The recovery of a Pentecostal tradition

There are positive signs of change in recent years. First, a growing interest in ecclesiology among Pentecostal scholars inevitably raises the issue of tradition (Thomas 2010; Green 2016). Second, Pentecostal ressourcement is gaining pace. Perhaps the most important rediscovery is that early Pentecostals were far more sacramental in theology and practice than their present descendants. This fact has been highlighted in a number of recent works. Daniel Tomberlin (2010) has shown that water baptism, the Lord’s Supper, footwashing, and anointed touch (anointing with oil and laying on of hands) were no mere rituals but in them Christ was encountered in a real way. Healing was reported in the sacrament of footwashing (75) and the Lord’s Supper (168—78). As he puts it, “early Pentecostals intuitively knew that there is a ‘real presence’ in the celebration of the sacraments. ... In the early published writings of the Church of God, the Lord’s Supper was known as ‘the Sacrament’” (76—77). Chris Green (2012), in a wide-ranging exploration of early Pentecostal literature, has uncovered pervasive sacramental teachings and practices. According to Green, what led to the loss of Pentecostal sacramentality was the “marriage” between Pentecostals and evangelicals after the Second World War. Similar works of retrieval are being done in the United Kingdom, most notably by Jonathan Black of Apostolic Church (2016). Black has shown how central the Lord’s Supper was for the early Apostolic Christians: “The church feeds on Christ ‘substantially.’ It is this substance of‘His body and His blood’ which is the church’s sustenance” (95). The Apostolic Church even compiled a hymnal on the Lord’s Supper (Macpherson 1974). Black has also shown that the early Apostolic churches set Spirit-baptism “firmly within the context of the church and leave no room for it to be considered a privatised Christian experience” (33). Pentecostal theology is more than an interpretation of sacramental practices; it is at heart a tradition attuned to a sacramentality that emerges from the very being of the Pentecostal life.

The recovery of Pentecostal sacramentality fleshes out two other related doctrines which are critical in advancing the Pentecostal tradition. One is a robust incarnational theology. Tomberlin (2010, 87) describes Pentecostal spirituality as “not simply spiritual; it is encountering the Holy Spirit with our human senses as the Spirit moves and interacts in our physical world. Pentecostalism is a physical spirituality” (emphasis original). Without the Incarnation there is no body of Christ on earth (Black, 100—102). This incarnational theology in early Pentecostalism stands in sharp antithesis to the Third Wavers and modern evangelical charismatic Christians who tend to focus mostly on a “spiritual” Christ especially in their worship

“experience” (Ward 2005). Third Wave charismatics, therefore, cannot be said to represent a genuine development of the Pentecostal tradition.

A second positive development is a discovery of the mystical dimension of Pentecostal theology. Here again, Pentecostals have much to learn from the Catholic Charismatic Renewal teaching that the sacramental and the mystical are intimately linked: the sacrament is by nature a mystery which defies explanation; it is “objective efficacy which cannot be further analysed” (Lewis 1978, 105). In the Incarnation, Christ is revealed as the sacrament of God—the mysterious union of the divine and the human. The mystical union between Christ and his church and each individual Christian, between bread and wine and the body and blood, is predicated on the mystery of the Incarnation. The recovery of the sacramental and mystical shows that the theological roots of Pentecostalism are much deeper than its historical roots in the Holiness-Keswick traditions. This recovery is a hopeful sign that Pentecostal core beliefs can be adequately developed using sacramental and mystical resources. The recent work of Daniel Castelo (2017) has shown that Pentecostalism can indeed be understood theologically as a specific manifestation of Christian mysticism (see also Chan 2000b; 2019). With this understanding, the classical formulation of the Pentecostal doctrine of initial evidence can be reformulated without denying the theologia prima the Pentecostal forebears were trying to communicate (Chan 2011, 4—7). Only as Pentecostal churches begin to revitalize their tradition through ressourcement will they be able to preserve their Pentecostal identity. The emphasis on Pentecostal theology as mystical is a helpful step towards articulating a Pentecostal tradition.

Tradition between aggiornamento and ressourcement

The contemporary Pentecostal movement is so fluid that it is often difficult to tell apart internal and external conflicts. Some classical Pentecostals have turned charismatic, embracing many of the beliefs and practices of the Third Wave like apostleship which carries “frightening implications” (Blumhofer 1993, 3), while other classical Pentecostals have clearly rejected them (Rice 2005). Historically, Pentecostals are better at aggiornamento than ressourcement. This is epitomized in their popular slogan: “God is doing a new thing!” Much of Pentecostal scholarship is focussed on engaging cultures and seeking relevance without a corresponding concern for the Pentecostal tradition (see Yun 2003, 148—49). The problem of updating without the prerequisite of retrieval is the tendency to succumb to the spirit of the age. The Third Wave is a clear example of cultural accommodation. Some may see this new charismatic movement as an ally in its rejection of secularism in the West. Ben Pugh (2017, 122), for example, gives John Wimber and Bill Johnson high marks while conceding that Johnson’s eschatology “teeters on the brink between inaugurated and realized” (119). Pugh even compares it favourably with Radical Orthodoxy. But the new charismatic movement not only lacks the sophistication and nuances of Radical Orthodoxy, it also draws from the worst features of the pre-modern by its uncritical acceptance of the animistic worldview (Priest, Mullen, and Campbell 1999) and from the worst of late modernity by reconstructing the individual in accordance with the flux and fluidity of the moment (Walker 2002). Nowhere is its capitulation to modern culture more evident than in contemporary forms of “praise and worship” (Percy 1996; Ward 2005). Tradition as a source for Pentecostal theology remains volatile and often immobilized between the demands of updating and retrieving its fundamental agreements. Pentecostal theology has only recently become attuned to the tensions between sacred and secular manifested with particular clarity in Pentecostal worship.

 
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