Friday, 8 November 2013

What Am I Talking About?

In my first post, I indicated I had been part of the pentecostal-charismatic movement for many years, and that there is much about it that I'd like to celebrate. It occurred to me that perhaps I should explain what, or who, I consider myself to be talking about when referring to this movement before I go any further.

First of all, I am using the hyphenated pentecostal-charismatic (with lower case) rather than Pentecostal. The latter is usually used to refer to classical Pentecostalism in terms of the three main denominations that emerged from the Pentecostal revival in the early years of the 20th Century (Apostolic, Elim and Assemblies of God). I have never been a member of any of these denominations. But then there was the Charismatic movement, from the 1960s onwards, in which much of the Pentecostal teaching and practice affected many other denominations as well as helping to shape the house church movement, that emerged in the 1970s,
influenced by a combination of Brethren ecclesiology and Pentecostal experience (see A.Walker, 1985/89, Restoring the Kingdom; and also David Matthew in an article on the history of house churches in Britain on his website here). This latter was also sometimes called the new church or restorationist movement and has given rise to apostolic networks as an alternative model to traditional, denominational structures (see W.Kay, 2007, Apostolic Network in Britain). It is this movement that I have been involved in since the mid-1980s, and I regard is as part of the wider pentecostal-charismatic movement. You can read some of my thoughts on it, starting here. Some refer to the more general acceptance of some charismatic theology and spirituality as neo-pentecostalism. Many evangelical churches in the UK would now either self-identify as being charismatic (with varying caveats and qualifiers) or admit that at least their worship styles are influenced by the movement. Equally, others  have also looked to more ancient traditions to shape their beliefs and practices also, and some reacted against, or advisd a reappraisal of, the perceived 'super-spirituality' and faddism of the movement (see I.Stackhouse, 2004, The Gospel Driven Church)..

The main distinctive beliefs and characteristics that emerged from the movement, both in the original Pentecostals and the charismatic and neo-pentecostal developments, include the belief in and experience of the baptism in the Spirit as a distinct experience from conversion (this was softened by some charismatics to talk of simply being filled with the Spirit and its on-going nature emphasised). Some argue that the gift of tongues was the initial evidence of this baptism and some didn't but most accepted and saw the value of speaking in tongues. Then there is the belief in the on-going need for and use of the supernatural gifts of the Spirit, and particular emphasis on the ministry of healing and on signs and wonders accompanying the preaching of the gospel. For many, the whole idea of a coming revival characterised by amazing miracles and mass conversion is central too. Even when others have struggled with some of these emphases, perhaps the most pervasive influence of the movement has been in its music and its approach to worship that is much more obviously spontaneous and 'Spirit-led' than overtly liturgical, with both energetic, enthusiastic praise and powerfully intimate songs of worship. There has been an overall welcome emphasis  on the felt presence of God. Other things that have accompanied the movement but are not restricted to it are an emphasis on the body life of the church, the idea that every member of the church is a minister, a more relational and charismatic approach to church life and ministry, the role of prophecy in bringing direction to individuals and to churches, and an emphasis on faith in terms of believing that 'with God all things are possible.' I could go on but they are the main things that stick out for me.

I am glad to identify with much of this movement which I consider to be a genuine, on-going work of God. But with all of God's work with and among imperfect people in a fallen world, it can never be pure and undistilled. It gets mixed and distorted, and so we must always remain critically reflective even of movements that we have been  very much a part of and that have meant so much to us. Critical reflection is a friend and not an enemy of the movement. For example, one reflection that a number of people have made is that early on Pentecostalism was embroiled with fundamentalism (I realise I will have to unpack that term at some point too) and to its detriment. One of the characterisitcs of fundamentalism is that it sees the faith as a fortress that needs to be defended against the onslaught of heresy and that therefore questioning or re-thinking beliefs can be regarded as almost tantamount to 'falling away' from the faith. I would argue that such resistance to the theological journey is neither necessary or helpful. Ironically, while many pentecostal-charismatics have balked at the theological re-imagining, their innovation and 'inventiveness' in beliefs has arisen out of an over-emphasis on Experience as a source for forming and shaping beliefs at the expense of the other accepted sources of theology  - Scripture, Tradition and Reason. It has resulted in some strange beliefs and practices. This is something else I will try to unpack in a later post.

All in all, there is much that I want to celebrate about the pentecostal-charismatic movement of which I am a part but I want to engage in some critical reflection on it too, as well as go on a theological pilgrimage in terms of questioning some of the more fundamentalist and conservative ideas that have been assumed must be part of it's theology. I hope some readers can help me. If you have a different take on the history or identity of the movement, and if you can point me to some resources to help me, please do. I intend usually to post just once a week but I will post in the next few days about what I originally said I'd  do - highlight the things I'd celebrate about this movement. And I'll explain why in the next post.

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