocritical because most of the upheaval was caused by the liberals themselves, armed as they were with a pliant media and a total disregard for the consequences of their actions.  They expected us to joyfully greet the atheistic anarchy they started.  When people truly turned to God instead, they become bitter because it was just the opposite of what they had intended.  It is true because these chaotic times shook many out of their complacency and made them see that they needed more than they had to get through life.  And so they turned to the one true Source of direction and power, and discovered that “…Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God.  For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.”[8]  And they did this in the move of the Holy Spirit, as was the case in the days of the Apostles.

Prosperity Teaching

One innovation that needs to be discussed at this point is prosperity teaching.  This type of teaching and preaching has been caricatured mercilessly by both its opponents and its supporters.  On the surface, it is a direct contradiction to the roots of many Pentecostals and some Charismatics in poorer circumstance but careful examination reveals a situation much more complicated than that.

Reduced to its essentials and homogenized from its principal teachers as best as possible, prosperity teaching has two basic tenets.  The first is that Christians, as true children of God, have a right to be prosperous.  The second is that they can believe and receive from God whatever resources are necessary to achieve this prosperity.  Like it or not, prosperity teaching has a kernel of sound Biblical teaching.  We have seen that, right from the start of the church age, Christians have been clothed in the omnipotence of God prosperity teaching is simply a way of exercising that omnipotence, and to achieve some level of prosperity without losing one’s consciousness of dependence upon God.

Counterattacks against this type of teaching have attempted to refute this teaching in many ways.  Some attempt to do so Biblically.  This is easier for those who are not Pentecostal or Charismatic for those who are, it is nearly impossible.  The power of God poured into man for the working of miracles and other wonders of all kinds is central to the Pentecostal message, too central to sluff off something such as this.  Others attempt to tie prosperity teaching together with psychic and demonic methods of miracle working.  This charge only shows that every real spiritual phenomenon has a counterfeit, produced by the great faker himself, the Devil.  We should not shrink from God’s harvest of wheat because Satan is out sowing weeds in the same place.  This matter deserves more careful and balanced examination than it frequently gets.

First, prosperity is a relative term.  A person who lives in a two room house will find a four room house a major improvement.  Another will only see two shacks.  This is important when we consider the first basic premise of prosperity teaching, the right of believers to prosperity.  David tells us “I was young and now old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread.”[9]  For some, this is prosperity for all, this is reliance on God’s provision that separates the voluntary, Christian surrender of wealth for grinding, miserable poverty created by people’s own ignorance and poor attitude.

In the course on reliance on God, the problems come when people who are encouraged to believe for their prosperity end up believing for someone else’s more opulent prosperity for themselves, which may or may not be God’s plan for them.  Also, people who are never satisfied with what they have will never be prosperous no matter how much God gives them, if they always lust for more they are always poor, always in need.  People who can be satisfied will find prosperity sooner.  “Two things I ask of you, O Lord do not refuse me before I die Keep falsehood and lies far from me give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread.  Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, `Who is the Lord?’  Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.”[10]

Second, prosperity teaching, contrary to many of its advocates’ claims, is not a way of making the Full Gospel more acceptable to wealthier people, either by itself or by enriching the congregation.  Prosperity teaching is eminently for people who don’t have wealth.  Rich people don’t need it because they already have found a way to acquire wealth that works.  Also, if a congregation becomes wealthy either in whole or in part by practicing this teaching, regular wealthy people won’t be more attracted than before because they will bring their ethic of self-sufficiency with them, which will still clash with the God-dependent prosperity of the existent members.

Finally the biggest problem with prosperity teaching — and the one that has gotten many into trouble — is that it works.  In many cases people were prospered through their belief only to let things go to their head and either flash the cash with an ostentatious lifestyle or, if they owned their own business, to overextend.  Either of these courses proved the great hidden corollary to prosperity teaching: you can’t outgive God, but you can sure outspend him.  To accomplish this most resorted to credit.  But God does not need credit to prosper his people.  The bubble burst, many lost much, and the whole thing fell into disrepute because teachers and followers alike had fallen into silliness.

“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.  But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.”[11]  God is as generous with wisdom as with material things. If we do not seek wisdom first, like Solomon, we will end up without either wisdom or material things.  When Christians are as zealous in seeking wisdom as in seeking wealth, they find they have plenty of both.

A Prosperous Future?

Although prosperity teaching has influenced to some degree most all of Full Gospel Christianity, many therein have become prosperous without the direct benefits of such teaching and practice.  This is not surprising, really, if we consider what happens to a person when they let God into their life.

Let us consider the case of a typical sinner, the one evangelists love to preach about.  This person drinks, smokes, these days takes drugs, cheats on the spouse and has had several, can’t hold a job through all this chaos and unsurprisingly hits bottom.  At this point this person gets saved.  Out goes the booze, cigarettes, drugs, and cheating.  With a mind cleared by all this, this person can hold a steady job and do fairly well at it.  He or she can be the kind of parent necessary for proper child raising and have a stable home with happy kids.  With God’s purpose for their life, they don’t need to fill it with expensive substitutes, so they can save some money and advance financially (if they stay away from too much credit!).

Although this example may seem contrived, it demonstrates an important point, and one that has been proven with many people over the years.  Christianity, by its consistent practice, will bring prosperity of some kind without really having to believe for it.  It is in this way that Pentecostal churches, even without the conversion growth of Charismatics, would in time see some of their members move up in society.  And Pentecostals are not the first to experience this process.  Other churches starting out in similar circumstance have seen this happen to them.  But this process has dangers with it that Pentecostal churches are only now beginning to face.  We emphasize Pentecostal churches because their Charismatic counterparts are not that old, and thus not as subject to the same historical forces, but the potential for both to experience problems is still there.

When we look at the course of many Christian denominations and movements, we see a very depressing pattern emerge.  All start out with the fire of the Gospel in their bones.  All experience rapid growth in the early years, but then lose much of their vigor as time wears on.  They lose their evangelistic and missionary zeal and allow people who are not committed to the true faith to take control of their seminaries, publications, pulpits, and finally denominational leadership.  Then they stagnate or decline, and their witness to the world is dimmed, sometimes beyond recognition.  Christian institutions which have lost their effectiveness in being a witness for Christ call into question God’s continuing purpose for their existence and when God is through with you, you are through indeed.

Many preachers who attempt to address this subject do so on a strictly spiritual level.  They speak of the fire having gone away, and use various techniques to attempt to revive it.  Most of these center around the reinstitution of the “old time religion,” whether this is embodied in doctrine, form of worship, music, or some other practice from the past.  In this way, the preacher and the lay people who are sympathetic to him hope to recreate the fervor of the past, and by doing this move the church forward rather than nowhere or in reverse.

The main obstacle to success with this approach is neither in its intent nor principally in the preaching but in the people.  The proclamation of the Gospel must be made understandable to the various groups of humanity to which it is proclaimed, as we have seen earlier.  In this case we are dealing with people who have been preached to in the accepted way for a long time and who are established in the church.  However, the preachers of yesteryear broke the Bread of Life for people who have changed, and the main difference centers around the wallet.

Most Christian revival movements since John Wesley’s time have started in the poorer classes of society, and Pentecost is no exception.  Through diligent practice of a Christian lifestyle, people can advance themselves financially, without generally leaving the church where they started.  This is a multigenerational process.  In the long course of time, people can forget that God put them where they are.  They begin to think their own efforts are responsible for their success they replace an ethic of God dependence with one of self-sufficiency.

Additionally, in acquiring wealth over the years, people and families pick up other influences in society, such as expanded secular education, exposure to people and ideas hostile to the one they embraced to start with.  If they develop an inferiority complex about these things, which all too frequently happens, their faith can be made a shipwreck.  Finally we must include in all of these disasters the one of self-sufficiency, which dulls a person’s consciousness of his or her need for God.  This is inimical to Pentecostal Christianity.

Churches who acquire people who have undergone experiences such as the above will find their vigor sapped, their witness dimmed, and themselves prepared for the final assault on true Christianity: the introduction of liberal teaching and the denial of basic Christian truth.  This generally begins at two levels the lay people, being more prosperous, develop a guilt complex about this and abandon evangelism to do social work the clergy, sent to liberal institutions, are exposed to liberal Biblical criticism and relativistic ethical systems, and attempt to cram these down the throat of their home denominations rather than seek more congenial pastures and leave the home folks alone.  Churches who allow things to get to this stage will find members leaving the denomination in droves to escape the insipid atmosphere in fact, much of the Charismatic Renewal was started as a reaction to just this process.

Most of this is fueled by the growing material prosperity of the membership.  Today Pentecostal churches are faced with this prosperity in many congregations and with many of the members.  Will this ruin Pentecostal churches as it has ruined others?  Will Pentecostals be like the Popes, unable to say either “silver and gold have I none” or “rise up and walk?”  Will Pentecostal churches end up on a liberal ash heap with so many of their “Main Line” counterparts?  These, perhaps more than any other, are questions Pentecostal and Charismatic churches must face and face successfully in order to maintain their own doctrinal and ecclesiastical integrity.  There are many issues discussed these days — the cross-cultural issues, missionary approaches, questions of personal practice and life — are important.  But if the members already in church start replacing daily dependence upon God with their own self-sufficiency, Pentecostal and Charismatic churches are finished.

Pentecostal and Charismatic churches claim a special presence of the Spirit, both for the church and for the membership.  It will take all of this presence, and our willingness to follow the Spirit, to avoid the terrible disaster that awaits us if we do not.  We must never forget that it is God and God alone who has given us the provision to be who we are in him and who we are in the world.  If we, like ungrateful children, turn our backs on him and follow what looks right in the world, we must not only face the destruction of our churches, but ultimately the destruction of our souls, ourselves, and our children in the fires of Gehenna.


[1]Acts 2:42-47

[2]Jn 13:14-17

[3]Lk 18:18-25

[4]Is 59:1

[5]1 Co 12:13

[6]Ep 3:20,21

[7]Lk 16:19-31

[8]1 Co 1:24b,25

[9]Ps 37:25

[10]Pr 30:7-9

[11]Jas 1:5,6

The Lesson from “Island Freemasonry” That Bishop Broadbent Needs to Learn

The Deputy Bishop of London vents on his low opinion of the island of Jersey:

The Deputy Bishop of London has claimed Jersey was “in the grip of freemasonry” and that there was a “conspiracy of silence” on the island.

The Right Reverend Peter Broadbent, Bishop of Willesden, also said there was not much nice or defensible” about Jersey politics or society.

I had a lot of fun writing about “island Freemasonry” of a different kind in my novel The Ten Weeks and its sequels.  But this incident, from here, is what hopefully Freemason parents (and Christian ones too) should be teaching their children:

“We need to say the blessing, especially with our ‘friends’ here,” Carla observed.

“We do,” Madeleine agreed. The three girls bowed their heads. Carla glanced a Madeleine, who replied by making the sign of the cross and praying the same grace she did at home, only in English.

“That means you’re Catholic,” Charles observed. “You know, in our realm, it is illegal to be under the Pope’s authority. Who knows, you might be an agent of the Jesuits. However, as long as I have anything to say about it, if you come in looking like you do now, we’ll overlook your pernicious church association.”

“And what does that have to do with it?” Joyce asked, finally getting into the conversation.

“This land you sit on is under our family’s authority,” Charles declared. “We are the masters of all that enter.”

“‘The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness therein,’” Carla quoted.

“Ah, yes, the Bible,” Charles said. “For you, it is the Word of God. For us who have joined ourselves to the Lodge, it is but a piece of furniture, a symbol, if you please…”

“You’d be better off if you followed it,” Carla observed.

“You Christians are all alike,” Charles retorted. “‘I am the way, the truth, and the life.’ How can you know it? What do you have to show for it? When the Lodge ruled from one side of the Island to the other, we had order and prosperity. Now look at it. The Serelians set up this screwy church of theirs—but they still elect their Senior and Junior Wardens. It’s just the Lodge with a cross and candles at the front. Even the Verecundans are abandoning the faith—you know that better than anybody, Little Miss Muffett,” he said, looking at Carla. “Going to the US won’t help either. It’s the biggest Masonic nation of all. You travel anywhere—I hitch-hiked around last summer. You see all of these monuments to the Ten Commandments, ‘In God We Trust’ on the money. It’s even Florida’s motto. But they have no state church. Why? All of their leaders are Masons. Look at an American dollar bill—the eye in the pyramid’s right there, along with that motto. They know all of this is pure symbolism, just like in the Lodge. When the Masons no longer run the place, and people start taking all of this seriously—one way or the other—they’ll start fighting like we do.” Charles—and everyone else—could see the anger welling up in Carla.

Finally she said, “Is that what you’re taught at home? And in the Lodge?”

“He’s taught at home to keep his mouth shut,” a voice came from the adult table. It was the Count, obviously able to hear his son’s speech.

Evidently someone missed this bit of education in Bishop Broadbent’s upbringing.

Another Palm Beach Landmark Bites the Dust

In this case, Testa’s Restaurant:

The Testa family received permission from the Architectural Commission on Wednesday to demolish the restaurant, gas station, Via Testa retail shops and other buildings on its 1.3-acre property along Royal Poinciana Way and Sunset Avenue.

As is commonly the case in Palm Beach, the road to this point has been an ordeal, with ARCOM and the other preservationists being the usual complicating factors.  (For far sorrier exhibitions of this process, you can view this or even this.)

Testa’s is truly an old Palm Beach landmark; my grandparents ate there, it was a favourite of theirs and the family in general.  They starting coming to South Florida in the 1930’s during my grandfather’s aviation career, then took the yacht south in the 1940’s  and finally moved to Palm Beach in the 1950’s.  We followed suit fifty years ago next month.

Above: my grandfather’s yacht at the Palm Beach Municipal Marina, 1948.  The top photo has the Flagler Bridge in the background.  Taking that would be a straight shot to Testa’s.  The bridge too is being replaced now after the usual Palm Beach ordeal.

The basic problem is that commercial property in one era doesn’t always work in another, and so the Testa family has had a tug of war over upgrading their property.  (Personally I think the nearby Royal Poinciana Plaza is better suited for contemporary use as is, but that hasn’t prevented a stink over its redevelopment too).

The good news is that the Testa family is still doing the developing.  Seeing an old landmark go is sad (and an all to common occurence in South Florida) but hopefully the family will redevelop well and help move forward this part of Palm Beach’s retail space.

One More Time: My Thoughts on Greg Griffith’s Conversion to Catholicism

It seems that pieces on “Tiber swimming” have become my stock in trade.  Recently I did one on the conversion of Swedish Charismatic pastor Ulf Ekman to the Roman Catholic Church.  I must admit, however, that I was blindsided by the piece simply entitled “Waypoints” by the proprietor of the Anglican blogosphere’s premier conservative site, Stand Firm in Faith.  Greg Griffith’s piece started with a very simple but surprising revelation:

After more than ten years on the front lines of the Anglican wars, I have made a major change. This past Easter vigil, my family and I were confirmed in the Roman Catholic Church.

Although it’s tempting to try to draw parallels with the last high-profile conversion reviewed,  the two really don’t compare.  The two situations are entirely different, a difference enhanced by the fact that Griffith is a layman.

Rather than rehash his well-written piece, I think some takeaways are in order.  Let’s start with this one:

So for me, a move to Rome is not about a revolution in my theology, and certainly not about a rejection of Anglicanism. It is about a very painful choice between two dilemmas:

On the one hand there is Anglicanism, an expression of faith that in the abstract – its doctrines and theology – is as nearly perfect as I believe man has ever succeeded in achieving, but which in practice has unraveled into a chaotic mess…On the other hand there is Roman Catholicism, some of whose doctrines give me serious pause, but which in practice has shown itself to be steadfast in its opposition to the caprices of the world.

I think that puts into a nutshell the practical core of the dilemma between being Anglican and Roman Catholic.  My most popular piece is this comparison (which I hope Greg read somewhere along the way).  My point and his is that the choice between the two isn’t as clear-cut as one would like, especially when viewed from the pew.

…the promise of the orthodox Anglican movement outside of The Episcopal Church never materialized either. Populated as that movement is by many good people, it has the institutional feeling of something held together by duct tape and baling wire. It is beset by infighting and consecration fever, and in several of its highest leadership positions are people of atrocious judgement and character.

My guess is that some of the bad actors he’s thinking about are the likes of Chuck Murphy, John Hepworth and of course Tory Baucum.  But there are some more general problems in North American Anglicanism that would challenge any leader.  I’ve mentioned these before but they bear repeating.

The first is that the seceding people, with or without their parishes or dioceses, brought two very divisive and unresolved issues with them: women’s ordination and the Anglo-Catholic/Reformed divide.  The latter is fairly recent; the former goes back to the nineteenth century. Setting aside personality problems (and, of course, coming up with golden parachutes for the redundant bishops), these have perpetuated many divisions and added to the confusion.

The second is the obsession with union with Canterbury.   Had this not been on so many people’s agenda, it would have simplified the setup of orthodox North American Anglicanism considerably.  That misplaced focus lead to the multiple provincial jurisdictions which tried to achieve that on an indirect basis.  It was great in its own way but hindered things when it was time to unify.  That said, I still believe that the last hope for Anglican Christianity to be anything else than a footnote are the Africans.  But even here a unified North American entity, unconcerned with communion with Canterbury and reaching out to the orthodox provinces, would have made things simpler on both sides of the Atlantic.

And that doesn’t take into consideration the problems with either Rowan Williams or Justin Welby

There’s one more thing that I’d like to comment on, and it’s this:

We began attending services in March of last year. At first just once a month, then with increasing frequency. One morning I noticed that my daughter had recited the confession and the Creed purely from memory, while I still had to read the text to keep from reciting the Anglican versions. A month or so later, we were literally having to drag her – I mean, knock on the door and walk in and take her by the arm – from Sunday School to get to Mass on time. It was impossible not to see that she was very, very happy, a perception punctuated by the knowledge that all she has known her entire life is that her parents have been in a very public and very pitched war with her church.

Choosing a church isn’t the straightforward proposition that enthusiasts make it out to be.  One has to deal with many things: local situations, parish variations, different ministers or priests, family requirements (especially with children), the perennial class stratification of American Christianity, and what not.  Having done enough of it in my lifetime, I’m sympathetic to what Greg has gone through.  The key, as always, is keeping what’s really important in front of you; God will take care of the rest.

And as for Stand Firm?  That, to borrow a phrase from the Occupant, is beyond my pay grade.  There are non-Anglicans on the bloggers list already; throwing one greenhorn Roman Catholic into the mix won’t hurt.  But I think that the centre of the drama of the Anglican Revolt is pretty much past, and Greg’s conversion is a sign of that about as much as anything.  Stand Firm will continue to enlighten and sometimes entertain, but now we all should focus on the mission that God put us here to do.  I think it sad that we have had to spend so much time and energy on trying to fix churches that won’t be fixed.

We, like Our Lord, must be about our Father’s business.  May God bless Greg and his family in the days ahead.

The Endless Need for Moral Certainty

Hasn’t gone away:

But in fact, as people have turned away from the religious framework, they have not jettisoned that interior certitude, that feeling of absolute confidence that used to be associated only with religious doctrine and belief. When people stop believing in God, they quickly find surrogate beliefs, construct surrogate values, and embrace a conviction that, in its force and depth, is no different, from that which had previously been supplied by religion.

Newfoundland–where Rex Murphy, the author, grew up–is on the opposite end of the continent’s Atlantic coast from South Florida, where I grew up.  This is so in every sense of the word (and a fine point that some of my visitors, ahem, don’t quite grasp).  The world that he describes at the beginning of his post is as alien to me as it is to most people born on this continent the last half century.

The social changes that have altered our civilisation (and I use that phrase loosely) ostensibly were for the liberation of people.  And in a place like I started out in, that meant that people who had any kind of moral certainty were the “odd people out” and were treated accordingly, although in a place with a limited sense of community that long reach wasn’t as long as it could have been.

Our punditry (and when I say “our” I’m principally thinking of Christian punditry) likes to speak of post-modern society (which began, according to this, in 1973) where all values and morality are relative.  But that’s not what the end game of this revolution is all about.  What it’s about is the change from one moral certainty to another.  That’s reflected in the way the “discussion” goes in our society: same-sex civil marriage rather than none, the endless appeals to “science” as an authority, and mob action when the law is either too slow or too ambiguous.

I think that the process our society has undergone is, to borrow a term from thermodynamics, irreversible.  But that doesn’t mean that the system isn’t headed for a crash, which it is.  When that happens, what comes next depends upon how we prepare for it.

In the meanwhile, don’t hesitate to challenge their moral authority.  They need the humility.

The Reasons Christ is Really Present in the Eucharist

It’s always amazing that the “fundamental” Protestants pass over this, but they do.  From Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, 3 q.75 a.1:

The presence of Christ’s true body and blood in this sacrament cannot be detected by sense, nor understanding, but by faith alone, which rests upon Divine authority. Hence, on Luke 22:19: “This is My body which shall be delivered up for you,” Cyril says: “Doubt not whether this be true; but take rather the Saviour’swords with faith; for since He is the Truth, He lieth not.”

Now this is suitable, first for the perfection of the New Law. For, the sacrifices of the Old Law contained only in figure that true sacrifice of Christ’s Passion, according to Hebrews 10:1: “For the law having a shadow of the good things to come, not the very image of the things.” And therefore it was necessary that the sacrifice of the New Law instituted by Christ should have something more, namely, that it should contain Christ Himself crucified, not merely in signification or figure, but also in verytruth. And therefore this sacrament which contains Christ Himself, as Dionysius says (Eccl. Hier. iii), is perfective of all the other sacraments, in which Christ’s virtue is participated.

Secondly, this belongs to Christ’s love, out of which for our salvation He assumed a true body of our nature. And because it is the special feature of friendship to live together with friends, as the Philosopher says (Ethic. ix), He promises us His bodily presence as a reward, saying (Matthew 24:28): “Where the body is, there shall the eagles be gathered together.” Yet meanwhile in our pilgrimage He does not deprive us of His bodily presence; but unites us with Himself in this sacrament through the truth of His body and blood. Hence (John 6:57) he says: “He that eateth My flesh, and drinketh My blood, abideth in Me, and I in him.” Hence this sacrament is the sign of supreme charity, and the uplifter of our hope, from such familiar union of Christ with us.

Thirdly, it belongs to the perfection of faith, which concerns His humanity just as it does His Godhead, according to John 14:1: “You believe in Godbelieve also in Me.” And since faith is of things unseen, as Christ shows us His Godhead invisibly, so also in this sacrament He shows us His flesh in an invisible manner.

Although Aquinas starts with it as a matter of faith, he doesn’t let the matter rest there, proceeding with reasons why a proposition is so.  In  addition to a truly Biblical eucharistic theology, his method separates him from many others in that he always wants to answer the question “why,” a question that’s getting harder and harder to even ask these days.

Everyone Knew the Charismatics Were Nuts

Well, almost everyone:

God hasn’t stopped frustrating expectations. Who in 1900 expected that there would be 150 million Pentecostals and Charismatics in Latin America? Sure, charismatic prophets predicted it, but everyone knew they were mad. In 1900, there were 9 million Christians in Africa. Now it’s pushing half a billion, and many are members of AICs—African Independent (or Initiated or Instituted) Churches—that have no counterpart in the North and West. Who saw that coming?

Pentecostals love to take shots at human logic, but here it works: to say that “everyone knew” is an ad populum argument, which is logically fallacious (like these, although educating people in this difficult, as you can see).  But God, who has the resources to make it happen, did so, and the rest, as they say, is history.

I don’t agree with Leithart’s decision to stay put; the fact that his church is liberal and Reformed is a double whammy to me.  But it’s his; as long as he’s ready to admit that Truth comes from somewhere other than Geneva or Dordrecht, he’ll either do well or get the boot, in which case he’ll do really well.

Born to be Alive: The People Respond

For the entire work and an interactive table of contents, click here.

When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven.  And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off — for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

With this and many other words he warned them and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.”  Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.[1]

Peter has finished his preaching it was now time for the people to make their response.  This they did three thousand saved and baptized is a good response for any sermon.

By virtue of this and his other discourses, Peter is the first Pentecostal preacher, and this is the first Pentecostal sermon ever given.  In fact, this is the Pentecostal sermon, as it was given on the Pentecost when the Holy Spirit first fell.  Yet, looking at our modern Pentecostal (and Charismatic) preaching, it is odd in many ways.  It is very short to begin with, five or ten minutes at the very most.  There was no altar call, yet literally thousands came for repentance and baptism there was not even an offering here, although the Jerusalem church was to become very successful in its stewardship program.  Seeing these kinds of differences, we need to ask ourselves a basic question: What is real Pentecostal preaching?

Pentecostal Preaching

As is the case with worship, there are a lot of well defined ideas afloat about what a true Pentecostal preacher is all about.  According to some, Pentecostal preachers must look the part they must have on certain clothes and style their hair a certain way.  Their voice must take on a wholly new complexion when they mount the pulpit.  They must hold the Bible in a certain way, and know when to use it — both in the sermon and physically — according to well established practice.  If they get happy or run the aisles when they preach, all the better.  If they have all of these qualities in abundance, they are expected to go on for at least an hour and a half.

While great preachers do some or all of these things, by themselves these activities make neither a real Pentecostal preacher nor a real Pentecostal sermon.  As is the case with worship, this can only be done through the move of the Holy Spirit, and attempting to pump the Spirit up with purely human methods will not get the job done.

This book is a layman’s look at Acts 2, although up until now most of it does not really have much of a particularly layman’s emphasis.  What the Holy Spirit poured out on Pentecost was for all flesh, clerical and lay alike.  But this is one point where this layman, having heard and seen many Pentecostal and Charismatic sermons and preachers, would like to speak from the pew on what a person needs to be a real Pentecostal preacher.

The qualifications for overseers and pastors is well laid out in the New Testament Paul left neither Timothy nor Titus nor the church hanging on this issue.  But Pentecostal and Charismatic preachers, operating in the spiritual realm that they do, need to have two qualities from God to be where they are.  These are the call and the anointing.

Pentecostal preachers should be first and foremost called by God to do what they do.  Pentecostal preachers should know when they were called and under what circumstances they were called.  This experience be of such a nature that those who must decide whether or not they be given their license to preach must believe and be convinced this calling is real.  And this calling must be from God parents, church, friends, or other worldly factors are not legitimate callings into the ministry.  Jesus called each of his disciples his ministers today should hear no less.

The second requirement is the anointing.  When most people think of the anointing, they think of many if not all of the requirements that we listed earlier for preachers.  But these are not sure signs of anointing charlatans and people without the call have been simulating these for years.  The most important sign that a preacher has the anointing is the response he gets when he preaches.  When an anointed preacher speaks forth, the blind should see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, the dead live again, and most important of all people should be compelled to seek and find salvation, sanctification, and the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  Peter shows us this in his first Pentecostal sermon, for thousands were transformed under his preaching the second sermon followed another act of his anointing, namely the healing of the lame man.  A preacher’s anointing can only be measured by the lives that are changed under his ministry.

These lofty requirements are necessitated by a simple fact: those who are preachers are in reality the successors to the apostles.  Now the words “apostolic succession” are fighting words to most evangelical Christians, because they are used by the liturgical churches to justify their primacy amongst Christian denominations.  And, if the truth be known, these churches can trace an organizational continuity from the present back through their divisions and onward to the church under the Roman Empire, which includes that of the Apostles themselves.

Unfortunately, quite a lot has gotten lost in the shuffle through the centuries were it not so, all of the divisions that have taken place would have been unnecessary.  To illustrate our point, in 1220 the Roman Catholic Church recognized the Dominican order of priests, named after its founder, the Spaniard Dominic de Guzman.  This same Dominic is reputed to have been standing outside of the complex of St. Peter’s in Rome with the Pope.  Thinking of his claim as Peter’s successor as ruler of the church, the Pope pointed to his magnificent papal complex and said to Dominic “Peter can no longer say, `Silver and gold have I none,'” to which Dominic replied, “No, and neither can he now say, `Rise and walk.'”

Neither the Apostolic Age nor the New Testament church were man-made both were created by Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.  If our preachers and pastors do not have the same charism as the Apostles had in leading the church, how can we hope to experience the same Pentecostal power that they did?

Cut to the Heart

If the anointing is measured with results, Peter was well endowed with both his listeners were “cut to the heart.”  They literally responded en masse, of such a nature that any church growth advocate would be well pleased.  But the impact of Peter’s message was two dimensional not only did he affect a large number of people, but he affected them deeply.  His message got to the root of their problem his words were the Word of God.  “For the Word of God is living and active.  Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”[2]  In addition to reaching many people, Pentecostal preaching must also reach deeply into the depths of the human being.  This is only done when the preaching is fueled and the people are moved by the Holy Spirit.

This is also a controversial subject, because for centuries the essence of getting people saved was their faith being accounted for righteousness, and their name being written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.  If this could be accomplished, then a person was going to heaven.  Originally, since this line of thinking was frequently coupled with Calvinistic predestination, people would look for evidence of election in a person’s life and conduct.  Later, as Arminian influences began to be felt in evangelical churches, people began to get the idea that a person could, by their own free will, make the act of faith and repentance and be saved, and neither murder nor apostasy could change the fact.

Make no mistake about it a church that does not first emphasize the justification and salvation of its members, both present and potential, is doing both them and itself the most serious disservice possible.  By playing down the importance of people acquiring justification from God, it will not only consign them to Hell in the next life, it will also pack its pews with apathetic box checkers.  These merely make an appearance every Sunday and then disappear into the woodwork during the week to live whatever life they see fit, approved of God or not.  People need the assurance that their sins are forgiven and that they are right with God.  A right relationship with God, both in this life and the next, is based precisely on this assurance.

However, salvation is not the end of the Christian life it is the beginning.  If the only object of the outreach of the church is to get people initially saved, it doesn’t take a very deep view of the human condition to achieve this all we must do under these circumstances is to induce some feelings of being sorry and some desire to get right with God through Jesus Christ.  There is no real demand to get at the root of the depths of the human condition.  This is especially tempting in the middle class congregations that many pastors are faced with today.  These people have learned the art of external respectability, and how to look right when they may or may not be right.

It is on this account that Jesus insisted that we be born again.  Paul expands on this to say that, when we make Jesus Savior, the old man of sin dies, and the new man in Christ is born in both cases we become new people.  This is a radical transformation of the human self that is all too often conventionalized into oblivion.  When we say that someone is a “born-again Christian,” do we really stop and consider how major an overhaul of a person this implies?  The human condition in its unsaved state is one of complex rottenness.  There are so many nooks and crannies of unredeemed sinfulness in our lives, each one must be worked so we can say “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”[3]

It is the work of the Holy Spirit which makes this major transformation possible it is this which took place under the ministry of Peter.  Traditional Pentecostal parlance would refer to this as placing the people “under conviction.”  This isn’t quite strong enough the wretchedness of their own sinful condition must be forcefully thrust to the center of their attention, and this realization must produce abject surrender in the life of the sinner, which in turn leads him or her to turn to God in love with a whole heart.  Any less than this and the process of rebirth will frequently be stillborn.

Once this had been accomplished in Peter’s hearers, the first thing that was done was to have the new believers baptized.  Some like it and some don’t, but the New Testament church knew of no other kind of baptism than immersion of believers after their conversion.  This is too powerful a statement of a believer’s rebirth to consign it to those who cannot appreciate it.

But then what happens after a person is saved?  We have considered the baptism in the Holy Spirit, but there is one other work that is very important in the life of the believer, and that work is sanctification.

Sanctification

The word sanctification comes from the Latin it means “to make holy.”  Sanctification is especially important to Pentecostals because many of the early Pentecostal pioneers and churches were originally “holiness” people or churches.  Before we get back into history we need to stop and take a look at what it means to be holy.

Simply put, holiness is the state of being set apart something or someone that is holy has first and foremost been chosen and set apart by God for a particular purpose.  “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”[4]  When God sets someone apart, three things take place.  First, the person is set apart from something, specifically the world, its prince the Devil, and the flesh.  Second, the person is set apart into something, namely God himself.  Third, to make this all happen, God induces the necessary transformation in a person so that this transition from darkness to light might be effective.  This is what sanctification is all about.

Now some will argue this transformation takes place at the time of salvation, or others during the process of salvation.  But sanctification and justification are two different things.  Once salvation has taken place, even though a new birth has taken place, we are still bound to our human flesh.  Even Paul discovered “For in my inner being I delight in God’s law but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.  What a wretched man I am!  Who will rescue me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God — through Jesus Christ our Lord!”[5]  To truly be set apart for God this other law must be effectively dealt with, and this is what sanctification is all about.

The doctrine of sanctification as a special work was a common inheritance of many early Pentecostal pioneers, coming out of holiness churches as many did.  It represented a healthy reaction against a lot of “cheap grace” and lackluster Christian living that was floating around then and now.  In the beginning, it was the desire of these people to create a church membership that was, individually and collectively, truly set apart for God, faithfully walking close to God on a daily basis.  This is an admirable objective, a living statement of the basic truth that being a Christian is more than just an external whitewash, but a total transformation.  In the process of implementing sanctification in the life of the church, these pioneers created a climate of strictness in the churches that has been controversial ever since.

Those who carried out this holy mandate ran into two problems.  The first grew out of the central problem in monitoring spiritual development, namely the inability of people to read the mind and discern the heart of others.  This is best reserved for God, even though people who are not up to par spiritually can corrupt the others.  Systems of conduct were instituted to give people some idea of what to look for in holy people.  These spiritual yardsticks became holiness themselves, and so we find may being excluded from church for deviant external practices rather than lack of internal holiness.

The second problem concerned isolation.  Because of the strictness of the churches, those within became an elite group they would not have outlasted the rigors of church had they not been elite in some way.  But this led to serious isolation of these churches from the rest of humanity, and more often than not from the rest of Christianity.  While some isolation is necessary to insulate the church from external corruption, the isolation was of such a nature that in some cases the witness of the church was hindered by it.

It is easy for us to criticize those who have gone before.  In some circles it has become fashionable to do so, all the while living a lifestyle totally opposed to that of their Pentecostal predecessors.  But before we write off the sincere efforts of those who have gone before and then make equally appalling mistakes of our own we need to consider some basic facts.

The idea of church discipline is a biblical one the New Testament spends some time on the subject.  Its purpose is both to restore errant Christians to spiritual health and to protect the rest of the Body of Christ from corruption, and both of these are essential for the life of the church.  The methods outlined in the New Testament are aimed at achieving both.  To be successful in this endeavor requires a great deal of pastoral wisdom and Christian love.  The absence of either will make for miserable church discipline, but this is no excuse for dispensing with same altogether.  Doing so will result in a church where anything goes, at which point a church has lost it purpose for existence.

More than this, a church has a right and an obligation to expect a certain level of commitment from its members, both in terms of what the members are supposed to do and don’t.  Jesus Christ expects us to give everything to him when we are his.  Should his church be honored when we simply show up?  More than this, a church that expects little or nothing from its members implicitly devalues them, because it tells them they have nothing to contribute.  This is the condition of many liberal churches today.  They have become so open and undemanding of their members that many of their members have lost the purpose for being there and have left.  A church that demands much from its members is a church that needs them.

Finally we must return where we started, to the subject of sanctification.  Today we see a great emphasis on church growth, on the addition of numbers to the flock, and not just numbers but large numbers.  This is not an illegitimate pursuit.  Large numbers reveal that our outreach efforts are reaching a large number of people, that we are casting our nets wide in being fishers of men.  But what will these people do when we catch them?  Will they take on a few lifestyle changes and call it Christianity?  Will they contribute to our churches by simply filling our pews and our coffers?  Or will they experience a total transformation of life, not just in doing, but in being, that people who see them will know that they are the Lord’s?

The whole business of sanctification is one that sets us apart from the world and for God, and in the meanwhile makes the inner transformation necessary to make this setting apart real.  Sanctification starts on the inside and works its way out, not the other way around.  No matter how we make ourselves up or don’t, where we can go or can’t, what we can say or can’t, no matter how much external “holiness” we put on, unless this is more than show, unless it is more than to keep our nosey fellow church members off our back, then real sanctification is not ours.  We are then back to external observance of Law, and that is what Jesus came to free us from.  When we are made holy on the inside, the results will come out in a beauty that the world can see and want to have for themselves, and one that also will increase our peace with ourselves.  At this point, the purpose of the Gospel will be fulfilled and we, by the way we are, will be part of that fulfillment.

The development of internal sanctification is not an easy task, either for individuals or for the church at large.  This is why churches and members have all too often settled for external observance it is the easy way out.  But this is one of those things that will yield a hundred fold, both in terms of the inner peace of the Christians and the effect it has on others.  There is no proportion, however, in what we give to God and in what God gives to us, and in this context any price we must pay is a mere pittance to what God has in store for us when we allow him to set us apart for himself.  No matter how much people in the past have misinterpreted the implementation of holiness and sanctification — and we cannot honestly say that they missed the meaning as well, for they did not — we must go on to see the holiness of ourselves and our brothers and sisters in the church implemented in the fullest, not in meanness or pettiness but in love, so that in the end we and others can see Christ alive in us.

The Sun Sets

With the conversion of the three thousand, the account of the first day of Pentecost ends.  The sun sets over Herod’s Palace, darkness falls, and it’s a serious darkness without electric lighting.  Unlike the westerns, however, when the cowboy rides into the sunset with “The End” on his back, the sunset of the day of Pentecost is not the end, but just the beginning of the life of the church and the move of the Spirit.

The Second Chapter of Acts does not end here either, and while the chapter and verse numbering is not an inspired part of the Scriptures, it is none the less fitting that, in the same chapter as the day of Pentecost, there is some account of the activity of the church.  For the church was not stillborn its life started at Pentecost and continues to the present time.  So we must turn now to that brief look at the church in the wake of Pentecost and in particular one aspect of that life that is of ample relevance in our day.


[1]Acts 2:37-41

[2]Heb 4:12

[3]2 Cor 3:18

[4]1 Pt 2:9

[5]Rm 7:22-25

It’s Important to Know a Competitor When You See One

And the Roman Catholic Church in the UK hasn’t quite figured that out about the EU:

Bishop Noel is of the view that the European Union “is a noble and historic project”. “It is vital,” he says, “that we participate in the European elections to ensure the EU and its institutions continue to evolve democratically in the face of the massive political, social, economic and ethical challenges it is now facing.”

And therein lies the clearest guidance you could possibly get that Christians should not vote for Ukip, for they favour secession, not participation. And they would prefer that the the whole continental construct implode rather than that its institutions continue to evolve democratically, thereby incrementally undermining national sovereignty and diminishing the historic rights of the people. For the Bishop, the EU is a Catholic construct; for Ukip, it is intrinsically anti-Christian (and this debate has been had time and again).

I’ve said elsewhere that Roman Catholicism has Christianity’s best intellectual tradition (in some ways its only one, the Protestant effort is stillborn and the Orthodox bailed on theirs with the death of John of Damascus).  But there are some topics where the church lays an intellectual egg, and this is one of them.

The RCC is very insistent of a positive role of the state, especially if that state is a Roman Catholic state.  But those are few and far between these days (I can’t really think of one any more except the Vatican itself) and so the Church looks for a substitute.  Since another one of the Church’s ideals is to restore the unity of Europe (one broken with the Reformation) an institution that comes along promising to accomplish same is bound to get a sympathetic view from Rome.  That institution is the EU, and so the RCC bishops in the UK basically tell the faithful that they have no business voting for UKIP.

The Church would get a clearer picture looking at things historically rather than through an ideal construct.  While the unity of Europe would be nice, the EU is a godless, undemocratic institution that has no real use for the RCC or any other church.  As Cranmer points out:

Of course, in issuing his guidance, Bishop Noel is mindful of Roman Catholic Social teaching, centred around the right to life; the uniqueness of marriage between a woman and man; the promotion of justice, social inclusion and concern for the poor; and the pursuit of peace and reconciliation. 

And therein lies the tension, for the political entity that is the European Union certainly promotes peace, mutual understanding and reconciliation, and yet, in the pursuit of justice and equality, it negates the right to life and nullifies the God-ordained institution of marriage.

While the RCC is certainly capable of tolerating the undemocratic part, you’d think that it would have enough sense to at least skip being the cheerleader for such an enterprise.  The EU is, in reality, a competitor to the RCC. (A more balanced Roman Catholic view of the subject is here).

Moreover it’s worth noting that Roman Catholicism’s point of highest place in European history was when the Roman Empire–the last “universal” state in Europe–went away.  To some extent the Church became its substitute, with results that were probably better for Europe than they were for the Church.  A similar argument could be applied to civil marriage.  When the Roman Empire fell, it fell to the church to marry people.  When the states came back, they took that “ultimate” right to themselves.  So why does the RCC, with its sacramental view of marriage, fight so hard to keep out same-sex civil marriage when it should be applying its considerable resources to dumping it altogether?

All of this avoids another question: should the UK be in the EU in the first place?  When the EC was first formed, the idea was to keep the French in, the Germans down and the British out.  So when that idea become passé?

The Imaginary Land of American Foreign Policy

The world’s largest democracy has swept Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) into power, and they’re trying to figure out what he’s going to do to change India:

The new composition of parliament is significant, as are a number of other factoids about this election. The BJP has returned at least 279 seats in the partial count while its coalition, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), has comfortably secured leads in over 330 constituencies, giving it absolute control of the lower house (Lok Sabha), while the BJP itself has a majority in the house. This means stability – that one word missing from the dictionary of Indian politics for the past 25 years.

Meanwhile back in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Braves, we’re fixated on his past and our own legal finickiness:

India’s voters had brought to power a man who is not permitted to visit the United States, having been denied a U.S. visa in 2005 on account of a State Department determination that he had violated religious freedoms in the Indian state of Gujarat. (Some 2,000 Muslims had died in riots that scarred Gujarat in 2002. Modi was the state’s chief minister at the time, and his critics hold him responsible for the deaths.) The visa ban was still in place when Modi was nominated last September to lead the Bharatiya Janata [Indian People’s] Party into the elections; and most awkwardly for Obama, the ban was still technically in place on the day of his victory. American diplomacy has been decidedly maladroit.

“Decidedly maladroit” is an understatement.  Given that nothing is ever really closed in our legal system, should Modi even risk coming to these shores? He may not have to:

Modi’s keenest ally—potentially his BFF—is likely to be Japan’s Shinzo Abe, who was one of the first to send his congratulations to the Indian politician when it became apparent that he would be the next prime minister. Abe and Modi are, in many ways, made for each other: Ardent nationalists yearning to break free from their respective nations’ patterns of international passivity, they both face the terrifying challenge of a China that plays by its own unyielding rules, a maximalist hegemon which has the economic and military heft to dispense with diplomacy as the primary means of dispute resolution.

The United States’ position wouldn’t be so hypocritical if, in its theoretical obsession with the rule of law, it wouldn’t be so busy trying to bury its own inconvenient scandals–Fast and Furious, the IRS/Tea Party business, Benghazi–which its chattering classes find so distasteful to discuss.

A long time ago I wrote this; some of this stuff reminds me of what I put there as fantasy.  If we’re not really careful, we’ll end up with the same result, too.