Full Text for Pentecostalism in Historical Perspective (Text)

THE SPRINGFIELDER October 1975 Volume 39, Number 4 Pentecostalism in Historical Perspective u NI.ESS I AM MISTAKEN, it was the late Karl Barth who first coined the term "Culture-Prote~tantisrn.''~ By that expression Barth meant a kind of Christianity which "was as fundamentally oriented to this-worldly culture as Luther himself had been to a transcendent Christ."? Such "Culture-Protestantism," in the words of Jarnes Hast ings Nichols, Professor of Modern European Church History, Princeton, hi confused Christian faith with or closely related it to social, political, philosophical, and ethical program^."^ But per- haps it was tile American moralist, H. Richard Niebuhr, who gave us the classic English-language description of this phenomenon: In every culture to which the Gospel comes there are men who hail Jesus as the Messiah of their society, the fulfillment of its hopes and aspirations, the perfecter of its true faith, the source of its holiest spirit." \t!llen Professor Niebullr wrote those words more than a gen- eratioll ago, he had PI-otestant Liberalism in mind. Certainly Lib- eralisln was tlre no st dangerous accommodation of Orthodoxy to the cultural-ethos of the Western world at that time. Since then, howevel-, a new manifestation of "Culture-Protestantism" has ap- peared. It goes by rnany different names. Sometimes its adherents call themselves "Pneumatics" or "Charismatics." Their adversaries identify then-1 as Sci~waermel-, "Enthusiasts," "Spiritualists," or "Neo- Montanists." These labels are inspired by the claim of the advocates of this faith to have received "the Second Blessing," or "Fire Bap- tism," or- "the gift of the Holy Ghost." At its inception it was known as the Holiness Movement. Today it is widely recognized under the ]lame "Pentecostalism."~ This move- mcnt, ir~ spite of superficial differences from Liberalism, exhibits those features Dr. Niebuhr identified as characteristic of "Culture- Religion." For that reason I am persuaded that Professor Niebuhr's ~nsight can be applied with great effectiveness to this most recent expression of "Culture Christianity," When that is done, I am convinced that it becomes evident that Libel.alism and Pentecostalism are in fact fraternal twins. Pente- costalisln has arisen out of precisely those conditions that produced Libel-alisni. 7'1~ two movements are derived from the same sources, "lade of identical stuff, promoted by a common skepticism, perme- aied by a pervasive i~umanism, dominated by an inescapable natur- alism, saturated with materialism, and they both res~llt in a perver- "on of the Gos~el. 'I' That is why it is an illusion to regard Pentecostalism as the very antitllesis of Liberalism. This i: as pernicious and absurd as sug- gesting that the cure for poliomyelitis is paralysis. More of the same ~"~eldorn a solution for a terminal illness! The medicine cannot be the same as the sickness if recovery is the goal. The truth of the matter is that Liberalism and Pentecostalism have much more in common than in opposition. Their areas of essential convergence far outnumber the ones of superficial divergence. This insight came to me slowly. The essential unity of Liberal- ism and Pentecostalism occurred to me rather gradually. But it was forced upon me by facts, facts of experience, the convincing socio- logical data of recent decades. When we survey the recent sociological scene, two strange developments force themselves on our attention: 1. We have the amazing development that Liberals seek the fellowship of Pentecostals. Few would deny that Dr. Henry Pitney Van Dusen, long presi- dent of Union Theological Seminary, New York, was one of Amer- ica's leading liberal Churchmen. In 1958 in a popular American periodical Dr. Van Dusen predicted that Pentecostalism was "a third arm of Christendom destined to stand alongside Catholicism and Protestantism."" few years later, in another context, Professor Van Dusen described his first visit to a Pentecostal Assembly as follows: I felt rather at home. In spite of the vast differences-and they were certainly vast-I felt at home. I felt that I was stepping back in time to a primitive but very vital Christian experience. I do believe that Peter and Barnabas and Paul would find them- selves morc at home in a good Pentecostal service than in the formalized and ritualized worship of most of our modern ~hurches.~ At first glance it seems almost incomprehensible that such a prominent Liberal leader could give such a glowing testimonial to the benefits of Pentecostalism. Either Dr. Van Dusen was unique, or else he had revealed some kind of important connection between the two move- ments. Van Dusen was not unique. Dr. James I. McCord, for many years president of Princeton Theological Seminary, in a semi- modalistic statement, confessed that Ours must become the Age of the Spirit, or God active in the world, shaking and shattering all our forms and structures, and bringing forth responses consonant with the Gospel and the world's needs." Or again, Mr. Johr~ L. Sherrill, writer for Norman Vincent Peale's Gllideposts magazine, son of the late Professor Lewis J. Sherrill of Union Theological Seminary, and member of the Episcopal Church, has written his spiritual autobiography, an odyssey that includes both Liberalism and Pentecostalism as compatible parts of a unified faith." Or again, the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Primate of world Anglicanism, who perhaps could best be characterized as a Liberal- Evangelical, said earlier this year in an interview that . . . if you are to have a truly ecumenical movement, there rnust be three strands in it, not two. Not only the Catholic, not only the Evangelical, but also the real stratum of the New Testa- ment which could broadly be called charismatic.1° His Grace attributed his understanding of Pentecostalism to Leslie Newbigin, a Presbyterian bishop in Anglican orders serving a union church composed of Protestants as varied as Baptists and Episco- palians. Both these prelates, who could properly be said to live in the mainstream of Liberal ecumenism, believe that Pentecostalism "has brought a certain joy and liberty which is certainly lacking in the two main other divisions" of Christianity." Perhaps the most persuasive testimony is that of the late Dr. Paul Tillich, long one of the most articulate spokesmen of Protestant Liberalism. Though Professor Tillich died in 1965, before Pente- costalism had fully surfaced in mainline Protestantism, he expressed himself at length on this subject. In a lecture to his students on Montanism Dr. Tillich lamented te exclusion of that movement from Catholic Christianity. Tillich felt that this rejection resulted in a four-fold loss: (1 ) The canon was victorious against the possibility of new revelations . . . (2) The traditional hierarchy was confirmed against the prophetic spirit. . . . (3) Eschatology became less significant than it had been in the apostolic age. . . . (4) The strict discipline of the Montanists was lost, giving way to a growing laxity in the church." Strange as it may sound, I suspect that if Professor Tillich had lived into the 1970's, he would have been a prime candidate for conversion to the Charismatic Movement. How he would have reconciled his errant sexuality with Pentecostal piety, I do not know. This theology, however, would have been highly compatible with Pentecostalism. This Liberal theologian was candid enough to confess that he found in the ancient Montanists his natural allies. For Modernists and Montanists share three common "enemies7'-the binding authority of the Scriptures, the regular teaching ministry of the Churches, and a view of Christian history that stressed continuity rather than catas- trophe. Liberalism appears harmonious with Pentecostalism. 2. We have the amazing development, furthermore, that Pente- costals seek the fellows hi^ of Liberals. Many Charismatics have confessed that fraternity with Liberals is possible and desirable. For example, David du Plessis, a prominent South African Pentecostal, felt that he had received a message from the Lord which told him to go to "the very headquarters of the most liberal, the most intellectual, the most ecumenically minded of mod- ernists."'" For du Plessis that could only mean the World Council of Churches. Arriving there, he found himself warmly welcomed as a long-lost brother by the ecumenical bureaucrats, who . . . not only listened, they made notes as he talked, they picked up phones and read the notes to others, they paid atten- tion. It was the beginning . . . One theologian would call another and introduce him. He was shunted from college to university to seminary.] Perhaps this explains why many Pentecostal Churches have had no problem in seeking and accepting ~nenlbership in the World Council of Churches. It also sheds light on the mobility of many Pentecostals between denominations and indicates how a Kathryn Kuhlman, modern-day Montanist prophetess, can fellowship with lib- eral Catholics and why Oral Roberts, charismatic faith-healer, can migrate with little sense of confusion from "down home" in Oklahoma Pentecostalism to the middle class respectability of Methodism and network television. Now that the harmonv of Liberalism with Pentecostalism is evident, I think I can make it less puzzling by sharing a quotation ascribed to General Hans von Seeckt of the German Army. Secret military provisions of the Treaty of Rapallo in 1922 made possible collaboration between the Weimar Republic and the Soviet Union. When this Prussian aristocrat, an arch-monarchist, was asked how he could in good conscience cooperate with Russian commissars, all dedicated Bolsheviks, he is said to have replied with the following illustration. From his desk he took a metal meter stick, bent it, and remarked, "Ends are never far apart. See, they easily meet. But neither can ever touch center."'" What he meant was that both mon- archism and Communism were pledged to autocracy, not democracy. In our context, I propose that Liberalism and Pentecostalism are compatible because they stand in staunch opposition to Orthodoxy. This hostility is inevitable because they share certain theological con- ceptions derived from their host-culture. These notions place them outside the living center of Biblical Christianity. This convergence of Liberalism and Pentecostalism is evident in three areas, for they both ( 1 ) have a distorted view of history, (2) repudiate the method and message of C)rthodox theology, and (3) reject the authority of Scripture. Both Liberalism and Pentecostalism share certain misconceptions about history. This is suggested by a basic inconsistency they possess -they profess to be both modern and ancient simultaneously. Liberalism emphasized its novelty. Washington Gladden called his beliefs a Present Day Theology.16 Other Liberals spoke of the << new theology," suitable for a civilization that had produced the "New Freedom," the "New Nationalism," the "New Deal," the "New Frontier," the "new Woman," the "new immigrant," the "New South," the "New West," the "new American," the "new generation," and the hourly radio "news." In the 1920's Liberals boasted of being "Mod- ernists," in the 1930's of being "Progressive," in the 1940's of being "Realists," in the 1950's of being "Existentialists" with the New Orthodoxy (really the newest Heterodoxy), in the 1960's of being "Radjcals,.. and in tile 1,970.~ of being i'Secularists." The recurring basic vocabil]ary included the words "ncw," "now," "relevant," "con- . . . . temporary, "modern," and "~ecent." These are the indis- pensable trade terms for any Right Reverend Ricllard Relevant. Pentecc)stalisrn also prides itself on being very au courant. Perhaps no1 all Chorismaiics are as brazcu as the Reverend Leroy Jenkins. Central Ohio e\:angclist-entreprenew, who recently received nation-wide publicit! because of n Flip Wilson coinedy-parody of 11is churci~ on prinle television rii~ie. Brother Leroy sued the Black comedian because he did not appreciate allegedly derogatory refer- ences to the name of his establishment. the "Holy Hill Cathedral of the Church of What's Happening Noiv.'? Orlier Pneurnatjcs are more modest in their non1cnc1atur.e. Most? howe.vel-, \\auld agree that Pentecostalis~rl 1s the most nlodetn possible expression of the Chris- tian religion. This is because the Chrisrnatic Gospel is designed for the last days. These are the "end times." Professm- (-i. Ernest Wright articulated their beliei' wi1c.n hc wrote: . . . :lie consumn~ation of the Kingdom of God is to be marked bv 21 rrcat I-evival of the cklarisrnatic Ilappenings. Both leaders arlcl people I tile11 be Spirit-filled and Spirit- empower ed on a scale hitherto unknown." Pentecostalism is persuaded that the outpouring of the Spirit has occurred both as a "sign" of llle tir-ties as we11 as the "corlfirmation" of the faith in this age. Paradoxically? both libel-alisrn and Perltecostalis~n also claim oreat antiquity. Each movcrnerlt asserts, in a unique fashion, that it ? 1s a restoration of primitive CI~r.istia~lity. 1-iberal~sr-n bcl ieved that it \?/as both l~ecessary and possible by means of " l~istorical I-easoning" to pass beyond the accunlulated "barnacles of tradition" to arrive at an "accurate" estimation of Jesus. The problem was r.eally quite simple. Somewhere along the line Jesus Iiad sotten "lost" in the Church. It was the task of modern the.oiogians to "save" him. At the start of tlie century Adolf Harnack assured us that Jcsus had been obscured by Greek philosophy. Thirty years later Har1.y Emerson FYosdick taught us that the real cuIpril was Calvinist theology. More recently Rudolf Bultmann has told us that the villain was Jewish rnytl~ology. While no one was exactly sure when, where, why, ot- how Jesus disappeared (or- even what he would look like when found f, all agi.eed that it was a calamity because "true Cilistianity" went with him. All were confident, however, that they could find him. The first step was to scuttle all clues that we already possessed! This theology would bypass the Cl~urch, with its Creeds, Confessions, Councjls, Biblical Canon, and Christ-figure. Orthodoxy had only a "religion ahoil/ Jesus." Snrne~~iiere in the early first cen- tury was the real Master with the "religion of Jesus." While Liberals were always rather vague about the content of this message, they were very dogmatic in rheir insistence that no other theology could possibly be correct, Pentecostalism accepts the Liberal analysis in full. It concurs in the conviction that there is a serious deficiency in the current procla- mation of the Church. This is due to the apostasy of Orthodoxy which offers people only a partial and incomplete Gospel. Now, however, we have a rare new opportunity. For the first time in centuries there can be a recovery of primitive Christianity. It is essential that Chris- tians "seize the moment." This novel insight provides the one tlling necessary for the Church to survive, thrive, and revive. Acceptance of the ''new theology" will cause the Church to have both "modernity" and "antiquity," for it is nothing less than a return to ''the old time religion" which is also "the faith of the last days." Such a "leap of faith" will bring certainty, an element of finality said to be lacking in "dead Orthodoxy." While the diagnosis is identical, the prescription is different. Liberalism appealed to "the historical method," by which it meant a supposed impartial, objective, scientific investigation of data as the way to achieve relioious certainty. This would eventually lead to the "real" or "historicai'" Jesus. Faith would finally rest on fact. Ultirnate- ly "historical reasoning" would provide the answer. It did not. So Pentecostalism rests its case on "the psychological moment," by which is meant a radically subjective search for an immediate, emotional, personal revelation from God. This "instant of inspiration" (or "fill- ing with the Spirit") will result in an encounter with Jesus as a "living reality" in the heart, creating a "faith-fact" that the covert now re- gards as "more sure than anything else on earth." How can Liberalism and Pentecostalism possess simultaneously both venerable antiquity and ultra-modernity? Only with great diffi- culty. The price is a basic ambiguity, which results in a four-fold misunderstanding of history: 1. Both movements rest on a refusal to take history seriously. Liberalism and Pentecostalism seek to annihilate time, to deny the reality of two thousand years of Christian history. It is as if they had paid a visit to the "time lab" of Dr. Wonmug and had joined Alley Oop in a rapid journey into the distant past, bypassing all the chronological landmarks along the way. Liberalism called the time- machine "reason," Pentecostalism names it "experience." The differ- ence does not matter, for the result is to revert to a mythological, rather than an historical, mode of thinking.Is 2. Both Liberalism and Pentecostalism deny the possibility of real historical continuity. Because of this they reflect a catastrophic rather than a developmental view of the history of Christianity. A decade ago John Opie, Jr., attacked this problem in a pro- found and helpful essay entitled "The Modernity of Fundamental- ism."'Wpie came to the conclusion that both Fundamentalism and Liberalism, in spite of their claims to antiquity, were actually products of Victorian culture. The main reason for their "cultural captivityn was their "tunnel theory" of Church History, which taught that "true Christianity" had gone underground shortly after the death of Jesus, not to surface again until the nineteenth century. Their oblivion to the persistence of the faith through the ages caused both Fundamentalists and Modernists to confuse the folklore of their own era with the living confession of the apostles. This is precisely the plight of Pentecostal- ism. 3. Without a past, Liberalism and Pentecostalism both bccorne ouilty of "presentism," the obsession of a generation wit11 itsclf. This 5 a kind of "cultural narcissusism." Unable to contemplate the Scrip- tures, deprived of the proper corrective of the past, both Liberalism and Pentecostalism were forced to find within the current rrlo~nent the stuff from which to build a theology. That nleant they idealized them- selves and their labors. The result was idolatory, the inevitable in]- pulse of natural man to elevate the penultimate and cempo~-a1 to the status of the ultimate and eternal. According to the Decalogue, this is t11e first sin to be confessed and avoided."' 4. Fjnally, since it is intolerable for sinful man to constantly co~lternplate himself (perhaps that is part of the essence of hell), an escape must be provided. Denied the Biblical perspective of eternity, deprived of a past, Liberalism and Pentecostalism seek to flee tlle prison of the present through an obsession with the future. This sick- ness, so prevalent in our times, has been named "neophilia." Accord- ing to the book of Acts it is a symptom of a pagan society, for the Alhenian pholosophers . . . took hold of him [Paul] and brought 11i1n to the Areopagus, saying, "May we know what this new teachirig is which you present? For you bring some strange things to our ears: we wish to know therefore what thcse things ~nean.' Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time in nothing except telling or hearins something new (Acts 17: 19-21 )." Against the "sensationalism" of Pentecostalism and the "novelties" of Liberalism, jt is the task of Orthodoxy to proclaim the "Good News" of the Scriptures. 'Rooted in history, it alone has a sense of futurity valid enough to deliver from futility. KEPUI)JA,I'ION OF THEOLOGY 'This proclamation is necessary because Pentecostalism, like Liberalism, is a repudiation. of Orthodox theolo~y. It is obvious that Liberalism, in the words of one historian, "drast~cally departed from traditional viewpoints."" The Modernists candidly called for the abandonmcnt of classical Christianity and for a "Reconstruction in Theology." Pentecostalism, however, has been received by many as a restoration of apostolic Christianity. This, llowever, is far from the case. If anything, it represents an even morc serious challenge to the theology of the Church than Liberalism. That becomes evident when one reconsiders .the method of Orthodox theology. According to Professor Theodore G. 'l'appert there are three formative principles in Orthodox theology-Scripture, reason, and tradition.'"cripture is the sole authoritative source and norm; I-ea- son is the method, and tradition provides the historical context. From the genesis of Christianity theologians have worked j.n this fashion to arrive at doctrinal statements that are Bibl.ically respon- sible, intellectually sound, emotionally satisfying, consistent with the history of the believing community, and socially significant. Con- versely, where there is truth there is error. Light produces shadow. From the Apostolic Age to the present, Heterodoxy, or Polydoxy, as some prefer to "christen" it, has disdained this theological method and has derived a divergent message. Heresy results when the author- ity of Scripture is rejected and when the tools of the theologian, Reason and Experience, are forced, in the absence of Revelation and Tradition, to yield a philosophy. Once the Canon has been repudiated and the Confessions ignored, reason and experience can only seek to discover meaning in contemporary culture. This is exactly what has occurred in Liberalism and Pentecostalism. The former prefers reason, the latter experience. Both end in "Culture-Religion," of idolatry. In the previous section we have seen the manner in which both Liberalism and Pentecostalism repudiate history or Tradition. The next section will analyze their rejection of Scripture. At this point we must consider the "cult of irrationality." The "irrationality" so evi- dent in Pentecostalism has a two-fold history: 1. In part it is the end product of a tradition of antirationalism in Western philosophy. Paradoxically enough, antirationalism is the result of Rationalism itself! The eighteenth century sages who so con- fidently trusted in reason to lead them to the "heavenly city" had forgotten that, while intellect is a good servant, it is a poor master, that it is only a tool not a truth, a method not a message, that it is a means not an end. Within two generations the grandchildren of the yhilosoyhes realized that reason alone led only to constant analysis, the dissection of life until only death remained. Literally in bondage to death, they rose in revolt, enthroning "feeling" as god, in a last desperate effort to find life. The list of "irrational revolutionaries" is long, illustrative, and insightful-Nietzsche, Sorel, Bergson, Emerson, Schleiermacher, Rousseau, Whitman, William James, William Blake, D. H. Lawrence, Ernest Hemingway, Soren Kierkegaard, and Sig- mund Freud. This is the pl~ilosophical seed of Pentecostalism. 2. The cultural ancestry was provided by the legacy of anti- intellectualism in the Anglo-Saxon world. Leonard Wolf stated, "No people ever despised and distrusted the intellect and inte!lectuals more than the British." Rut they have been surpassed by their Amer- ican cousins. Historian Richard Hofstadter, has written the startling story of Anti-lntellect~ialism in American Life with penetrating bril- liance." Here is the social milieu in which Pentecostalism could fer- ment. Against these modern and national aberrations, Orthodoxy appeals to the Catholic heritage of sanctified reason in the service of Scripture in order to produce systematic and holistic theology. A RE,JECTION OF BIBLICAI, AUTHORITY Both Liberalism and Pentecostalism doubt the authority of the Canon. Liberalism prefers subtraction, Pentecostalism addition to the Word. But the end result is the same, the multiplication of errors. Both movements illustrate the same phenomenon, the manner in which the Modern Church is engaged in a mighty flight away from the Scriptures. Orthodoxy had affirmed four truths concerning the Bible as the Word of God-that it possess sufficiency (it teaches all that is needed Pentecostalism ---- - .. -- - - -- - to know for salvation), efficacy (is produces saving faith), perspicu- \ ity (or clarity; a person with normal mental abilities can compre- hend it), and authority (it is the only source and standard of doc- trine). On those premises Protestantism was founded and flourished. Doubt concerning these affirmations sprang up in the Enlighten- ment. After the Rationalists had destroyed the authority of Scripture for the people, they had to put something in its place. The only answer was a Radical Subjectivism. The self became the ultimate authority. Trust was not something "imposed" by an Objective or External Authority, it was something to which the person must be "disposed" by factors within By the nineteenth century this "dispositionalist doctrine" was widespread. Robert Borwning, in "Paracelsus," said: Truth is within ourselves; it takes no rise From outward things, what'er you may believe. Soren Kierkegaard wrote, "I do not know the truth except when it I becomes part of me." This radical Subjectivism became a cornerstone of Liberalism. Dr. Vincent Taylor, British Methodist, confessed, "There are no external authorities. Thank God!"2' His countryman, Dr. Raynor Johnson, stated: I am no prepared to hand over to any other person, though wise I and learned, or to any institutions however ancient or sure of its position, my inalienable right to search for ever-growing and ever-expanding truth. I believe the craving for security in belief is one which arises from within ourselves, and can only be met adequately from resources which are within ourselve~.~~ A third Briton, Dr. Leslie Weatherhead, long the the pastor of Lon- don's City Temple, exclaimed: "truth has no authority within me until I perceive it to be tr~e."?~ Having centered the locus of authority in the self, not the Scrip- tures, the Liberals had a second problem. What faculty of the self is the source of truth? On this issue nineteenth century theology polar- ized. Some Liberals remained loyal to the Rationalism of the Enlight- enment, locating truth in the mind. This thorough-going Mentalism reached its logical conclusion in the Idealism of G.F.W. Hegel. Con- versely, however, other Liberals repudiated Rationalism and turned to Romanticism. What J. J. Rousseau was for philosophy, they were to theology. Representative of this approach was Friedrich Schleier- macher, who saw feeling not thinking to be the ultimate authority in religious matters.$O Liberal theology was fascinated with Schleiermacher. A century later, another Berliner, Adolf Harnack, defined Christianity as fol- lows: It is not a question of a 'doctrine' being handed down by uniform repetition or arbitrarily distorted; it is a question of a life, again and again kindled fresh, and now burning with a flame of its own." Religion is life, life felt. Professor Cecil Cadoux put it bluntly, "the final authority is bound to be the inner light."'3 John Oman, his compatriot, defined religion as listening "when reality speaks to It is but a slight step to saying that religion is speaking when reality is felt in us. For that is exactly how Liberalism is transmuted into Pente- costalism! For a century Liberalism had preached experience-then Pente- costalism suddenly produced it! No wonder the Liberal and Neo- Orthodox theologians were at a loss when the Pentecostals started talking. How could they condemn the rampant empiricism and sub- jectivism of Pentecostalism when that is precisely the approach they had previously recommended? Pentecostalism, therefore, is the logical end of Liberalism. It would be very proper, in my opinion, to build a Friedrich Schleiermacher Memorial Pentecostal Church. No one is more deserving of the honor."" FOOTNOTES 1. Thc leal origins of I