Firstly, let me say that I recognise that there are many forms and expressions of the pentecostal movement and this is just my perspective on the part of it that I have experienced (see here for the first post on a series
on my thoughts on the restorationist movement). Although I could qualify and critique each of the points that follow, I want to start by just stating what have generally been positive experiences for me. I will use the inclusive plural pronoun to identify and include myself with this movement. I will mention just seven asepcts though there could have been more. Here goes:
- experiencing the felt presence of God - we are not content with a theology of omnipresence; we delight to experience God's manifest presence; we are not afraid of the experiential in our faith and, while not dismissing the role of the intellect, we're not satisfied with the overly rationalistic and intellectualist approach to faith; we love to have our hearts burning within us as we get to understand more of who Christ is, by the Spirit and the Word.
- corporate worship in freedom and in the Spirit - although many have rightly pointed out that there is often an unwritten liturgy to charismatic worship, they'd be wrong to underestimate the value placed upon genuinely wanting to stay open to be led by the Spirit as we gather to meet with God; we don't want to plan or program God out of our worship or reduce it down to empty form and ritual; we love the spontaneous overflow in praise and worship and actually cultivate such a response of the heart.
- a daily experiential walk with God - we love to learn to practise the presence of God in daily life; we expect and experience genuine guidance and strength as we engage in prayer as on-going conversation with our Father; walking with God in the everyday is meant to become a way of life; seeking to know God and speak to him face to face is at the heart of our faith.
- the Bible as a living Word - we understand that mere letter kills but that the Spirit gives life (2 Cor.3:6); the words that Jesus speaks to us are spirit and life (John 6:63), not just idea and concept; so we meditate on Scripture with the help of the Holy Spirit, finding that it feeds our spirits rather than just fills our minds; it brings deeper 'revelation' of the gospel and empowers us for life.
- the life of faith - although there are problems with some ideas on the nature of faith among Pentecostals (and this will be the subject of much reflection on this blog), the general positive approach to life, while admitting of its difficulties and challenges, is a good thing; there is among us an openness to the impossible and the miraculous even in the most challenging of situations, and a belief in signs and wonders, and the supernatural life, is central.
- the emphasis on community, relationship and the charismatic (spiritual connections) - that is, as opposed to the merely organisational and institutional, and obligatory relationship; we value relationship where the Holy Spirit has joined people together, even and perhaps especially when those are tested and refined; we don't want to try to simply maintain something for the sake of it, but to keep flowing in living connection together as a spiritual people.
- belief in the liberating and transforming power of God - for individuals, the community and the world; my experience of pentecostalism has not been of the escapist, hold-on-until-Jesus-returns type; it has been of the 'heaven invades earth' type, based on a confident hope that God is transforming and restoring all things, including our lives and communities; and that transformation from glory to glory is part of the life of faith.
As I indicated, each of these can be critiqued (and will be on this blog) and some readers may even have begun to do so as they read, reflecting on their own negative experiences of some of the aspects I am celebrating. I understand, as I have experienced that too, and these truths have to be held together with other truths or they can be pushed too far into error and become damaging (see my Different Kingdom post on Truth In Tension). Nevertheless, even after quite a lot of disappointment and some disillusionment, resulting in an on-going reappraisal of my faith, on the whole I regard these things as positive expressions of my own pentecostal experience (though I would want to extend my reflections on each for a fuller picture). For now, I will let them stand as they are. Feel free to comment and to suggest your own list of aspects of the pentecostal-charismatic movement that you'd want to celebrate.
Now for an apology. Even though I have just started this blog, I am actually feeling prompted by the Spirit (see - I am still pentecostal!!), to go on an internet (and TV!) fast for three weeks. So I will not be blogging for those weeks. When I return, I will explain what I mean by Pilgrim Theology. I hope you'll return too at the beginning of December.