In the middle of discussing why the Holy Spirit shows up in these visible forms–the dove at Jesus’ baptism, the tongues of fire at Pentecost–Aquinas makes an interesting comment on the role of the Pentecost phenomena:
“To the Apostles, the mission [of the Spirit at Pentecost] took the form of a mighty wind, as a sign of their power as ministers of the sacraments; so the words, ‘Whose sins you shall forgive they are forgiven them;’ it also took the form of tongues as of fire in evidence of their teaching office; thus, ‘They began to speak with diverse tongues.’” (Summa Theologiae, Ia, Q43, A7, ad. 6)
The first explanation is interesting enough: the mighty wind is a sign of the offering of forgiveness, forgiveness is like a great wind pushing back on the sin of the world through the Church. But the second I find more interesting: the tongues of fire signify the teaching office–the “officium doctrinae”–of the apostles.
This is of course a stretch, but what if part of the force of the rise of Pentecostalism is the Spirit’s giving of a new teaching in the Church? Do Pentecostals have any share in the apostolic teaching office by virtue of their unique share in the Spirit of Pentecost? Is the typical Pentecostal anti-intellectualism a denial of the fullness of that which the Spirit wishes to give to the Church through the revival? As a reading of St. Thomas this is not possible, but it still gives me cause for hope, for prayer.
Over here, Davey Henreckson has an intriguing synopsis of Grant Wacker’s Heaven Below, an examination of the growth of early Pentecostalism. I haven’t read Wacker’s book myself, but his argument (as per Henreckson), that Pentecostalism gained traction as a result of two emphases (pragmatism and primitivism) strikes me as accurate. By pragmatism, I assume Wacker is referring to the great adaptability and free experimentation with church form that characterizes so much of Pentecostalism. Rather than drawing on a set liturgy or church authorial structure, Pentecostal churches vary widely in their size, location and organization. By primitivism, Wacker means the sense that in the Pentecostal movement, we are returning to the original teaching of the apostles and the life of the Church in Acts (especially Acts 2). These two emphases, combined with the oft-noticed appeal of Pentecostalism’s focus on heavenly reward, gets at much of what the movement was about in the early 20th century. Of course, in the latter half of that century the movement spread and became more diffuse in its influences and emphases, but that is another book.
I’ve been thinking much recently about the relation between Neocalvinism—the tradition native to Redeemer UC—and Pentecostalism, my own spiritual heritage. While off doing other things, I stumbled across this quote from Al Wolters, with which I am in complete agreement:
The power, vitality and emotional spontaneity of the charismatic movement, as well as its openness to the charismatic gifts, its emphasis on the effectiveness of prayer, and its acknowledgement of the reality of the demonic are all part of a vibrant biblical Christianity from which Neocalvinism can benefit. On the other hand, I believe that charismatic Christians can derive great benefit from the strengths of Neocalvinism, notably its broad cultural vision of the Christian life, its intellectual sophistication and maturity, and its tradition of responsible biblical exegesis.
It seems to me this describes precisely the ways in which we need to learn from each other.
I’ve been toying with the idea for the last couple weeks. I’ve never heard the term before, but I’ve heard of people referring to themselves as “post-evangelical” or “post-liberal.” They embrace their heritage, but look to (somehow) transcend or go beyond their foundation. So, I came to thinking, maybe I’m “post-pentecostal.” I love the spiritual vitality, the expression of spiritual gifts and the passionate worship of Pentecostalism, but I desire more.
I’m out wandering the various traditions in the Church (in its broadest sense) for beautiful, true and good elements to integrate into my Christianity. In this way, I’m not rejecting my background, nor am I simply adding things on top of it, as if somehow embracing a Lutheran view of the sacraments or a Reformed view of human nature could easily sit on top of my Pentecostalism without somehow radically altering it. [This is a whole other blog post, but I am trying not to be eclectic in my theology and spirituality–without too much success.]
What really got me thinking about this was this wonderful article by Michael Spencer, who interestingly describes himself as “post-evangelical.” I resonate with so much of what he’s written here–life experience aside. It’s a must-read!
Happy New Year! Go in peace.